I think this thread may be due for an update. As a foreigner (Canadian), I’d like to share what I know and have experienced since my last trip to Venezuela, which is current dating from June 5, 2018. Being born and raised in Canada, having completed my university (medical) studies in Canada/USA, and working in Canada/USA, my perspective is westernized.
I usually visit Venezuela (VZL) about 1-2 a year and have been there six times. I have local friends that usually help me, but my last visit was done mainly on my own, with the help of the TripAdvisor (thanks, Tiomat2016!) and FlyerTalk community! If anyone has any questions or concerns, I’d be more than willing and happy to answer them directly on this message board or via PM. Also, Tiomat2016 is the KING of advice!
TRAVEL (How to get to VZL)
I think the available options shouldn’t be too difficult to find. I consider it outside the scope of this post. Nevertheless, if you have questions, please let me know. There are creative ways to get to VZL, such as using BOG/MDE/AUA/CUR/POS as entry points.
CURRENCY EXCHANGE (How to get local currency and how to use it)
The local currency in VZL is the bolivar (VEF). The official exchange rate (from USD to VEF) as of today, June 5, 2018, is 1$=80,000VEF. This is the exchange rate you will get if you use your foreign credit/debit card. The black market exchange rate, as of today, is 1$=1,600,000VEF – this rate changes daily (use DolarToday.com to check rates). Cash is hardly used in VZL. The only way to pay for goods, at the favorable exchange rate, is to use a local credit/debit card or local bank transfer. There are services offering the opportunity to borrow an individual’s credit/debit card and ID (thanks, Tiomat2016!). I was using a woman’s ID and was successful 29/30 times with it. Only once, did I get rejected by the merchant because of my woman’s ID (I was buying a bottle of water). I went next door to another pharmacy and bought the bottle of water without a problem. There are daily debit and bank transfer limits depending on the bank you are using. If you would like more information, please PM me – Tiomat2016 is also very knowledgeable.
Exchanging USD to VEF is done through local trustworthy contacts. I would never use someone I met on the street or didn’t know. If you want a local contact, PM me – Tiomat2016 is also very knowledgeable. You can Paypal/Uphold/Zelle the amount in USD, and these people will transfer you the equivalent amount in VEF to your Venezuelan bank account.
HOTEL (Where to stay)
I’ll keep this unique to Caracas. If you have any questions regarding other cities, please let me know. I would say the best place in Caracas to stay is the Hotel Renaissance Caracas La Castellana, a Marriott chain located in the affluent neighborhood of Altamira. Using the black market currency exchange, you would be looking at ~25-30$ a night for a regular room, ~35-40$ a night for a regular room with lounge access, and 45-50$ a night for a suite. Customer service is great and there is a nice restaurant on the first floor ($7-8 a meal) and a nice bar in the lobby ($1 a drink). For comparison, a meal at McDonalds/Subway/KFC runs for 1-2$. The Renaissance La Castellana also has a very nice pool/gym. For Western standards, I’d give this hotel a solid 4 stars. There are other options in the city such as the Embassy Suites by Hilton Caracas, InterContinental Tamanaco, and Gran Melia. Although I haven’t frequented these three hotels, from talking with locals and other foreigners, the Renaissance is the go-to place. Other options include 3-star hotels for about $5-10 a night, but I wouldn’t trust them.
According to government regulations, hotels can request that a foreigner pay in USD, and not in VEF. There are a couple of solutions to this: 1) A Venezuelan makes the booking in their name and checks in themselves, then gives you the room’s keys. 2) You book the hotel in your personal name in advance and prepay in VEF the full amount via bank transfer before arriving. If using method #2, there are some very important particularities with the check-out process. Please send me a PM and I’ll fill you in.
TRANSPORTATION (How to get from the airport to your final destination)
The local rate for a taxi going from the city center to the airport is 5$; however, the taxi service should be prearranged. Prearranging a taxi is difficult unless a trustworthy local can help you. If you need help with this, I’d be more than happy to help – please PM.
I don’t necessarily think VZL is as dangerous as people make it out to be. Sure, you should be careful and not walk around with a gold Rolex and gold chain, but the same would hold true if you were walking some streets in NYC. Use common sense and you should be fine. Do not take one of the airport taxis, do not exchange dollars on the street, do not flaunt your wealth.
All in all, Venezuela is a beautiful place. Money goes a long way: Michelin restaurants for 10$, massages for 1$, manicure/pedicure for 1$, designer haircuts for 2$, etc… Beaches are beautiful, and Los Roques and Angel Falls are breathtaking. A potential great tourist destination…!