"Venezuela 2008" Venezuela Travelogue by Marejka
Venezuela Travel Guide: 2,517 reviews and 6,414 photos
I had been dreaming of showing this wonderful country to my husband for years. Now we were there - itinerary and backpack neetly organized!
This was what we were planning on:
Day 1 - Home -> Caracas -> Ciudad Bolivar
Day 2 - Ciudad Bolivar
Day 3-4-5-6-7 Rio Caura
Day 8 - Ciudad Bolivar
Day 9 - Ciudad Bolivar -> Maracay
Day 10 - Maracay -> Puerto Colombia
Day 11 - Puerto Colombia
Day 12 - Puerto Colombia -> Colonia Tovar
Day 13 - Colonia Tovar -> Puerto La Cruz
Day 14 - Puerto La Cruz -> Isla Margarita
Day 15-18 - Isla Margarita
Day 19 - return home
It showed that we planned a bit too tight - nevertheless it was the perfect vacation!
So we finally arrived at Caracas! Could have kissed the ground like the pave.
Immigration can take a while, be prepared: you might make sure that you have been to the toilet and have some water with you before joining the lines. Of course also have your immigration and customs papers ready.
Some lines move faster that others, so if you travel with companion line up in different ones and hop over to the fastest one when one of you is about to reach the counter. Otherwise take the "foreigners" line, it might be moving faster than the "Venezuelans" line.
We weren't in a hurry though, our plane to Ciudad Bolivar would not leave until 5 hours later anyway. We took the chance to change some money immediately. Now I can say that airport rates were the best through our whole trip. That day they offered max 4.6 for a USD (you need to bargain to get it as high as you can). Bring large notes, count your money, we had no problems, but I've heard of people getting screwed.
Don't worry about "old" Bolivares and "New" Bolivares Fuertes. There's an information desk in the airport with flyers about the appearance of the new notes and posters with them in almost every shop. It does not matter if you change to the old or new ones untill june 2008. You can use them both, and even if you plan on only having new ones in your purse once you changed, any store will hand out your change in a nice mixture of both.
Anyway, after some waiting we were then able to check in for our plane to Ciudad Bolivar. If you go there, don't worry either that the signs say "Puerto Ordaz". The plane will stop in Puerto Ordaz first and after a short stop continue to Ciudad Bolivar. Just make sure you booked to Ciudad Bolivar. Actually our ticket stated Puerto Ordaz, but everyone of the staff we talked to, was totally aware that both we and our luggage were going further on, and so we landed safely in Ciudad Bolivar.
In Ciudad Bolivar airport we were picked up by the guys from the Tour Operator and posada owner Gekko Tours. It's a German travel agency, trustworthy and good value for money. We were staying in "La Casita" near Ciudad Bolivar (½ hours ride on partly bumpy sandy roads) - what an oasis! I was so happy to see the content face of my husband arriving at La Casita. It's a quite big area with small guesthouses, lots of plants, a pool, a big commonhouse and animals. Just really peaceful and nice with good service and really ok food. The posada also offers a shuttle service to Ciudad Bolivar city twice a day.
After a good nights sleep we decided to use the early shuttle bus to town, to see some of Ciudad Bolivar and to buy some stuff for our Rio Caura trip. I had been to Ciudad Bolivar 6 years earlier and some things had not really changed. If you want to shop clothes or shoes, this is the place, I'd say 90% of all stores are clothes or shoe stores... We saw some of the lovely old town buildings and streets, prepare for climbing up most of the time :-)
On the other hand, Ciudad Bolivar seemed to have been neglected somewhat. I remember "El Mirador" on the Paseo Orinoco (waterfront) from 6 years ago as a lively place with lots of people hanging out and enjoying their drinks and the nice view. When we were here this time, there were like 2 people besides us and all you could get was either beer or Maltin. Things seemed to not being taken care of or restored or renewed and more dilapidated than 6 years ago.
