Caracas (population 3 million) was founded in 1567 and named after the Caracas indigenous people that once lived there. Today, the capital of Venezuela is often in the headlines, but rarely at the head of any tourist’s must-see lists. Political unrest over the last five years resulting in regular demonstrations, riots and strikes make many tourists wary of visiting.
Caracas is set in a valley 900 m (2,950 ft.) above sea level surrounded by green, uninhabited mountains to the north with some excellent hiking trails, and a shanty-covered hillside to the south, a constant reminder of the difference between rich and poor in the modern, skyscraper-rich city. With Venezuela’s best selection of elegant hotels, first-class restaurants, theaters, museums, nightlife and shopping, the climate is dry and sunny with a mean temperature of 22°C (72°F). The rainy season is from June to October.
Caracas has the best museums in Venezuela. The Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in the Parque Central is free and has a good selection of Venezuelan and European painters as well as a room devoted to Picasso pen and ink drawings. It is open Tuesday – Sunday from 10:00 – 18:00. The Museo de los Niños is a popular science museum in the Parque Central next to east Tower and is open Wednesday – Sunday from 10:00 to 18:00. Entrance is $1.25. Be aware that no museums in Venezuela are open on Mondays and often turn away visitors wearing shorts.
The metro is the best way to get around Caracas. French-designed, it is fast, clean, extensive, and easy to use. There are three lines and 39 stations. Consider buying a ‘multiabono’ valid for 10 rides, which gives a significant discount. Rides are around $0.50 each.
Parque Nacional El Avila, the lush, green hillside to the north that separates Caracas from the Caribbean ocean, offers some great daytrip hikes and overnight camping. Take the teleférico, cable car, from Avenida Perimetral de Maripérez for just under $10 from 10:00 – 19:30 daily. The mountains are uninhabited and are home to wildlife like red howler monkeys, puma, jaguar and several species of poisonous snakes.
Centro Litoral, the stretch of Caribbean coast closest to Caracas on the other side of Monte Avila is indefinitely closed to tourism at the moment. This is due to heavy rains in 1999 that caused flash floods and landslides that killed around 30,000; left around 400,000 homeless; and effectively washed away the once popular beach-front towns.