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Basic Info

Population

25.7 million (official figure, probably more like 27 million)

Languages

Spanish, plus a few local indigenous languages which have been all but extinguished. The Spanish spoken is, in places, embellished with so many colloquialisms and so hard to understand it would be better described as “Venezuelan – a language of Spanish descent.”

Race

Mostly mestizo or mixed-race indigenous/European/African. The minority of white-skinned European-looking Venezuelans are still the rich elite, but now that Chavez is in charge, they are no longer the ones running the country.

Government

Problematic socialist democracy, headed by the firebrand architect of the populist Bolivarian Revolution, Sr. Hugo Chávez Frias. There is a noticeable polarisation of the Venezuelan population into pro- and anti-Chavez factions. There is a popular belief that Chávez wants the best for his country, and that his grassroots reforms have enabled the poor to improve their lives, but that he is surrounded in government by freeloading cronies who are out to line their pockets at the expense of progress.

Visas

90 days on arrival by aeroplane. This can be extended but because of the bureaucratic nightmare involved in doing so, most people choose to leave the country and come back in again. This can be done as often as possible. If you outstay your welcome you are liable for a fine and brief detention, which could see you miss your flight. At worse you could end up in a cell for a couple of nights. Don’t bother risking it.

When to travel

Depends what you want to do. Caracas and the coast is pretty rainy around August – September, but generally warm and pleasant the rest of the year. However, there have been flash floods and mudslides in February, supposedly the driest month.

The dates for carnival change yearly. In 2007 Carnival Monday will fall on the 19th of February, in 2008 on the 4th. Carnival is best experienced in El Callao, Bolivar state – read about it here:

Carnival There is no proper tourist season, but Venezuelans will hit the beaches at Carnival and Easter in such numbers that you can barely see the sand for tents and towels. It’s rich pickings for thieves who run amok through the maze of multicoloured flysheets and guy-ropes, swiping anything left out on the sand. Caracas is beautifully deserted at Carnival and over the Christmas break, but bus services are less frequent and everything closes down for a couple of weeks.