It was nice to see the town though, and after some packing and relaxing in the posada in the evening we were ready for our Rio Caura adventure the next day.
So the big day came - we're starting our tour to Rio Caura!
Pre-booked at Gekko Tours, our driver comes to pick us up at Posada La Casita in the morning. The plan is to fetch our guide as well as all the stuff and food needed for the trip some place in town. Our guide appears to be very nice - Carlito, english speaking, very friendly, around 20 years of age. We load everything needed and then continue our first part of the journey by car. The destination is Las Trincheras, a small spot some kilometres down the Caura River, where we will change to a canoe.
The first part of the road is easy, it takes us parallel to the Orinoco river through savannah-like nature. The signs on the road say 60 km/h, but who cares if we go 120... as long as there are no holes in the road.
Some kilometres before the town of Maripa we're going off road. The next hour or so we get shaken and stirred trying to avoid to catch too many holes and bumps, all whilst vegetation is changing from savannah to rain forest. All in all it's a quite long (around 4 hours) but exciting trip in a nice airconditioned car. Let's nok talk about the music though :-)
Around 1 pm then we arrive in Las Trincheras, the last kind of "point of civilisation". It's a sleepy town, don't plan on bying something here. We loaded all our stuff into a typical "curiara", a motorised canoe, and off we went to our first camp for the night...
Well... sleeping in a hammock ... I've had good and bad nights with hammocks, this one was definitely bad. My husband did not sleep at all, his back couldn't make it. I was freezing and had cought a cold.
Nothing to do about it, so we had breakfast, packed and ... waited. Something about that we might have to wait for another tourist group arriving from Las Trincheras. Lucky for us, they did not show up, so at 11 we could finally continue our trip. We were actually in a hurry now, because ahead of us we had 160 km untill we would reach El Playón, our next camp! We had to go up river driving around stones and rapids and the water was low (dry season), so it could take a while. Since we had been spending time waiting, there now was no time to see any indian communities on our way nor swim or anything.
We had to reach our destination befores sunset, navigating in the dark was not preferable. We only stopped 2 times or so for "toilet", even had lunch on the boat when driving full speed! Not as easy as it might sound since we were served tunasalad, toast and chips, and both chips and toast were blown away from speed before we even had a chance to grab it :-)
It was an awsome ride, breathtaking scenery with the forest and river, far away some mountains... but it was quite a long trip, I have to admit. Take care of the sun, use protection... Just before sunset, around 5 pm, then finally, finally and totally overwhelming, we hit the "end of the river". And El Playón.
WHAT A SIGHT!!
El Playón is a beach at Caura River, right before the place where you can't pass on by boat.
Caura River devides in higher and lower Caura, lower Caura is the part we travelled on, from El Playón to the Orinoco. At El Playón a mountain kind of stops for all boat traffic on the river. Suddenly the river devides into 2 narrow streams fossing down from each side of that mountain. By boat, you can go to here and no further. If you want to somehow reach the Higher Caura, you have to walk - climb! Which is what we were supposed to do the next day. The division of Caura here has for ages been the natural barrier of civilisation and tourism, and the indian communities higher up the river pretty much still live in peace behind those mountains.
It was breathtaking to finally reach El Playón. Not only a beautiful place at the end of the world - it was overwhelming to finally reach the destination, and furthermore it's sooo idyllic.
Right behind the beach there are tourist huts and the camp, and I fell in love instantly. Walking through the camp the path continues to where some indians live. As I wrote earlier, we were one day ahead of the crowds, so when we arrived, it was hardly anybody else there! The indians who live in the village, some guides, some soldiers trying to prevent gold diggers from exploiting the area and us - oh, and Christina (keep on reading...). It was PERFECT.
