Getting Around Venezuela

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Getting Around Venezuela

Travelers in Venezuela are obliged to carry identification. There are military checkpoints on many roads, so while travelling by car or bus keep your passport handy, ideally you should keep a colour photocopy of your passport. Should your passport be stolen, this will facilitate procedures with your local consulate. The military presence is constant, yet is not usually cause for concern. That having been said, there are corrupt officials. It is wise to keep a close eye on your belongings when, for instance, bags are being checked for drugs. A soldier of the Guardia Nacional (National Guard) sometimes plants drugs to solicit a bribe or steal valuables. Penalties for drug use are severe, and the burden of proof falls on the accused, the police may also demand bribes using the same modus operandi.

There is no national railway system in Venezuela, which leaves three options for travel inside the country: car rental, using buses, and using cars-for-hire. Drivers in Venezuela are generally aggressive and unconcerned by traffic regulations. The traffic in Venezuela is very bad, the drivers are aggressive and all drivers want to be the first. Thus, car rental is not recommended in general. The very cheap price of gas, however, makes this option fairly economical. The expensive part of renting a car will be the insurance. The fuel price for 95 oct fuel unleaded is 0.097 BsF/liter, at official exchange, about US$0.022/liter. About US$0.09/gallon.

Do not underestimate the sheer chaos of Venezuela's traffic. The often ignored road rules state that you must drive on the right unless overtaking and give way to traffic coming on to a roundabout. Drivers frequently top 160 km/h (100 mph) on intercity highways. Laws requiring car occupants to wear seat belts are not always complied with.

Traffic lights are often ignored, especially in the night, not for lack of patience, but drivers do not like to stop the car as they can be robbed while stopped.

Be aware also that motorcycles (moto taxis) are sometimes seen transporting up to five people, usually without helmets, which adds to the dangers of the road.

When approaching a crosswalk in Venezuela, it is important to remember that pedestrians do not have the right of the way as they do in the U.S. and many European countries. If you slow down or stop at a crosswalk to allow a pedestrian to cross, you could cause an accident with unsuspecting motorists.

The bus system is extensive and extremely affordable (in part due to the low price of gas). Bus terminals are hectic, but it is usually easy to find a bus to any major city leaving within a short amount of time. Short bus rides (2 hours) may cost 30 BsF (30.000 Bs) (about US$7 at official exchange and US$3 at unofficial exchange rate)), and even extremely long bus rides (9 hours) will only cost 100 BsF to 150 BsF per person (equal to about $23 or US$35 at official exchange or US$10 and 11 at unofficial exchange rate). The larger buses are typically air-conditioned. In fact, they are usually overly air-conditioned, so it is worth bringing a blanket with you. Buses are an easy and convenient way to get around the country. However, proper security awareness should be exercised as robberies occasionally take place on buses in both cities and on highways. It is best to choose bus lines that use a metal detector and bag check to insure no passengers are carrying weapons of any kind.

If you decide to travel by bus a good option is 'Aeroexpresos Ejecutivos' they have their own terminal in a residential zone of Caracas (Chacao, Bello Campo), baggage is checked on the buses (as in an airport). The units are clean, safe and well maintained, plus the drivers are trained to respect the speed limit (there are many accidents on regular buses on Venezuelan highways, most of them caused by speeding on poorly maintained roads). They are more expensive than a regular bus, but still cheap by American/European standards. You may pay with credit card and buy tickets in advance by phone. Aeroexpresos offers slightly more expensive options for many long routes that include semi-cama seating, chairs that recline extra, and allow for more comfortable sleeping on overnight trips.

