Is Venezuela Safe to Visit?

Is Venezuela Safe to Visit?

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Sadly, Venezuela is no longer on the agenda for most travellers, backpackers and tourists, due to the problems in the country and worries about safety.  Now officially the most dangerous country in the world (that isn’t at war), most people choose to stay away.  Even Venezuelans who can leave are fleeing in their hundreds, but for many, the decimated currency makes it impossible to get out of the country.  When people find out that I went backpacking in Venezuela, they always ask me: “Is it safe to travel to Venezuela?” “Is Venezuela safe to visit, or is it too dangerous?”.  It is a difficult question to answer.
*Update June 2017* The below advice still holds true, but the situation is increasingly unstable with the protests in Caracas.
Is Venezuela Safe to Visit? Beautiful Venezuela
There is no denying its Beauty, but is Venezuela Safe to Visit?

Like the majority of travellers, I had originally decided not to go to Venezuela, and resigned myself to the fact that I would not be able to see the world’s highest waterfall, or discover the ‘Lost World’ of Arthur Conan Doyle.  However, on a chilly December day in Peru, when I was facing the prospect of spending Christmas Day alone, a Venezuelan friend of mine gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse.  Gaby, who I met while living in Barcelona, wrote me a message to say she was coming home to Venezuela for Christmas, and that I was invited.  I was hesitant, and definitely nervous, with stories of wanton violence and police corruption I still wasn’t sure it was worth the risk.  Even Gaby herself had told me that travel to Venezuela wasn’t safe without her – but the offer of a family Christmas, a personal guide, and the chance to see Gaby and some of Venezuela was just too hard to resist!

However, even after my visit it is hard for me to recommend going to Venezuela, especially now as the problems are only getting worse.  I was lucky to have my friend and her family there to welcome me.  Before leaving for South America I had been urged by several Venezuelans I know to avoid going, and even Gaby had told me not to go, unless she was there to help me.  I loved my adventure backpacking Venezuela, but at times felt nervous, scared, frustrated and angry at the situation there, and seeing how it is affecting the people.  Is Venezuela safe for tourists?  Is it safe for Venezuelans?!

Venezuela in Crisis

Venezuela is a country in crisis.  Socially, economically, and politically in ruins, Venezuela is a perfect example of how not to run a country.  If Venezuelans thought the situation was bad under the rule of the previous president Hugo Chavez, then things have gone from bad worse since his death – and continue to deteriorate.  More than three years later, there are no signs of any improvement, and hope for better times is fading.

Is Venezuela Safe to Visit? Protests are Common and often violent
anti-government protest in 2014. photo credit: Getty Images

Is Venezuela Safe?

Personal safety is a major concern, especially, but not exclusively, in Caracas.  It is not recommended to go out alone at night, even during the day in many areas.

The danger in Caracas is real.  Gaby’s family do not go out at night, and they rarely drive at night, and never alone.  Their house is in a nice area, but accessed through a gate to enter the neighbourhood, and their house is behind more railings and gates.  Everything in Caracas is behind bars, it feels like a prison outdoors.  The world’s largest slum Petare is a few minutes drive away, although from the view from their garden you would never know what lies beyond the gates.

Crime in Caracas, and elsewhere is becoming worse the more desperate people become.  Muggings and violent robberies are worryingly common, as are carjackings.  Drivers rarely stop at red lights, even during the day, for fear of being attacked.  Police checks along the roads are very common – every few kilometres or so the police set up checkpoints.  Foreigners and locals are regularly searched, or some regular drivers like taxis will offer the police money up front to avoid any trouble.  Corrupt police regularly search foreigners looking for money, particularly US dollars, and an excuse to “fine” people, aka instigate a bribe.  Bribing a police officer is of course illegal, so it is a difficult game to play.  Protests against the Socialist government are common, and often turn violent when the police and armed pro-socialist gangs clash with protesters.

Is Venezuela Safe to Visit? Queuing in Caracas
long queues are common for buying even basic supplies. photo credit: bbc.om

Food and Power Shortages

Under the Socialist government, privately owned businesses that were seen to be doing well were taken over by the government, and instead of the experienced employees and owners running the businesses, government stooges were brought in over them.  However, the new directors often had no prior knowledge of the industry, so the companies faltered, and production and profits fell.  The government fixed prices on foods and essential items to help protect the consumer from rising costs, but they fixed prices so low that the businesses were losing money and could not carry on functioning.   Items like flour (and bread), eggs, milk, bottled water, toilet paper are all in short supply.  Supermarket shelves are empty, and queues for what is left can be hours long.  Medicines are also in dangerously difficult to come by, with the government failing to import even basic medication.  Hospitals are eerily empty, and have barely any patients – without medicine there is no way to treat them so they stay at home.  There is nothing that doctors can do to help them.

