The beautiful, uninterrupted Canaima National Park in Venezuela. (Photo: Will Hatton)
By Will Hatton
One of the last adventure frontiers, Venezuela is a vast, largely unexplored land famed for its towering peaks, tumbling falls, and insane inflation.
It also has a reputation as a dangerous country. Almost everybody I knew told me not to go.
“Are you crazy, it’s so dangerous there!”
“You know it’s the kidnapping capital of the world, right?!”
“It is literally impossible to go to Venezuela without being robbed.”
Despite all of the information, the misinformation, and the rumors that were thrown at me, I went anyway — and I’m so glad I did. Venezuela is a truly incredible country. Here are seven things nobody bothered to tell me — but are super helpful to know before you go.
The undeveloped country has some of the most pristine beaches in the world. (Photo: Corbis)
1. Venezuelans want to chat about politics.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that most of the Venezuelans I met were happy to discuss the political situation in the country. Since 2014, there has been massive civil unrest, due to the country’s high levels of violence, which many attribute to strict socialist economic policies like price controls.
And the population is very divided on the matter. On the one hand, you have the Chavistas, the left-wing citizens who believe in Chavism, the socialist political ideology based on the ideas of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. On the other side, you’ve got right-wing protestors, who are very anti-government. And then there is everybody in between.
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The one thing that all Venezuelans have in common is that they are extremely grateful to have somebody listen to their side of the story. On numerous occasions, Venezuelans themselves actually initiated the political conversation with me, which was not what I had expected. In the past, when visiting so-called “dangerous” countries, I’ve found locals to be very quiet when it comes to discussing their government, namely due to an inherent fear of reprisals. Venezuela was refreshingly different in that regard.
2. Gas is really, really, really cheap.
It is a known fact that Venezuela has tons of oil reserves, and that, as a result, gas is cheap. But I didn’t realize the full extent of the cheapness until I went: 60 liters of fuel is exactly one cent. For context, that means that it is quite literally cheaper to fill up a car than it is to buy a bottle of water. I repeat: Gas is cheaper than bottled water.
The other interesting fuel fact is that many Venezuelans view their nearly-free fuel as a birth right. They don’t even think twice about its price. I was completely astounded at just how “normal” it was for fuel to be so dirt cheap.
3. The prices of certain items are very surprising.
I’d been warned in advance that getting toilet paper in Venezuela is a real pain, and that you often have to stand in line for hours in order to buy some. For that reason, I brought extensive supplies of the stuff — 12 rolls! — with me from Colombia. I later found out this is technically smuggling, and therefore is illegal. Oops.
I accidentally broke the law. (Photo: Will Hatton)
Even more expensive than toilet paper, though? Powdered milk. It’s one of the main illegal imports from Colombia, likely because it costs up to $6 for a 2-kilo bag if you buy it on the black market.
Now how’s this for a comparison: A one-hour internal flight on a propellor plane comes in at around the $4 – $8 dollar mark. The planes are certainly terrifying, but still: They are cheap. For backpackers on a budget, Venezuela is a real treat. This is one of the cheapest countries in the world if you have dollars in your pocket.
4. Venezuelans really don’t like poor Spanish.
My Spanish isn’t terrible. I can understand 95% of what is being said to me, and I even understand when people are messing with me. I can stride into a bar, order two beers, and talk about how I like to play with my dog in the park with fair confidence.
But in Venezuela, if my Spanish wasn’t perfect — if I fell into that 5% category and missed a word here and there — the locals looked at me as if I were speaking a different language. In many of the other Spanish-speaking countries I’ve visited, the locals have made a special effort to understand me, almost out of pity — but not in Venezuela. It’s rough out there.
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A Venezuelan friend later revealed that many Venezuelans simply don’t want to make the effort to understand foreigners and unless their Spanish is completely perfect. That’s because very few foreigners visit Venezuela that often, when faced with imperfect Spanish, many Venezuelans don’t even know how to react.
5. Not every Venezuelan woman is a model.
“You’re going to Venezuela? Dude, I hear the girls are STUNNING there.”
That was the common response among my friends when I told them my plans to go to the country.
And while there were plenty of Venezuelan girls who were pretty, funny, fun, and approachable, not every single woman there is a complete and utter stop-in-your-tracks knockout. There were plenty of women who were beautiful, but in a real-person way, not a supermodel way.
6. The quality is incredible.
As I mentioned before, if you’re lucky enough to be in Venezuela with a couple hundred dollars in your pocket, then you’re basically a millionaire. What came as a true surprise, however, is that the quality of the stuff you can buy is actually extremely good.
I’m used to getting super cheap rooms for a few dollars in other cheaper countries, but in Venezuela, a few dollars doesn’t just get you a room. It gets you a five-star hotel room. And if you’re willing to really go all out and spend around $10 on dinner? Well, be sure to dress up in your Sunday best, because for that kind of money, you can expect to eat a three-course meal in a truly stunning restaurant — the kind of thing that would cost hundreds of dollars back home.
I knew backpacking in Venezuela was going to be cheap, but I’d assumed that this would mean that the quality of flights, accommodation, activities, and food would be pretty poor. I could not have been more wrong.
And even if you’re not technically buying anything, the beautiful surroundings are free. (Photo: Corbis)
Paragliding with an experienced guide costs just $7, a ridiculously low price for an activity that requires expensive equipment and trained professionals. Of course, be sure to check out the reviews of your company before you go, and only choose a company that is legitimate.
The really crazy thing is that, due to the fluctuating black market rates, the value of your dollars changes every day. I left civilization for a five-day trek, and when I returned, the black market rate had skyrocketed yet again. Overnight, the dollars in my wallet were worth nearly 40% more.
The glide of a lifetime, all for a mere seven bucks! (Photo: Will Hatton)
7. Venezuelans are incredibly friendly.
I didn’t really know what to expect from Venezuelans themselves. They do, after all, live in a politically unstable country where riots, food shortages, rampant inflation, and crazy politicians are pretty much the norm.
So here’s my summary. Venezuelans may not be that welcoming at first. You are, after all, a comparatively loaded traveler, making the most out of their dire economic situation in order to fuel your lust for adventure. And you probably don’t speak perfect Spanish, either. But do not let that deter you. Once you actually get chatting to Venezuelans, especially some of the younger generations, you will find that they are warm, incredibly hospitable and almost always up for a good time. The amount of on-the-spot offers I had to go off on an adventure, or simply sit down and play a random game of chess, were truly staggering.
Playing an impromptu game of chess with a local. (Photo: Will Hatton)
Finally, a word of caution: Be sure that when you are considering a trip to Venezuela, you take everything you hear — even from me — with a grain of salt. There is a lot of conflicting information out there, and if you really want to learn the truth, you need to just go for yourself. Pack your bag, book that flight, be smart, be safe, and learn the truth about one of the most stunning, bewildering, exhilarating, and beautiful places in the world.
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