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Business Travel Guide: Caracas, Venezuela

Caracas is a dynamic and populous urban center located between the northern tip of the Andes and southern tip of the Caribbean. This bustling capital city preserves an undeniable Latin flavor and the spice of a Caribbean atmosphere. With over five million inhabitants, Caracas is a faithful example of the oil boom that has been pumping money into the country for decades. Nestled in a valley that spreads west to east along the Ávila National Park, an astounding green mountain range that provides the city with an exotic jungle-like allure, Caracas is the business and commercial hub of Venezuela. Most of the oil, finance and corporate businesses call Caracas home. The city is also host to a wide variety of fine dining and entertainment, particularly in the neighborhoods of Las Mercedes, La Castellana, Altamira and Los Palos Grandes. Ever since Hugo Chavez claimed power almost a decade ago, the country has received more coverage from international media—with good reason. Venezuela has changed quite a bit over the years, but the easy-going character and friendliness of the Caraqueños still remains. Although political instability and the nationalization of various industries such as electricity and oil has all but halted international business, Caracas continues to be an important spot for a variety of industries.


Facts to Know Before You Go

Currency: Venezuelan Bolivar Fuerte

In January 2008, Venezuela's official currency changed from the Venezuelan Bolívar to the Venezuelan Bolívar Fuerte (whose ISO currency code is VEF, but is locally abbreviated as BsF.) The change was implemented because of the deteriorating value of the bolívar (the difference between the two currencies was simply to divide the old bolívar by 1,000). As opposed to other Latin American currencies, bolívares are not freely converted into foreign currencies. Since February 2003, the Central Bank has fixed the exchange rate, which today is BsF. 2.15 per USD. Such monetary restrictions allow for a black market, where the exchange rate tends to be more favorable. Nevertheless, it is risky to change money in this way, and we definitely do not recommend it. The best place to exchange foreign currencies into bolívares is at Casas de Cambio, or exchange bureaus, located in most of the city's important commercial and business areas. While you can exchange foreign currency at the arrivals terminal of the Simón Bolívar International Airport, it is extremely unsafe and we do not recommend it. Banks, on the other hand, will more reluctantly change foreign currency into bolívares due to financial system regulations. However, most of them provide a very convenient ATM network, which in most cases is compatible with the Cirrus and Plus networks. Foreign credit cards, especially American Express, are not widely welcome. If you find yourself with some left-over bolívares in your pocket at the end of your trip, beware that none of the airport's exchange bureaus will buy them back, so try to spend your remaining cash at the duty free shops before your flight home.

Transportation:

Simón Bolívar International Airport (also known by its common name, Maiquetía) lies approximately seventeen miles north of Caracas, across the coastal mountain range, on the highway to La Guaira and near the Caribbean. The arrivals lounge at the international terminal is well equipped with exchange bureaus, tourism kiosks, rental car desks, ATMs and telephones. There is a walkway connecting the international and domestic terminals, as they are a short distance apart. For getting into town, the most reliable, secure and comfortable means of public transportation are the airport's official cabs (taxis concesionados), which are black SUVs with a yellow medallion. The trip can take anywhere from half an hour to over two hours depending on traffic. The cost of the trip is predetermined and depends on the area of the city to which you intend to travel. Prices range around BsF. 150 (approximately $75) one way and be sure to ask the current rates before accepting a ride. For a complete list of destinations and approximate prices, check online (www.aeropuerto-maiquetia.com.ve). While this page is by no means updated regularly, you can get an idea of what the price range should be for your area. Most hotels offer prearranged airport pick-up and drop-off service. Ask your hotel when making your reservation, as this is the easiest and safest way to get into the city. To move around Caracas, the best choice is a taxi, and stands are located all around the city. Be sure to take a taxi from a reliable company such as Teletaxi (which are white sedans with yellow markings). Taxis do not operate on a meter and all rates are predetermined before you depart.