Considering the country is so rich in natural resources, in particular oil, Venezuela should be prospering.  However, years of mismanagement and a drop in international crude oil prices have made matters even worse.  National power shortages have become a major problem, and the government’s bizarre solution was to give all government workers 3 extra days off a week.  So they can be at home and use their own electricity instead??  In some parts of the county, blackouts of 4 hours are a daily occurrence, and it is hard to see how a country with no electricity can ever get back on its feet.  Petrol on the other hand remains ridiculously cheap.  In December you could fill up a small car with a full tank of petrol for 2 boliviares.  To put this in comparison, a simple meal at a roadside cafe would set you back 900 boliviares.  Insane.

Is Venezuela Safe to Visit? Changing Money in Venezuela
Soooo many Bolivares to buy a pizza

Changing Money in Venezuela

Changing money is not easy, with official exchange rates set way below the actual value of the dollar.  Most money changes are done on the black market, where rates can vary wildly.   The International Monetary Fund is predicting Venezuela’s inflation could hit 720 percent this year, whereas official figures from the Venezuelan government maintain that inflation reached a comparatively tiny figure of 141% at the end of 2015.

The current exchange rate according to DolarToday is just over 1000 boliviares for 1 dollar.  Most money changers on the street will offer a rate near that, although exchange rates in border towns are often worse.  DolarToday publishes the bolivar-dollar exchange rate that is offered in the Colombian border town of Cúcuta, Colombia, and is used as a benchmark for many unofficial transactions including between friends and friends of friends and friends who “know a guy”.  Any money changed officially at government establishments in Venezuela bring a much lower rate.

The Increasingly Unstable Situation in Venezuela

Venezuela’s previous president, Hugo Chavez’s death was announced on 5th March 2013, allegedly 2 or 3 months after he had actually passed away.  He was a popular figure for many, and started out as the voice of the people – mainly the poor who were sick of corruption and repression from the oil-rich upper classes.  However, unemployment, unstable currency and rising prices meant life failed to improve.  Chavez remains a symbol of hope for many, although as their world crumbles around them most people are beginning to question his legacy, but many still blame his successor Nicolas Maduro, who lacks Chavez’ charisma, education, and iconic power.

Is Venezuela Safe to Visit?
Is Venezuela Safe?   photo credit: liberalismo.org

Slogans like ‘Chavez Vive’ (Chavez Lives) ‘Somos Chavez’ (We are Chavez) are often emblazoned across walls, and images of the ex-president remain in Caracas and throughout the country, a permanent reminder of the leader, a ‘father’ constantly watching over his people.  To me this was strange to see, that some people in Venezuela still can’t see the damage that Chavez’s rule has done to the country.  It was only a matter of time before the strict socialist measures could no longer be sustained, and unfortunately it is the people of Venezuela who are suffering the most.

A glimmer of hope came in January 2016 when an election gave the opposition party a majority in parliament, however swift moves by Maduro made to block any potential changes in policy, and hard-line leftist Luis Salas was put in charge of the economy, and any hope was short-lived.  The people are tired of the strict socialist rule, protests are growing and a recent poll suggests 70% of the population say Maduro must leave office this year.  Maduro meanwhile seems more stubborn than ever, calling a 60 day state of emergency and blaming the United States for de-stabilizing the country and attempting to remove him from office.  Details about the emergency state are few, it seems to be a desperate attempt to maintain control in a country increasingly frustrated and demanding change.  It seems only a matter of time before something has to give.  It is worrying though to think of what that might be, and how that will affect the people of Venezuela.

Is Venezuela Safe to Visit? Canaima National Park
my visit to Canaima National Park was incredible, HOWEVER….

However….

It breaks my heart to advise against visiting Venezuela, but I really can’t recommend it at the moment.  Of course I understand that people will still visit, and decide that the risks are worth the chance to see this spectacular enigma of a country.

If you do decide to visit Venezuela, no-one can deny its beauty.  Spectacular scenery from the Caribbean beaches to snow-capped mountains, incredible waterfalls and the breath-taking Tepuy, Venezuela has its fair share of natural gems.  Nature flourishes here too with the wetlands of Los Llanos rivalling the Brazilian Pantanal for wildlife.

