Venezuela; still one of my favourite countries and still a country I rave about to every traveler I meet on the road. I had gone to Venezuela truly unsure of what to expect. I had cut through myths and half-truths, I had conquered stunning Mt Roraima, I had fished for piranhas, made friends with locals and enjoyed 10 cent beers on beautiful beaches but, sadly, I have only just scraped the surface. Venezuela is vast and largely unexplored. This is a country which is already calling for me to return and, as soon as I am able, I intend on spending three months or more exploring this wonderful corner of the world. Recently I caught up with Niclas, a young traveler who recently spent ten weeks exploring Venezuela… Here are his thoughts on his Venezuela backpacking experience.
My name is Niclas and I am 21 years old and I love travelling. Since I was a child I have experienced quite a few countries with my family. Mostly in Europe, but we have also visited Thailand and the states. Besides that I have been backpacking in South Africa twice doing volunteer work and Ecuador and Galapagos for a combined 7 months. But today, I’m going to tell you about Venezuela.
Coming to Caracas.
Flying is not something I fancy that much. Flying for 16 hours, well – I don’t fancy that at all. Therefore when I arrived in Caracas it was a tired version of me getting welcomed by two locals, one of them whom I later developed a strong friendship with. As soon as I got out of the airport in Caracas the first thing that hit me was the astonishing heat. It was like getting hit in the face by a fist, that’s how hard it hit me. Standing full dressed, long pants and long sleeves in 45 degrees is something I have never tried before, and something I’m definitely not going to do again. Quite fast I learned that when travelling in Venezuela, you can live like a king. Actually I noticed on our first stop at a gas station how cheap everything is for tourists. I knew right away that this was going to be a place for me. Here I could live like a millionaire!
Sitting in the bus on the way to the camp I was thinking about everything I had heard from home. “Going to Venezuela is going to get you killed” “you will get robbed” “you can’t walk around alone on the streets”. Nonsense. Not one single time during my 10 weeks did I feel threatened or scared. I quickly noticed that the Venezuelan people were some of the most friendly people I had ever come across. I also learned that a few Spanish phrases will get you a long way since barely anyone speaks English.
Meeting the camp
We arrived at the camp late, it was dark and there wasn’t time to do anything other than sleep. The first night was simply spent in the hammock. I was travelling in a group and our main camp was located in Playa Colorada, a small city around 30 minutes from Puerto La Cruz. Here I had plenty of time to meet the locals, to hang on the beach, or simply to go to the bigger surrounding cities, do some shopping, or eat the amazing food. My favorite food happened to become the empanada, something I have spent a lot of time trying to recreate at home without any success at all. Also while being in the camp I noticed how relaxed almost all the Venezuelans were, they are really a laid back people, and even though many of them live a difficult life without that much money, they will meet you with a smile on their faces most of the time.
Visiting the jungle people
My first big experience in Venezuela was visiting the jungle. After 8 hours in bus and with boat, I found myself standing in the jungle. Here I was surrounded by the Indian people who had lived like this for centuries. Those guys literally lived on the water. They had created a community in the middle of the jungle, living on the water, building rafts somehow connected to the bottom of the river and here they found themselves doing the same things every single day. That’s why it was so amazing to see how they found happiness out of nothing. They found happiness in everything, and you barely ever say them without a smile on their faces. This Indian people had nothing, and they were completely separated from the rest of the world. To get to the nearest city you would have to sail at least three hours in boat. They were surrounded by nothing but jungle and water. It’s said that the kids learn how to swim and row a boat before they are able to walk, which is why they are also famous for the upper body strength, since they spend a lot of time in their boats. Fishing for piranhas was part of the everyday life here, as well as going deeper in to the jungle, looking for food, medicine or whatever they needed. Everything they have come from the jungle, that’s why staying there was such an incredible experience.