Information:

One of the two main nation-wide daily newspapers, El Universal publishes translated daily news online (http://english.eluniversal.com). In addition, there is an English language newspaper (rarely available outside Caracas) called The Daily Journal (www.dailyjournal.com.), which encompasses a comprehensive classifieds section for the large expatriate community living in the capital city. For restaurant reviews you can search Miro Popic's Gastronomic Guide (www.miropopic.com). Although updated sporadically, the site has contact info and brief descriptions of many restaurants around the city.


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Where to Stay

Embassy Suites Caracas
Av. Francisco de Miranda en Av. El, Campo Alegre
El Rosal
58 212 276 4200
embassysuites1.hilton.com

 

Embassy Suites Caracas

The Embassy Suites Hotel is an excellent choice for the business traveler who visits Caracas for a longer period of time. Consistent with Embassy Suites standards, each guest room is a fully equipped two-room suite with a refrigerator and microwave oven. There is also a business center and meeting rooms, along with a bar and pool to unwind after a day at the office. The location is ideal: situated in the financial hub of Caracas and a short distance from Las Mercedes and La Castellana.

JW Marriott Hotel Caracas
Av. Venezuela con Calle Mohedano
El Rosal
58 212 957 2222
www.marriott.com
JW Marriott Hotel Caracas

One of Caracas' newest hotels, the JW Marriott, is a high-end business traveler-oriented haven. Located in El Rosal between Sábana Grande and Las Mercedes, this twenty-story hotel keeps you close to both business and entertainment destinations—very suitable if your visit includes off-the-clock appointments at indulgent restaurants and bars. When making your reservation, ask about the hotel's pick-up and drop-off services to and from the airport. On its top floor, the hotel boasts a 24-hour executive lounge with awe-inspiring views of El Ávila. Guest rooms have the usual amenities such as high-speed Internet access. Expect the Americana oak and flower decoration that is typical of the JW Marriott brand.

Tamanaco InterContinental
Final Av. Principal de Las Mercedes
Las Mercedes
58 212 909 7111
www.ichotelsgroup.com
 
Tamanaco InterContinental

An impressive white, pyramid-like building atop a hilly corner of the lively Las Mercedes neighborhood, the Tamanaco InterContinental is a full-board business hotel which also targets frugal travelers and families on holidays. That said, the hotel possesses an enviable location at the foothills of what Las Mercedes has to offer. A 24-hour business center and broadband Internet access in each guest room are amongst Tamanaco's best offers. The hotel also has a limited number of superior rooms under its Club InterContinental Level brand. There is also an outdoor pool and a couple of dining options with mainly Mediterranean cuisine.

Gran Meliá Caracas
Ave. Casanova
+58 212 762 8111
www.solmelia.com
Gran Meliá Caracas

The Gran Meliá is ideally located in the center of Sábana Grande, a focal point for business in Caracas, halfway between the residential and commercial eastern suburbs and the center of town. Luxury room choices include a presidential suite, eight royal suites, ten junior suites and five royal service floors. There are also 236 full-service apartment suites with a kitchen, office, terrace, and a choice of one, two or three bedrooms. This might sound a bit over the top, but that's practically what this hotel is all about. It is necessary to note that while the Meliá is of superior quality, it is extremely important to be cautious at all times of day and it is not recommended to walk around Sábana Grande at night.

Radisson Plaza Eurobuilding
Final Calle La Guairita
Chuao
58 212 902 2222
www.radisson.com

Radisson Plaza Eurobuilding

Located on the eastern edge of Las Mercedes, the Radisson is easily distinguishable from practically any point in the city. Equally close to Altamira and Las Mercedes, the hotel is on the top of the list for short or long leisurely business stays in town. Rooms are neat and most are very spacious. Moreover, they provide comfortable bedding and inviting linens. Expect the usual high speed Internet and laptop access in every room, plus a round-the-clock business center, meeting rooms, outdoor pool, gym, and, of course, great views of El Ávila from almost every corner of the building. For those travelers who have an early morning flight or are stopping in Caracas due to a connection flight, there is the option of staying at the Eurobuilding Express. This extension of the Radisson Plaza Eurobuilding is located a few miles outside of the Simon Bolivar Airport and is an excellent choice due to its convenient location (tel. +58 212 700 0700).


