How many interesting cities are there in Venezuela bleg?

That's a serious question.  I've never been to the country.  I was browsing on Wikipedia and I came across the following description of their second largest city, Maracaibo:

Maracuchos are extremely proud of their city, their culture, and all
of Zulia. They usually claim that Venezuela wouldn't be the country it
actually is without Zulia. Rivalry with inhabitants of other regions is
common, specially with Gochos (people of the Mérida state) and Caraqueños (people of the city of Caracas).

Unfortunately, the city of Maracaibo has no facilities to treat domestic sewage.

Actually for a short visit I don't mind the sewage bit; the lack of sights of interest is more off-putting.  I have loved every part of South America I have visited (and that includes many poor places and indeed most of the continent, short of Paraguay and Venezuela), yet when I read about the cities of Venezuela I cannot muster much enthusiasm for seeing them.  Does Wikipedia simply fall flat on this topic?  Or does some factor make these cities boring?

Yes, I know about Angel Falls and the wood sculptures of Mérida.  But of the major cities of Venezuela, how many of them are interesting to see and visit?  And is there a theory behind your answer?

Comments

My mother was born in Venezuela. Maracaibo in fact. I notice she has never gone back to visit. And she's a woman who likes to travel. Sorry Tyler.

I've been to Venezuela as a tourist twice. Both times I've been rather disappointed, and especially with the cities. When I arrived in neighbouring countries, I noted to myself to keep future Venezuela trips as short as possible. And almost like you, Tyler, I've loved every part of South America I've visited _apart_ from Venezuela.

Having said that: Ciudad Bolivar is pleasant enough for an old colonial city. It's impressively located on the Orinoco.

Colonia Tovar is surprising to see as it appears like a Bavarian town amongst South American foliage and mountains. It's no city though.

I can't recommend anything else. That includes Caracas, Valencia and Maracaibo.

Por favor, can someone speak up on behalf of urban life in this much-maligned country?

Tyler,

Where exactly are you going in Venezuela?

I don't recommend the cities. It's been about 4 years since I've been in Caracas, but it was extremely dangerous to walk around the city back then. Cab drivers are not to be trusted - your hotel staff will likely be able to give you information on where to go and how much it should cost to get where you're going.

We stayed in Altamira, which was supposed to be more upmarket, but really just kind of shabby and non-descript. The rest of the city as far as I could tell was full of makeshift slums and camps. Nearly all hotels were gated and higher end places had guards posted. I agree with George's assessment of the modern art museum - it's nice but not fantastic.

My advice is to go to Colombia, instead. But if you're going to Venezuela - get out of Caracas and into the more natural parts of the country as soon as you can. Merida is very nice for hiking and outdoor activities. The trip to Angel Falls is a great experience. The beaches and Los Roques are very nice, as well.

I lived in western Venezuela for a few years. Maracaibo might be okay for a night, but as others have mentioned there is not much to see.

I recommend Merida. Scenic and away from the oppresive heat of Maracaibo. It is, by far, my favorite city in Venzuela. Ride the teleferico, hike a bit in the Andes or just hang out in the main plaza.

Try to el mercado Guajiro, you will like artisan works that are justly famous

I have been only to Caracas and Colonia Tovar (and through some small towns on the coast near Caracas) but I enjoyed what I experienced. (This was a bit over two years ago.) Caracas is a fun, often beautiful city -- modern sensibilities, a lot of character, poorer neighborhoods further away from the city center. (I was with locals, so I got a different look at the city.) I even walked around by myself for an entire day and felt entirely safe (I'm a 6'2" male, so that's part of it). A lot of pro-Chavez t-shirts and anti-American graffiti didn't bother met. The people are wonderful, the nightlife is great, there are some fair museums and the food can be very good. They love baseball, which will make many Americans feel welcome. Outside of the well-to-do areas, the city seemed much like other cities I've visited in Latin America. The gas is dirt cheap, and if you like to drink scotch, it's a great country to visit.

My wife's Venezuelan. She's building a B&B in San Fernando, Apure Venezuela (VZ). I've traveled many times to VZ, mostly to CCS. Try the cable car (teleferico), as the view is great. Margarita Island is nice too. Caracas (CCS), in the valley, provides a nice perspective of the tall mountains. CCS restaurants, especially Italian, can be very nice. Restaurants can be reasonably priced. Murder rates quoted are misleading as most of those are in the VERY poor barrios, definitely not the place a tourist would go in the first place. Travel by city to city bus is fast, but their A/C is VERY cold. CCS is VERY congested. Having a trusted local as guide is a VERY good idea. I've seen very little advertising for VZ tourism, don't understand why. VZ is VERY expensive to live in, similar to Washington, DC, but with very low incomes. Don't know how anyone lives there. Inflation is 30%.

Caracas still is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in South America thanks to the flow of petrodólares in the last 40 years. Sushi is comparable to the best you can get in NY or SF with the added benefit of local ingredients and recipes (mango, plantain, avocado). The beef is second to none (and yes, I've been to Argentina) and Italian restaurants are excellent as well. Areperas (traditional arepa outlets) are generally excellent, although some have higher health standards than others. Don't leave the country without eating Asado Negro and Cachapa con queso.

