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Caracas, Venezuela

About Caracas

Venezuela’s cultural and political capital, Caracas enjoys a picturesque setting at 3,000 feet, situated in a long valley surrounded by dramatically contoured mountains. From the port of La Guaira, it’s a short drive through the rainforest-covered Cerro El Ávila mountains, much of the area protected national parkland, to the center of this historic city. Founded in 1567 by Diego de Losada under the name Santiago de León de Caracas, it was originally inhabited by the Toromaima Indians.

In 1811 the country declared its independence from Spain with the help of Simón Bolívar, although Spain didn’t recognize it as a country until 1845. Bolívar was a Venezuelan-born aristocrat who studied abroad and started his campaign for Venezuela’s independence in 1808. With a victory under his belt, he later helped achieve independence for current-day Bolivia (which is named after him), Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Panama. Statues, plazas and streets honoring the revered leader can be found throughout South America, particularly in Caracas where Plaza Bolívar is a main gathering spot.

Caracas Lifestyle and Culture

Culture, arts, learning and sports all converge in Caracas. The Caracas Athenaeum, which holds theater performances and art exhibits, is a cultural center founded in 1931 and has been continuously run by women ever since. The Central University of Venezuela, founded in 1721, is the oldest and highest-ranking in the country; it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. Other linchpins of Venezuela’s rich culture and history are its national library, Museum of Contemporary Art and Fine Arts Museum.

Soccer and baseball are leading national sports. Outside the city center, renowned for its beauty nestled among green hills, La Rinconada Hippodrome hosts horse racing. Softly sloping golf courses and lush gardens also draw local caraqueños outdoors to enjoy the capital’s mild climate.

The tree-lined Plaza Bolívar immortalizes the nation’s celebrated liberator with an equestrian statue that was cast in Munich and shipped here for assembly. In this lively gathering place, families stroll and neighbors gossip in the shade of African tulip trees and jacarandas.

Caracas Sights and Landmarks

The gleaming white Romanesque Caracas Cathedral on the eastern edge of Plaza Bolívar offers a slice of history: Simón Bolívar was baptized in this revered place, and an ornate side chapel is dedicated to him and his family. Be sure to check out the gilded colonial altarpiece at the rear of the chapel. Nearby, a trio of cream-colored bell towers marks the National Pantheon, where Bolívar’s revolutionary comrades and other auspicious Venezuelans are entombed. As for Bolívar, he rests in an adjacent mausoleum built strictly for him, a stunning white-tiled sanctuary whose soaring height was inspired by the Andean peaks where he fought the Spanish Empire. More on Bolívar can be found at the Museo Bolivariano (Bolivarian Museum), where memorabilia from the fight for independence is on display, including documents written by Bolívar himself. Visit the colonial-era Church of San Francisco to see where Bolívar’s funeral was held and view impressive religious paintings.

For a taste of the artistic side of the city, the extensive Museum of Contemporary Art should top your list. Five floors contain works by local and international artists, the latter including Picasso and Chagall. Thousands of pieces by Venezuelan artists spanning the centuries can be found in the National Art Gallery, whereas the Fine Arts Museum includes exhibits from around the globe, particularly Egypt and China. Also worth a visit is La Estancia, a 200-year-old coffee hacienda-turned-museum featuring local artists.

Caracas Entertainment and Activities

Parque Nacional el Ávila, north of Caracas, provides a beautiful and rustic respite from the city. Many walking trails of varying levels of difficulty lead to caves, streams and gentle waterfalls. Walk the crest of the Ávila range for spectacular views of the ocean and Caracas Valley, or opt for the cable car that climbs to 7,000 feet, then descends the other side of the mountain to the city of Macuto. Back in town, the Central University-run Botanical Gardens covers 160 acres and boasts a collection of tropical plants and mountainside vegetation. There is also an herbarium here, featuring specimens from Venezuela and other nearby countries. Parque del Este provides another green escape within the city limits. Check out the zoo and planetarium, or simply idyll around the pond in a paddleboat.

Catch a baseball game at the nearly 20,000-seat Estadio Universitario and root for the Caracas Lions, then cap off the evening with a ballet, symphony or opera at the Teresa Carreño Cultural Complex. For drinks with a view, head up to the open air 360˚ Roof Bar atop the Altamira Suites. Choose from a sofa or hammock and take in the spectacular cityscape. For drinks closer to the ground, Uvas is a quaint wine bar serving Spanish tapas. Juan Sebastián Bar is one of the top jazz joints in town.

Caracas Restaurants and Shopping

Venezuelan food is influenced by European, West African and native cuisine, featuring corn, rice, plantains, beans, potatoes and meat. The country’s signature dish is the arepa, a tasty cornmeal cake filled with meat and cheese, great for a meal or a snack. Cachapa is another local dish, similar to an American pancake but made with corn instead of flour. It is usually served with soft cheese.

For delicious grilled steaks and other Venezuelan specialties in a gorgeous indoor courtyard, Maute Grill is the place to be. Sophisticated yet casual, it is consistently rated as one of the top restaurants in the city. Mokambo is another great pick, featuring upscale Mediterranean-Caribbean fusion. For some international comfort food, La Casa Bistro offers eggs Benedict, pastrami sandwiches, salads and burgers.

Centro Sambil is one of the largest malls in South America, with a wide array of stores and even a miniature amusement park. For local artisan goods and handicrafts, the large indoor market of Hannsi Centro Artesanal is the place to go. Or make your way to Sabana Grande, a mile-long pedestrian street, for upscale shops, boutiques and cafés.