Tips for travelers:
Before the trip
As a large country with many varied zones, Venezuela has its own distinctive regional cooking.
On the coast you’ll find various hervidos de pescado (fish soup), also crayfish, small oysters and prawns. Sometimes there is turtle, though it is a protected species. Turtle may appear on menus in the PenÃnsula de ParaguanÃ¡ as ropa especial. A favourite is sancocho, a rich and delicious fish stew. ConsomÃ© de chipi chipi is a thin broth with tiny clams, and reputed to be an aphrodisiac. Around Coro, chivo en coco (goat in coconut) is a speciality.
Andean cuisine is very different. Arepas here are made of wheat, rather than corn. Local potatoes are very sweet and the locally-made cheese is superb. Also good are the cured meats and sausages that are sold at the roadside in many rural villages.
In the Amazon region the staples are yuca (yucca or manioc), plantains, corn and beans. Casabe (cassava) is a dry, fibrous flatbread. People here also eat fish, turtles, tapirs, monkeys and birds. A local delicacy are deep-fried ants, especially the winged ones known as culonas (big bottoms). But don’t feel that you have to follow suit.
It may seem strange for a country whose capital boasts some of the continent’s most sophisticated culinary delights, but Venezuela’s favorite food is a lump of fried corn or wheat flour about the size of a fist. Yes, the arepa is as ubiquitous in Venezuela as fish and chips in Britain or sausages in Germany. The cheap and filled arepa is eaten by everyone, everywhere, and it seems, at every hour of the day.
Arepas are sliced open and stuffed with just about anything. Among the most popular fillings are: carne mechada (shredded beef), reina pepiada (chicken with avocado), ensalada de atÃºn (tuna salad) or simply queso amarillo (yellow cheese). At breakfast they are filled with perico, scrambled eggs with tomato and onion. Arepas can also be spread with natilla, a light cream cheese, or eaten alone as an accompaniment to the national dish, pabellÃ³n criollo. This features shredded beef spiced with onions, green pepper, tomato, coriander and garlic, rice, fried plantain and caraotas negras (black beans). This is part of the staple diet of many working-class people and also a regular on many restaurant menus.
Similar to the arepa is the tequeÃ±o. This is made of egg pastry dough, rolled into cigar-shaped pieces, wrapped around strips of cheese and fried (very tasty). These are served as pasapalos (hors d’oeuvres) or eaten anytime as a snack. Another culinary ever-present is the cachapa, a thick and slightly sweet pancake made with maize. They’re eaten at breakfast or as a snack with cheese. And not forgetting the empanada, a fried cornmeal turnover filled with cheese, meat or fish (the trout ones in the Andes are to die for), or cachitos, which are filled croissants (invariably ham and/or cheese).
Venezuela also boasts fine meat, fish and mariscos (shellfish). Beef is produced by the ton in the Llanos and you can enjoy a big steak for less than the price of a beer in Europe. You can choose between muchacho (roast beef), solomo (sirloin) and lomito (steak). Serious meat eaters can put their arteries at risk with a mighty parrilla, or mixed grill.
Up in the Andes the lakes and streams are filled with trucha (trout), which you would be crazy to miss, and along the Caribbean coast you can dine on pargo (red snapper), dorado and shellfish, like clams or oysters.
Venezuela has a bewildering selection of tropical fruits. There’s lechosa (papaya the size of a football), mangos, guayaba (guava), guanÃ¡bana, zapote (sapodilla plum), nÃspero (the fruit of the medlar tree), oranges, pears, breadfruit, melons, pineapples, strawberries, coconuts, parchita (passion fruit), limones (lemons) and aguacate (avocado). Not surprisingly, then, fruit juices are big business here, and just wonderful. There’s papelÃ³n con limÃ³n (lemonade sweetened with raw sugar), or jugo de caÃ±a (pale green sugar cane juice) and coco (coconut, of course), drunk straight from the shell. Anything, in fact, can be made into a mouth-watering jugo (juice), batido (more fruit and less water than jugo) or merengada (a milkshake). You’ll find every kind of banana here -from the short and stubby cambur, to the large plÃ¡tano (which is mostly used for frying). Very good are bags of crisply fried, lightly salted banana chips called tostones.
Venezuelan rum is very good; recommended brands are Cacique, Selecto, Pampero and Santa Teresa. There are four good local beers: Polar (the most popular), Regional (with a strong flavor of hops), Cardenal and Zulia. Brahma beer (lighter than Polar) is imported from Brazil. There are also mineral waters and gin. Now there is a good, local wine in Venezuela. The Polar brewery has joined with Martell (France) and built a winery in Carora. Wines produced are ‘ViÃ±a Altagracia’ and ‘Bodegas Pomar’. ‘Bodegas Pomar’ also produces a sparkling wine in the traditional champagne style. Liqueurs are cheap, try the local ponche crema. The coffee is excellent and very cheap. Chicha de arroz is a sweet drink made of milk, rice starch, sugar and vanilla.
In most bars and restaurants a 10% service charge is added to the bill. This is not a tip; it is the staffâ€™s wages. It is customary to leave a 5-8% tip.Â In more expensive locales, it is customary to leave another 10%.
Taxi drivers are not tipped unless they carry your luggage for you.
Porters at the airport should be tipped around BsF 20.00 (US$ 4.00) and porters at hotels are usually tipped around BsF 10.00 (US$ 2.00.)
Tips to your tour guides, lodge staff and/or drivers are discretionary but encouraged and welcome, as the cost of living in Venezuela is high.
On our tours through remote areas we recruit local villagers and porters/boatmen. If they provide you with any special services beyond this, you may wish to show your appreciation for their help. Your tour leader will be able to advise you on this.Â Please pack T-shirts and other items of clothing or trekking kit which you could leave behind as practical gifts.