Explore Spectacular Venezuela: Culture, History, and Destinations
Venezuela is a multicultural and multiethnic country with atypical weather and a very special cuisine. It is home to the tallest, uninterrupted waterfall of the world, and also to the biggest petroleum reserve.
Not mind-blowing enough? Guinness recognized the Catatumbo thunder, a Venezuelan meteorological phenomenon—as the World Record of highest lightning concentration. That must be a show!
Keep reading to learn the history of Venezuela and how it is today, after so many social, economic, and political changes. Find out the best places in Venezuela to add to your travel bucket list, and follow my tips at the end of the post to travel smoothly!
Let’s go already!
A Brief Story of Venezuela
Did you know that the name Venezuela derives from “little Venice?” That’s right! When Amerigo Vespucci arrived in this fascinating place and saw the natives living in stilt houses, he said it reminded him of Venice.
Colonization of Venezuela
People have inhabited Venezuela, or the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, for around 30,000 years. The Spanish Empire colonized it in 1522 after Columbus found it in his third trip to America.
Spaniards promoted the mestizaje—a mix of European and native races—that defines Venezuela’s current social profile. Colonizers quickly began to extract natural resources profusely such as tobacco and cocoa, and had to deal with pirate attacks as they flourished.
Independence of Venezuela
Venezuelans lost Aruba, Bonaire, and Curazao to New Zealand, and Trinidad and Tobago to England before they declared their independence in 1811, only to become part of Colombia. The Independence War was a result of the United States of America’s Independence, the French Revolution, the Enlightenment movement, Napoleon’s invasion of Spain, and a strong disagreement with the centralization of money and power.
After becoming the Republic of Colombia, or the Great Colombia, there were many enforced regulations such as the abolition of slavery. Yet the constant rivalry between centralists and federalists, as well as the desire of being a sovereign country, ended up in a true independence in 1830.
Warlordism and Liberalism
A period of warlordism with political rivals fighting many different internal wars and rebellions alongside liberalism followed. The liberal presidents created many of the following country’s foundations and pillars.
- The Fine Arts Conservatory
- The instauration of the Venezuelan peso (later bolívar)
- The urbanization of the capital city of Caracas
- The end of warlordism
- The public and mandatory education
- The first census
- The reduction of power of the Catholic Church
- The writing of the national anthem
- The establishment of the direct vote and the 4-year presidential term
A military period followed and democracy finally prevailed in 1958. Although everything seemed fine at the beginning, many antagonizers tried to unbalance the new government.
The petroleum industry kept flourishing but international debt started to cause a dent. In addition, growing corruption, territorial disputes with other countries, the capital outflow, and company bankruptcies began to appear.
Social protests arrived later and their leader, Hugo Chávez, was later elected president.
Hugo Chávez’ country project, or the Bolivarian Revolution (Revolución Bolivariana), supposedly had an ideology based on that of Simón Bolívar. Simón Bolívar was the founder of Great Colombia and one of the most important figures of the independence from the Spanish Empire. He inspired many independence declarations, including the ones of Venezuela, Bolivia, Perú, Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador.
Many questioned Chávez’ leadership from the beginning, when the autonomy of the government powers were not clear. Later, he created laws concerning the administration of land that ended up in a national strike of workers and company owners. After a coup, Chávez faked his resignation, and the president of the Chamber of Powers assumed the Venezuelan presidency. He dismembered the powers and reinstituted Chávez as president that same day.
Venezuelans continued the strikes but nothing happened. Hugo openly attacked the USA and strengthened his relations with USA rivals. His supporters started to gain power all over the country and soon Chávez modified the constitution in order to be reelected indefinitely.
Social discontent, debt, and inflation kept increasing by the day. After Chávez was supposedly reelected for the third time, he died of colon cancer. Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s vice president, took office and raised the gas prices as well as some of the basic taxes. He also asked the Assembly permission to decree his own laws to supposedly end corruption .
During Maduro’s presidency, Venezuela was at the top of the world poverty index. According to research, Venezuelans couldn’t have 3 meals a day anymore and food like eggs stopped being part of their diet due to a 1.3 million percent disemployment and hyperinflation. One dollar in Venezuela today equals more than 4 million bolívares.
In 2019 the Permanent Council recognized Juan Guaidó as president, declaring Maduro illegitimate. Guaidó was acknowledged by 60 countries of Latin America, the European Union, the USA, Japan, Israel, and Australia, whereas Maduro is recognized by only 20 countries. Today, they are both partially recognized and in charge of Venezuela.
Venezuelan Culture and Society
28 million people live in Venezuela today, considering that around 6.5 million people have fled the country since Hugo Chávez presidency due to the economic and humanitarian crisis.
Population is divided ethnically, unlike Paraguay. Around a third of the population identify as mestizos—mixed race with Spaniards, Italians and Portuguese—, another third as white, and the rest as mulattos, black, or indigenous. You can also still find German, Arab, Chinese, Swiss, Polish, Armenian, Russian, Turkish and Hungarian colonies. Venezuela is the second Latin American country in European and American immigration.
99% Venezuelans speak Spanish while the rest speak indigenous dialects. The religion of 80% of the population is Catholic. The rest is mainly Protestant, but you can also find people who practice Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, agnosticism, and atheism.
Music in Venezuela is a mix of African and Spanish elements. The Joropo is a musical genre venezuelans consider part of their national identity. It is also called música llanera and its instruments are the harp, the maracas, the bandola, and the capachos. Something unique about these instruments is that the capachos are like maracas but they derive directly from Africa. Also, the harp has metal strings unlike the most common one with nylon strings, making a very unusual sound.
Watch how to dance Joropo!
