It’s unlikely I’ll ever recommend Venezuela as a country to visit as I had so many problems there with various things (money, visas, border, bag checks, banks, attempted muggings, rip offs, the list goes on and Juventus Sponsor) but that’s no reason not to document it and understand that life is always a series of ups and downs. With all that in mind, and having sat down in Seat 4A on the Expresos Occidente Night Bus from San Cristobal to Caracas, life as a traveller was relaxing again after a couple of days of dramas. No brown excrement Sherlock Holmes. I’ll not focus on the fact that guns were brandished left, right and centre at me or that I visited at a time when the country was experiencing the world’s highest murder rate. Sad, but true.
Here you can read about my trip into Venezuela to San Antonio del Tachira and San Cristobal, but I had my bus ticket in the end and was happily heading for Caracas in a comfy seat on an overnight bus. San Antonio del Tachira and San Cristobal.
Photos of the two San Cristobal bus stations I visited that day, eventually the one I got my bus from was a lot cleaner and better looking. It felt very safe.
The bus left behind memories of a wasted day in San Cristobal. The bus left at 7pm and was due into Caracas at dawn, probably around 7am. A fairly straight forward journey.
However just one hour into the bus journey we have our first stop. I hadn’t expected a stop so early and wondered why the need for it. But it was another security stop and we all had to get off the bus. I didn’t want to leave my bag with valuables alone on the bus so I brought it out. Everybody else on the bus was Venezuelan and of course when they checked my ID (everyone had to be checked) they singled me out for a full bag check and questioning. I pretended I didn’t have a bigger bag this time so they didn’t make the company open up the holding luggage underneath. That would really have pissed off the customers!
It was by a dark and dreary road side settlement and I guessed we were somewhere between Pico Bolivar and Barinas on the map. It took them half an hour to search me and realise I wasn’t a terrorist and they finally let me back on board. I was well used to this by now. Incidentally in blue on the map above is the probable route my bus took that night.
Anyway back on board and this full bag check was over and I could almost relax again, knowing we were driving beneath the gleaming glow of Pico Bolivar. At 5007 metres high, this is Venezuela’s peak and although it couldn’t be seen out the window, I knew it was out there somewhere as I looked up high into the hills. We passed by Merida and pulled over for another stop just after midnight. I really feared this would be another bag check but it wasn’t – it was a food and toilet stop.
At this stop, I took a few more photos, this is our bus and the driver standing checking as we get back on.
This was the wee restaurant. I guessed the location as Guanare as we were north of Merida and it was the next decent sized city up. There was a certain sadness attached to the entire bus journey. This photos sums it up. A sad looking guy wearing red and black on the left and a bored young girl. Show this photo to people who have travelled and they may well guess from the atmosphere and people that it was taken in Venezuela. I didn’t make any videos at Guanare.
The car park where I breathed in the late night Venezuelan air while waiting to board for the last part of the journey. This was to be our last stop before hitting the capital city of Caracas. I had expected to arrive in the bus station called La Bandera in Caracas.
Back on board, we drove through the night, I may have drifted to sleep for an hour or so and we were actually due in around 6am. We finally arrived on the edge of Caracas just before 7am, and pulled up in the bus station around 8am. The view from my window at dawn in Caracas captured my first impressions of a city famed for murders, drugs, corruption and scandal. My first glimpses saw a city of sunshine, dust and gorgeous mountains dripping down to the human world in their concrete jungle as this photo depicts…
Caracas, with its backdrop of mountains. Looks breathtaking doesn’t it? My introduction into the city was less than that…the city was awakening, with the usual tramps hoking in bins and odd characters scaling the streets with nothing to do. Caracas looks worn, old, lifeless and dirty. I don’t like it already!
And so I had expected to arrive at La Bandera bus station. There was only one and one stop only in Caracas so we all had to get off. I had cleverly followed the route on my map of Caracas in my Lonely Planet book, and now knew that this bus station was a private bus station for this company. It was not La Bandera station as I had been told and had expected it to be. More Venezuelan lies. I had worked out an easy route from La Bandera to Altamira you see. I had planned to stay at Altamira and the Venezuela metro system allowed me to change just once from La Bandera to arrive at Altamira where I hoped to book into the Hotel La Floresta.
This time I didn’t trust anyone or ask for help. I decided to collect my bag and do my own thing. Which I settled on was walking on my own in the heat to La Bandera underground station. I had spotted it on the way it you see and reckoned it was a 30 minute walk, along a few busy main roads.
Check out that photo from Google earth (bear in mind I didn’t have these on the day and used my brain!) and look at the walk I assumed I would do. From La Bandera bus station to La Bandera metro station. Looks easy. BUTthen remember I wasn’t at the main La Bandera bus station. So lucky I didn;t make that mistake and had my eyes on the game.
In this second photo from Google earth you can see exactly where I arrived into – the Expresos Occidente private bus station. My geographic knowledge and memory on that particularmorning was completely spot on. It’s nice to look back on it now and relive the route I must have taken that morning.
The bus station was packed and I just wanted to speed walk, ignore the locals and get to Altamira. I bombed it and I was on a mission. I smiled wryly to myself as my heavy bags kept the sweat dripping down me as I walked past wakening tramps, evil looking school kids and unhelpful businessmen. Of course I’m being overly harsh here. My walk that morning was rather pleasant and I did stop and ask one family if I was heading the right way to La Bandera metro station and they said yes.