In general the people I met were warm and friendly, and are concerned about their country and its uncertain future.  Everyone was worried about their safety, and mine – warning me to be careful wherever I went, and with good reason.  Not all people here are so friendly, on my tour there was a German man who got mugged in Caracas, and I recently spoke to a friend I met there who had their house broken into by armed men, and had all their money stolen.  Trying to report a crime to corrupt policemen can be even more risky!

Knowing someone in Venezuela is really the only way I would say it is possible to travel there.  Couchsurfing is booming in Venezuela and could be a way to get good advice for where to go and not go, just make sure you are confident your host has your best interests at heart.

If you do decide to travel – carry a spare stash of dollars but make sure they are well hidden.  When you are searched (as you inevitably will be) then hope they don’t find them.  Spread the stash out so if some is discovered you will hopefully keep the rest.

Do not go out at night, especially in Caracas.  Going out alone during the day in Caracas is not recommended for foreigners either.  The city centre is ugly, dangerous and offers little for the tourist, and to be honest best avoided altogether at the moment.

Is Venezuela Safe to Visit? Canaima National Park and Roraima
Trekking to Mount Roraima in the Canaima National Park

Tours to areas such as the Los Llanos, the Orinoco Delta, Angel Falls, the Tepuy and hiking to Roraima can all be arranged in advance before you come to Venezuela.   However you will probably pay in dollars, making the trip no cheaper than in any other country, despite the rock-bottom value of the bolivar.  To me this cost was well worth the money for my own safety and piece of mind.  If you wish to ‘wing it’ and book while you are there, you may struggle to find a travel agency to arrange flights for you in bolivares, and the internal flights are often booked up days in advance.  Bus travel around Venezuela is not easy, as frequent delays, cancellations, and police checkpoints along the roads make travelling by road long and arduous.

Although it seemed overly luxurious at times, my travel agent had arranged private transfers so I was picked up from the airport and taken to the hostel, and collected again from the hostel and taken to my next destination.  I was barely on my own at all through the 3 and a half weeks I was there.  On the one hand I didn’t like to be chaperoned constantly, but on the other I was glad to be safe!  While some bloggers try to emphasize the cheapness of visiting Venezuela, you must weigh up the value of your safety and well being, and only travel if you are ready for what could be dangerous and unsafe.  Take care of yourself, and watch your back.

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Last updated: July 12, 2017

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22 thoughts on “Is Venezuela Safe to Visit?

  1. This post makes me sad and I hope that Venezuela can have a leader who is for the people. I actually just found out through a DNA test that I’m also Venezuelan… I assumed in error that my paternal grandmother was Mexican, but she’s actually Venezuelan. I now have a desire to connect with those roots and hope that someday I can visit Venezuela and see the beauty for myself. Thanks for the great post!

    1. Thank you for reading! I know quite a few Venezuelans who have moved away – it is very sad, and they’re not sure they will ever be able to go back & feel safe – I hope they will, and that you will be able to visit one day too to discover your roots. It is a beautiful country, and the people are fantastic – just a really horrible situation. 🙂

  2. I have 2 aunts who live there and some family I have never met before. We stay in touch but I still don’t go there to visit. Very sad situation. Thanks for the post.

  3. This is sad. I really hope the situation gets better soon. I’m currently backpacking South America got a visa for Venezuela just in case.

    Anyway, the link to Venezuela on your main page is linked to Brazil. Just thought you might wanna know!

    1. Yes, I was just reading an article this morning about the infant mortality rate in Venezuela, it is so sad. Thank you for the heads up on the link, I’ll update it now!

  4. I loved Venezuela and would wholly recommend any experienced and adventurous backpacker should go. One point I would make about your article is that you only seem to have reperesented the political perspective from the disenfranchised middle classes and not taken into account the vast number of poor in the country who’s lives were massively improved by Chavez at least until the oil market crashed.

    1. Thanks for reading & taking the time to comment Aiden! True, I can only comment on what I saw and experienced myself, and I don’t pretend to be an expert in the politics of any country (including my own!) but if people did benefit from Chavez being in power I think its safe to say that is no longer the case. I enjoyed my time in Venezuela but really don’t feel comfortable recommending it to others – however adventurous they may be. That said, everyone takes their own path and I wish anyone who goes there a safe and wonderful journey.

  5. I am planning my trip to South America next year (solo travel) and thought of visiting Venezuela, since I have never visited there and actually I hardly met anyone from Venezuela in my life. I do not know the political and socio-economic situation is so dire there, and the picture of anti-government protest just makes me feel sad and shocked. On the other hand, I really cannot pass up the beauty and the wonder it has to offer. Thanks for a great insights and the written up about Venezuela, and I will find a very nice couchsurfing place if I decide to visit.