Religion and Festivals
Venezuela is the 4th Latin American country to have the most holidays. Most of them are religious and are dedicated to virgins such as the Virgen del Socorro, Virgen de la Consolación, Virgen de Chiquinquirá. They include processions and fairs.
Others like the Carnaval de Carupano, are filled with drums and salsa. Women in bright colored clothing, contagious music and delicious food are some of the elements that attract around 400,000 people each year.
One of the most interesting festivals is the Dancing Devils celebration, where people use demon masks, dress all in red and dance to the rhythm of the music. People decorate the center square of San Francisco de Yare with rosaries and crosses, and that’s where the devils go to dance. You can make your own mask and join!
The Venezuelan cuisine has Spanish, African, Italian, and Portuguese influences that you can spot depending on the region. In the eastern region people tend to eat seafood accompanied by rice, while in the Llanos it is easier to find meat and cheese.
The arepas is the national Venezuelan dish. You can eat them as breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack. Locals have it from one to 7 days a week. This delicious maize flour fried dough has cheese, ham, egg, pork meat, beef meat, and or chicken stuffing and according to the thrillist it is the best breakfast in the world.
The pabellón criollo, another Venezuelan delicacy, has rice, fried bananas, meat, black beans, and fried eggs. People consider it also a national dish by excellence and was once what slaves used to eat.
The Venezuelan flag has three stripes of different colors and, as of recently, 8 stars—they used to be seven. Each color represents a different meaning.
- Yellow: It symbolizes the country’s wealth.
- Blue: Symbolizes the Venezuelan coasts.
- Red: It reminds people of the blood shed during the independence war.
The stars in the blue stripe represent each of the provinces that signed the Independence Act (Barcelona, Barinas, Caracas, Cumaná, Guayana, Margarita, Mérida, Trujillo).
It is not to be confused with the Colombian flag which also has three stripes of the same colors, but without the stars and the yellow stripe occupies more space, it isn’t equally divided.
Covid in Venezuela
According to the news, the third wave has affected Venezuela. Since the delivery delay of 11 million vaccines, Venezuela is the South American country with the least vaccinations.
Less than 4% of the Venezuelan population have received either of the vaccines whereas the percentage of other countries like Uruguay is as high as 64%.
Venezuela also has the lowest diagnosis rate, less than 20 PCR tests per 1,000 people. Social distance seems impossible in a place where no one can skip a day of work and almost half of the jobs are informal.
While walking through Venezuela, you can easily spot Canarian, Italian and Portuguese accents. These combine with native and, since the Spaniards who colonized Venezuela brought black slaves, African-derived words.
Take a look at some of the most common words of Venezuelan slang and their meanings.
- Amapuche: warm hug
- Bolo: buck
- Chamo: boy or girl
- Sacar la piedra: to infuriate or annoy someone
- Chimbo: something lame, sad, boring.
- Vaina: thing
- Bululú: disorganized group of people
5 Spectacular Sites to Visit in Venezuela
Venezuela is famous for its wildlife and beautiful natural sites. It is a difficult task to narrow all those places down to only 5, but here they are!
1. Angel Falls
The Angel Falls have a height of 3,212 feet and they’re 15 times higher than the Niagara Waterfalls. This is a candidate for the 7 World Wonders, and served as inspiration for the movie UP. It is inside the Canaima National Park, which is also worth it just to experience it’s particular weather and the range of animal species inside.
2. Roraima Mountain
This magical place looks like out of your wildest dreams. It is a 19 square-feet table top mount surrounded by clouds. It is located in Paracaima, in the frontier of Venezuela with Brazil and Guyana. Choose Roraima to climb the 1,312 feet high and live a powerful, life-changing experience. You can also see it in UP and read the inspiration taken from it in The Lost World of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. If you are lucky you will see a black frog, you can’t find it anywhere else.
3. Médanos de Coro National Park
Find colonial avenues between sand dunes that lead to fishing villages, beware of the blue tarantulas and enjoy the closest reserve from the Venezuelan Gulf. A médano is the accumulation of sand near water, they are also called nomad sands.
4. Ciudad Bolívar
The historic district of Ciudad Bolivar is filled with colonial buildings, museums, and arts. It is a picturesque spot where you can take pictures, walk through its beautiful streets and have a taste of the local cuisine that includes some exotic dishes like baked tortoise and cassava sauce.
5. Los Roques
Visit the archipelago Los Roques, the second largest sea park of Latin America. The unparalleled beauty of this Caribbean coast line will make you go a second time. White sand and turquoise water make it the perfect spot to relax after visiting all the other beautiful but extreme top sites of Venezuela. Choose from a wide variety of sea activities and sports such as kayaking, windsurfing, diving, underwater diving, sailboating and plenty more.
Hopefully, you will soon be enjoying each of these 5 different and jaw-dropping experiences that converge in the same country!
Let’s Go to Venezuela! – ¡Vamos a Venezuela!
Prepare for your trip to Venezuela or any of the other 20 countries that speak Spanish! If you are thinking of coming to hispanic territory, think of how enriching your experience will be.
You will be able to try local food, discover magical places like the ones I suggested above, and more specifically, to meet more people that can be your new life-long friends. The best part of travelling is talking to locals so they can give you advice, directions, tips, and if you are lucky you will be able to exchange opinions and maybe even phone numbers. Befriend people from other parts of the world!
The best way of doing that is to prepare before traveling by learning how to speak Spanish. Tailor a Spanish package that meets your expectations and needs, even if they are work-related! Get your individualized, schedule-flexible lessons online to experience the world differently.
Our method at HSA is simple, speak, speak, speak! Improve your conversational skills daily by practicing with one of our certified native Spanish speaker from Guatemala. More than 24,000 monthly active students and 10 years of experience back us up. Travel more easily and sign up for a free trial class today!
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