I needed to change money in Venezuela. My driver knew a guy who knew a guy who knew someone who would help me get some Venezuelan money at a rate of 210 bolivars to the dollar. With a beer costing just 25 bolivars and a bed starting at 300 bolivars this seemed like a pretty good deal to me.
I waited in a local shop, bored, watching the ceiling fan go round and round in a pathetic attempt to banish to heat. I had just 500 bolivars, approximately $2, left in my wallet so ideally I needed to change money today. If I couldn’t, it was hardly a disaster. With just one dollar I could buy four beers, jump in a taxi, snack on half a dozen empanadas and still have change for an ice cream.
I could live like a king for under $50 a week!
Venezuela was budget backpacking at it’s best, even an internal flight would only set me back around $6.
A man in a dark suit appeared, hurriedly walked towards the store, a grocery bag clutched firmly under one arm. He rushed in and bade the proprietor close the door. A rent-a-thug stood nearby with what looked like a metal chair leg in one hand, watching me carefully. The harassed-looking money changer emptied the grocery bag onto the tabletop. Coloured bills spilled across the table towards me, I had nearly one thousand bills to count. I handed over a single hundred dollar bill I had hidden in a photo album months before and began the laborious task of tying up the notes with elastic bands. I needed over a dozen.
Nobody had told me it would be this complicated to change money in Venezuela…
Within a week the black market rate for dollars had risen from 170 to nearly 300!
It is important to note that if you try and arrange things from outside of Venezuela, you will be asked to pay in USD at the official rate. A much better plan is to bring your USD to Venezuela and then change them on the black market. To find someone willing to exchange USD with you, simply ask at your accommodation or other backpackers in the country. I do not have the phone number of any money exchangers. – I literally just took to the street and tracked people down.
When carrying dollars in Venezuela, be extremely careful to conceal them properly. There have been many reports of foreigners being shaken down by the police. Especially at road-blocks and border crossings.
For this trip; I carried $200 hidden in a fold in my belt. As well as more dollars concealed between two laminated photographs (which had to be cut open) in my ‘photo book’ from home to show to curious folks I may meet on the road.
In the end, I barely even spent $300 in a month in Venezuela even though I had to hire a guide for trekking on two occasions!
UPDATE: The Bolivar to Dollar rate has now hit 4200, December 2016!
You can check the latest rates at DolarToday.
Writer and entrepreneur. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand pushup. Conqueror of mountains, survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will has been on the road for thirteen years, travelling to far-flung lands on a budget. Today, he runs a number of online ventures, including The Broke Backpacker – the world’s largest budget travel blog. He is passionate about solving the plastic problem and cleaning up the oceans. Currently, Will is based in Bali where he plans to open his first Tribal Hostel in 2020.