Traveling for Cents on the Dollar?! Understanding the Venezuelan Bolívar
Travelers are familiar with the process of converting currency when arriving in a new country. In some nations we dance with joy at how much further our money goes while in others we grimace at the deficit. Take for example a $1 USD lunch in Bangkok versus a $5 USD bottle of water in London. Now imagine for a moment a country where the cost of traveling is already low and there’s currently a unique opportunity to make your US Dollars go 6 to 10 times the distance. Enter Venezuela and the Bolívar.
In 2008 Venezuela officially changed it’s currency from the Venezuelan Bolívar (VEB) to the Bolívar Fuerte (VEF). The bills remain the same but the value in the international market was realigned. The new exchange rate was introduced in an attempt to curb inflation and simplify financial transactions. Unfortunately for Venezuela neither occurred.
What did happen was the creation of a rift in USD buying power. As of the writing of this article those with US dollars in hand have two options. Option #1 is to go to an official currency exchange office or bank and be given Bolívars at the rate of approximately 6.3 per US Dollar. Option #2 is to ask around until you connect with someone who will exchange at the black market rate which ranges from 40 to 62 Bolívars per US Dollar.
If you go the second route the potential for stretching your travel dollars is immense. I am currently paying 4 USD per night for my hostel room. One can trek the mountain ranges that inspired scenes in the movie “Up”, enjoy an exquisite dinner or hike to the tallest waterfall in the world for cents on the dollar. You can even book flights and trips through a Venezuelan travel agent with Bolívars at slashed conversions. I just spoke to a couple planning a week long cruise out of Caracas which would normally cost 700 USD each. They will be paying less than 100 USD each. Coupled with the fact that Venezuela boasts the world’s cheapest petrol (literally cheaper than water at approximately 15 cents a gallon) this is a unique time for this country which poses opportunity for the adventurous traveler.
Now that your eyes are full of dollar signs let me bring you back to reality. Here are a few caveates that deserve your undivided attention:
#1 Bring Cash
Bring cash. Pulling cash out of an ATM, a method that generally makes for the cheapest exchange in most countries, will cost you the formal Bolívar Fuerte exchange rate. Bring US Dollars with you, trade it wisely and you will travel for cents on the dollar.
# 2 Avoid the Holidays
Travel in and out of Venezuela is extremely hectic during the holiday season. The Venezuelan government provides travel vouchers for all of its citizens. This means that during Christmas time the airlines sell out of tickets as Venezuelans travel to visit family. This coupled with money runs (crossing the boarder to obtain US dollars at the formal exchange rate and return with them to exchange for the black market rate) means travel during Christmas is nearly impossible so plan your trip accordingly.
# 3 Choose Travel Friendly Areas
Some places in Venezuela are experiencing high crime rates so research the area you are going to visit first. Mérida and Angel Falls are fantastic for the outdoor adventurer while Choroni and Los Roques sport some of the best beaches the Caribbean has to offer. Practice caution in border towns and Caracas.
So have you packed your bags yet? Use the advice above, do a little research on the specific areas you want to visit and enjoy the adventure that awaits in Venezuela.