Presentation of the destination
Caracas (which is a short version of the city’s official name, Santiago de Leon de Caracas) was founded in 1567 by Diego de Losada, a captain in the service of the King of Spain. Populated with more than 3,000,000 people, today it is the largest city as well as the capital of Venezuela. Caracas is located in the north of the country, very close to the Caribbean Sea. Initially the country was called Spanish Empire’s Venezuela Province, and its past has in many ways shaped its present identity. On the one hand, the country – and Caracas as its capital since 1577 – had willingly adopted Spanish language and culture. Even today some of Venezuelan cities have namesakes in Spain. On the other hand, the local population has always despised the “Spanish yoke” and craved for independence. For more than 200 years they had endured but towards the end of the 18th century the independence movement became a force to reckon with. In 1797 Jose Maria Espana and Manuel Gual led an armed uprisal but the first full-fledged attempt to regain the country’s freedom failed. Yet the insurrection against Spain continued – despite signing a Declaration of Independence in 1811 – until on June 24, 1821 Simon Bolivar routed the Royalists at the Battle of Carabobo.
Points of interests / things to see
It is near impossible to overestimate an impact Venezuelan independence gained after the Battle of Carabobo had on its national consciousness. Ever since 1821 Simon Bolivar has been nothing short of a deity for the local population – so much so that hardly anybody refers to him by mentioning his actual name. Venezuelans worship him as the Liberator while the name itself has been reserved for almost everything else in the country. It marks the national airport as well as main streets and squares in Venezuelan cities - and it is also engraved on the national currency. Bolivar’s alleged birthplace in Caracas has turned into the most important national museum and a hugely popular tourist attraction. The museum is to be found in a red-brick house located in a little street nearby three big squares. The house underwent a reconstruction that started in 1916 and was inaugurated as the Bolivar Museum in 1921. In 2002 it was granted a status of a National Monument. While most of the exhibits – such as Bolivar’s personal belongings, his uniform, books or various documents appertaining to his liberation mission – are usual, the highlights of the exhibition are impressive murals painted by Tito Salas. One of them depicts Bolivar on a white mountain talking to an angel!
The Liberator’s death is as much of an event in Venezuela as his birth – so much so that a particular church was renamed into the "Pantheon" and honoured to become the final resting place for the hero. The very name of this elegant 1874 structure located in the northern part of the city emphasizes Bolivar’s god-like status in the country as the word “Pantheon” literally means “the temple of all gods”. The Liberator is not the only one resting in the Pantheon but the whole central nave is dedicated to him, and a bronze sarcophagus with his remains plays a role of the altar. Since 1883 the sarcophagus is illuminated by a massive crystal chandelier. Just like Bolivar’s birth place, his final abode is not devoid of art either – even though the paintings depicting scenes from his life on the vault might be of a more realistic and less fantastic nature. There are other prominent personalities from many different walks of life who are buried in the Pantheon but those who fought in the War of Independence hold a clear majority. Including those whose remains were not found but who should be there by a special decree – such as Bolivar’s prominent ally Francisco Miranda.
Simon Bolivar is universally venerated and almost omnipresent in Venezuela but at least in some places his presence is in name alone – simply because every now and then it is necessary to concentrate on a daily routine rather than on elevated thoughts. Simon Bolivar University in Baruta (32 kilometers from Caracas) is one of such places where young people live a life while spending there their formative years. Initially the institution, created in 1967 in order to promote scientific and technological researches, was called the University of Caracas – the name unofficially shared by the Central University of Venezuela. To avoid confusion – and very much in line with the most renowned national tradition – it was renamed. From a tourist’s point of view, the University’s most remarkable attraction is its gardens designed in the English style by Eduardo Robles Piquer. The gardens boast numerous plants and animals, and the University community deems them so important that the first rector, Ernesto Mayz Vallenilla, chose to accept an honourable title of “gardener for life”. Apart from the gardens, the namesake of the Liberator is also renowned for its traditions – such as never to walk behind Bolivar’s statue before an exam (otherwise it will result in a failure!)