Facing adventurous Merida
Another amazing place in Venezuela is Merida. It’s amazing how much one country can differ. One day you find yourself living in the jungle, the next you live in 2500 meters height above the clouds. Merida is said to be the adventurous capital of Venezuela, and as far as I’m concerned it is. Are you looking for an adventure? Then this is the place to go! Merida offers cannoning, canopy, paintball, mountains, skydiving, paragliding and so much more. It is a city with a lot of history as well, so you can simply go around the city, see the different statues of former heroes or you can simply sit in one of the parks and just see life pass by.
In the night Merida really comes to life. You will find lots of places to go out, and why not go dance some salsa or reggae tan when you have the chance? The people here are really friendly and would love to see you try and dance. When you want to go home you could grab some of the amazing street food on the way, to make sure you are not hungry when you wake up in the morning. Where I stayed, everywhere I looked I would see mountains, big grass fields with animals, small farmer houses, and roads going deeper into the mountains. This is definitely a place to visit.
Los llanos and the last cowboys
After Merida we headed to Los Llanos which is located in the Venezuelan desert. We were told that this was the place of some of the last real cowboys living in South America, so we had our expectations set high. At first glance those guys did not look like cowboys at all, walking around in their flip flops, bathing shorts and t-shirts, however seeing them in action made me change my mind. The way they were riding the horses, capturing anacondas more than five meters long with their bare hands and a wooden stick, using lassos to pull in full grown alligators before fighting a smaller alligator with nothing but a torch and years of practice. This was amazing. There was no sign of fear to be seen in the eyes of those men, and everything happened with a smile. Imagine still being able to smile when fighting an alligator. This seemed like a game for them. However Los Llanos offers much more than cowboys. This is one of the places with the most species of animals in Venezuela and a hike either during the day or the night offers lots of opportunities to see some of those animals. Especially the night hikes are amazing. Besides this, it’s really exciting as well. When sitting on top of the bus roof, listening to the different sounds of the animals all the time thinking that you see something run next to the car or in front of it. If you are the kind of person who prefers to go for a hike in the night, why not take a horse instead of a hike then. The cowboys will be next to you on the dusty roads, teaching you how to ride properly, and being on the lookout for animals.
Choroni day and night
If you are looking for s place to relax, to go for a swim or learn how to surf, or simply to show off your newly learned salsa moves, then Choroni is the place to go. It is a city full of life in the day, with amazing opportunities to be surfing, chilling at the beach or trying the amazing street foods. And they have lots of it. But it’s in the night that the city really wakes op. Going to the malecon, you will see people dancing, singing or playing rhythms on their drums, just having fun and living life like they have always done. The people here are very friendly and always looking for an opportunity to small talk. A bunch of times I was even asked by locals if they could take a picture with me, simply because I was a tourist. Choroni is an amazing place for backpackers, it offers lots of cheap food, and also a lot of cheap clothes so if you are looking to change some of the clothes in your backpack, do it here. From Choroni you are also able to visit the biggest cacao plantation of the world. To do that, you have to go in a small boat for around 45 minutes depending on how crazy the water is. Once on this island you can also go on amazing hikes around the island. Here you will be offered opportunities to cross small rivers, go through the jungle, jump into the water from cliffs or simply enjoy some of the amazing waterfalls. And of course, take the opportunity to taste their cacao.
Back in time – La Gran Sabana
If you want to leave the rest of the civilization completely, just be away from everything for a certain amount of time, then La Gran Sabana is the obvious choice. This place is nothing but small streets, even smaller houses and amazing local people. They are also some of the last Indian people, and they meet you with a toothless smile every time you try to speak some Spanish, it doesn’t matter how much you speak, but just making an effort will create a smile on their faces. However if you want to go to La Gran Sabana, be sure to bring snacks, since it tend to be a bit more expensive here. At night this is one of the most amazing places to be. Never in my life have I seen so many stars, the dark night is being lighten up by all the stars and I could spend hours just looking up on the stars and thinking of no better place to be in the moment. In the day it’s also beautiful. You can visit waterfalls, small mountains, natural waterholes and waterslides. It also happens to be one of the places where the movie “Jurassic park” has been filmed and it simply offers an amazing landscape, one of the most beautiful landscapes you will come across. Staying in La Gran Sabana you will have to spend the night in a tent. However that’s not a problem, you will be left all alone by the locals, and there won’t be a sound to wake you up in the morning.
