Caracas - Situated in a picturesque valley on the north coast, Venezuela's capital is a bustling metropolis of nearly 3.5 million inhabitants. Fast, progressive and cosmopolitan, the city is now highly 'Yankeefied', retaining little of the character of its colonial roots. While it boasts some of the most impressive modern architecture in South America, Caracas is also home to a vast expanse of ranchos, sprawling slums of tin sheds and cardboard boxes covering the surrounding hills which are the product of the uncontrolled surge of post-war immigration.
Sights include the Plaza Bolívar, with its 17th-century cathedral; the Casa Natal de Bolívar, birthplace of Simón Bolívar; Santa Capilla, a 19th-century neo-Gothic church modelled on Paris's Sainte Chapelle; the monumental Palacio de Miraflores, palace of former leader Joaquín Crespo; the sacred Panteón Nacional, where many eminent Venezuelans are interred; the Petares district, which has retained its historic colonial character; and the modern, bustling Parque Central, which provides a taste of modern Caracas.
Most of the budget hotel accommodation is situated in the less salubrious suburbs, which are not always safe, especially at night. The best is probably Sabana Grande. Be sure to always keep your wits about you, as mugging and petty theft have become rife in recent years.
Nightlife tends to be centred around the districts of Las Mercedes, El Rosal, La Floresta and La Castellana. Enjoy a beer at the Greenwich Pub, or catch some jazz at the Juan Sebastián Bar, one of the city's few authentic jazz venues.