Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Overlanding in Venezuela

We have left Venezuela, so it's now probably safe to summarise how I felt about overlanding in Venezuela.
To be honest, I was a bit nervous about travelling in Venezuela. I skipped it as a backpacker in 2010, but travelling as we had done across the Guyanas at the North of South America, it was logical to travel Venezuela. A significant part of Venezuela, that we had to cross to leave the country, is listed on the Australian government travel advisory website ( with their highest warning level: "Do Not Travel". I did not tell my family this before we went, and we did the 'bad' part in one afternoon.

But really, Venezuela was fine. The first part we did (I already did a post about the Gran Sabana), was lovely and we free camped in the wild. We didn't do a lot more exploring, as we decided to leave Venezuela due to my knee problem, but we did travel across the country and see a lot.

Police and military checkpoints were regular, and mostly they were just curious and bored young men serving their 2.5 years of military service. On one occasion the military check freaked me out a bit, a man entered the back of the vehicle, with Hendrik, and he searched everything. Meanwhile, up the front of the vehicle (where I sat in the cab) another officer was requesting that I unlock the doors so he could search the front of the vehicle. I told him one man was enough at a time and didn't unlock. The thing is that you have to watch them, so one was really enough and sufficient.

But, all these police and military people were friendly and nice to us and so were the Venezuelan people. Although we expected to have bribes requested it never happened to us.

Because of my knee trouble and my difficulty in negotiating the back steps of Blac and the height of the bed, we stayed in hotels and guesthouses during our travels across Venezuela and, because of the local want of USD we could stay in nice hotels with lovely swimming pool and breakfast included (eggs, cheese,  ham and breads, coffee, juice) for US$20. In reality the hotels should have cost a lot more, so we were getting a bargain that I really appreciated.

In Venezuela the government has set multiple official exchange rates (different rates for different purposes) at unrealistic levels. This has created a situation where the country just can't get ahold of things from overseas, and it's created a big black-market currency exchange because people want to get USD to be able to buy things from overseas. Officially the general exchange rate says that US$1 buys between 5 and 6 Bolivars, but on the black market we were offered 150 bolivars for US$1. Imagine this! It has created a situation where things were ridiculously cheap for us, and, I believe, cruelly expensive for Venezuelans without access to foreign funds. You can imagine why we stopped sleeping in Blac and cooking our own meals: a roadside snack cost us 30 cents, and a restaurant meal was $2-3, Beers were 40c.

In the shops there are shortages of things. Toilet paper, shampoo, and milk products are common shortages, and don't expect to have a choice of pain killers if you have a bad knee and use up what you brought into the country.

Fuel in Venezuela

Buying fuel was a Venezuelan delight. I heard that Chavez (ex-president with radical ideas) said that petroleum should be 'for the people'. So, diesel was 0.048 Bolivars per litre. (Gasoline wasn't much different). Imagine filling up 120 litres for less than 5 bolivars!, and, if you converted USD at the black market rate, you have then paid less than 5 cents to buy 120 litres of fuel!!! and, they pump it for you, so you hand them a 5 Bolivar note, and let the guy keep the change. Fuel pumping jobs are desirable in Venezuela because the worker gets to keep the change, which to us doesn't seem like much at all.
Diesel pump display, Venezuelan Bolivars per litre, our first transaction.

Of course, cheap fuel means that there is very little environment consciousness. Whether they are old 'yank tanks' (big american style cars) that are falling apart (parts aren't readily available and if you are still driving an old heap-of-junk you probably don't have much access to USD to get parts in from elsewhere), or newish big US pickups, like F350's and Dodge Rams, the vehicles were mostly petrol guzzlers. I swear, you could hear some of them drinking the fuel down, 'glug, glug, glug'. There were very few economy cars.

It is the area within 80 kilometres of the Colombian border that is considered dangerous. This is possibly due to the fact that cheap fuel isn't available within this 80kms, it is illegal to export the cheap fuel out of Venezuela, but exporting fuel out is a big industry. In that 80kilometre zone we got held up in heavy traffic, a vehicle had lost a wheel and was blocking a lane, and impatient people trying to get past had bunged things up for the lane going the other way. Hendrik asked some people in front of us why they were going to the Colombian border. 'We're taking fuel' was the answer. Hendrik said 'but where's the fuel?'. They responded: 'In the tank.' Of course, you can't just take a container of fuel over. The cars doing this were all big, and mostly old things falling to pieces (not surprising a wheel fell off one).

Near the border on both sides fuel is sold roadside from containers at prices that progressively get higher as you go out of Venezuela and further into Colombia. It's still cheaper than pump fuel in Colombia, but we didn't buy any as it is frequently reported to be dirty diesel. I did say that you can't just take a container of fuel over the border, but I also saw a truck driver at the Venezuelan border pass some folded Bolivars (a bribe), and get sent forward without inspection so my guess is that that truck had contraband of some sort. On the Colombian side we also saw some young men jump quickly onto motorbikes and make a quick escape just as the military police came to get them for their fuel trading (I guess they hadn't paid the right person yet today because the fuel trading was going on everywhere).

Venezuela is also the most littered country I have ever visited. I have seen a lot of rubbish around the world, India and Bolivia get notable mentions, but Venezuela is far worse. Even in the National Parks there was litter. The exception was the Gran Sabana where we didn't see any litter unless it was at a rubbish collection station. This is a shame.

Go now!

This year should see change for Venezuela. Elections are due in September and currently they are saying that 80% of people want a change of government. Other overlanders reading this should take note and heed this advice... locals are predicting that Venezuela may not be so safe from about August on, and, for the sake of the Venezuelan people, I hope they do get change and that might mean that things aren't so cheap after September. So, go sooner!


  1. Glad to know you made it! =D hope your knee gets well soon! Nice to read your view from Venezuela. Brave road warriors got away unscratched, wasn't it an adrenalin rush to cross the country? You both knew the good, the bad and the ugly, Hahahaha cheers!!

  2. Thanks for your comments, We are telling all overlanders to go to Venezuela now!