Before you go
Most vaccines don’t produce immunity until at least two weeks after they’re given, so visit a physician four to eight weeks before departure. Ask your doctor for an International Certificate of Vaccination (otherwise known as the yellow booklet), which will list all the vaccinations you’ve received. This is mandatory for countries that require proof of yellow-fever vaccination upon entry, but it’s a good idea to carry it wherever you travel.
If your health insurance does not cover you for medical expenses abroad, consider supplemental insurance. Find out in advance if your insurance plan will make payments directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures.
acetaminophen/paracetamol (Tylenol) or aspirin
adhesive or paper tape
antibacterial ointment (eg Bactroban) for cuts and abrasions
antidiarrheal drugs (eg loperamide)
antihistamines (for hay fever and allergic reactions)
anti-inflammatory drugs (eg ibuprofen)
bandages, gauze, gauze rolls
DEET-containing insect repellent for the skin
iodine tablets (for water purification)
oral rehydration salts
permethrin-containing insect spray for clothing, tents and bed nets
scissors, safety pins, tweezers
steroid cream or cortisone (for poison ivy and other allergic rashes)
syringes and sterile needles
There is a wealth of travel-health advice on the internet. A superb book called International Travel and Health, which is revised annually and available online at no cost, is published by the World Health Organization (www.who.int/ith/).
Another health website of general interest is MD Travel Health (www.mdtravelhealth.com), which provides a complete set of travel-health recommendations for every country. The site is updated daily and is also available at no charge.
It is usually a good idea to consult your own country’s government travel health website before departure, if one is available.
Dangers & annoyances
Venezuela is a reasonably safe place to travel. However, theft, robbery and common crime are on the increase, particularly in major cities. Caracas is, far and away, the most dangerous place in the country, and you should take care while strolling around the streets, particularly at night.
The most common methods of theft are snatching your daypack, camera or watch; taking advantage of a moment’s inattention to pick up your gear and run away; or pickpocketing. Thieves often work in pairs or groups; one or more will distract you, while an accomplice does the deed. Theft from hotel rooms, cars and unattended tents are also potential dangers.
If you can, leave your money and valuables somewhere safe before walking the streets. In practice, it’s good to carry a decoy bundle of small notes, the equivalent of US$5 to US$10, ready to hand over in case of an assault; if you don’t have anything, robbers can become frustrated and unpredictable.
Armed hold-ups in the cities can occur even in upmarket suburbs. If you are accosted by robbers, it is best to give them what they are after. Don’t try to escape or struggle, and don’t count on any help from passers-by. There have been reports of armed robbery on remote hiking trails and deserted beaches or even in a few posadas in tourist towns, but they are considerably less frequent. Also be aware of your surrounding when withdrawing cash from an ATM at any time of the day.
When traveling around the country, there are plenty of alcabalas (checkpoints), though not all are actually operating. They check the identity documents of passengers, and occasionally the luggage as well. In the cities, police checks are uncommon, but they do occur, so always have your passport with you. If you don’t, you may end up at the police station. Police are not necessarily trustworthy (though many are), so do not blindly accept the demands of these authority figures.
If your passport, valuables or other belongings are stolen, go to the nearest Policía Técnica Judicial (PTJ) office to make a denuncia (report). The officer on duty will write a statement according to what you tell them. It should include the description of the events and the list of stolen articles. Pay attention to the wording you use, make sure you include every stolen item and document, and carefully check the statement before signing it to ensure it contains exactly what you’ve said. They will give you a copy of the statement, which serves as a temporary identity document, and you will need to present it to your insurer in order to make a claim. Don’t expect your things to be found, as the police are unlikely to do anything about it. Stolen cars and motorcycles should also be reported at the PTJ.
All said, your biggest dangers are the standard risks of international travel: sunburn, food-borne illness and traffic-related concerns.
Deep vein thrombosis (dvt)
Blood clots may form in the legs during plane flights, chiefly because of prolonged immobility. The longer the flight, the greater the risk. Though most blood clots are reabsorbed uneventfully, some may break off and travel through the blood vessels to the lungs, where they could cause life-threatening complications.
The chief symptom of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is swelling or pain of the foot, ankle or calf, usually but not always on just one side. When a blood clot travels to the lungs, it may cause chest pain and difficulty breathing. Travelers with any of these symptoms should immediately seek medical attention.
To prevent the development of DVT on long flights you should walk about the cabin, perform isometric compressions of the leg muscles (ie contract the leg muscles while sitting), drink plenty of fluids, and avoid alcohol and tobacco.
Jet lag & motion sickness
Jet lag is common when crossing more than five time zones, and can result in insomnia, fatigue, malaise or nausea. To avoid jet lag try drinking plenty of fluids (nonalcoholic) and eating light meals. Upon arrival, get exposure to natural sunlight and readjust your schedule (for meals, sleep etc) as soon as possible.
Antihistamines such as dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) and meclizine (Antivert or Bonine) are usually the first choice for treating motion sickness. Their main side effect is drowsiness. A herbal alternative is ginger, which works like a charm for some people.