Located on South America’s northern coast, Venezuela is as diverse as it gets. From the resort-lined Caribbean coast to the northwest Andes and colonial towns, the “Land of Grace” is full of surprises. It’s true that it’s not the underdeveloped nation it once was, but you might still be wondering, is Venezuela safe?
Previously, Venezuela’s main exports were agricultural commodities. But today, it is home to the world’s largest known oil reserves which have catapulted the country to economic development. Still, political corruption, unemployment, and shortages of food and medicine threaten the nation’s stability and its safety for tourists.
From organized crime to tap water, there are a few things to look out for when traveling Venezuela. This unindustrialized nation is steeped in natural beauty and just waiting to be discovered, but this doesn’t mean you can go wandering alone in the Amazon. Find out how to stay safe in Venezuela in 2022 with our guide. Let’s get into it.
Is Venezuela safe to visit?
South America is a vast and exciting continent, appealing to backpackers and holidaymakers for decades with its rugged landscapes and Edenic beaches. And Venezuela is no different. The diverse land is full of spectacular sights from the world’s tallest waterfall in the Guiana Highlands, to the Sierra Madre mountains in the north. But Venezuela’s adventurous appeal also comes from a place of political and economic instability, leaving some visitors wondering if the country is safe to visit.
Deemed the Tierra de Gracia, meaning “Land of Grace” by Christopher Columbus, the explorer was so taken by Venezuela’s landscape when he arrived in 1498 he described it as a “Terrestrial Paradise”. But Venezuela hasn’t always been an untouched haven. Tainted by a history of widespread poverty, repressive governments, and civil unrest, crime is rife and Venezuela is a dangerous place.
Venezuela still presents with high levels of criminality and this is a result of several factors. Organized street gangs and violent crime are poorly policed and punished due to underpaid and corrupt officers, a politicized and underfunded judicial system, an inefficient prison system, and the availability of weapons. In fact, there is a considerable and persistent threat from violent crime and kidnapping, and Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Muggings, carjackings, and even armed robbery are all common and often accompanied by violence. But what does this mean for tourists?
Lots of crime in Venezuela, especially homicide and street violence, is inter-gang. This means it occurs between people who know each other as a result of drug-related conflict and turf war. While this tends to not concern tourists, you still need to remain vigilant to the possibility of crossfire. Some crimes do directly affect visitors. Pickpockets are everywhere, especially in tourist areas, and mugging risks are high no matter where you go.
There is also a haunting expression for a new type of crime that has emerged with increased tourism in Venezuela, “express kidnapping”. This is where foreigners are kidnapped and tortured until they give up credit cards and personal details. Terrifying, right? Although highly unlikely, you should still always keep your wits about you and never flash wealth or valuables. Also, don’t expect justice if you are a victim. Crimes rarely result in trials and convictions, with the lack of funding and widespread corruption.
As for natural threats, Venezuela is also prone to extreme weather like floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Northern Venezuela, along the Caribbean sea, is especially vulnerable to tropical storms like much of the West Indies. The hurricane season runs from June to November, and visitors are advised to avoid this portion of the country at this time of year and look out for weather warnings.
The Orinoco and Caroní Rivers are also susceptible to flooding. Sudden torrential rains have caused serious damage in the past. Avoid low-lying areas like Llanos and some valleys in the Andes and Merida State during the rainy months, which occupy May to December.
Is Venezuela safe for solo travelers?
There are ways to stay safe in Venezuela and many visitors face no issues when traveling to the country. Still, due to significant levels of violent crime, shortages of medicine, and unstable political situations, the US State Department currently has a Level 4 Travel Advisory issued for Venezuela. This means all travel is unadvised and the country is largely considered unsafe for tourists, especially solo visitors.
The capital is crime-ridden and solo males are just as much at risk as females. Walking alone, especially after dark, puts all individuals at heightened risk for muggings, robbery, and abductions. Foreigners will often be perceived as possessing more wealth than locals, so standing out as a tourist won’t help. Victims are randomly selected for short-term opportunistic kidnappings in some areas, and any tourist is at risk of this.
Avoid unauthorized taxis and research your accommodation and neighborhood well before you visit Venezuela. The only places considered safe for solo travelers are the touristy areas, away from borders and near the coast. Areas like the Amazon Rainforest and Salto Angel (the tallest waterfall in the world) are also considered at low risk from human threats and are generally safe for tourists within guided tours and outside of extreme weather seasons.
Is public transport safe in Venezuela?
Public transport operates all over Venezuela, with a mix of private and public and often overlapping services, accommodating 12 million commuters a day. In Caracus, the subway Metro system covers most of the city but is used by so many and struggles under the burden of the capital’s demands. Venezuela also has a well-developed bus network that connects virtually the entire nation. You can travel cheaply from Caracas to all the tourist areas, but safety can be a concern.