Technology and research might interest someone who knows something about them, in the first place. We all hail from childhood. Hardly a youth would decide to take a path of science as a career unless love for science had been fostered in his or her early years. A museum created in Caracas in 1982 was meant to do exactly that: to foster children’s love for and appreciation of science by tapping into their natural curiosity and passion for exploration. The Children Museum of Caracas is located on avenue Bolivar but it has little to do with ideology or even history. It is all about interaction with the surrounding world. The exhibits in the museum relate to a variety of scientific subjects– such as physics, biology and ecology. Technology as such is represented by a topic of “communication” while “Conquering Space” constitutes an exhibition in its own right and includes a small planetarium. To balance the knowledge children are acquiring through exploring more than 500 exhibits, the museum reserves some space for art as well. The Children Museum is there for its little visitors and their parents 7 days a week: it is open from 9:00 to 17:00 from Monday to Friday and from 10:00 to 17:00 on weekends and public holidays.
They say that children born to parents belonging to different ethnic groups tend to be special – either extremely beautiful, or gifted, or even both – because they benefit from the best in two gene pools rather than just one. Tovar Colony, a city located 42 kilometres away from Caracas and the capital of the municipality Tovar in the state of Aragua, indicates that the same might be true in regard to cities. Tovar Colony was created as a special project, established in 1843 and populated by colonists who had come from the German Grand Duchy of Baden. The future settlers had to travel for almost four months and stay in a quarantine for a while before they finally reached their new home on a different continent – but then they managed to recreate their homeland in the new conditions. They did it so successfully that the city would become known as “Germany in the tropics”. Initially a closed community based on intermarriages (to preserve its cultural identity), Tovar Colony had gradually integrated into the host country economy and culture without losing its own unique language and typical architecture that makes it immediately recognizable. Today it is one of the most prosperous cities in Venezuela known for its cultural celebrations.
Caracas is very close to the Caribbean Sea which lies just on the other side of the El Avila mountain range. The range is covered by a park named after the mountain, and the El Avila park has grown into an attraction in its own right. To start with, it provides spectacular views of both the city and the mountains. Its infrastructure is well developed and it allows for a variety of activities – from exquisite shopping or eating in a high-end restaurant to ice-skating. The quickest way to reach the park is by the Cable Car while coming in an off-road vehicle or by foot are viable alternatives.
There is another member of the El Avila parks family – namely, the Los Chorros park which is smaller and closer to the city than its “big brother”. Due to its landscape, the Los Chorros deserves to be called an “Urchin” as it jumps up and down, hides in tunnels, dances on bridges – in short, it does everything to ensure its visitors would have a lot of fun. It also boasts the only natural waterfall existing in a city park and a lot of impressively large trees and lush vegetation. The park takes a day off on Sunday but is open from Monday through Saturday from 8:30 to 17:30
Caracas is one of those cities where it is easier, safer and nicer to be with a local friend – a privilege not everyone can enjoy. For that reason, a travel agency ToursByLocals offers a creative solution – an option to hire a local guide who would be helpful, trustworthy and knowledgeable at the same time. The unique part of this deal is that essentially it turns into a “tour by request” – the guides are as happy to suggest routes as to follow those suggested by the customer. That attest to their professionalism as well because it means they should well versed in every aspect of the city life.
A more traditional agency like Caracas City Tour would not allow you to alter established routes but it has its own trump – namely, an ability to provide “a complete overview of an interesting city”. Its full day city tour starts at 9:00 (guests can choose to be picked up at their hotel) and includes all the Bolivar-related major landmarks of Caracas as well as a number of churches and a visit to El Hatillo – a kind of an open-air museum declared a National Monument. Depending on the traffic, it might be possible to end the tour with a great view of the city obtained from the Cable Car.
Vacation rentals in Caracas (Capital District)
How to get there ?
The Simon Bolivar International Airport (usually referred to by the locals as La Maiquetia) is the main gateway to Venezuela. The airport serves major international airlines – such as Al Italia, Air France and Iberia flying to the respective European capitals. Air Europe also connects Caracas with Madrid and , seasonally, with several other Spanish cities. The main US destinations are Atlanta (covered by Delta Airlines), Dallas/Fort Worth, Miami and New York JFK (served by American Airlines). A number of Latin American airlines link the Venezuelan capital with the rest of the continent and the Caribbean. There is a free bus shuttle service between the two airport terminals, and it costs 4-5$ and takes 40 minutes to get from the airport to the city centre by bus. A whole fleet of transportation means operates within Caracas to provide for smooth commuting, buses being the main vehicle of mass transportation. Traditionally for Latin America, buses come in different sizes – such as Autobus (large buses), Camioneta (medium size buses) or mini vans. For the last 30 or so years Caracas Underground (Metro has been the main alternative as its 4 lines and 47 stations cover most of the city. The Metro also has its own bus (Metrobus) and cable (Metrocable) systems.
Hotels in Caracas (Capital District)