Is Venezuela Safe? (2019 Edition) Tales, Safety Tips, and More
This article about is Venezuela safe for travel was created by the only person I’ve met who actually went to the country in 2017 – Traveler100. Enjoy!
Is Venezuela safe? That was the question on my mind as I boarded a plane in Lima bound for Caracas in February 2017. Venezuela was to be my 84th country, and it was the one for which I conducted the most planning. A lot of planning. In the wake of reports of severe civil unrest and food shortages, my previous trips to Iran, Honduras, and Bangladesh seemed like package tours to Disneyland.
I decided I would entrust someone on the ground to design my Venezuela trip. After contacting several operators found from a sparse collection of TripAdvisor reviews, I ultimately opted for Hike-in-Venezuela.
These guys were great from start to finish. I was primarily in touch with Andreas, who addressed all of my concerns without the least bit of attitude. My ambition was to see the Angel Falls, the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall. But February is usually a dry month and access to the Falls was not a certainty.
So I pitched Andreas the idea of doing a trek to Roraima, said to have inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World.” Andreas informed me that this trip would take at least 5 days. So I had to decline. I can’t take 5 consecutive days off work in February. That’s prime hustle and grind season. So he pitched me a 3-day/2-night Orinoco Delta tour. He mentioned I would hang out with Warao and go piranha fishing. Sold!
Back to that flight to Caracas. I had snagged a business class upgrade on my Copa flight to Caracas. Not the fanciest service, to be frank, but the flight had enough champagne (or an equivalent thereof) to calm my nerves. It was warm and sunny as I arrived to Caracas airport’s international terminal.
Andreas’s guy, Elia, was to meet me and escort me to the domestic terminal. I had heard horror stories about that 5-7 minute walk between the two terminals. Recently, however, the authorities had erected a secure, indoor tunnel linking the two, and it could not be accessed by non-passengers. Elia and I quickly spotted each other at the arrivals lobby.
But first, we had to change money. I won’t get into the specifics of Venezuela’s currency situation. But for purposes of this report, there’s an official rate (i.e., the rate applied by payment intermediaries regulated by the Venezuelan government, such as credit card processors), the black market rate (e.g, the extremely favorable rate you get when you exchange your dollars on as street corner in Caracas – strategy not recommended), and lastly the tourist rate, which can literally be anything between the first two.
If I recall correctly, Elia and I went exactly down the middle between official and black market. I furnished 20 USD, and he took out a fat wad of Bolivares as follows:
We then set out towards the domestic terminal. But there was a problem: his car wouldn’t start. Appropriately enough, we were right in front of a “Welcome to Venezuela” sign.
So we set out upon that 7-minute “walk of doom.” It went without issue, though admittedly I showed up to the domestic terminal covered in sweat. I checked my bag as my flight was scheduled to depart in 2 hours. Except, I was in Venezuela.
Learn more about safety in Latin America:
- Is the Dominican Republic Safe? – 2017/18 Edition
- Is Peru Dangerous? – 2018/19 Edition
- Is Colombia Dangerous? – 2017/18 Edition
Venezuela: Delays on Delays
Suspecting that I was in for a long wait, I headed over to the domestic terminal’s premium lounge and checked in with my Priority Pass. It looked alright, but the Wi-Fi was down and there was no coffee or alcohol.
That’s like 2/3 of my existence. Perplexed, I headed over to Subway to spend those Bolivars and make some friends before my flight to Ciudad Bolivar, a base city for Venezuela tourism.
Rather than arrive in Ciudad Bolivar at 7 PM as scheduled, I arrived a bit past midnight. A driver took me to a rather nice traveler’s lodge and announced he return at 4:30 AM to take me to the Orinoco Delta. In the morning, the driver – José I believe was his name – had no shortage of anecdotes.
Speaking Spanish is absolutely essential to staying safe in Venezuela! This is the best place I’ve found to start learning the romance language.
As we drove past dozens of abandoned production facilities in the vicinity of Ciudad Bolívar, José confided that he was formerly a commercial representative for an Italian mining firm. His company, like many others, was driven out by the Maduro government in a bid to cleanse Venezuela of ‘foreigner capitalist poison.’ Left without work, José was now driving me to a place where ‘work’ took on a different meaning.
At 9 AM that day, we arrived to a small port village of an Orinoco tributary, where the local indigenous peoples, the Warao, were unloading goods recently brought in from Trinidad & Tobago.
Warao literally means “the boat people,” and I had read that they were an industrious, non-confrontational minority. Most live in huts right on the shores of the Orinoco river and its tributaries. After a few positive interactions, I was taken to my new base, the Orinoco Delta Lodge.
The next 24 hours or so were jam-packed with activities. I vividly recall canoeing around an Orinoco tributary and spotting pink river dolphins. Had the canoe flipped into the piranha-infested pool, Traveler100 would have probably been renamed to Traveler 3/4.
It was truly special to meet and greet with some Warao. They asked me about my life around the world, and whether I’m afraid of flying (I still am, who isn’t?). Among the family there was a non-Warao Venezuelan who had courted his Warao wife in a fish market in Maturín.
He proudly proclaimed that albeit he lived poorly among the Warao, life in the jungle was better. It was unlike life in the city, rife with armed violence and arbitrary assaults. The family elder then offered his views of modern Venezuela, but spoke of the late Hugo Chavéz as if the latter were still alive.
I arose early the next morning to go piranha fishing with a Warao guide. We hooked chicken meat onto some homemade, wooden rods and went full Rambo. He caught about 17 of those rascals before I caught my first one.
Observing the master, I placed the bait in a seemingly quiet portion of our designated fishing area. Jerking the rod a bit, I finally enticed a piranha onto my hook. “Now you can call yourself Warao!,” exclaimed the guide. But I wanted no part of the unhooking process. I like my hands how they are, thank you. I asked my Warao companion to set that particular piranha aside as my hard-earned breakfast.
Breakfast ended sharply at noon and José took me back to Ciudad Bolivar airport. A couple of nerve-wracking flight delays later, I found myself en route to Curaçao for some R&R. That’s it. No traumatic confrontations, no robberies, and yes, I left Venezuela in one piece.
Is Venezuela Safe? A Gringo’s Go-To Guide
If you are interested in travel to Venezuela, I hope you have lengthy travel experience in the Americas and/or a very high tolerance for stress and unpredictability. I further recommend a short trip of the type outlined above.
Is Venezuela safe? No, it’s not. Not even for short trips planned with a tour guide. Even for short trips, have an exit strategy. When people go from prosperous to hungry, change can happen fast. Personally, I’d like to return to see the Angel Falls and hike Roraima. In such event, I would certainly contact Andreas and his team, again.
~ Editor’s Note: Is Venezuela Safe?
It should be noted that the author of this article about safety in Venezuela has vast travel experiences, is a good sized male (200+ lb. / 6’2″), and speaks absolute fluent Spanish.
It is not a good idea to go to Venezuela in 2018/19. The country is beyond dangerous and supplies are dwindling.
If you do, make sure you have a decent grasp on the Spanish language before you go and take all the necessary precautions like the author did.