Caracas, the capital of the verdant country of Venezuela, is not on everyone’s list for a visit but it should be. As a gateway to one of the most beautiful and interesting places on the earth, Caracas is an impressive place to visit and a great base for exploration. Venezuela is a remarkable country with beautiful Caribbean coasts, green mountains, huge lakes, wild jungles and some of the most interesting sites on earth. When Christopher Columbus sailed by the Orinoco River delta in 1498, he was so impressed that he informed Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand that he had found “Heaven on Earth”. He literally believed that Venezuela was paradise. I think, with a visit to this special country, you just might agree!
Caracas was founded in 1567 as a centre for farming wheat for export to Spain. The productive soil was the first resource of the land but not its last. Gold was found in the mountains and also in the streams that flowed from the highlands. Later, vast deposits of crude oil would be found and even precious gems. It seems that Venezuela was blessed with all of the bounties of the earth.
Local residents can be chatty!
Today, Caracas is a city of 2.5 Million residents and more than 5.0 Million in the metropolitan area. It is the cultural, commercial and governmental centre of Venezuela.
The airport of Caracas is Simón Bolívar International Airport which is around 25 km from the centre of Caracas. A taxi is recommended for travel to your hotel but you’ll need local currency to pay for your ride. Foreign exchange for the Bolívar (the currency of Venezuela) is carried out at exchange offices or banks at the airport. There is an official rate and trading currency requires a registration process that can take time. Have patience and you’ll be successful. Note: depending on your country of origin, the country’s ATMs might not work for you and Venezuela is still, very much a cash culture, so plan accordingly.
While Caracas is a gateway to this beautiful country, it is not just a stopover destination. There is a lot to do and see in the capital city. Here are my recommendations for places to visit in Caracas and also in the countryside of Venezuela:
- La Catedral de Caracas – Surrounding the plaza you’ll find this impressive Baroque cathedral. It dates back to the 17th century and has an attached museum with religious artefacts, colonial costumes and works of art.
- Plaza Bolivar – This plaza is the spot where Diego de Losada, the first governor, founded the city in 1567 and it still serves as the central hub of the old town. It is a great place to start your exploration of Caracas. The plaza has attractive historical statues and beautiful architecture.
Plaza Bolívar: if it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it!
- Mercado Municipal de Chacao – There’s no better way to witness local life in Caracas than by meandering through this wonder marketplace. At this bustling venue, you can discover the region’s local fruits and vegetables, and locally made crafts.
- Centro de Arte La Estancia – This is a cultural centre located in a colonial-era farm. It’s an institution for restoration, promotion and dissemination of the historical and artistic heritage of Venezuela. The site has a beautiful garden for relaxing.
- Galeria de Arte Nacional & Museo de Bellas Artes – This is a row of museums and theatres, all within walking distance from each other.
- Casa Natal de Simon Bolivar – This is the birthplace of Simon Bolivar and a reconstruction of his family home. The museum also explains the restoration project.
- El Hatillo town – A 30-minute drive to the southeast of the city will take you to this tranquil town with beautiful colonial homes. Its main plaza is surrounded by quaint cafes and handicraft shops, all housed in attractive repurposed colonial buildings.
- Parque de Recreacion Los Chorros – If you want a full day of adventure in nature, this beautiful park is close to Caracas. A feature of the park is a waterfall under which you can swim. The park is full of sloths that are remarkable friendly even if very slow!
A Lost World awaits you!
- Catatumbo Lightning – At the mouth of the Catatumbo River within Lake Maracaibo is one of the most awesome displays of nature. Within a small area, more lightning strikes occur than anywhere in the world. For up to 300 nights per year, lightning strikes occur over 40 times per minute. This unique atmospheric phenomena is an incredible display of power!
- Angel Falls – This is the world’s tallest uninterrupted waterfall with a height of 3,212 feet (979 meters). It falls from the Auyán-tepui, an imposing sandstone plateau that was the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, The Lost World. The top of this incredible geological formation doesn’t contain dinosaurs, as in the novel, but does contain some of the rarest plants and animals on the planet.
Caracas, as the cultural capital of Venezuela, has fantastic restaurants. Here are my favourites in the city:
- Cachapera Doña Inés e Hijos – This amazing woman and her sons serve one of the best traditional Venezuelan menus in Caracas. Their speciality is cachapas; something like a pancake and absolutely delicious. This restaurant offers an authentic and friendly experience and is family-owned.
- Arepa Factory Luna Llena – Of course, you should try Arepas! These small fried corn cakes are famous worldwide. This restaurant is ideal for those that want to try this traditional dish with some unique flourishes. The fillings range from cheese to different meats and even salmon.
Arepa: yumminess wrapped in a golden corncake!
- El Aranjuez – This is one of the oldest restaurants in the city, nestled in a colonial-era house. The venue has a stellar reputation for being the best meat restaurant in the city. The very best produce of the country is featured in this busy spot.
Here’s another pro-tip: The cuisine varies greatly from region to region. Unanimously, however, the Pabellón Criollo is the national dish of Venezuela. It consists of juicy pulled beef, black beans, white rice and fried plantain with sprinkled cheese all over it. It’s a treat!
I love travelling throughout Venezuela! The energy and vibrancy that residents demonstrate always makes for amazing evenings on the town. Here are my favourite dancing and nightspots:
- 360° Roof Bar – Enjoy this glamorous open-air lounge at the top of the Altamira Suites. This bar offers panoramic views as the sun sets over your wonderful cocktail.
- Juan Sebastián Bar – This is the best spot in town to experience Latin jazz music. It was founded in 1973 and is a local institution. The bar’s décor fits its jazz vibe.
- El Mani Es Asi – This is the temple of salsa in Caracas! Enjoy dancing to Latin American salsa bands amongst a lively and friendly crowd.
You’ll want somewhere comfortable to relax after exploring Caracas. Here are my recommendations on the best places to stay:
Want some chips with that Salsa?!
- Cayena Caracas – This boutique hotel exudes comfort. It offers picturesque views of El Avila Mountain, a wellness centre and a rooftop swimming pool.
- Lidotel Centro Lido Caracas – This 5-star hotel has all of the amenities you could wish for, with a modern style and an excellent location. Guests benefit from the many shops, cinemas, restaurants, and bars that are located just inside the Centro Lido Financial Centre.
- Renaissance Caracas La Castellana Hotel – While this is part of the Marriott chain, it is a unique and comfortable property. You can really unwind here and enjoy your stay to the fullest.
Caracas is a wonderful introduction to the incredible country of Venezuela. Exploring this wonderful environment will give you a mix of urban, rural and even wildlife. Maybe Christopher Columbus was correct – Venezuela is paradise on earth!