In addition to our write-up on how to get to Angel Falls concerning some of the logistics, we’ll also talk a little more about some other considerations to make when it comes to a visit.
Here are some more things to think about with regard to safety on a trip to Angel Falls.
Crime is definitely something you need to be aware of upon a visit to Venezuela. The US State Department has issued travel warnings regarding muggings, carjackings, imprisonment, and petty theft. There was a recent (2018) incident where a few major league baseball players returned to their native Venezuela and were killed when thieves placed boulders in the dark in the middle of the road to rob unsuspecting motorists. Unfortunately for these baseball players, this practice resulted in fatal car crashes.
This is the reality of what happens when you mix political instability and the resulting poverty that results in desperate people taking desperate measures. And it’s why we’re big advocates of being situationally aware both going into a trip like this as well as being on travel.
What Julie and I generally do is trying not to call attention to ourselves as much as possible. This means you’ll want to conceal your money in a body pouch beneath your clothes to minimize your chances of being a target. Also, be careful about using your credit card as credit card fraud is not unusual…
Fortunately, measures have been taken to curb criminal activities at the airports (namely in Maiquetia Airport in Caracas). You’ll notice checked baggage tends to be plastic wrapped (perhaps as an extra deterrent for quick baggage thefts). Even armed guards will check your luggage claim ticket against that tagged on your luggage itself. Some airports also have military guards wielding AK-47s patrolling the facilities.
Even with that said, Julie and I felt reasonably safe during our November 2007 trip, and most Venezuelans we encountered were both helpful and friendly (especially in the more rural regions).
In addition to crime, there were some other aspects of safety that we had to consider.
For one, we took precautions with water quality. We didn’t trust anything coming out of a tap and so we wound up drinking bottled water (which I personally disdain due to the environmental irresponsibility of single use plastics).
We’ve been advised to drink carbonated water (agua con gas), which is less likely to harbor bacteria that will put you down. However, agua con gas seems harder to come by in Venezuela.
Flat bottled water (agua sin gas) is not considered as safe, but ti’s better than unbottled water since pathogens can exist in freshwater streams in the tropical environments of South America.
There was a stretch on our trip where we also had to hike in a jungle to reach a mirador of Angel Falls. So we had to be wary of venemous snakes, which caused us to stick close to our guide and tour group.
Finally, we also had to be cognizant of the flash flooding and fast rivers. While we had opportunities to rinse off in the river or even go for a swim, we had to keep close to the edges and away from the rushing middle. Again, we followed the advice of our guide to minimize the chances of being swept away.
As of our visit in November 2007, the currency was the Venezuelan Bolívar (VEB). It’s been said that most people also take the United States dollar, but the exchange rate equivalents for direct usage of the greenback were said to be unfavorable.
As of the original writing of this page, it was around 2500 VEBs per US dollar, but there was also a thriving (albeit illegal) black market fetching over 4000 VEBs or more per US dollar.
Much to our chagrin (we’ll explain why shortly), in January 1, 2008, the government switched the currency to the Bolívar Fuerte (i.e. the “strong” Bolívar). It was basically 1000 VEBs was equivalent to 1 Bolívar Fuerte. The government allowed a grace period of six months to change the old money to the new one, but this didn’t work in our favor because we didn’t come back to Venezuela within six months from the end of our trip.
So given this circumstance, we encountered a rather unpleasant surprise regarding the VEB when we tried to exchange our remaining VEBs back to the US dollar at the Maiquetía Airport in Caracas.
You see, the Casa de Cambio (Italcambio in the airport) wouldn’t take back the VEBs in exchange for US dollars! Since we weren’t about to go on a risky goosechase into Caracas in search of a bank to exchange VEBs for dollars, we basically held onto useless paper money (at least it would be useless by the time we anticipated coming back to the country).
Even to this day, I’m still trying to make sense of all this since Venezuelans come to America from time to time so how do they exchange their money to dollars?
I suspect there currently isn’t much faith in the Venezuelan Bolívar, which is why the airport bank wouldn’t buy them back. Still, something about this doesn’t add up. In any case, I made a critical error by not spending the rest of our foreign currency given the circumstances. So in the end, we lost some $75 USD of Venezuela currency, which was a real bummer.
If you have had any success in exchanging VEBs back to US dollars (besides risking it on the black market), please let us know what you did by leaving us a comment on this page!