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Holiday Guides for South America - Venezuela

Caracas Holiday

The frantic city of Caracas provides a heady cocktail of sights and sounds for the intrepid visitor.

Arriving at the Simon Bolivar airport in Maiquetia, 16 miles from downtown Caracas, you will swiftly find yourself mauled by throngs of dollar hungry taxi drivers and "tourist guides". And while this is as good an introduction as any to the frenetic pace of life you will experience in Venezuela's capital, you will of course have only scratched the surface.

Blending severe poverty for the masses and middle class luxury for the few, Caracas is a sight to behold. Infused with a rich sense of history, architecture and culture, this metropolis nestled in a narrow valley and backed by the Avila Mountain range is a must-visit Latin American city.

Squeezing around 4,500,000 people into an area 30 square miles in size, visitors will immediately notice the crammed nature of Caracas – demonstrated perfectly by the sprawling Barrios, or shanty towns, lining the eastern hillside of the city.

Venezuelans have a strong sense of identity and history and this character trait is aptly demonstrated in the reverence with which Simon Bolivar – a South American revolutionary hero – is treated within the city. Bolivar has been dubbed "El Libertador" for his role in recapturing the city from the Spanish in 1813, and his achievements have been marked with numerous plazas, monuments and even the country's currency is named after him.

With a predominantly dry climate year-round and a nine-hour flight time, Caracas is one of the lesser-travelled but more accessible South American cities. A smattering of Spanish can help visitors incredibly, especially given the friendly and welcoming nature of the city's inhabitants.

Plaza Bolivar marks the colonial centre of the city with a monument to the aforementioned El Libertador and the ground floor Museo Caracas providing history buffs with all they could wish for in understanding the capital's growth.

Five blocks south of Plaza Bolivar is the Panteon Nacional, a former church bestowed with the honour of being the final resting place for eminent Venezuelans. Here, located in the central nave, you can find a bronze sarcophagus to Simon Bolivar.

A great trip giving a unique perspective on the city is the cable car to the top of Mount Avila. Running from downtown Caracas, the teleferico cable car takes around 15 minutes and runs to the summit of Mount Avila. Visitors can witness a stunning panorama of Caracas spanning from the eastern barrios right across the valley to the western suburbs.

Although Caracas' colonial centre contains many of the tourist sights to entertain during the day it can be hairy at night and visitors would do well to look elsewhere for accommodation. Upmarket eastern suburbs such as Altamira and Las Mercedes come highly recommended and are also located in the hub of the city's legendary nightlife.

Bars and clubs in the capital open around ten with the party continuing till daybreak. Venezuelans are also legendary drinkers putting away local beers such as Polar at frightening pace – combine this with their love of salsa and a night out in Caracas will not disappoint. Hot spots include the salsa-loving El Mani es Asi on Sabana Grande, Da Dio in Las Mercedes and for a little taste of home try the ever-popular Greenwich bar in Altamira.

Caracas is an assault on the sight and senses but this is one Latin American giant that should not be ignored. Steeped in proud culture with welcoming locals and endless entertainment, the city offers a fantastic slice of modern South American life.