Caracas is a modern capital with some impressive architecture, multi-lane urban highways, a state-of-the-art metro system, parks, gardens, museums and art galleries, a plentiful supply of restaurants and bars, shopping malls, prosperous suburbs, and well-to-do apartment blocks.
Like other major capitals there are also many people struggling to survive on the city's sprawling edge, and there is dirt, noise, traffic jams and pollution.
Venezuela is for everyone
As city people ourselves we always enjoy spending time in Caracas. It would be a shame not to see Caracas if you want to understand the country better, in particular the efforts to use the country's oil wealth for the benefit of its citizens. A logo that says 'Now Venezuela is for everyone' is widely applied, some prominent city parks have been turned into vegetable allotments for the poor, and you can buy a copy of the new constitution and a Simón Bolívar T-shirt from vendors around the bigger metro stations.
There is a small photogenic historic quarter with prestigious government buildings. Bolívar is an especially significant figure here, with a large plaza in his name near the house where he was born -- worth a visit. There is a well manicured Botanical Garden right in the centre of the city, and UNESCO-listed architecture at the city campus of the University of Venezuela. The Museum of Colonial Art is housed in a lovely old Spanish style residence. The Museum of Contemporary Art houses a very impressive collection of work. Museums are closed on Mondays.
Cable cars and ice-creams
The city lies in a long valley between two ranges of mountains. In the mid-1950s a cable car was built to the top of Mt Avila, to the north, and it recently re-opened with fabulous views across the city on one side, and the Caribbean to the other. At the summit, incongruous attractions for the city's escapees include an ice rink, strawberry and cream kiosks and the stunning Humboldt Hotel (Sanabria, 1956) long closed to customers but at the time of writing open for tours pending refurbishment and very highly recommended -- it may re-open as a hotel one day.
Cafes, shops, bars, restaurants...
Back in the centre there are shopping streets and malls, and pavement cafes where passers-by pause for a game of chess. For a slice of middle-class life join the Lycra'd joggers on the lower trails of Avila National Park or visit the boutiques, galleries and small restaurants in the colonial-style suburb of El Hatillo.
As in any major city it pays to be generally street-wise. Always take a licensed taxi to your destination if you are out after dark. Do not wear expensive jewellery or watches, or carry large amounts of cash. Shanty areas of the city are no-go areas for outsiders.