Update August 2019: After a phone call with some Venezuelan friends, it is with great sadness that I have to advise that we do not recommend anybody travel to Venezuela at the moment. These are the same friends who originally encouraged me to visit – but now they say it is simply too dangerous. When I visited the situation was already volatile and dangerous – I saw burning barricades in the street, army everywhere and robberies were frequent. Sadly, it is now even worse. Until the situation stabilises, it is not safe or advised to travel to Venezuela.
Before I arrived in Venezuela, I was assailed from all sides by gaggles of people with the latest ‘intelligence’ on the situation in what I now consider to be one of the greatest countries in the world. Most of them had never had the experience of backpacking in Venezuela. All of them thought I was insane for considering it…
Fear breeds stupidity. Those who cannot bear to peek behind the curtain become obsessed with keeping the curtain well in place; if they can’t look, nobody should. Most of the people who warned me against going to Venezuela seemed terrified that I might learn or experience something they wouldn’t…Rather than visiting Venezuela themselves or even attempting to understand the complexities of Venezuelan culture, they would rather cave to the fear, the paranoia, the rumours.
By the time I crossed into Venezuela I had met so many of these people and heard so many bad things that I very nearly caved myself, I almost didn’t go.
All because every person that I met told me the same seven lies…
1. You will get robbed
Venezuela, the murder capital of the world, the kidnap capital of South America. A safe-haven for pirates and thieves, corrupt police and loose women. Or so I was led to believe. I was told time and time again that if I went to Venezuela, I would definitely get robbed. There was simply no way around it.
I have been robbed three times on my travels, but Venezuela was not one of those times. It is more than possible to go to Venezuela without being robbed.…
Sure, the chances of being robbed in Venezuela may be higher than in the rest of the continent but that doesn’t mean you need to empty your rucksack into a bag labelled ‘swag’ and hand it over to the first person you encounter.
2. It’s hard to eat
Venezuela has food shortages, this is a fact. Yet the rumours surrounding this fact have snowballed to the point where a common phrase uttered in Colombian hostels is “But you can’t go to Venezuela, there’s nothing to eat”.
There is always something to eat, there is always something open. Sure, a couple of times I did end up eating chicken and rice three times a day because there was nothing else around but that’s the case in many of the countries I’ve visited. Venezuela is not a country in a state of famine, you don’t need to pack 100 packs of emergency biscuits.
3. Condoms costs $755
It’s extremely easy to put together outrageous news stories on Venezuela due to the countries dual-economy. Those with dollars live like kings, those without dollars live a much harder existence.
The black market exchange rate is roughly 30 times better than the official rate which means that, when people pay with dollars, you can slew those figures however you want to get a better news story, an angle picked used by news outlets around the world.
A 32 pack of condoms bought with dollars or bolivars exchanged for dollars would actually only cost around $25, which is pretty cheap.
4. Hailing a taxi is a death sentence
Numerous times upon receiving Venezuela travel advice, I was told ‘Never hail a cab in Venezuela, they will rob you or drive you somewhere to be robbed’ — how wrong this was. I must have caught several dozen cabs in Venezuela and nothing bad ever happened. I figured I was a much bigger target walking around on the street and, at $1 a pop, why not just get a taxi?
5. It’s impossible to get around
Ok, this one does have a grain of truth to it. The country is big and getting around by bus is a nightmare; they are crowded, slow and often sold-out. At one point I had to wait nearly three days to catch a bus, which kind of sucked. On the plus side, domestic flights in Venezuela are available from around $6. So, as long as you’re near an airport, you can get around very easily.
6. There are no hostels
Again, there is a nugget of truth here. There are hardly any backpacker hostels in Venezuela, but there are plenty of family-run guesthouses, called Posadas, as well as lots of amazing hotels which only cost a few dollars. I stayed in an amazing 4 star hotel which was just 8 dollars a night, I had a rain-shower, times were good. There may not be any backpacker oriented hostels but that doesn’t mean you will be sleeping rough.
7. Every Venezuelan has a gun, you’re fucked.
I only ever saw guns on police officers or on soldiers. I was never once robbed, shot at or ripped off. Venezuela has a bad reputation but half of it is total and utter rubbish; if you want to discover the country, go for it. To those of you who were too scared to visit, you’re missing out.
No doubt this article will hit some nerves so I want to clear some things up right here, right now. I am not actually calling anyone, least of all Venezuelans, liars. I am pointing out that there is so much misinformation surrounding Venezuela that I myself, a seasoned backpacker with seven years travel under my belt, nearly didn’t go. People seemed keen to put me off going but was this for the right reasons? I was consistently told that I would definitely be robbed and probably be killed. Neither of these things happen – was I lucky? Maybe. Are the problems in Venezuela exaggerated? Yes. The main problem is that there is very little in the way of balanced Venezuela travel guide or information about Venezuelan culture out there, and this is why I am trying to set the record straight.
Venezuela is an amazing country and I have told everyone I meet that I recommend going – sure, it is dangerous and yes, I know my experiences in Venezuela are not the same as those of people who actually live there, but people should not avoid it just because it has problems. Everything has problems. With a greater risk comes a greater reward and I found travelling in Venezuela, and making Venezuelan friends, to be one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had on the road. I love Venezuela and I hope to return soon. If you find this article offensive, maybe you need to take a long hard look at yourself – should you really be discouraging tourists from visiting your country, or perpetuating rumours of a place you are yet to visit? If you want the situation to improve then this is a crucial step.