Driving in Venezuela

A car is a nice option for this part of the country, as you can travel at your own pace and stop at beautiful beaches along the coastal route. The often-congested Autopista del Oriente connects Caracas with Barcelona, Puerto La Cruz, Cumaná, and smaller towns beyond. It has plenty of roadside services. If you are taking a bus between Caracas and Puerto La Cruz, hire a car to reach smaller towns, such as Río Chico or Puerto Píritu. Keep in mind that driving in Venezuela can be a bit frazzling and scary, so a trip along the coast, while wonderful, can be stressful, mostly because of confusing traffic signs, dazed or speedy drivers, and menacing (but usually harmless) police checkpoints.

Rent a car in Caracas and head east out of town in the early morning (traffic in the capital is absolutely hideous after 7 am). Bring along some cachitos de jamón (ubiquitous ham-filled croissants) to munch on while you pass through Caracas, then the shanty-filled outskirt of Petare, then the lush, ever-changing landscape along the coast. Keep in mind that you should have a cell phone, some small-denomination cash, and all of the necessary documents needed to travel by rental car. Also be forewarned that traveling by car here is to be undertaken by the brave and adventurous: there are potholes, windy roads, and, peajes (pay tolls, which, at this writing, weren't charging but still existed) and, most famously, alcabalas (police checkpoints). There are also fruit stands, friendly locals, lovely scenery, and many beaches to be explored. Small, charming towns along the way include Río Chico, El Guapo, Clarines, and Puerto Píritu; larger cities such as Barcelona and Puerto La Cruz are also major stopping points. If you decide to go beyond Puerto La Cruz by land, you'll pass the small town of Santa Fe to reach the turnoff for Mochima, the launching point for boat trips to the tranquil beaches of Parque Nacional Mochima, which encompasses hundreds of small islands. Contract a peñero to take you to any of the nearby beaches, where you can spend a relaxing morning or afternoon lazing around in the sun. It's about $10 per person, but the rate is negotiable.

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