Caracas

Caracas is not the gentlest of introductions to South America. Some enjoy its pleasant, year-round climate, its parks and cosmopolitan nightlife. Others are drawn to see firsthand the Chávez revolution in action. For others, it's more like a slap in the face from a garishly dressed, loud mestizo with a taste for all things American. Founded in 1567, it lies in a rift in thickly forested mountains which rise abruptly from a lush green coast to heights of 2,000 to 3,000 m. The small basin in which the capital lies runs some 24 km east and west. By way of escape, there are several nearby excursions to mountain towns, the Parque Nacional Monte Avila, beaches and Los Roques, a beautiful Caribbean atoll reached by a short flight.

Getting there

The
airport
is 28 km from Caracas, near the port of La Guaira: Maiquetía and Aeropuerto Auxiliar for national flights and Simón Bolívar for international flights. Both Maiquetía and Simón Bolívar have modern terminals, connected by an airconditioned walkway with moving sidewalk. There are three main
bus terminals
in different parts of the city; where you arrive depends upon where you travelled from.

Getting around

The metro is a/c, clean, safe, comfortable and quick. MetroBuses are modern, comfortable, recommended but infrequent. Regular buses are overcrowded in rush hour and charge extra after 2100. Minibuses are known as
busetas, carmelitas
or
carritos
.
Por puestos
run on regular routes; fares depend on the distance travelled within the city and rise for journeys outside.

Orientation

In the centre, each street corner has a name: addresses are generally given as 'Santa Capilla a Mijares', rather than the official 'Calle Norte 2, No 26'. In the east, addresses are more obvious, 'y' or 'con' used for street intersections. Modern multi-storeyed edifices dominate and few colonial buildings remain intact; many find the city lacking in character. A 10-km strip from west to east, fragmented by traffic-laden arteries, contains several centres: Plaza Bolívar, Plaza Venezuela, Sabana Grande, Chacaíto, Altamira, La Floresta, Boleíta. The Avila mountain is always north.

Climate

Maximum 32°C July-August, minimum 9°C January-February.

Security

Safety in Caracas has deteriorated in recent years and crime rates have risen significantly. You should be on the lookout from the moment you arrive; there are many pirate taxis and rip-off merchants operating at the international airport. It is advisable not to arrive in Caracas at night. Avoid certain areas such as all western suburbs from the El Silencio monument to Propatria, the areas around the Nuevo Circo and La Bandera bus stations, the area around the
teleférico
, Chapellín near the Country Club, and Petare. Street crime is on the increase, even armed robbery in daylight. Carry handbags, cameras etc on the side away from the road as motorcycle bag- snatchers are notorious. Car theft is common: always use car parks; never park on the street. Police checks are frequent, thorough and can include on-the-spot searches of valuables. Always carry your passport, or a photocopy (nothing else will be acceptable); bribes are sometimes asked for. If you have entered overland from Colombia, expect thorough investigation. In some cities outside the capital, the atmosphere is more relaxed.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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