Where to Dine

Aprile
4ta Avenida con 5ta Transversal de Altamira
Altamira
58 212 264 5775
 

Effortless elegance and flavors attract the well-heeled Caraqueños to this modern Italian favorite. While limited, the menu offers appetizers, pastas and at least one selection of fish, poultry and meat, all with a touch of Asian influence. The wine list is carefully picked and the wait staff is knowledgeable on pairing wines with food. While most of Caracas' trendier restaurants tend to deteriorate after a year or two, Aprile is still going strong with no signs of slowing down. This is an exceptional choice to take business partners if you are looking for a livelier ambience.


Astrid & Gaston
Calle Londres con Av. Caroní
Quinta Nro. 1815
Las Mercedes
58 212 993 1119
 

Peruvian haute cuisine arrived in Caracas a few years back thanks to Gastón Acurio, one of Peru's most recognized chefs. The culinary mix of Peruvian and Venezuelan ingredients makes this dining establishment one of the top in the country. The beautifully presented dishes are created in the see-through kitchen at the back of the simple, white dining room. Upstairs, there is a more casual lounge and bar where you can eat as well. Don't forget to try Peru's signature drink, Pisco Sour. While the restaurant is expensive by Caracas standards, it is a culinary experience you do not want to miss.


El Alazán
Av. Luis Roche con 5ta Transversal de Altamira
Altamira
58 212 285 0208
 

El Alazán is perhaps the most well known steak house in Caracas. You will find groups of businessmen here at all times of day sipping on whiskey and closing business deals. The reputation of best steak house is well deserved; the restaurant has maintained itself throughout the decades, offering many different cuts of meat with a long list of typical side dishes such as arepitas con nata, chorizo and yucca. The most popular cut of meat is called "punta" followed by lomito and bife de chorizo. The space is divided into many rooms, all of which promise a traditional and delicious meal.


Taiko
Calle Trinidad, Edif. Canaima
Las Mercedes
58 212 991 6705
 

Open for lunch or dinner, this chic, minimalist restaurant was the first Japanese option for Las Mercedes' demanding clientele and is still considered the best in town. Taiko originated over six years ago when Tetsuro Nakada arrived in the country from Japan to oversee productivity for Sony. Instead, he ended up in the kitchen, keeping Caraqueños sated with original, innovative dishes. The restaurant offers a great sushi bar, the regular entrées that constitute a proper Japanese meal and a Venezuelan twist on the desserts. Towards the back of the restaurant you can find a few private dining rooms for larger groups. This is an ideal spot to entertain and talk business in a more secluded setting.


Casa Urrutia
Av. Francisco Solano esquina Los Manguitos
Sabana Grande
58 212 763 0448
 

Dating back to 1962, Casa Urrutia, with a newer outpost in Las Mercedes, is one of Caracas' most prominent culinary temples, where not only plenty of palates have been gratified but also many business deals have been closed. A favorite amongst the local business elite, the place specializes in Spanish cuisine with a rewarding focus on Basque coast dishes. Every single dish on the menu is executed with detail. Some favorites to try are the ceviche the camarón, the paella and the papillote fish. There is also the option of ordering tapas to sample a variety of flavors.


