Caracas Travel Guide
Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela, is most tourist’s focal point of their vacations. Caracas itself has little to offer tourists, though it does have some great nightlife and some decent museums. The city itself is rather unattractive, and many parts are not particularly safe these days, but it is the hub for internal/domestic flights within Venezuela. As such, you may find that to return to Caracas two or even three times on your tour of the country. It’s wise to book a decent hotel in a safe neighborhood.
Caracas is a progressive city backed by more than four centuries of rich history. Cosmopolitan and fast-paced, the Venezuelan capital is home to an impressive array of cultural activities. During the day, visitors can explore world-class museums, hike the wooded slopes of the national park and savor strong coffee at terraced cafes. At night, the city comes alive in salsa clubs, crowded bars, and eclectic restaurants. This exhilarating energy makes Caracas one of the most appealing capitals in Latin America.
The Plaza Bolivar is the heart of the city. Leafy trees provide shade to huddled groups of locals, children feeding treats to the squirrels and vendors selling refreshing shaved ices and lemonades. Each corner is marked with a golden fountain, and a statue of Simon Bolivar stands in the center. On most days, visitors can hear rousing speeches by religious preachers and political visionaries in front of the statue.
Near the square is the Casa Natal de Bolivar, where the military and political leader was born in 1783. Colorful frescoes by Tito Salas depict scenes from Bolivar’s life and his heroic battles, and many of his personal objects are on display.
North of the house lies the Museo Bolivariano, a well-preserved colonial building that showcases a wide range of artifacts from the independence movement. Portraits of Bolivar line the walls, and visitors can see his muskets, medals, handwritten letters, swords, shaving sets and more. The collection also includes the coffin that transported Bolivar’s body from Colombia back home to Venezuela.
One of the finest museums in Latin America, the Museo de Arte Colonial is housed in the Quinta de Anauco, a charming country mansion. Lush, shady gardens envelop the museum, surrounding it with spectacular flowers, winding stone paths, and refreshing fountains. Inside, visitors are treated to an incredible collection of colonial art from Venezuela and other countries in the region, including furniture, paintings, statues and more. The kitchen is one of the most interesting galleries, filled with authentic colonial tools like bronze pitchers, porcelain dishes, mud plates, and metal pots.
In 2000, the Central University of Venezuela was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Designed by celebrated local architect Carlos Raul Villanueva, the site is a cultural hub that regularly showcases artwork, theater performances, concerts, and dance recitals.
The National Botanical Gardens sit next door to the university, offering a blissful escape from the chaos of the city. Draped vines, intertwining trees, and colorful blossoms greet visitors, and birdsongs take over the sound of traffic in the distance. The extensive gardens contain plants from around the world, and exploring them is a refreshing way to spend an afternoon.
Visitors can also escape at the Parque del Este, where kids play among the rock gardens, soccer teams compete on the fields, religious groups worship under the shade of trees, and joggers race down the extensive trails. The 82-hectares are a botanical odyssey, and many of the flora is labeled. There is also a cactus garden, snake house, aviary, and planetarium.
Mount Avila provides an incredible backdrop to the city, and adventurous travelers can hike to the peak to get the best views of Caracas. Those not inclined to make the trek can still reach the top by cable car. Visit early in the day before the afternoon haze clouds the peak.
Things to do in Caracas
Despite being a modern city with a lot of skyscrapers that could make think that there is nothing interesting to see or do is not true, Caracas homes to an appealing variety of historic buildings, museums, and interesting sightseeing opportunities; so there are plenty of activities that will keep you busy.
This is the heart of the old town, with an imposing monument to Bolívar in the middle. The equestrian statue was cast in Europe, shipped in pieces, assembled and unveiled in 1874 — later than planned, because the ship carrying it had foundered on the Archipiélago de Los Roques.
