|Full country name: República
Bolivariana de Venezuela
Population: 25 million
Capital City: Caracas (pop 4,608,934)
People: 67% mestizo, 21% European descent,
10% African descent, 2% indigenous. There are approximately
200,000 Amerindians, remnants of a number of diverse semi-nomadic
Roman Catholic, 2% Protestant
Head of State: President
GDP: US$194.5 billion
GDP per capita: US$8,500
Annual Growth: -0.9%
Major Industries: Petroleum, iron ore,
cereals, fruit, sugar and coffee.
Major Trading Partners: USA, Germany,
Japan, Colombia, Brazil, Italy
Time Zone: GMT/UTC -4 (-5 in summer)
Dialling Code: 58
Weights & measures:
January 1 - New Year's Day
Before Easter Sunday - Maundy Thursday & Good Friday
April 19 - Declaration of Independence
May 1 - Labor Day
June 24 - Battle of Carabobo
July 5 - Independence Day
July 24 - Bolívar's Birthday
October 12 - Discovery of America
December 25 - Christmas
Venezuela is close to the equator, so average temperatures vary little throughout the year. They do, however, change with altitude, dropping about 5.4°F with every 1000ft increase (6.5°C per 1000m). Since over 90% of Venezuela lies below 1000m, you’ll experience temperatures between 70°F and 85°F in most places. The Andean and coastal mountain ranges have more moderate temperatures.
When to go
The tourist season in Venezuela runs year-round, but consider the climate and Venezuelan holidays before finalizing your travel plans.
Venezuela has one dry season (roughly November/December to April/May) and one wet season (the rest of the year). The dry season is certainly more pleasant for traveling, particularly for hiking or other outdoor activities, though sightseeing in cities or towns won’t be greatly disturbed by rain. Some sights, such as waterfalls, are actually more impressive in the wet season. The Angel Falls (Salto Ángel), for example, is absolutely spectacular after heavy rains in the wet months, but it may be not much more than a thin ribbon of water in the dry season. Furthermore, the falls can be inaccessible by boat in dry months, cutting off a great attraction from your itinerary.
Venezuelans are mad about traveling over the Christmas season (running up till mid-January), Carnaval (several days prior to Ash Wednesday) and Holy Week (the week before Easter Sunday). During these three peak times, air and bus transportation are busy and hotels fill up quickly, so you’ll have to book ahead. On the other hand, these periods are colorful and lively, with a host of festivities. Schools also break for annual vacations in August, but this doesn’t significantly affect public transportation or accommodations.
Venezuela's 40-odd national parks provide a great range
of treks, from well-signposted jaunts to jungle paths
that should not be attempted without a machete and some
local knowledge. Parque Nacional El Ávila, which
looms over Caracas, is probably a good place to start;
head for Guatopo, Terepaima and San Esteban for less
developed trails. The Sierra Nevada de Mérida
is the best region in the country for mountaineering,
hill trekking and rock climbing; guides and equipment
are available for hire. Mérida is also the best
place to go hang-gliding and paragliding. There are
beautiful beaches and snorkeling opportunities all along
the Caribbean coast. Tucacas is the best diving center.
Speleologists should check out the Cueva del Guácharo,
the most spectacular of Venezuela's many cave systems.
It's a three-hour bus ride inland from Cumaná.
Roman Catholicism is by far the dominant religion in Venezuela,
and has been adopted by most indigenous people - only
those living in isolated regions still practice their
ancient tribal beliefs. The Protestant church has a significant
presence, and recently has been gaining some ground, attracting
adherents from the Catholic Church. An unusual and obscure
pantheistic sect, known as the Cult of María Lionza,
exists in the northwest and combines pre-Hispanic indigenous
creeds, African voodoo and Christian religious practices.
Spanish is spoken by almost all Venezuelans, though some
25 indigenous tongues are spoken by remote tribes. English
is spoken by some people in urban centers.
Visual arts and handicrafts are popular in Venezuela,
but the country's most distinctive cultural outlet is
probably its music, which is an eclectic blend of European,
African and indigenous rhythms. Theater is growing in
popularity, and there is an active literary scene, especially
among the younger generation.
Venezuelan snacks and dishes (referred to as comida criolla)
consist mainly of pancakes, chicken, pork, beef, soups
and stews. Travelers should look out for restaurants that
serve menú del día, a very cheap set meal
consisting of soup and a main course. Local specialities
include empanadas (deep-fried cornmeal turnovers with
fillings of ground meat, cheese, beans or baby shark)
and pabellón criollo (Venezuela's national dish,
which consists of shredded beef, rice, black beans, cheese
and fried plantain).
The country's climate is predominantly tropical, with
a warm temperate zone extending along the coast. Temperatures
rarely vary more than a few degrees (Caracas 18-20°C/64-68°F;
Maracaibo 27-29°C/81-84°F); consequently, Venezuela's
climatic zones are defined by rainfall rather than by
differences in temperature. The northern coastal lowlands
are relatively arid, but rainfall increases over the Llanos
and the Guayana Highlands, with average yearly readings
reaching 150cm (58in) in both regions. The dry season
(called the verano) extends from December to April, and
the wet season (invierno) covers the remainder of the
year. The Amazon region has no distinct dry season, and
annual rainfall exceeds 200cm (78in), distributed evenly
throughout the year. The dry season is more pleasant for
traveling, particularly if you plan on hiking.