MEXICO CITY (Sputnik) - News about Venezuela has been making headlines all over global media for more than a week, but before you go travelling to this faraway country, it is important to know how things are really like there.
A Sputnik correspondent visited Caracas and wrote a survival manual describing which of the city's areas are better to avoid, why it is so important to have an inside man, and how to buy a bottle of water in a country where there is no cash.
Cross the Border
It is not that easy for journalists who literally streamed into the country after last week's fresh standoff between the government and parliament. They should prepare themselves for certain difficulties when they go through passport control. Local border officials pull aside anyone who resembles a member of the press for further examination. The fact is that to work in Venezuela, you need to have accreditation from a local diplomatic department, but it is clear that this is almost impossible to obtain before departure.
Now, you are in the capital of Venezuela. It is dangerous in every part of the city, but to a different extent. Trouble is unlikely to happen in Baruta and Chacao, but you should nevertheless be on guard there. It is better not to travel on foot, carry or show off your money, wear gold chains (there are few people who are interested in silver), use mobile phones on the streets or leave your watch in your hotel room.
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However, it is better to have a small amount of money, about $20, in your pocket in order to give it to criminals in case of a robbery. You should never resist a robbery because they usually result badly. As they say in Caracas, criminals here shoot first and think later.
You would be better off never setting foot in the districts of Petare and Catia, but if you find yourself here, in no event should you get out of the car.
Shopping Without Cash
AFP 2019 / Juan BARRETO
The situation surrounding the nation's lack of cash has been going on for more than a year, and there is no way out of it yet. So what can do and how can you pay for your purchases? The only way is to have a friend, acquaintance or even someone who looks credible enough with a local card with the amount of money in bolivars. This person can pay for you wherever you need and you can repay these expenses later in dollars.
Currently, the situation with the official dollar exchange rate has returned to normal, but previously it could differ from the market almost tenfold. Usually, the exchange goes like this: a person agrees with a "money-changer" to exchange a certain amount of money, and they either send a card-to-card transfer in bolivars or immediately make a bank transfer to pay directly for services.
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AP Photo / Fernando Llano
This scheme does not always work, however. There are times when these so-called money-changers run out of virtual money and then the only thing left is to pay in dollars. They are usually taken willingly, but not everywhere. In addition, most of the local purchases will cost $1 or $2, but no one has cash, which means that you will have to leave at least $5 instead of $2. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that you bring not only 20, 50 and 100 dollar bills to Venezuela, but to also have a lot of 1's and 5's.
As for transport, the average cost of a taxi in the city is $20, and a trip to the airport will be $60. It is dangerous to get into a car waiting on the street — you can only trust official carriers.
Mobile communication problems for foreigners are relatively new. Back in 2015, there was a kiosk where you could buy a local SIM card right in the airport upon arrival in Caracas. Now everything is complicated. But if you do manage to get one, then it will be almost free. For example, a SIM card with a balance of about 6,000 bolivars (about $2) will be enough for 2 weeks of extensive use.
You can get a SIM card, like most everything in Venezuela, through the locals. Previously, hotel employees were happy to do it for a small fee. However, the authorities later tightened control over SIM cards. So the best thing to do is to ask someone you know for one. Not always, but very often they can either lend you their second SIM card, so as long as you return it before departure, or buy a new one in their name. In theory, a foreigner can go to the mobile company’s central office and buy it, but this would take a lot of time.
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In general, the main rule of being in Venezuela is to always stay sharp. Loss of vigilance may have the most unpleasant consequences.