Casa Natal de Bolivar
The house where Simon Bolivar was born on July 24, 1783. It has been reconstructed and turned into a museum. However, most of the colonial interior has been replaced by paintings of battle scenes. Next door is the Museo Bolivariano with some of Bolivar’s war relics.
Museum has successfully preserved its colonial style and displays a variety of independence memorabilia from pieces from that time to Bolivar’s family and teacher Simon Rodriguez’s belongings, as well as the firearms used in the War of Independence.
Museo Sacro de Caracas
Located beside the Cathedral of Caracas, the Museo Sacro it’s a carefully restored old colonial house and transformed into art museum. It was constructed in 1884, as the headquarters for the Colegio Episcopal, on what was once the Cemetery of the Canons.
Situated on in one corner of the Plaza Bolívar, this historic cathedral dates back to 1665. It was built on the ruins of the old cathedral destroyed by an earthquake in 1641.
Galeria de Arte Nacional
Opened in 1976 this museum is devoted to the preservation and exhibition of works by Venezuelan artists from Colonial times to the present day. The Permanent Collection includes relevant names from the 19th Century like Arturo Michelena, Cristobal Rojas, Martin Tovar y Tovar, and Tito Salas; among later artists are Francisco Narvaez and Hector Poleo, plus a vast selection of works by Armando Reveron.
This imposing neoclassic structure dates back to the XVII century and was originally the seat of the Capitanía General and the Royal Prison in the colony times. Today is still possible to find remains of fetters, iron bars, and chains at the basement’s dungeons.
Museo de Bellas Artes
The Bellas Artes Museum was opened on February 20, 1938, and is the oldest art museum in Venezuela, and is located adjoining the National Art Gallery (Galería de Arte Nacional).
Ole Caribe Airport Hotel
With 120 rooms, a fine swimming pool and ocean views, and located close to Caracas Airport, the Ole Caribe Hotel is the best option for those overnighting between flights in Venezuela.
The Gran Melia is located in the center of the city, close to many shops, restaurants, and cafes. The hotel has 400 rooms and extensive facilities one would normally find at a first-class luxury hotel.
The Marriott is in the fashionable area of El Rosal, east of the city center. The Mariott hotel has 250 rooms and a range of luxury facilities one would expect and is well located for restaurants and nightlife.
The 700 room Hilton Caracas is positioned in the center of the financial district of the city, close to the Museum of Fine Art and Museum of Modern Art. There are numerous facilities, restaurants, and a swimming pool.
Quite possibly the best hotel in Caracas, the Intercontinental has 500 rooms and is in a quiet, safe neighborhood.
A good budget / cheap option in Caracas with a quiet location, 100 rooms, and a good restaurant.
Flights to Caracas
Caracas is one of South America’s travel hubs and is well served by a range of airlines. There are cheap flights from numerous destinations worldwide – Venezuela is normally the cheapest country to fly to in South America. Airlines that fly from the USA include Continental Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta Airlines.
Airlines that have flights from Europe to Caracas include Lufthansa, Air France, TAP, Iberia, and Alitalia. Venezuela and Caracas are also well connected with flights to hubs such as Panama City with Copa, Lima in Peru with Lan, Bogota in Colombia with Avianca, Brazil with Varig airlines and Buenos Aires in Argentina (Aerolineas Argentinas). There are also regular flights to Cuba and Havana.
Venezuela’s main airline is Aeropostal which flies to various International destinations. For domestic/internal flights within Venezuela, Caracas is always the hub – other domestic airlines include Santa Barbara Airlines, Avior Airlines, Aserca, and Conviasa.
Caracas Geographical Location
Caracas is located on the northern tip of Venezuela and is only 15km away from the Caribbean Sea. The population of Caracas is about 4,200,000.
Spanish is the official language of Venezuela although there are numerous dialects throughout the country.
Caracas Predominant Religion
- 96% Roman Catholic
- 2% Protestant
- 2% Other
There are small Jewish and Muslim communities that comprise the last 2% of the population and Caracas does have a large Mosque.
