Founded in 1567, Caracas lies in a rift in thickly forested mountains which rise abruptly from a lush green coast to heights of 2,000 to 3,000 m. Venezuela’s capital is not for the faint-hearted. The term ‘concrete jungle’ could have been coined especially for this fast and frenetic city of five million inhabitants. Dizzyingly high structures of concrete and glass tower over a spider’s web of wide, congested freeways where enormous North American gas-guzzling cars belch out clouds of toxic fumes. Concrete plazas are filled with coffee-guzzling Caraqueños going about their business while water from a thousand leaking air-conditioning systems pours down like so many man-made waterfalls.
Although some tourists find Caracas less than appealing the city is not without its attractions. For a start there’s the nightlife. The average European or North American clubber would be left gasping at the sheer energy of Caraqueños out in pursuit of a good time. Wealthy districts such as Las Mercedes and Altamira are positively throbbing with life as the city’s young unwind with a vengeance. For others a more sedate alternative lies in the many and varied culinary delights on offer in the city’s myriad restaurants. Alternatively you can enjoy some great salsa from the relative safety of your barstool in one of the Spanish-style ‘tascas’, or bars.
Caracas also caters for even the hungriest of cultural appetites with many museums, galleries and theatres. The shady Plaza Bolívar, with its fine equestrian statue of the Liberator and pleasant colonial cathedral, is still the official centre of the city, though no longer geographically so. Much of its colonial surroundings is being restored. Casa Natal del Libertador is a fascinating reconstruction of the house where Bolívar was born (24 July 1783). It is also possible to escape the hustle and bustle and enjoy a little welcome greenery in the many parks. Dominating the northern skyline are the wooded peaks of the Avila National Park, with good walking and camping.