Once installed in our very own charming hut, we took a bath in the river enjoying the fantastic nature around us. We had just gotten up the water when - in the dusk of the evening - I saw some big animal rising from the water where we just had been. One second later it was on land and running towards us... yyyyrrrggghhh!! Our feet moved quite quickly untill we could see it was a Capybara, a big rodent. It stood and glazed at us for a while, and it actually looked disappointed over that we ran... later that evening I asked our guide about it, and he laughed and said: That's domestic! They call her Christina!! You can pet her!
So I did when I ran into her later, and maybe this was one of the best moments of that Venezuela trip at all... already when I was a child I had a dream of meeting a capybara in real nature!!
Christina *** in a corner in the kitchen later that day, but what the hell, all the evening could not have been better. We organized a matress for my dear husband, so he could sleep on a table instead of a hammock, and then tried to get a good nights sleep before our hike to the falls the day after.
Para Falls are located in one of the two "arms" of higher Caura, right after the point where higher and lower Caura are seperated through the mountains. Essential part of our trip was to hike to the Falls from El Playón. We were told it was about 2 hours of walk, and the Netherland couple we met in the first camp told us that it would be easy enough.
Before we started we had breakfast, of course, and at that point I actually doubted we were getting going. My husband had slept terribly, even though he slept on a matress his back was totally ruined. The hammock the day before and the long boat trip had done something to his back, he was so much in pain and had not slept all night at all.
I myself was bad too - the freezing nights had given me a big time flu and I was not really in the mood for hiking up some rain-foresty-mountains.
But then the miracle happened - just before breakfast my husband finally fell asleep, and just as we were about to eat, he woke up and felt great! His back somehow had set, so he was so ready for the hike. We packed our stuff and left the camp excited and in a good mood.
First we went all the way through El Playón, passing the indian houses, passing the plantages. Ahead of us a lot of indians - carrying barrels of gasoline!
Here's the explanation: As you could read in previous entry, you cannot go by boat between lower Caura and high Caura. So in order to transport gasoline to the indian communities on higher Caura, everything must be carried over that mountain seperating the two river parts! The indians need the gas for their curiara engines ... and do that crazy hike over the mountains at least once a month. Small girls carrying 2 of their younger sisters, women carrying other supplies, men carrying those barrels - 40 kg of weight in their traditional basket backpack things with one strap over the forehead!
It was amazing to see them easily climbing up that mountain on their bare feet with that heavy load, while we tourists with good shoes and no weight almost could not manage to go. A very special experience - I'd never had imagined that I'd do the hike companied by the strong smell of gasoline almost all the way.
The hike sounds pretty easy in the tour operators’ description, but even if I had not had the flu, I would say, if you aren't in somehow shape, you'll probably not be able to do it.
The first part consisted of UP UP UP UP for like endless. And it's really steep, hard to step sometimes. After the first very tough part, you can have a cold beer though... some Indian guy opened a little kiosk right there in the middle of nowhere on that mountain. Once refreshed (when we were there on our way up, there were no cold drinks though - so the guy started the generator and first turned it off when we returned on our way back down!), the path continues much easier. 2 hours later (that's when you move quite fast, we heard from our guide), you finally reach open space. Here the government once tried to build a water electricity plant, some deserted toilets and walls witness of that project, which was given up some time in the 70'ies I think.
Only a short walks distance and you can finally see Para Falls. In the shape of a half moon the water thunders 60m down between green jungle islands into a gigantic throat 7 km long and afterwards forms a large sandbank, where also El Playon is situated. It's an amazing view, although probably even more amazing in the wet season than in the dry. OK, when you have seen Angel Falls, Salto Sapo, or have been around in Gran Sabana to see e.g. Kama Meru, then Para Falls will not make you shiver. Go there for the trip then, the boatride, and especially El Playón, this is an amazing place.
We took some minutes at the "Mirador" where you also can try to use an Indian pea-shooter. After starring and relaxing we walked further down to the falls’ lagoon. (½ hours march steep down the mountain, but it's really worth the while). Down here, only the two of us and the guide, we enjoyed the falls from another angle and cooled down with a nice bath in the river. It was a completely beautiful and peaceful piece of land, amazing to swim there with the falls behind you (you can't go close though), the jungle climbing up the mountain all around you, huge rocks and yellow sand.
