Venezuela is a fascinating country with an even more fascinating history, which is why it’s an ideal destination for a gap year. It is said that people who travel to South America come back more politically-minded, and certainly after spending a gap year in this country, gappers will come back – if not more interested in politics – then certainly with more of an awareness of politics and political theories in South America. This, coupled with a country that is full of startling natural beauty and startlingly friendly people, means you’re in for a captivating gap year!Photo Credit: ferjflores.
Venezuela has a lot to offer, and you may find that a year just isn’t enough to do everything!
One of Venezuela’s biggest draws is its natural beauty and opportunities for adventure travel. On a gap year in Venezuela, you could spend your time exploring the Los Llanos wetlands or hiking to see the world’s largest waterfall, Angel Falls. Hike through the high Andes, or explore some of the most unique wildlife in the world in the Venezuelan Amazon.
For gappers interested in adventure travel, we recommend starting your travels in Merida, known as the adventure sports capital of Venezuela. You can get all your hiking, trekking, and paragliding done here.
Spanish Language Study
Of course, wildlife and adventure isn’t all that Venezuela has to offer. It’s also a popular place to learn Spanish and immerse yourself in Latin American culture. Again, Merida, a university town, is an excellent destination within Venezuela to get a dose of Venezuelan culture and take a Spanish course. This would be a great place to spend some time in a local café, learn Spanish at one of the many language centers available, and soak in the cultural offerings.
With Venezuela’s stunning natural beauty, it’s no wonder that many people travel there to enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer. This, coupled with local organizations that hope to promote indigenous groups, has created a thriving eco-tourist industry in the country. If you are interested in this aspect as a gapper, one good place to get started is with Programa Andes Tropicales. With this program, you can live with a local farming family and explore issues of eco-tourism and sustainability. Check out Andes Tropicales for more information.
Choosing to go the volunteer route with your gap year will prove to be an unforgettable experience. As a volunteer, you have the opportunity to work on issues important to Venezuelan development, and to make a lasting impact during your time abroad. This could include working with schools, agricultural sites, orphanages, or medical clinics. A good place to get started is with WWOOF Venezuela to find volunteer opportunities on organic farms or by searching on Go Overseas for volunteer specific programs.
There are several important considerations to keep in mind when planning a gap year in Venezuela.
Cost of Living
An arepa (which you should definitely eat while you’re there) can cost between $.50-$2.50; expect about $20 for a budget hotel, which can be shared between people; to travel inter-city, take the city bus it costs next to nothing and is good for people watching; to travel intra-city, buses are still recommended – you can expect about $2 per hour of the journey. Keep in mind that when you work in dollars – or if you exchange at the official government rate – the cost of living is going to be much more expensive.
Culture and Etiquette
The concept of time is a bit different – if you have a meeting scheduled, be sure to bring a book! Another thing to remember is that the issue of politics can be a bit contentious – it’s best not to mention it. And as with most countries, learning a little bit of local language will get you a long way.
Health and Safety
No vaccinations are required to enter the country, though it is recommended to get a yellow fever vaccination, as well as to take anti-malarials. Good medical care can be found in Caracas, but pharmacies can usually be found all over, with accommodating hours (look for the red light in the window). Venezuela is a fairly safe country, but as with most countries, crime occurs mostly in the capital – use common sense to avoid being pick-pocketed. Though it has been said that the biggest threat to safety in Caracas is the traffic!
Why Take a Gap Year in Venezuela?
Venezuela clearly has a lot to offer the gapper. There are opportunities for volunteer, adventure travel, work, study, or a combination of all of those. Instead of taking a year to explore the whole of South America, take the “road less travelled” in Venezuela. You’ll come out of it wiser and more experienced, with much more interesting stories!