Although brother countries, Colombia and
Venezuela offer starkly different travel experiences. Whilst Colombia
is choc-a-bloc full of wonderful natural and cultural attractions and
equally full of warm and welcoming friendly local people, Venenezuela
is rather different. Colombia welcomes "gringos" or those of a Western
complexion - unfortunately many people in Venezuela do not, in part due
to the suspicion the local people feel that is caused by the propaganda
and anti-Western rhetoric espoused by the Chavez government.
From my personal experience, I've found
that Venenezuelans can be rather unfriendly folk - I've visited twice
(once as a backpacker, and once on a fam trip organized by the tour
operator I worked for in UK). The level of service received in Colombia
(whether in restaurants, hotels or from other tourism providers) is
almost always exceptionally high - however in Venezuela, levels of
service aren't anywhere near as high. In Venezuela there are of course
exceptions - generally speaking the educated people see through the
propaganda their government feeds them, and are warm and welcoming to
"gringos" in a typically Latin fashion. Sadly, the same cannot be noted
with regards to the population as a whole - especially with regards to
So what's worth visiting in Venezuela if
you've already travelled around Colombia? Angel Falls definately - but
remember that the falls are only in their full flow from June to August
(the rest of the year they are often a disappointing trickle!) The
islands of Los Roques Archipelago are genuinely beautiful too -
accommodations are quite pricey though. Other worthwhile attractions
include the Orinoco Delta, the enormous Llanos plains and the highland
town of Merida.
Nonetheless, if you do decide you want to
cross the border from Colombia to Venezuela, below you'll find some
hopefully useful information about how to plan it.
Venezuela - Pamplona, Cucuta and the Border Crossing
For travellers, the most
frequently used border crossing into Venezuela is found at Cucuta.
Travelling through Northern Colombia, you'll
probably want to stop off in San
Gil / Barichara / Bucaramanga en route - San Gil especially
is a great backpacker stopover point. Make sure you read that section...
Pamplona is en
route from Bucaramaga to Cucuta, the latter being on the border with
Venezuela. As Cucuta is such a swelteringly hot, unattractive, crime
ridden city, it makes far more sense to spend the night in tranquil
Pamplona before crossing the border. The only reason to head this far
North is if you plan on crossing over into Venezuela.
Beautifully set and with a cool climate,
Pamplona is one of the oldest (dating from 1549) towns in this region
of Colombia. Full of museums, the (in part colonial) town has both a
cultured air and studenty feel to it. It makes sense to stay here,
catch a bus to Cucuta (two hours away), and then cross over into
Venezuela. There's an handful of good value budget hotels in Pamplona, such as 1549 Hostal.
Tama National Park is nearby. Recently an
820 metre high waterfall was discovered in the park, making it one of
the world's highest. Check the local security situation before
Take note that Cucuta's bus station is ugly
and full of English speaking professional con artists,
fraudsters and tricksters who pray on international
travellers - ignore everybody and act confident. The border crossing is
10km from Cucuta - great rid of your pesos in Colombia, and take plenty
of dollars with you to Venezuela - dollars are more useful than the
inflation plagued local currency of Venezuela, the Bolivar. There's
regular buses and shared taxis from Cucuta's bus terminal to San
Antonio del Tachira, which is just over the border in Venezuela. From
San Antonio del Tachira, there's various bus departures to Caracas -
all these buses are overnight buses and depart in the late afternoon or
evening. Alternatively there's flights to Caracas from nearby (50km
away) San Cristobal airport. If you want to bus it to Merida, you'll
need to change in San Cristobal.
Crossings into Venezuela
If you're coming from/going to Colombia's
Caribbean coast, it makes more sense to cross the border at Paraguachon,
which is one the main road between Maracaibo (Venezuela) and Maicao
(which is in Colombia's beautiful La
Guajira department). There's plenty of buses that run between
Maracaibo and Maicao, plus there's also direct buses between
Maracaibo/Caracas and both Santa Marta and Cartagena, which are two of
Colombia's most frequently visited tourist destinations.
One is generally advised not to travel at
night in areas near any of these border crossings - either on the
Colombian or Venezuelan side.
There are other border crossings in
addition, but none are particularly safe or useful/relevant.