The route I would take on the subway metro system would be from La Bandera to Plaza Venezuela (2 stops) then change and a further 4 stops to Altamira. Altamira was meant to be one of the nicer districts and I knew of a few hotels there from my Lonely Planet book. At least I could relax in a hotel reception if it was full, and simply then move on to another hotel. I was pretty sure I could get a single room and that it wouldn’t be full.
Success on my first footsteps in Caracas then as by 8.35 am I had found the entrance to La Bandera Metro Station following the main road Avenida Nueva Granada. Inside La Bandera station I took my bag off and bought my single ticket to Altamira. The metro seemed clean,safe and easy to use. Which was a relief.
I even had time and patience to take a few photos on route to Altamira. One change at Plaza Venezuela and a ticket that cost merely 2.5 Bolivares and I was safely at Altamira.
Altamira Station. I read my Lonely Planet map of Altamira and took one of the metro station exits leading me onto a corner at Avenida Francisco de Miranda, a busy main street.
It was hot and nice; rich and different. This area looked decent and I found the hotel I was looking for within 5 minutes.
Hotel La Floresta. I couldn’t quite fool myself just yet though. Of course it was only just after 9am so they didn’t have any rooms ready. I cannot check into until 12 noon unfortunately but they let me leave one of my bags reluctantly. Then the big problem arises – the price of the hotel room. It’s around $70 US Dollars per night. Ouch! Now, at least it’s safe and includes breakfast. But for God’s sake just a month earlier I was paying $1.50 US Dollars per night in a hostel in Bolivia. More than 45 times the price!
I left my big bag there, and for security reasons I had to take my ripped back pack out with me. I always feel safer with my valuables on me. However the main problem for me was that I needed to find the Suriname Embassy which was nearby but up a hill, on a hot day and it was only open between 9am and 12 noon. I didn’t leave myself with much time to play with now to get my visa sorted. But hold on, I had had a hell of a few days! I had left behind Sopo and my friend Julio in Colombia, arrived in Cucuta, crossed the dodgy border amongst a spate of bag searches, arrived in San Antonio del Tachira, then San Cristobal. I had managed to get money somehow and get a night bus to Caracas. It may have been 2 long days but at least they had a single room for me with safety and an ensuite (and I demanded a balcony view and free breakfast for that price). So here I was, now in Altamira, Caracas, Venezuela.
From – San Cristobal Bus Station (the Expresos Occidente one)
To – Caracas Bus Station (the Expresos Occidente one near La Bandera)
Then To – Hotel La Floresta, Altamira, Caracas (via Metro from La Bandera)
Via – Merida (bag search), Guanare (toilet and food stop), La Bandera (walk to the Metro station), Plaza Venezuela (where I changed trains on the Metro)
Transport Used – Expresos Occidente Night Bus, Speed walking, Caracas Metro System
Nationalities Met – Venezuelan
Distance Travelled – Just shy of 1,000 kilometres
The Horrific Facts – Venezuela had the world’s highest murder rate when I was there: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-16349118
Key Song –
BABYLON ZOO – I’M CRACKING UP I NEED A PILL
My Videos –
ON THE NIGHT BUS (ONLY CLIP I TOOK)SAN CRISTOBAL TO CARACAS:
ALTAMIRA DISTRICT IN CARACAS:
HATING VENEZUELA, STATING EVERYTHING THAT WENT WRONG IN MY FIRST 2 DAYS THERE:
Other People’s Videos –
A VIDEO ON THE CARACAS METRO SYSTEM:
AN EXCELLENT USA GUY’S DOCUMENTARY FROM THE DODGY DANGEROUS BARRIOS OF VENEZUELA:
AN EXCELLENT VIDEO OF A CARACAS BUS BY NIGHT:
7 thoughts on “Backpacking in Venezuela: My Trip To The Murder Capital of The World: San Cristobal to Caracas (From La Bandera to Altamira)”
I am looking for some advice from people that have recently been to Venezuela. My boyfriend and I are planning a two and a bit week holiday. From what I have read so far, Venezuela sounds brilliant. But what I cannot understand is why it does not seem to be very touristy/popular and I am interested in knowing why. Is it generally unsafe?
Hi Ashley, Thanks for the comment it was certainly unsafe when I backpacked overland from Cucuta in Colombia to Caracas in 2011. Times may have changed but please be careful out there. Safe travels. Jonny
I loved reading this! Though I admit that I’m a bit of a traveling coward, maybe due to having not been beyond North America (yet). Good luck with your hostel! 🙂
Hey Cran, thanks for the comment, yes Venezuela is not for the faint hearted, especially not that dreaded land border. Safe travels. Jonny
An English Girl wanting to visit San Cristobal with her Boyfriend. Said Boyfriend is from Cordero in San Cristobal, where a lot of the family live. They all seem to believe I will be safe enough travelling there with him. I am concerned- but they are not. The usual route he takes is Aruba- Maracaibo by plan and then Bus to San Cristobal. Honest opinion please.
Thanks so much
Hi Kim, thanks for the comment. If you are with a local person, a Venezuelan, I’m sure you will be fine! I backpacked it alone during the Chavez era and things were not good then. So I hope it will be better for you. Safe travels. Jonny