For smaller towns, there may not be regular buses. In such cases, one can use cars-for-hire, called "por puestos." These are typically old and run-down vehicles, but they are affordable. They are more expensive than buses, typically costing 40 BsF per person for a one or two hour ride (about $9 US at offical and 5 at unooficial). The main problem is that they typically wait to have a full car (4 or 5 passengers) before undertaking a route. The driver will usually try to convince you to pay for the extra passengers if you want to leave right away. The cars are popular, however, and one does not usually wait long for a car to fill up. Por puestos are identifiable by signage bearing the name of the streets or destinations they typically drive along or stop at. Avoid traveling alone in a por puesto and avoid 'pirates,' inauthentic, unofficial taxis that may intend to rob foreigners.

Travel within cities is usually via taxi. Taxis are more expensive than any other form of transport, but still affordable when compared to North American or European equivalents. A ride across town will usually cost 20 BsF to 120 BsF (depending on the city). The taxis do not have meters and will charge more at night. This is normal in Venezuela, however all prices are flexible in the Venezuelan economy, so it is a good idea to negotiate the fare for the ride up front. Tipping is not expected and not necessary. The driver considers the tip as part of the fare he is charging and will factor that into his negotiations.

Local buses exist, and usually connect the terminal to the center of each city. They typically cost BsF 2 - 4, depending on the city. Bus routes usually remain a mystery to the uninitiated and you can try to read the signals in he windows (going to --- coming from).

Caracas has a clean, modern and cheap metro system, currently being expanded. While armed robberies are almost unheard of in the metro, pickpocketing is rampant. Typically, delinquents will aim to distract the passenger and then another member of the group will remove the wallet, or bag in the opportune moment. Its best to keep bags in front of you and avoid unsolicited contact with strangers.

By Car

A large road network (which comprises approx. 82,000 km) and historically low fuel costs make Venezuela an attractive country for exploring with your own car.

Many roads are in good condition but there are also gravel and dirt roads for which an off-road vehicle is recommended – especially during the rainy season from May to October. This is why it is important to travel with a good road map (e.g. Venezuela Laminated Map by Berndtson & Berndtson) and to be well informed about distances, road conditions and the estimated travel time. On the web, the site of cochera andina publishes information on nearly 120 routes in the country.

You can rent a car, usually for 20 - 50 dollars a day, plus insurance and legal liability. This may make you think twice about renting a car, especially when considering the fact that renting a car with a driver usually costs the same.

The fuel cost (unleaded) is: 0.097 Bs/liter, about 0.022 US$/liter - 0.09 US$/gallon - 0.03 €/liter (at official rate) and 0.01 US$/liter - 0.045 US$/gallon - 0.013 €/liter). There are many gas stations in the main areas. For outlying areas, you should fill the tank before you leave or take a reserve canister with you. In the mountains the gas consumption often increases to over 15 litres / 100 km.

An international driver's license is needed to drive in Venezuela. Police will often ask for the license as well as for the frame or motor number during routine checks. Traffic rules generally comply with the international standard. But do not underestimate the sheer chaos of Venezuela's traffic. Be attentive when driving in Venezuela.

The often ignored traffic rules state that you must drive on the right unless overtaking and give way to traffic in a roundabout. Although the maximum speed limit is 80 km/h outside the city and 60 km/h within the city (at night 50 km/h) local drivers frequently top 160 km/h (100 mph) on intercity highways. The law obligates car occupants to drive with fastened seat belts – which is regularly ignored.If you are in a traffic jam, always other drivers will try to pass. Be aware also that motorcycles are sometimes transporting up to five people, without helmets. Pay attention at night: streets and cars as well as bicycles often have poor lights or none at all. Also note, that even "good" roads may have unexpected and deep potholes. For this reason, as well as for security issues in general, long-distance interurban car traveling is not recommended during dark hours.

Good sign-posting is only found on the main roads. Common and especially important road signs are:

  • Curva peligrosa: "Dangerous curve"
  • Sucesión de curvas: "Winding road"
  • Reduzca velocidad: "Reduce speed"
  • Conserve su derecha: "Keep right"

If you wish to rent a car, you may download an unofficial Routeable Map for Garmin GPS Devices. Is free, and it has been made by hundreds of volunteers across the country.

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