Venezuela, leader of the free world under Chavez?
Venezuela – the best kept secret in the Caribbean
So reads the Venezuelan Ministry of Tourism poster, and it may well be true. Venezuela is still not a must-do stop on the South America gringo trail, but with all the fun to be had there, that’s sure to change soon.
Venezuela has Peru’s stunning Andes, Ecuador’s pretty beaches and Brazil’s awe-inspiring Amazon. It also has Bolivia’s corruption, Brazil’s gun culture and Colombia’s drugs – the latter trickling steadily over the border past the overwhelmed Venezuelan National Guard.
Venezuela is home to many economic migrants from other parts of the continent, mostly Colombians, Brazilians and Peruvians. Many moved there during the oil boom of the seventies when Venezuela enjoyed extraordinary wealth, which even attracted Italian and Spanish migrants from Europe.
Today most of that wealth has been squandered and Venezuela is in many ways no better off than its neighbours; poverty is widespread, gun crime is rife and Venezuela is something of a safe haven for Colombian FARC operatives. To top it all off, they have an egomaniac president who has captured the hearts and minds of the mostly poor population with his impassioned socialist rhetoric, but who has stuffed the Supreme Court with government yes-men whilst arming civilian militia to defend “the fatherland” against an invasion from unspecified invaders.
Still, these are not things which should bother the average backpacker, and it is still very much worth a visit for the wealth of natural attractions, warm weather and even warmer welcome from the locals.
Obvious tourist attractions include the many Caribbean beaches running both east and west from the capital, which range from the reggaeton rumba-zone of ChoronÃ in the west, to the hammock-and-book haven of San Juan de las Galdonas in the east.
The stunning geography of the Gran Sabana is a must-see, with lunar-landscape tabletop mountains soaring skyward from the rolling plains, and stunning water systems such as Angel Falls and Canaima National Park luring visitors all year round.
Slightly more unusual attractions include the enormous RaÃºl Leoni hydroelectric dam and Parque Llovizna, an extensive botanical garden set amongst the thin mist of spray thrown up from the powerful waterfall which crashes down beyond the dam. The nearest large town is Ciudad Bolivar, a city well worth a visit for its beautiful colonial architecture surrounded by some intriguing prehistoric rock formations.
For a guaranteed party go to ChoronÃ and spend the night drinking tasty passion fruit guarapita on the promenade, and dancing to the Saturday night tambÃ³r drumming session. Depending on your luck, your high-proof guarapita may contain campanita – a small hallucinogenic flower which makes what is already a strong drink truly mind-bending.