Recently I travelled through Venezuela. Here is some tips and information that you should Know Before You Go!
Venezuela is known to be probably the most dangerous country in South America and Caracas currently holds second place in the world for cities with the highest murder rate. After Hugo Chávez (the President since 1998) passed away in March 2013 the country has been in political and economic unrest.
Despite being one of the largest oil producers in the world, Venezuela has an annual inflation rate of over 63% and a fiscal deficit of more than 10% GPD. While Nicolás Maduro (Chávez successor) has sought decree powers from the National Assembly to eliminate corruption and economic “sabotage” by his political opposition and the “conspiratorial” United States. The opposition has accused him of electoral fraud and blamed a massive September 2013 power outage on government corruption. Anti-Maduro demonstrations broke out in February 2014 which have resulted in many deaths and hundreds of injuries. During the first 6 months of the year, more than 6,000 protests occurred. As per Global Conflict Tracker.
Listen to the locals when they tell you not to walk in certain areas, or not to take valuables out (including cameras) etc. Locals have an insider knowledge that we can’t rival – listen to them!
The economy in Venezuela currently really not great. The consequences of the economic conditions of the country can be seen all over from lack of stocks on the shelves to car dealerships sitting empty. The conditions are a factor in the country having a black market.
Venezuela on the official exchange rate is very expensive. Venezuela on the black market is very cheap. My biggest tip for you regarding Venezuela is TAKE AMERICAN DOLLARS WITH YOU!
While I was in Venezuela, the official exchange rate was about $5Bs to $1US. The black market rate I was getting was $78Bs to $1US. Big Difference. They also do exchange Euros throughout the country and Brazilian Reals in Santa Elena near the border. However these currencies do not garner the same exchange rates as the US. Both are still much better than the official though. Please note that the black market is illegal despite being accepted by locals.
Although this did not happen to me, I have heard some stories of police conducting searches of foreigners. A local guy told me that if this does happen, ask for their names and numbers and say your uncle is an Ambassador in Caracas and he will check the situation with the General before agreeing to anything.
The border crossing from Brazil into Santa Elena was really easy despite the Venezuelan military searching every car that left Venezuela. However the border with Colombia is not as easy. The Australian government Smart Traveller website lists 80km within the Colombia/Venezuela border as a “do not travel”. Needless to say I did not heed this warning and did travel through the region safely but it is an interesting crossing.
Venezuela produces massive amounts of oil. To fill up a medium size car in Venezuela (using the official exchange rate) it costs the equivalent of about $1US. Because of this smuggling is a HUGE issue along the borders which slows the crossing down dramatically. At the time I travelled, the governments were trialling closing the border at night to cut down the amount of goods being smuggled across the border. Be prepared for cars, bags etc to be searched multiple times throughout the journey to the border.
It is recommended that you always have comprehensive travel insurance when you travel and that you are aware of the terms and conditions of the policy. The cover between different companies does vary and it is important that you chose the policy that is right for you.
Recently during a conversation with a fellow Australian traveller about insurance he mentioned that his expressly did not cover for kidnapping anywhere in South or Central America. This intrigued me and upon investigation of my own policy (from STA) I found mine did not contain such a clause but I had 2 other clauses I found of note:
” We will not pay under any circumstances if:
Act of war, insurrection, etc: Your claim arises out of any act of war, whether war is declared or not, or from any rebellion, revolution, insurrection or taking of power by the military.
Act of terrorism: an act of terrorism or the threat or perceived threat of an act of terrorism.”
Despite not having tested this definition, I somehow think I I wouldn’t be covered… I know I am repeating myself but please read you policy when you consider your travel plans.
Despite there being certain dangers in travelling in Venezuela (as there is with any country), it is a country to be enjoyed. It has a certain beauty and charm that most of countries in South America have. Just remember to stay safe 🙂
Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air!