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Getting around Venezuela

Getting Around
Avensa (along with its offspring, Servivensa) was Venezuela's main domestic airline until it went bankrupt in 1999. It now operates on a reduced scale. Its place has been taken by Aeropostal, which has a network of routes servicing most major domestic destinations. There are half-a-dozen or so smaller carriers including Aserca, Laser and Avior, which service regional areas. The lack of railways means that buses are the primary form of transport through most of Venezuela, and services are generally fast, efficient and comfortable. There are frequent buses from the main Caracas bus terminal to almost every corner of the country, and prices are kept fairly low by the high level of competition.

Driving or motorbiking gives you added flexibility, but it's expensive both to take a car into the country and to rent one while you're there. Additionally, be aware that road rules are rarely observed by local drivers, which could make the undertaking somewhat hazardous. Stops at national-guard and police checkpoints are common, and travelers should follow instructions and be prepared to show papers or be searched.

Local transport includes cheap but crowded bus services and inexpensive shared taxis. Caracas has a modern, efficient and cheap metro.

Boat

Venezuela has many islands off its Caribbean coast, but only Isla de Margarita is serviced by regular boats and ferries.

The Río Orinoco is the country’s major inland waterway. It’s navigable from its mouth up to Puerto Ayacucho, but there’s no regular passenger service on any part of it.

Bus & tram

Bus & por puesto

As there is no passenger train service in Venezuela, most traveling is done by bus. Buses are generally fast, and they run regularly day and night between major population centers. Bus transportation is reasonably cheap in Venezuela; you probably won’t go wrong if you allow US$1.50 to US$2 per hour (or roughly 60km) on a bus.

Venezuela’s dozens of bus companies own buses ranging from archaic pieces of junk to the most recent models. All major compan­ies offer servicio ejecutivo in comfortable air-conditioned buses, which now cover virtually all the major long-distance routes and are the dominant means of intercity transportation. Still better is the so-called bus-cama, where seats can be reclined almost into beds. These buses are the most comfy means of transportation – they have air-conditioning, TV and often a toilet. Note that the air-con is often very efficient, so have plenty of warm clothing at hand to avoid freezing.

If various companies operate the same route, fares are much the same though some may offer discounts.

All intercity buses depart from and arrive at the terminal de pasajeros (bus terminal). Every city has such a terminal, usually outside the city center, but always linked to it by local transportation. Caracas is the most important transportation hub, handling buses to just about every corner of the country. In general, there’s no need to buy tickets in advance for major routes, except around Christmas, Carnaval and Easter.

Many short-distance regional routes are served by por puesto (literally ‘by the seat’), a cross between a bus and a taxi. Por puestos are usually large US-made cars (less often minibuses) of the ’60s and ’70s vintages that ply fixed routes and depart when all seats are filled. They cost about 40% to 80% more than buses, but they’re faster and usually more comfortable. On some routes, they are the dominant or even the exclusive means of transportation. Depending on the region and the kind of vehicle, por puestos may also be called carros or carritos.

Bus & metro

All cities and many major towns have their own urban transportation systems, which in most places are small buses or minibuses. Depending on the region, these are called busetas, carros, carritos, micros or camionetas, and fares are usually no more than US$0.20. In many larger cities you can also find urban por puestos, swinging faster than buses through the chaotic traffic. Caracas is the only city in Venezuela with a subway system.

Car & motorcycle

Traveling by car is a comfortable and attractive way of getting around Venezuela. The country is reasonably safe, and the network of roads is extensive and usually in acceptable shape. Gas stations are numerous and fuel is just about the cheapest in the world – US$0.03 to US$0.06 per liter, depending on the octane level. You can fill up your tank for a dollar!
This rosy picture is slightly obscured by Venezuelan traffic and local driving manners. Traffic in Venezuela, especially in Caracas, is wild, chaotic, noisy, polluting and anarchic.
Bringing a car to Venezuela (or to South America in general) is expensive and time-consuming and involves plenty of paperwork, and few people do it. It’s much more convenient and cheaper to rent a car locally.

Rental

A number of international and local car-rental companies, including Hertz, Avis and Budget, operate in Venezuela. They have offices at major airports and in city centers, often in top-end hotels. As a rough guide, a small car will cost US$40 to US$60 per day, with discount rates applying for a full week or longer. A 4WD vehicle is considerably more expensive and difficult to obtain.

Rental agencies require a credit card and driver’s license (your home-country license is valid in Venezuela). You need to be at least 21 years of age to rent a car, although renting some cars (particularly 4WDs and luxury models) may require you to be at least 23 or 25 years. Some companies also have a maximum age of about 65 years.

Read the rental contract carefully before signing (most contracts are in Spanish only). Pay close attention to any theft clause, as it will probably load any loss onto the renter. Look at the car carefully, and insist on listing any defects (including scratches) on the rental form. Check the spare tire, and take note of whether there is a jack.

This said, it’s a good idea to contact the international rental companies at home before your trip and check what they can offer in Venezuela. It’s likely to be more convenient and cheaper to book at home rather than in Venezuela, and you can be pretty sure that the car will be waiting for you upon arrival.

 

Distances from Venezuela cities
 

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