There are a high number of reports of criminality on some fleets, and some areas of the country and unadvised to travel by bus due to crime. Tourists are especially vulnerable to pickpockets and even kidnapping on public transport where organized crime rings operate. Keep your wits about you and opt for tourist routes over intercity commuter transport.
Traveling by pre-booked transfers is the safest way to get around the country, especially reviewed and rated guided tours. Roads can be dangerous as carjacking is not uncommon and foreigners driving cars stand out. Unauthorized taxis can also be involved in organized crime and abduction. Getting in an unbooked cab also puts you at risk of scams, especially at airports.
Is it safe to drink the tap water in Venezuela?
Venezuela is an anomaly when it comes to South American water standards. The nation ranks as one of the top 15 global countries in renewable freshwater and an alleged 93 percent of the population have access to “improved” water. Still, this equates to eight out of ten people not having continuous access to clean drinking water with most tap water being of dubious quality or sporadically drinkable.
For these reasons, it is not advised to drink the tap water in Venezuela, unless informed otherwise. Even in tourist areas, reliable drinking water cannot be secured by most hotels, and sticking to bottled water is worth the expense. Some residents in Caracas collect water from the Guaire River which is contaminated with waste because so many homes are without reliable running water. Rolling blackouts in the capital often cut out water supplies due to the plumbing systems relying on electric pumps.
Drinking tap water in Venezuela won’t necessarily cause harm but it could give your body discomfort if you are less accustomed to it. Tap water in Venezuela is generally okay for cleaning produce and brushing teeth, but tap water in rural areas, if you can even find out, should be completely avoided due to contamination risks.
Is it safe to live in Venezuela?
It might have one of the highest homicide rates in the world and red warnings against tourism in many areas, but does this mean Venezuela is off-limits to ex-pats? Venezuela is home to many ex-pats seeking cheap prices and beautiful weather. Spending more time in Venezuela could increase your chances of being a victim of crime. But as a resident, chances are, you’ll be more accustomed to the way of life, the safety hacks, and the neighborhood rules, so be less at risk of crime than a tourist.
Cities tend to be safer than remote villages in Venezuela. Caracas, and the capital’s slum especially, may be among the most dangerous places to live, but Puerto La Cruz, Maracaibo, and Merida could provide a high quality of life and substantial healthcare facilities. You’ll also find private schools, diverse shopping choices and safe local transport in these cities.
Rural areas offer the cheapest property, but high crime rates deter ex-pats. Recent economic crises could also result in shortages of food and personal care products where basic items are already limited. Rich neighborhoods in the cities can also be a target for crime with high-income earners flashing expensive gadgets. If your means allow, invest in security at your place of residence and don’t boast wealth.
7 Safety Tips for Venezuela
Avoid travel at night – Walking around alone at night is never safe, especially in Venezuela. Certain neighborhoods aren’t even safe for public transport or taxi travel, and transferring between Simón Bolivar International Airport and Caracas city after dark should be avoided.
Never take unregulated taxis – It’s not just overcharging that you’re at risk of in Venezuela’s taxis, but organized crime and even “express kidnapping” is common from taxis so always pre-book your travel.
Avoid political demonstrations – Since Venezuela went full tilt towards communism, a brutally repressive government has caused political uproar and civil unrest. Police won’t be sympathetic to protestors, especially not foreigners. The last place you want to end up is a Venezuelan jail so avoid political involvement anywhere in the country.
Be aware of the airport tax scam – Many tourists have reported being scammed by airport tax fares. International passengers must pay two taxes to leave Venezuela, but this is usually a fare of BsF 228 ($36), having increased from BsF 195 ($31) in recent years. However, it is often included in your flight ticket and you should always check your booking receipt. Airport officials will try to deceive unknowing tourists for extra tax. There is a second airport tax to be paid after check-in but this is just BSF 190 ($30). Always check with your airline before paying anything more.
Bring medicine with you – Whether you require prescription medication or just need over-the-counter painkillers, medical shortages are widespread in Venezuela and traveling with your own drugs, if illegal, is advised.
Never leave drinks unattended – It’s not just solo females that are at risk of drink spiking in Venezuela. Anyone can be spiked to make robberies or kidnappings easier for criminals. Never accept drinks from strangers or leave drinks unattended. It is even advised to not accept pamphlets in shopping centers as they’ve been known to carry disorienting drugs that permeate the skin.
Avoid ATMs – Traveling with large amounts of cash is never a good idea, but ATMs are a hotbed for crime in Venezuela. Criminals linger, ready to target users, and “virtual kidnappings” are common. This is where ATM data is hacked by criminal gangs to retrieve credit card information. Only use ATMs in well-lit areas, look out for malfunctions and defective machines, and never use ATMs when you’re alone. Better yet, use your hotel for currency exchange or bring cash with you to lock away safe.