Of course then you'd have to walk ½ hour up again :-) ... and then all the way back to the camp. Watch your steps going down - my husband slipped. It could have ended very badly if he had not managed somehow to grip a stone with one finger (he sprained that one).
Oh yes, and this time we passed, the mountain bar was open and the beer was cold... so we had a little refreshment accompanied by some of the Indians we had seen carrying barrels in the morning. Strengthened we continued back to the camp.
The next day we were canoeing back and had plenty of time to visit some of the Indian communities on our way. First stop was Boca de Nichare, a Yekwana community, deserted because everyone was joining the soccer-tournament in one of the neighbour villages. So we went for that, a Sanema village - being there was quite a strange experience. Lots of Indians playing soccer and volleyball, partying and having fun. Anyhow, we felt awkward hanging around and starring at people and their houses like we were in a zoo, so we urged our guide to leave again.
Instead of returning to our basic camp from the first night, we ask Carlito to bring us to the posada in Las Trincheras, where we can sleep in a decent bed instead of another back-breaking hammock. Since we’re one day ahead of the crowds, that’s no problem. We arrive at Posada Caura Lodge and stare – what a wonderful place! Small huts, houses, lodges with the most fantastic view over the river. One house is built on stilts hanging over the banks. There are small open huts for lounging as well as a little hut built in a tree 15 m up. We stay downstairs in a little nicely painted house and feel like kings. After a good nights sleep we kill the waiting time for our car by visiting some of the lagoons in the area watching Caymans. Around noon we leave Las Trincheras and drive back to La Casita again.
So many fantastic things we had seen and experienced…
After one more night in La Casita we took the overland bus from Ciudad Bolivar to Maracay. We prepared quite well for that ride – remember to bring lots of clothes to keep yourself warm when they turn on the air-condition. Anyhow, 11 hours later we were REALLY ready to finally get off the bus; it definitely is a long ride with only one stop for a quick lunch. Bus drivers in Venezuela normally have an assistant for storing luggage and making sure everybody behaves, so did this one. A very unpleasant one, that guy really turned us off, he was totally creepy and sooo not friendly. Every time he came upstairs to check on people, we quickly shut the curtains to not make him freak out on us (in the day busses windows usually are covered by curtains). I didn’t dare drinking anything because I wanted to avoid the bus toilet and that creepy assistant, so when we finally arrived in Maracay I was both dehydrated and had to peeeeeeeeeeeeee!!! In Maracay we asked a taxi driver to recommend us a simple hotel for the night. He took us to hotel Mar del Plata, which was cheap, basic but clean. For our dinner we ended up in some restaurant with a German name (I think it was Bierstube or Biergarten some), don’t do it, at least, don’t order meat and expect to get something you can chew.
Next day we were on the bus again, this time one of the small funny ones… look forward to that experience, if you’ve never been to South America before! They are approx. of the size of American School busses. Front and back window are almost totally covered by foil and stickers, side windows and front door always open (you might bring a scarf for the draft), often crowded with people standing in between the seats. And then there’s the music… no bus drive without LOUD Venezuelan music. Only turned down a little when the bus driver or the assistant are talking and flirting with some of the ladies on the bus. Our way took us over the mountains to the coast, such a great and spectacular ride! Some of the hairpin bends were so narrow that the bus had to drive into it, then back and turn a little and then continue. The mountains are steep and vegetation is awesome… the best thing is all the hooting. Before every bend the driver hoots extensively to notify vehicles coming against the bus and make them stop and wait for him. It’s a simple system working without problems – all other cars stop and wait for the bus to pass!
