Caracas, largest city and capital of Venezuela, sprawls along a narrow valley on the Cordillera de la Costa (coastal mountain range) at an altitude close to 3,000 feet above sea level and roughly ten miles (15km) away from the Caribbean coast. Observe the map here.
This fertile valley surrounded by the waters of the Guaire river, was home to the Caracas tribe, who fought bravely against Spanish invaders under the command of two indigenous leaders, Caricuao and Tiuna. Eventually, they were defeated and Santiago de León de Caracas was born in July 1567, founded by Diego de Losada.
The Spanish domination came to an end early in XIX century (1810-1821). Two prominent freedom fighters Francisco de Miranda and Simón Bolívar (both of them born in Caracas) led the war of independence until Royalist forces were finally defeated in the battle of Carabobo. In 1829, Caracas became capital of Venezuela - officially known as Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
With a sunny, agreeable climate all year round in the range of 25ºC, Caracas is a very fast-paced and cosmopolitan city of nearly four million inhabitants. Its architecture blends gleaming modern skyscrapers and Art Deco monuments with some Colonial style buildings of the past, most evident at El Centro district and around Bolívar Square, oldest in town.
A fascinating city to explore, Caracas has it all, from excellent art (Bellas Artes) and top cuisine (Las Mercedes and Los Palos Grandes) to a bustling nightlife until 5am for die-hard partiers and many options for shopping (Altamira and La Castellana).
Despite all the natural warmth and friendliness of the local Caraqueños, Caracas remains a city of staggering inequalities of wealth that has seen crime and violence on the rise for the last decade or so, making it one of the most violent cities in South America. While many areas are perfectly OK to explore, others are effectively No Go or unsafe. It is advisable to hire a local tour guide and to talk with the locals to learn your way around.
Plaza Bolívar: A very popular hang out in the center of the old part of town, Bolívar square is where Diego de Losada founded the city in 1567.
Catedral Metropolitana (Cathedral): Originally born in the mid XVI century as a mud-walled chapel - later destroyed by an earthquake - it was built between 1665 to 1713 and later remodeled at the end of XIX century. Simón Bolívar was baptized here.
Iglesia de San Francisco: A building of historic value, it was there where Simón Bolívar was proclaimed Libertador in 1813 by the people of Caracas.
Casa Natal del Libertador (Simón Bolívar birthplace): The house where Simon Bolivar was born on 24 July 1783.
Complejo Cultural Teresa Carreño: Commonly known as the Teresa Carreño Theatre, it is the most important of its kind in the city and Venezuela, second largest in South America after Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Parque del Este: Officially known as Parque Generalísimo Francisco de Miranda, this 82 hectare park is the largest in Caracas, designed by Roberto Burle Marx, acclaimed Brazilian landscape architect. Many different activities take place simultaneously at any given Sunday.
Parque Central: Not actually a park as the name may suggest but a concrete complex established as Caraca's art and culture hub. For a 360° bird's-eye view of the city visit the Torre Oeste (West Tower ) balcony on the 52nd floor.
Universidad Central de Venezuela: Founded in 1721, it is the oldest in Venezuela. The university campus, considered to be a masterpiece of architecture and urban planning, was declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO in the year 2000.
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo: Located within the Parque Central complex, it's the largest of its kind in the country, showcasing the work of many Venezuelan artists.
Panteón Nacional: Provably Venezuela's most venerated building. The entire central nave is dedicated to the national hero Simón Bolívar. It is also the burial place of other Venezuelan political and historical figures.
Parque Zoológico de Caricuao: Caricuao zoo is still a work-in-progress since only 36 of its 629 hectares have been developed so far. It's more of a park than a zoo in the traditional sense since some animals run loose within its boundaries. There is a child section as well as a train tour that operates over the weekends.
Jardin Botánico: Founded in 1945, the Botanical Garden is a very peaceful retreat within the city limits. It has over 2,500 plant species spread over an area of 65-hectare.
Parque Nacional El Ávila: El Ávila National Park takes its name from Cerro El Ávila - 2,740 meters/ 8,990 ft above sea level - which can be accessed by cable car (teleférico), 4x4 vehicles or on foot. It's a very popular hiking and camping destination with many different trails, some of them over 500 years old, since they were opened by aboriginals to connect the coast to the valley of Caracas.
Museo Bolivariano: Located next to Bolívar's Casa Natal (birthplace house), this colonial style building displays lots of memorabilia from the Venezuelan war of independence.
Casa Amarilla: A former prison, currently the seat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is a XVII century mansion not far from Plaza Bolívar. It can only be visited from the outside.
El Hatillo: The Colonial town of El Haltillo is a very well preserved suburb SE of Caracas, the best place to imagine how Caracas looked like in the past. It's also the place to buy top Venezuelan crafts.
When you have completed the Caracas city guide, a superb sightseeing trip is to Colonia Tovar. Originally settled by German immigrants in the 1800’s, this cute little town is located about one hour driving from the city. From architecture to food, you will feel like in Germany, but in the heart of Venezuela.
Simón Bolívar International Airport (CCS) is located 23km away from downtown Caracas. It has an International as well as Domestic Terminal with all the facilities associated with every major airport worldwide, restaurants, cafes, ATMs , banks, car rentals, money exchange bureaus, etc.
If you plan to travel overland using long-distance buses, there are three main bus terminals...
Terminal La Bandera: Located at La Bandera, 3km to the South of city center, it handles all destinations to the West and SW of Venezuela.
Terminal de Oriente: Located around 18km away, operates all destinations bound to the East and SE of the country, including international buses to Colombia.
Terrminal Nuevo Circo: For buses servicing regional destinations.
There is also a number of private terminals such as Rodovías and Aeroexpresos Ejecutivos equipped with modern, comfortable buses - and higher fares as well - to multiple destinations in the country.