Nightlife is vibrant but be careful with what taxi drivers recommend. Women are not to be missed (and you won't, trust me). Architecture shows the abysmal differences in income and is a good indicator of the oil price history during the last 60 years.

The other city that is worth a field trip is Ciudad Guayana (conformed by Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Bolívar and San Félix). You'll see the industries where the steel, aluminum and hydroelectric power are produced, merged into a well planned (in Venezuelan terms, that is) city. Worth visiting if you want to see first hand the effect of the current Government policies re nationalizations and impact in what traditionally has been the industrial powerhouse of the country and its heavily unionized workforce. As a plus, the city is planted around the confluence of the Orinoco and Caroní rivers. The city parks of La Llovizna and Cachamay are spectacular (a boat trip to the waterfalls in the parks won't take more than 2 hours of your day and is unmissable). The Macaguas and Guri power plants are also worth a visit if you have the time.

If you feel like going to the beach, you can't miss Los Roques.

As a rule of thumb, 5 star hotels are comparable to 4 and even 3 stars in North American standards. I would avoid 4 stars and wouldn't even think of entering a 3 stars.

If I may recommend you a non-fiction book, that would be El poder y el delirio, by Mexican historian Enrique Krauze. Of the myriad of books about Venezuelan democracy in the last 40 years, Chávez era included, Krauze's is the one not to be missed. Carlos Rangel's Del buen salvaje al buen revolucionario gives a good perspective about Venezuelan and Latin American obsession with "la revolución".

In fiction, Venezuelan classics would be Doña Bárbara by Rómulo Gallegos, Memorias de Mamá Blanca by Teresa de la Parra and Casas Muertas by Miguel Otero Silva. Arturo Úslar Pietri's short stories are brilliant. More recently, Federico Vegas' Falke is worth reading.

In poetry, Eugenio Montejo, José Antonio Ramos Sucre & Vicente Gerbasi are some of the names to look at.

Are you looking for anything in particular during your visit?

Ciudad Bolivar is ok but its location on the Orinoco is the only thing that distinguishes it from many other colonial-ish places in South America.

I sort of enjoyed the New Year's Eve I spent in Rio Caribe, a pleasant little town (though loud like all the rest of Vzla) near the Peninsula de Paria. It's a place you can enjoy Venezuelan Caribbean culture (festive folks) and feel pretty safe while doing so. If you make it over there make sure to go visit the German with the water buffalo farm near Carupano - that is, if he hasn't been expropriated/invaded (when I visited in early '05 he'd had shooting incidents with potential land invaders). He's in the Lonely Planet.

I haven't been but I find the idea of Puerto Ayacucho alluring; it sounds like an unsprawled Iquitos, and it is the gateway to some topographically interesting parts of the Amazon.

Not a city but you should certainly climb Roraima. It's not that difficult and both the hike and the famous moonscape on top are very memorable.

Even the medium-to-nicer parts of Caracas to me felt palpably more dangerous than most other capitals in South America, though not necessarily more so than some of the Central American capitals.

I lived in Venezuela for two years, 1991, and 1992 as a traveling English teacher. I enjoyed traveling East in Venezuela, past Cumana, to Carupano and then to a couple of small villages whose names I can't remember. There was never much to see in the cities, but the people are so friendly and easy to meet that it was worth going just for that. I haven't been back for nearly ten years but when I do I'll go back to the West, Merida, over one of the highest mountain passes in South America to Valera (my ex-wife was from there), as well as to the East (mentioned above) and down to Cuidad Bolivar. Except for visiting with friends I'll avoid Caracas although I'd like to walk up the Avila again, hopefully the view is as magnificent as it was nearly 20 years ago.

I'll have to throw in agreement with most of what has been said. I haven't been to Venezuela since 1994, so I'm sure a lot has changed, but I lived in Caracas, Valencia, and Barquisimeto and I'll have to say that almost all of the truly great places I ever visited were outside the cities. I traveled to Merida, and found it to be delightful, so I'd recommend going there, especially if you want to see the surrounding Andean countryside. (Take the cable car and consider going to Los Aleros (kind of a Venezuelan Historic Williamsburg) It's all about the countryside, beaches, and assorted natural treasures.

Venezuela is unique in that for a country of not-gigantic size, it has geography of just about every type: desert, beach, temperate forest, tropical rainforest, savana, mountain, urban, even glaciers and tundra.

I really do love Caracas, for all its congestion, chaos, and danger. I kind of think of it as a beautiful, cosmopolitan paradise that has contracted a disfiguring disease, but is determined to live life to the fullest as if nothing has happened. My most memorable Caracas moments: hiking to the top of Avila mountain and seeing the city on one side, and idyllic mountain hamlets on the other, and walking around one of the city's notorious "barrios" or shantytowns. If you can stomach the danger, they're really quite fascinating and beautiful in their way (I'd recommend dressing like a local).

And the Caracas Metro is a great way to get around and is as clean and modern as any subway anywhere.

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