After around 2 hours we then landed in Puerto Colombia. I totally misunderstood the guidebooks in that matter. They all claimed that you had to take another bus from Choroní to Puerto Colombia, so we thought our bus had ended in Choroní and couldn’t find out why no taxi wanted to take us to the beach. Until we realized that we were already in Puerto Colombia. We found a nice Posada located right next to the river, not far from the harbour. Unpacked and then took the first walk through town… so cosy!! Really laid-back with fine old houses and the nicest harbour. Playa Grande of course also is great, big waves though. There’s a restaurant in town which has two floors, go there to have dinner on the terrace, it’s good food and service (unfortunately can’t remember the name).
Don’t miss sunset at the waterfront besides the harbour when you’re visiting the town. Mix and bring your Cuba Libre and just chill watching the sun go down. The lights and atmosphere in the harbour, this little x-mas tree-like thing they put up, the fishermen’s activities and vendors on the Paseo, it’s all very romantic and relaxing.
We stayed for 2 nights enjoying the atmosphere and beach and then took busses from Puerto Colombia (every hour) to La Victoria, and further on to Colonia Tovar.
So after another great funny busride we reached Colonia Tovar, which is an old German settlement from 1843. It is located about 60 km from Caracas and a popular place for weekend stays for Caraqueños. The city is at about 2000 m above sea level beautifully surrounded by mountains. We liked it very much – it is calm but not boring, refreshing but not cold, nice lodgings but not too expensive. We actually decided to stay one more day than planned. We were supposed to go on by bus the next morning already to reach Puerto La Cruz (from there we wanted to take the ferry to Margarita Island), but we decided not to stress ourselves.
When we arrived in town with the bus, everyone suddenly hopped off, so we decided to do the same. We found out later, that if you plan on a posada near the church, you should definitely stay in the bus and ask the driver to take you to the end. It did not matter though, a little further down the street we found the Cabañas Rancho Alpino, a nice posada for about 280 BFs. Our room had TV, minibar, balcony, breakfast and a good location – right next to the “centre” of Colonia Tovar. The main street in this area gives you plenty of shopping options, banks, Internet, souvenirs, restaurants, supermarket and so on. Actually much better than staying near the church, which means climbing up the mountain when you need something!
Two strange things about that city: 1. – Baaaaaaad air. There’s loads of cars and somehow the gasoline smell (maybe because of the altitude) stays in the air and made me feel sick sometimes. 2. They go to bed early in Colonia Tovar. Don’t plan on having dinner after 8.30, you might not find a place. There is one discotheque and that’s the only evening entertainment available, unless you want to hang in one of the two boring local bar/coffe-shop things.
Good things: The landscape, it’s really great when the clouds roll over the mountains in the afternoon. The atmosphere, relaxed and yet busy. The market along the roads. The vegetables and fruits growing there – tons of fresh tasty cheap huge vegetables! The German food options – Schwarzwälder Kirsch Torte, Strudel, Schnitzel and other nice things. The waitresses in their traditional German clothes. The cute buildings in old German style.
We had one exceptional good food experience at Hotel Selva Negra near the church, it’s the oldest hotel / restaurant in town, a really historic fantastic building. The food there was really fine, European good restaurant standard, international menu. I think we had 2 main courses, wine and desert for like 300 BFs which is nothing to complain about, and it was really great!!
Our Posada also had a restaurant as well as a Pizzeria, good food too, Pizzeria is open until 9 pm, wouw…
So we spent 2 nights in Colonia Tovar. For the 3rd day, we had organised a taxi to take us to Maiquetía airport (Caracas). Some place on the main street there is a small parking place with a sign “Taxi to airport”, there’s usually waiting some guys there offering their taxi services. The guy we had asked to drive us picked us up right on time that Monday morning. On the ride, we had the chance to take pictures of the beautiful mountains, our driver stopped whenever we wanted. It took almost precisely 2 hours to go to the Airport and we had to pay 140 BFs.
In the airport we had no trouble at all booking a flight to Isla Margarita later that day – Playa El Agua, here we come!!!
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