Just looking for some advice for anyone who has been to Venezuela, and in particular, has visited the Angel Falls. We fly into Caracas in June, and were thinking of making our own way to Canaima rather than booking a trip in advance. We think we may be able to save money this way, and it shouldn't be difficult to arrange to see the Angel Falls when we get there? Can anyone give us any tips? Can we get a train to Canaima, and do they have cheap excursions to the Angel Falls, or are we better off booking something in advance?
Johnny, it would help if you gave me some sort of idea what type of traveller you are, and who you will be travelling with. For now, let me tell you as much as I can. Several things you need to know about Venezuela. I'm a Canadian expat posted here for the last 18 months, with 2.5 years to go. Enjoying the experience and the opportunity to travel and experience South and Central America, but I wouldn't choose to come again. First off, security is a major issue in Venezuela and getting worse every single day. Don't listen to what people tell you who were here a year ago, even 6 months ago. Things are changing daily here, with poverty fuelling the fire, and to top it all off, crazy Chavez! Be very cautious while here - check in with your conuslar office/embassy and let them know your whereabouts at all times. Do NOT show any signs of wealth - jelwery, watches, i-pods, discmans are all stolen on a daily basis. Here, you will be robbed at gun point just to get $10. This is not a joke! Also, express kidnappings are common - they take you from bank to bank, having you withdraw the maximum money from your account, then sometimes hold you overnight and do it all again the next day. If they think there is any chance of extracting a ransom for you, they will try it! Be cautious of public bathrooms. Don't take flyers or pamphlets from people in the streets - they are known to be laced with drugs that via the skin render you unconscious in a matter of minutes and then rob you blind. Be warned, all criminals work in pairs, or more. If you are approached by one, trust that he has at least one other associate watching, and willing to jump in at any time. Whatever you do, cooperate, because these guys don't care if you get hurt or not, they simply want your belongings. Just hand over what ever they ask for and you will be fine. Do not trust taxis at the airport - make sure that you approach a taxi (the black 4x4 trucks are safest) at a taxi stand and that someone is there to record the number of the taxi you enter. Better yet, pre-arrange with your hotel for transportation. Second, tourism here is almost unheard of, and certainly not a highlight. The country/government has not put any money into tourism so the attractions are dirty, run-down, and basically forgotten. If you want decent accomodations (and I've stayed in backpacking hostels throughout Europe and Asia), you really need to book higher end accomodations here. Honestly, 5 star hotels are equivalent to the rundown Super 8's of the USA. Tourism infrastructure is unheard of, so booking ahead is almost mandatory (so bad that the Hilton chain recently dumped their Caracas hotel for a fraction of it's price, just to no longer have it's name associated to the hotel). There are no trains here other than the metro, which is extremely unsafe. Buses aren't much better, so consider flying to all destinations, or going with a recommended tour group. I wouldn't recommend driving because it's pretty crazy here - scary would be a better description. If you don't speak spanish, you really need the services of a tour company. No one speaks Ennglish here, at least, no one admits they speak english here and you will struggle! I now have 18 months of training and still have a hard time with certain things - at least an intermediate level is needed to get you around on your own.
Having said all that, there are two jewels of Venezuela - Canaima and Los Roques. I would highly recmmend a trip to Los Roques - a fabulous archipelago 100 km north of Caracas. The crystalline blue waters and powdery white sand beaches are paradise and it would be a shame to miss. It isn't a cheap trip out but it is worth every penny. Book through Aerotuy (ask for the more expensive posada Vista Al Mar, but at the lower price, they almost always will upgrade you); go for the package with a flight out of Maiquetia (just outside Caracas), posada, buffet style restaurant, and day trips aboard their catamaran (includes lunch, drinks, and snorkelling gear). Be sure to hit up the beanbag bar and lounge in a bean bag chair on the sand while sipping a cold drink and watching the sunset before dinner (and the drinks are strong, so you don't need too many) - just steps away from the posada and the Aerotuy buffet restaurant. Be sure to stay two full days since the catamaran tours hit up different locations each day and you don't want to miss any of them. Also, make sure that you hike to the top of the "mountain" one day for sunset also - with sweeping views of the Carribean and the archipelago there are great photo ops!
As for Canaima, it is pretty important to book in advance, or they gouge you on the price! Beware, they also charge 10% more if you pay with credit card. You need to make a deposit into their bank account prior to travel - or pay cash in Caracas or Guayana, but again, that might mean paying more for a last minute arrangement. Also note, if you can pay in American you have buying power and can definately haggle a better price! Haven't been yet myself, but most of our friends have gone with Canaima Tours based out of Ciudad Guayana, and their high-end (by Venezuelan standards) hotel Waku Lodge. But if you are up for adventure and really want to experience the falls and Venezuela, call Akanan Travel and Adventure (we LOVE them) and try their Biking Canaima trip or one of their river trips to Canaima. They are a FABULOUS tour company who we have had great success with on other tours! I can't speak more highly of them! Check out their website and you will see that biking to the falls is an experience you don't want to miss! Be sure to call them (most of them speak English) and I am certain they will arrange something you will be very happy with. I also am certain they will be able to outfit you with a bike and gear if you don't have it yourself.
Overall, a trip to Venezuela has great potential to be a wonderful experience, just take lots of safety precautions. If you can afford it, go with a group like Akanan and let them organize the whole thing. There is a lot to be said for safety of tour groups (theirs are small but provide safety in numbers), and even more to be said for having a local you can trust along for the ride. If you don't speak any spanish this is definately your wisest choice! Enjoy. let me know if I can help again.
Ice, have you been to Caracas? When were you here? It really is changing every day - personal freedom keeps going down, safety is a huge concern, especially when I have three kids! I agree, I would prefer anywhere else in South or Central America, but we're in it for the four year term - unless Chavez gets even crazier! I wouldn't put it past him! We've travelled alot around South America, Central America, and the Carribean now - just back from Panama yesterday. Loved it. I love it all. Certainly helps when you are fluent in spanish - I can't imagine travelling to Caracas without spanish. Next trip is to Uruguay and Paraguay in April, but maybe a quick week in Aruba first (a little R n R, sin ninos). What gets you around, work or pleasure?
I was there last year and would pretty much agree with everything that seacrcsvz has written.I would just like to add a few places to see.Hato el Cedral is a ranch in western Venezuela,we stayed there 3 nights,absolutely stuhan younning place,more wild animals than you could shake a stick at,including caimans,capybara,piranhas,jaguars,the list goes on,not cheap though.They have website,elcedral.com.Angel Falls is v.difficult to organise yourself.Driving is tough.police constantly looking for bribes,but very handy for getting to ou of the way places