Off the Clock

Archipelago Los Roques National Park
www.losroques.org

Archipelago Los Roques National Park

Imagine 280 small coral keys with close to zero population, not a single high rise, thousand-mile-long beaches and turquoise waters. It sounds like a cliché but it's definitely the closest thing you might have in mind when imagining paradise. Los Roques, a National Park on this pristine archipelago, is less than 100 miles off the Venezuelan coast just north of Caracas and in the welcoming waters of the Caribbean. Easily accessible by small plane from Simón Bolivar International Airport, the Archipiélago de Los Roques provides a perfect escape from Caracas' strenuous urban lifestyle. Many charter companies offer one- or two-day tours (many on catamaran). If you stay overnight your best option is to reserve a room at a posada (small inn) on the main key called Gran Roque. The posadas usually include three meals a day and trips to the closest keys, but for an additional fee you can ask to be taken to those further out. Snorkeling, diving and fishing are all possible on the keys in addition to the regular beach activities, i.e. sun tanning and hours of leisurely pleasure by the ocean.

An Afternoon in Historic El Hatillo
www.elhatillo.com.ve

Historic El Hatillo

El Hatillo is a charming 16th-century town that, during the last decades, has been absorbed by Caracas' unstoppable growth. Yet the central plaza looks as though time has not gone by-the winding streets leading to it resemble the set of a Zorro movie. This beautiful metropolitan area of the city is just ten miles south of downtown Caracas. Overflowing with Caraqueños over the weekend, it can be best appreciated on a midweek afternoon, when you'll have the old cobblestone alleys and the remarkable handicraft stalls to yourself (such as the famous crafts store, Hansi). There are also numerous restaurants such as El Jaleo; a Spanish restaurant featuring Flamenco shows on Friday and Saturday night. Do not miss tasting local favorites such as golfeado (sweet bread roll commonly served with milky cheese), churros and chicha (rice milk). You will always find a bench in the central square to enjoy every bite of it.

A Morning Hike in El Ávila
The entrance to the park is next to Tarzilandia restaurant
10a Transversal, Final de Av. San Juan Bosco
Altamira
www.el-avila.com

Caracas' National Park, El Ávila, is inspiring, beautiful and elegant. The mountain range divides Caracas from the Caribbean and provides the city with its best excuse for claiming natural appeal. Most of the slopes of El Ávila facing Caracas are uninhabited and crossed by a number of paths for hiking, jogging, four wheeling, or simply nature walking. The most frequented trail, Sabas Nieves, is easily accessible through the entranceway into the park. It is best to go in the morning, before the sun becomes too intense. Don't forget to drink a freshly squeezed fruit juice at the exit to the park.

Cosmopolitan Shopping, Dining and Entertainment
C.C. El Tolón and C.C. San Ignacio

With increasing insecurity felt throughout the city, Caracas' malls have become a Mecca full of entertainment and dining options. El Tolón is located in Las Mercedes and in addition to its stores and cinema, offers visitors a popular lounge called La Suite, as well as Piso 5—the 5th floor of the mall hosts a variety of gourmet restaurants. The San Ignacio (also known as CSI) has many dining options as well, but what it is best known for is its nightlife. Here you can find wine bars, dance clubs and everything in between. The most popular are Suka, 205 and Le Club (a member's only club for Caracas society). These two malls are a good choice within the city to spend your time off the clock.

Galipán
www.galipan.net

Museo de Arte Ecológico del Mundo in Galipan

High up in the Avila Mountains exists a small, rustic village called Galipán. While only a short drive from the city, Galipán feels like it is hundreds of miles away from urban Caracas and boasts panoramic views of both the city and Caribbean Sea below. The inhabitants are humble, warm people who make a living selling berries, flowers and locally crafted desserts. A typical excursion consists of a stop at one of the kiosks to eat lunch: a pork sandwich and blackberry juice. There is also the option of dining at one of the gourmet restaurants nestled within the mountains. This is an excellent opportunity to escape the city and cause an impression on clients. The gourmet dining and picturesque sunsets are one of a kind. Restaurants tend to fill up so plan your reservation with time. To get there you need a 4x4 vehicle and most restaurants offer pick up and drop off service to/from the city. It is important to note that since Galipán is part of a national park the entrance is guarded by National Guards and the latest you can enter the park is 5pm (there are no restrictions pertaining to exiting the park).


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