Angel falls and its surroundings
Have you ever seen the movie “Up”? If you have then you have seen angel falls. This is the tallest waterfall in the world, and the surroundings are as beautiful as the waterfall is. To get there you also have to spend some time. Both by airplane and boat. Like La Gran Sabana this is also away from the civilization and only very few people live there. This was an amazing experience, not only watching Angel Falls but also the trip there. Being in the boat you will be surrounded by the jungle, listening to all the birds and monkeys while being taken down the river. If you look behind the jungle you will see the top of tons mountains, cliffs and waterfalls. And don’t worry. You won’t be sitting still for three straight hours in the boat. You can happen to get stuck in the river either between stones or simply on the bottom of the water, meaning you will have to get out of the boat, pushing the boat back into the deeper water. This makes for a lot of fun. However seeing the waterfall is simply amazing. It’s an experience everyone who has the opportunity to do, should.
When staying there overnight it makes for an incredible experience as well. You will be located in the jungle around one kilometer away from the waterfall, and you will spend the night in the most comfortable hammock. Since it’s in the jungle, you will be right next to both lots of animals and insects, so be sure to bring something against insects.
Ending perfectly with the astonishing Roraima
At the end of my trip I headed to Roraima. I was told that to get to the top and down I had to spend 6 days and walk between 55-60 kilometers. Hiking all the way to the top, finally being there, and then watching the view. It was simply divine. You feel like you are at the end of the world. You will not find a view like this any other places in the world. Roraima is something called a table mountain, so you can stand by the edge, and simply look all the way down. And to get to the top you do not only have to hike, you have to cross rivers, jump from stone to stone and climb in mud. Literally climb. This experience is one I would never be without, but I didn’t think like that before after I came back home. Now I just can’t wait to get the chance to climb it again.
Being on the top you can sleep wherever you want, as long as you remember to bring a tent. Both the sunrise and sunset is amazing to see from the top, and just being there for three days you will have so many different views, sitting at the exact same place. One day you will look straight into the clouds, the next day you will see a rainbow in the horizon, and the third day you will see the path you have been walking along, laying between small mountains crossing through forests and going through rivers. If you happen to stay one day at the top, you will also have enough to do. You can walk around on the top and see all sorts of flowers and bushes, you will see weird rock formations, crystals and natural waterholes where you can take a swim or wash your clothes. If you want to take a break from the hiking you can simply just watch the view from you wake up until you go to sleep. Be sure to bring enough food! Most of the time you will be escorted by on or two local indians, and those guys eat a lot!
Venezuela is a country with a bad reputation. Yes, the criminal rate is high, and yes, you can happen to run into trouble. But there is not one place in the world where this is not the case. It’s a country which every backpacker should explore. It’s cheap and you find some of the most friendly people you will come across, as well as creating life long memories. Venezuela is a country which contains everything. A country made for backpackers so go out there and explore it. You are not going to regret it.
About Niclas: My name is Niclas Glud, and I live in a small city half an hour from the Danish capital, Copenhagen. I’m born in 1993. Since I was a small child, I have always loved travelling around with my family. It mostly happened in the school vacations, but we visited places like, Italy, Spain, France, Austria, Belgium and Thailand. Visiting Thailand when I was 12 years old was a real eye opener for me. This was the first time that I explored a completely different culture to the one we have in Denmark. Since visiting Thailand, it was always a dream for me to travel around in the world. Eight years later, finished school, I started working right away. I wanted to travel as soon as possible so I quickly earned some money by working in a kindergarten and then headed to Ecuador and Galapagos. It was an amazing experience, and after three months there I had to travel back home. That didn’t stop my dreams of travelling though, and since then I have visited South Africa twice and Venezuela one time. At the moment I’m back on the school bench, but I have not put my dreams of travelling completely aside. I hope that you will enjoy reading about my experiences in Venezuela. Feel free to follow me on Instagram.