    Did you entered Venezuela via Caracas or through the border of other South America countries? I have read there are some borders in Latin and South America is troubled, and I need to minimize the risks at all costs.

  6. Wow, this post just makes me so terribly sad. I can’t believe that the state of affairs is really that bad… part of me doesn’t want to believe this on account that I have heard so many wonderful things about the country but it really seems like things are dire. I watched Viceland’s ‘State of Undress’ and the message was very much what you have echoed. Also again, what a top-notch post. You have become my favorite South American blogger and I cannot wait to use this as a resource for when I plan my South American trip in the future. So amazing!

    1. Wow, thanks Izzy! Venezuela is a wonderful country, but sadly the people in power have run it into the ground, and it really is dire there at the moment. I only hope it gets better soon. Good luck for your South American adventure!

  7. I would love to visit this country for the same reason as what attracted you. Perhaps not at the moment though. It is such a shame that some people are more interested in lining their own pockets than serving the populations they represent.

  8. This was a great post to read! I’ve always been intrigued by Venezuela, but I was curious re: speaking to someone who’s traveled there recently. That photo of the large line at the super market is so heartbreaking! It must be so frustrating for the people who can’t escape. Thanks for sharing this and cracking my mind open a little bit more.

    1. Thanks Laura! It really is heartbreaking to see how normal people are suffering there, and I think it has got much worse too since I was there in January. I only hope it gets better soon!

  9. Thanks for the insight on Venezuela. I know how people “say” some places are unsafe, well, even India but now travelers are making more educated choices and it is important to have articles like this one that share facts and not myths! So, thanks:)

    1. Thanks Jo, safety can be a really subjective thing, but I hate when people who haven’t been to a place tell me its not safe! I was lucky to go to Venezuela with a friend to see it for myself, and I feel sad not to be able to recommend it but I think its too risky at the moment 🙁

  10. Yeah… I wouldn’t go there anytime soon either. My friend actually wanted to start a crowdfunding campaign to help the people in need, but after we searched, there really wasn’t a place where we could donate the money to. Most outside help comes from smuggling food/clothes/supplies in via family visits. Because the government refuses to call it a crisis, outside organization such as red cross can’t come… it’s so sad…

    1. It is shocking and terrible that the government still won’t admit they’re doing anything wrong, and it is the people who are suffering because of it. Something has to give soon, hopefully before its too late to help those who need it most.

  11. Nice article first of all. But exchange rate is 1:1000, not 10 000, probably some mistake 🙂 I visited twice in 2015 and 1016, had lot of various experiences, wonderful nature and hardly understandable crazyness around, hope to return in the future again 🙂 to the better future.

    1. Hi Ruta, thanks for your comment – hehe I like the expression ´hardly understandable craziness!´ 🙂 Hopefully the future will be better, I really hope it will be for everyone´s sake! & thanks for spotting the (not) deliberate currency error, I´ve updated it!

  12. Great post! And good you turned back alive 🙂
    I was in Venezuela in 2013 and 2014, right at the time when Leopoldo Lopez was put in jail and the riots begon. Those were strange times…
    And it is indeed a dangerous place, especially Caracas. Everybody I met knows at least someone who got robbed, car jacked or shot. And because of the black market money exchange, I was more or less forced to walk around with a backpack half filled with cash most of the time. That doesn’t exactly make you feel safe either 🙂

    But other than that I really enjoyed Venezuela. It’s such a beautiful place and it has so much to offer. The mountains and extreme sports near Merida, the coastal national parks Morrocoy and Henri Pittier, Isla Margarita and of course Canaima (you say it has the 2nd highest waterfall, I thought it was the highest ??).

    And it’s still possible to travel in Venezuela, but anyone who wants to do that I strongly advise to go couchsurfing. Especially in the big cities it’s necessary to know someone who can tell you where to go and where not and which taxis you can trust.
    People in venezuela are extremely friendly and they’ll go out of their way to help you and to make sure you leave with a good feeling about their country. And that’s a really big advantage!

    1. Hi Nicolas, thank you for your comments. You are absolutely right, Angel Falls is the highest waterfall in the world, I have corrected my mistake! I am glad you also stayed safe when you went, what you say about couchsurfing is a very good point, having someone who knows the country and the area really is vital – I have added a note about that too, thank you. I hope you continue to have safe and awesome travels – I will write more about my adventures in Venezuela too, in the Orinoco Delta, Angel Falls and Roraima! 🙂

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