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General

Venezuela offers a great variety of landscapes – tropical beaches, immense plains, enormous rivers, forests, jungle, waterfalls and great mountains. Unfortunately, the flash floods and mudslides which hit Venezuela in 1999 severely damaged the country’s infrastructure; some of which may still not have been fully restored. Travellers should check prior to departure, particularly if planning to visit Vargas State.

Caracas

Nestling in a long narrow valley in the coastal mountain range 16km (10 miles) from the north coast, Caracas is typical of the ‘new Venezuela’, despite being one of the oldest established cities in the country (founded in 1567). The city is constantly growing and changing but, among the new developments, there are still areas of the old towns intact – San José and La Pastora, for example. Other periods of the country’s history have left substantial monuments; these include the Plaza Bolívar, flanked by the old cathedral and the Archbishop’s residence, the Casa Amarilla and the Capitol (the National Congress) building, erected in 1873 in just 114 days, which has a fine mural depicting Venezuelan military exploits. La Parque Central has high-rise architecture, theatres, museums and galleries. Other places worth visiting include the Panteon Nacional (which contains the body of Simon Bolívar), the Jardín Botánico, the Parque Nacional del Este, and, for recreation, the Country Club. Museums in the capital include the Museo de Bellas Artes, the Museo del Arte Colonial, the Museo del Arte Contemporáneo, the Museo de Transporte and the Casa Natal del Libertador (a reconstruction of the house where Bolívar was born; the first was destroyed in an earthquake). Next door is a museum containing the liberator’s war relics. There is a large number of art galleries, as well as daily concerts, theatrical productions, films and lectures. The city also has a wide range of nightclubs, bars and coffee shops, especially along the Boulevard de Sabana Grande.

Mount Avila gives a superb view across the city and along the coast. There are several beaches within 30km (20 miles) of the capital, with excellent ‘taverns’ and restaurants. El Avila National Park has a diverse range of fauna including jaguars, armadillos, red howler monkeys and sloths. The park has its own campsite and hotel. Visitors do need a permit to enter the park.

The North Coast

The 4000km (2800 miles) of Caribbean coastline represents the major tourist destination in the country. The area has numerous excellent beaches and resorts ranging from the comparatively luxurious to the unashamedly opulent, which stretch along the coastline. Maiquetia is one of the best and most popular, offering wide beaches, an extensive range of watersports and some of the best fishing (including an international competition for the giant blue sailfish). There are daily air-shuttles from Maiquetia to Porlamar, on Margarita Island, a popular tourist resort with beautiful beaches, good hotels and extensive shopping centres. Also to the west of Caracas are Macuto, Marbella, Naiguata, Carabelleda, Leguna and Oriaco, all of which boast excellent beaches. To the north of Maiquetia are the idyllic islands of Los Roques.

La Guaira is the main port for Caracas. Although now heavily industrialised, the winding hilltop route from the city and the old town are worth visiting. Further west along the Inter-American highway is Maracay with its opera house, bullring and Gomez Mausoleum. Excursions run to Lake Valencia and Gomez’s country house, the Rancho Grande.


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