Venezuela is a country of striking natural beauty and dramatic contrasts: the snowcapped peaks of the Andes in the west; steamy Amazonian jungles in the south; the hauntingly beautiful Gran Sabana plateau, with its strange flat-topped mountains, in the east; and 3000km (1860mi) of white-sand beaches fringed with coconut palms lining the Caribbean coast. South America's largest lake, Lake Maracaibo, and third-longest river, the Orinoco, are also here, and the country boasts the world's highest waterfall, Angel Falls. It is also home to a wide variety of exotic plants and animals, including the jaguar, ocelot, tapir, armadillo, anteater, and the longest snake in the world, the anaconda.
Warning: There have been reports of guerrilla-instigated violence in remote areas along the Colombian border in Zulia, Tachira, Apure and Amazonas states. If venturing into these regions, contact your embassy to assess the security risk.
Full country name: República Bolivariana de Venezuela
Area: 912,050 sq km (355,700 sq mi)
Population: 23,543,000 (growth rate 1.6%)
Capital city: Caracas (pop 4,608,934)
People: 67% mestizo, 21% European descent, 10% African descent, 2% indigenous. There are approximately 200,000 Amerindians, remnants of a number of diverse semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer societies.
Language: Spanish is the official language, but more than 30 Amerindian languages still survive, predominantly belonging to the Arawak, Cariban and Chibcha ethnolinguistic categories.
Religion: 96% Roman Catholic, 2% Protestant
Government: Federal Republic
GDP: US$194.5 billion
GDP per head: US$8500
Annual growth: -0.9%
Major industries: Petroleum, iron ore, cereals, fruit, sugar and coffee
Major trading partners: USA, Germany, Japan, Colombia, Brazil, Italy
Visas: US nationals, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, UK nationals, South Africans and most Western and Scandinavian Europeans do not require a visa if they fly directly to Venezuela. All foreigners entering Venezuela by land require a valid visa; get one before you leave for South America.
Health risks: Cholera, dengue fever, hepatitis, malaria, yellow fever
Time: GMT/UTC minus 4 hours (minus 5 hours in summer)
Electricity: 110V, 60 Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
When to Go
The tourist season in Venezuela runs year-round so, theoretically, any time you visit is OK. However, the dry season is more pleasant for traveling, though some sights - including the famous Angel Falls - are certainly more impressive in the wet season.
Also keep in mind the periods during which Venezuelans take their holidays. They are mad about traveling to visit friends and family over Christmas, Carnaval (several days prior to Ash Wednesday) and Semana Santa (Holy Week; the week before Easter Sunday). In these three periods, you'll have to plan ahead and do a little more legwork before you find a place to stay. On the other hand, these periods are colorful and alive with a host of festivities.
LAND & CLIMATE
Region: South America
Neighbors: Venezuela faces the Caribbean Sea to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the northeast, Guiana to the east, Brazil to the south, and Colombia to the southwest and west.
Size Comparison: More than three times larger than Ecuador
Venezuela comprises four distinct geographic regions. In the northwest and north are the Venezuelan highlands, including the country's highest point, Pico Bolívar (5,007 meters/16,427 feet). Near the northwest coast is the Depresión de Maracaibo, a lowland region that contains Lago de Maracaibo, an inland extension of the Golfo de Venezuela. The Llanos, a region of tropical grassland, encompass the north central region, and the Guiana Highlands, with a maximum elevation of 2,810 meters (9,219 feet) above sea level, are in the southeast and south. The mountains of the Guiana Highlands extend from the delta of the Río Orinoco into Brazil and Guiana, and are varied by open areas and forest. The chief ranges are the Serra Parima and Sierra Pacaraima, which form part of the border with Brazil.
Major Rivers and Lakes
The Río Orinoco, which rises in the Serra Parima mountains, extends east across central Venezuela and, with its tributaries, drains approximately four-fifths of the total area of the country. Huge Lago de Maracaibo is Venezuela’s largest lake. Many steep waterfalls, including Angel Falls, the world’s highest, are found in the highlands.
Weather and Climate
The climate of Venezuela is tropical on the Llanos and along the coast, and temperate in the mountainous regions. Temperatures are generally warm year-round. For example, the average January temperatures in Caracas and Maracaibo are 18°C (64°F) and 27°C (81°F) respectively, warming to 21°C (70°F) and 29°C (84°F) respectively in July. Average annual precipitation in Caracas is 833 millimeters (33 inches), and 577 millimeters (23 inches) in Maracaibo.
Venezuela protects 36.3 percent (1997) of its land areathe highest percentage of any country in North and South America. Venezuela’s neighbors Colombia, Brazil, and Guyana protect only 9 percent, 4.2 percent, and 0.30 percent (1997) of their land, respectively. Despite these protective measures, Venezuela is losing some of its valuable tropical forests. From 1990 to 1995, more than 2.5 million hectares (6.2 million acres) of forest were cleared. In addition, soil degradation in the grasslands of the Llanos, resulting from years of overgrazing, has become a major problem.
Venezuela is highly industrialized, with 40.7 percent (1997) of the gross domestic product (GDP) attributed to industry. One of the country’s chief resources is oil. Occasional oil spills have caused fish kills and the closure of some shoreline resorts on Lago de Maracaibo. Industrial pollution also plagues the Caribbean coast, where most of the country’s population lives.
Insufficient sewage treatment facilities contribute to the pollution of the Caribbean coast as well. In the country’s urban regions, only 64 percent (1990-1997) of the population has access to proper sanitation; in rural areas, the figure is 30 percent. Air pollution is an additional concern in urban centers such as Caracas, Maracaibo, and Valencia.
Venezuela is party to international treaties concerning biodiversity, climate change, endangered species, marine life conservation, ship pollution, tropical timber, and wetlands.