Rediscovering Couchsurfing in Venezuela

She met me at the border, all smiles and friendly hellos. I looked around nervously, dozens of police and soldiers eyed me suspiciously. I was the only gringo in sight. Sensing my discomfort, she bundled me into the back of a battered car and we made our way past numerous police-check points. A fat officer with a scrunched up face, kind of like an onion, peered into the back of the vehicle and spotted me. I handed over my passport. Esthela talked rapidly in Spanish and my passport was returned, we sped away from the check-point like criminals fleeing the scene of the crime.

I had been in touch with Esthela for a few months now. I had been nervous about visiting Venezuela, literally everybody I had met, including Venezuelans, had warned me that it was an extremely dangerous country. Seeking more information, I had turned to the Couchsurfing forums. I had received dozens of messages from Venezuelans beseeching me to go elsewhere or face certain death whilst exploring their country. I was left pondering, is it safe to visit Venezuela at all? Only Esthela had responded differently…

“It is a little dangerous here, sure. But, if you would like to come, I would love to show you around. You can stay with my parents and I can meet you at the border to help you get across safely”

Esthela had quickly become my guardian angel. Every time I heard a distressing rumour about Venezuela, I would ask her what was going on…

“Do bring toilet paper, it can be hard to get. Just bear in mind that the government-run media cannot be trusted and that Venezuelans themselves exaggerate a lot of the facts. We have some major shortages at the moment, if you can bring us some coffee we will love you forever”

Stocking up on the essentials…

In preparation for my arrival into Venezuela, I had hastily headed to the nearest Colombian shopping mall and stocked up on coffee and powdered milk before crossing the border.

Overnight, I joined a legion of international smugglers ferrying crucial yet apparently illegal supplies into Venezuela. Venezuela’s spiralling inflation and crippled economy means that it is, in fact, more profitable to smuggle milk into the country than cocaine (not that I was thinking of becoming an international cocaine smuggler, I wasn’t!).

With Esthela at my side, guiding me through the police border crossings, we had made it to San Cristobal, a small city just two hours from the Colombian-Venezuelan border. Here, I proudly presented Esthela’s mum with coffee and milk, the whole family were delighted and we began an impromptu chess tournament. My backpacking adventure through Venezuela had really begun.

The beautiful countryside of Venezuela…

I spent the next two days exploring the surrounding area with Estella who helped me gain a first-hand insight into what the heck is going on in Venezuela at the moment, socially, economically and politically. With my head spinning I took due note of the practical advice she offered on how to travel around the country safely.

I have been involved with Couchsurfing for years. I have surfed over a hundred times and have a stack of decent references. For some reason however, throughout my travel in South America, I had found it extremely difficult to find a host.

Venezuela was to prove the exception to the rule; wonderful, kind and unique hosts such as Esthela seemed to be drawn to Couchsurfing; to helping foreign explorers discover Venezuela attractions safely. Whilst in the country, I met many wonderful people but the nicest, most helpful and most outgoing were always Couchsurfers. Couchsurfing Venezuela was a highlight of my South America backpacking adventure…

Houses on the hill, the warm streets of Venezuela.

Couchsurfing may be dying a slow and painful death in some countries but, in Venezuela at least, it is flourishing. Venezuelans, keen to show the world that their crazy government does not represent all of Venezuela, are throwing open their doors, unrolling sleeping mats and inviting more and more travellers into their homes…

To Couchsurfing in Venezuela, and to the wonderful Esthela herself, I want to say a huge thank you – you’re welcome in my home, wherever that may be, at any time 🙂

Get insured!

Even if you are only going on a short trip, you should always travel with insurance. Have fun on your Venezuela backpacking adventure but please do get insurance – take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it.

As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be travelling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on a backpacking adventure! Travelling without insurance would be fucking stupid. I highly recommend World Nomads.

As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be travelling. – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on a backpacking adventure! Travelling without insurance would be fucking stupid. I highly recommend World Nomads.

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  • Avatar Gaby says:

    “keen to show the world that their crazy government does not represent all of Venezuela, are throwing open their doors, unrolling sleeping mats and inviting more and more travellers into their homes…”


  • Avatar Carlos Sánchez Carriedo says:

    Well I hope you discover Venezuela, I am Venezuelan and I am in couchsurfing, if you need help to something write me, greetings.

  • Great post! There are too many articles out there about the lack of safety with Couchsurfing. It’s so refreshing to see a story about how Couchsurfing makes you safer!

  • Avatar Dale says:

    Having just finished about ten days with four Couchsurfing hosts in Scotland, I’d say that Couchsurfing is just about the best social network for travellers on the internet. It’s still amazing, regardless of what people might be led to believe, and experiences like yours and ours is the clear reason that its slow death is a myth.

    • Couchsurfing is not dead my friend! However, I do think some of the more out-there members have started to get frustrated at the amount o rubbish accounts and copied and pasted requests… I think CS will continue to work really well in areas that dont get many tourists, in places like London however, it may be a better bet to look on other sites – I’m constantly keeping an eye out for new initiates, there is some exciting stuff out there although CS remains my default first-choice when looking to meet cool people and score a room to stay in for a couple of days 🙂

  • Like you, I’ve also tried couchsurfing though not in Venezuela but in Japan (one in Tokyo and one in Osaka)! I was also quite nervous at first but I eventually learned that it’s indeed a fun and interesting way to travel. Also good to know that more and more people are opening up to this idea. Also, have you heard of glouchsurfing? I’m pretty interested about ittttt! <3

    • Couchsurfing is amazing, I’m a huge fan of it but was sad to find it harder and harder to get a host; Venezuela restored my faith! Tell me about Glouchsurfing, I know next to nothing about it!

  • Avatar Laura says:

    This post made me both happy and sad. I left Venezuela a year and a half ago (better study opportunities in Europe) and yes, the situation is rough but if you hear the tips from the locals you’ll be safe to explore the gorgeous country. I’m re-visiting in December and I can’t wait!!
    Btw, I’ve visited San Cristobal twice and have some good best friends over there. I hope you enjoyed the city!

    • I loved Venezuela and can’t wait to come back! – I’m already jealous of you, you should write about your experiences – there simply is not enough information coming out of the country right now for people to have even a basic understanding of what the hell is going on…

  • Avatar Andrea A says:

    This is exactly what I think the forum Couchsurfing and traveling in general is about: breaking down barriers and proving that the world is not a dangerous place.At the beginning I was a little nervous in that the police and guards were staring you down under suspicion. I hope if I travel to Venezuela I am able to have a host who shows just as much hospitality and generosity as Estella! Am going to check out Trampolinn as well!

    • Andrea; Couchsurfing has always been a lifeline for me in countries such as Venezuela, I was nervous but time and time again, all over the world, Couchsurfers have saved my ass. It’s a fantastic community, when it works, and represents the best parts of travel, like you say, breaking down barriers and changing the perceptions of others for the better 🙂

    • Avatar Mirko Buiza says:

      a host and a friend you can have… wellcome to Venezuela anytime…

    • Avatar Asshly says:

      Hi Andrea and Will H. I’m from Venezuela and I have visited almost all, is the best thing that you can do in your life, I love reading comments about how people around the world would like to visit my country, I’d love to show everybody the natural beauties of my country.

      The price of the dollar is really high here, with $600 or less you can visit all the country in a five star hotel. You just need someone to advise you where not to go, many are kind and yes, we are not in a good time but we are always grateful that we still have visitors from all around the world. You guys are always welcome.

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