The Bolivar is the official currency of Venezuela.
Caracas is relatively rainy with February and March experiencing the least amount of rainfall. The temperature is mildly hot year-round without much fluctuation between months.
Caracas Main Attractions
- Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas
- Avila National Park
- Parque Los Chorros
Other Attraction in Caracas
- Museo de Arte Colonial
- Museo Bolivariano
- Basiilica de Santa Teresa
History of Caracas
Caracas has singular importance because it was the place where many American independence precursors and heroes were born such as Simon Bolivar, Francisco de Miranda, and the writer Andrés Bello.
Caracas in its origins was inhabited by natives of the Toromaimas tribe. Francisco Fajardo, natural from the Margarita Island and the son of a Spanish Captain and a Guaqueri Queen, encouraged by histories about fertile lands with a plentiful climate in the northern-center of the Venezuela province decided to embark him in an expedition to find these lands. In 1855 Fajardo reached the coastline of Venezuela and continued his journey to these lands. After an intense battle with the aborigines, he founded his plantation in the valley called San Francisco in 1860.
Years later there were discovered gold mines in the region. Juan Rodriguez Suarez founded a new town in the same place of Fajardo’s plantation and he renamed it as Villa de San Francisco but the town was destroyed 4 months later by the aborigines of these lands commanded by the cacique Guaicaipuro, this was the last rebellion of the natives.
On July 25, 1967, the Spanish Captain Don Diego de Losada founded the “Santiago de León de Caracas” city in the same place as Valle de San Francisco. The city was developed in the narrowest part of the valley, in the crossroad of two paths: The path that goes to the Guaira’s maritime harbor and the path that goes to the gold mine of Teques.
Some chroniclers say that the city in its origins began where now is located the Plaza Bolivar, the old main square of the colony, but there are others that declare that the town began in the northern side of the actual city.
In 1577, the governor Juan de Pimentel nominated the town to become the administrative center of the Province of Venezuela; thus, Caracas became the third and final capital of Venezuela. In 1578, 60 families lived in the 25-block city. Caracas was never a popular city, it lacked the gold and riches of other cities in Peru and Mexico and was well known for pirate attacks, plagues, and other catastrophes. In 1595, the first pirate attack burned the city to the ground, and after a persistent reconstruction, it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1641.
Things got better in the eighteenth century: the Universidad Real y Pontificia de Caracas (now called the Universidad Central de Venezuela) was founded in 1725. In 1728, the trading company Real Compañía Guipuzcoana, made up of 700 captains and merchants from the Basque region of Spain, was established. The trading company dominated the trade between Spain and the colony, and it made significant economic contributions to Caracas, though many of its citizens complained of corruption. It was no surprise then when, in 1749, Juan Francisco de León began a riot against the company that would become known as the first open protest to lead into the independence movement.
Francisco de Miranda is largely credited for paving the way to the independence movement, and Simón Bolívar for actually achieving it. However, the independence struggle was not easy. In 1810, a group of Caraqueños formed a coup to take over the government, denouncing the Spanish government authority. The clash continued until July 5, 1811, when Venezuela finally declared its independence from Spain.
Although independence was won, different struggles continued. In 1812, an earthquake struck and killed 10,000 people destroying much of the city. The church took the opportunity to claim the disaster as a punishment from God for rebelling against the Spanish Crown. Simón Bolívar’s victory at the Battle of Carabobo in 1821 established again the independence of Venezuela, though Spain did not recognize it as a country until 1845.
In the first part of the twentieth century, Caracas grew modestly and was not very well known. It was not until oil was discovered in the Maracaibo basin in 1914, and the oil boom of the 1970s hit, that the population of Caracas exploded—going from 350,000 in 1950 to five or six million today. Thanks to the oil money, Caracas became a modern, booming capital. Though remnants of the old colonial town are difficult to imagine (most colonial buildings were destroyed during modernization), its architecture is well known on the continent, and skyscrapers abound.