Violent crime is rife in both the capital Caracas and the interior, and as a foreigner you are a prime target. Don't go expecting justice if you are a victim of crime - only a very small percentage of crimes result in trials and convictions.
The country has one of the top five highest per capita murder rates in the world.
Kidnappings have increased approximately 50 per cent from 2008 to 2009, and armed robberies are common.
Kidnappings of foreign nationals occurs from homes, hotels, unauthorized taxis and the airport terminal.
In recent years a frightening phenomenon called "express kidnapping" has emerged. These kidnappings are short-term opportunistic abductions, aimed at extracting cash from the victim.
Victims are normally selected at random and held while criminals force them to use their cash cards to empty their bank accounts. Once the maximum amount of money is extracted the victim is released. It lasts an hour, but it comes with the threat of or actual violence, and is terrifying, as well as really inconvenient to be cleaned out.
(From "Secuestro Express" a Venezuelan movie. Real villains are never as handsome.)
Be aware also of "virtual kidnappings". Locals never complete questionnaires or surveys because these are scams to collect contact information on family members.
People who have handed over these details have been subjected to threatening calls demanding ransom for abducted children. Even though there's been no actual kidnapping - what's terrifying is you don't know if it's real, and who wouldn't hand over bank details if they thought their loved ones were in danger?
Also "inside kidnappings" are on the rise, in which domestic employees are paid for keys and information so criminals can enter foreigners' accommodation and kidnap children for ransom.
But it's not just in your hotel or home that you must take precautions - obviously on the road you are even more exposed.
Carjacking is also a problem by day and night.
Carjackers tend to target expensive-looking vehicles, especially 4x4s. Armed gangs ram their intended victim's vehicle from behind, or attempt to flag them down in order to rob them.
Resistance to robbery has resulted in victims being shot dead.
Be aware well-armed criminal gangs operate widely, often setting up fake police checkpoints.
Travellers should be aware of chokepoints inside tunnels and avoid obstacles in the road.
Taxi drivers in Caracas are known to overcharge, rob or injure passengers.
When sightseeing or on foot you should wear as little jewellery as possible, including expensive looking watches. Also avoid displaying expensive camera equipment.
Due to currency regulations, hotels cannot provide currency exchange, so invariably you will have to use ATMs. Malfunctions are common and it is not unknown for ATM data to be hacked and used to make unauthorized withdrawals from user's accounts. (Reports suggest hand-held scanners are also used by thieves to steal account details)
Also travellers should be careful only to use ATMs in well-lit public places as to avoid being targeted by street gangs.
Even popular tourist attractions, such as the Avila National Park, are increasingly associated with violent crime.
The poor neighborhoods, barrios (read slums) that cover the hills around Caracas are extremely dangerous. These are seldom patrolled by police and should be avoided.
In these areas, and other parts of the city - gangs of thieves will often surround their victims and use a chokehold to disable them, even in crowded market areas where there is little or no police presence.
Pickpockets are also a problem - they concentrate in and around crowded bus and subway stations in downtown Caracas.
Subway escalators are favored sites for "bump and rob" petty thefts by roving bands of young criminals. A person in front of you will "drop" something, then bend down to retrieve it, which then blocks the traffic on the escalator. The person behind you pushes against you in the chaos of bodies - and in so doing picks your pockets. Many of these criminals are well dressed to allay suspicion and to blend in with crowds using the subways during rush hour. Robberies also occur frequently on buses and trains.
Finally, when out and about in the street or in major shopping centres, do not accept pamphlets.
There have been incidents where these flyers have been impregnated with potent and disorienting drugs that permeate the skin.
Drink spiking has also been reported - so be careful to not accept food or drink from strangers who may befriend you in bars or restaurants.
As for accommodation - Sabana Grande is not a safe area in which to stay in Caracas; cheap hotels can be found in safer areas such as Chacao, La Castellana and Altamira.
Theft from hotel rooms and safe deposit boxes is a problem, and theft of unattended valuables on the beach and from rental cars parked near isolated areas or on city streets is commonplace. A guarded garage or locked trunk is not a guarantee against theft.
And believe it or not you will actually need to be on your guard the second you arrive in Venezuela. Even the airports and their surrounds are considered dangerous.
Corruption at Maiquetia Airport, the international airport serving Caracas, is rampant. Both arriving and departing travellers, including foreigners, have been victims of personal property theft and muggings.
Some of these crimes are committed by people wearing official looking uniforms - so be wary of any strangers who approach you.
Casually dressed travellers are more often approached, so dress smartly.
There are known drug trafficking groups working from the airport. Travellers should not accept packages from anyone and should keep their luggage with them at all times. It is also wise to lock your luggage.
There are reports that uniformed airport officials are attempting to extort money from travellers as they go through the normal check-in and boarding process for departing flights.
Others are approached as they arrive and are escorted to a separate area for a bag inspection. Victims are then instructed to sign a document in Spanish that they do not understand. If you are forced to sign a document you don't understand, just write in English "I do not understand this document".
Also be aware of being approached at the airport by individuals offering to exchange foreign currency. You may be given forged local currency.
The road between Maiquetia Airport and Caracas is known to be particularly dangerous.
Visitors traveling this route at night have been kidnapped and held captive for ransom in roadside huts that line the highway. Because of the frequency of robberies at gunpoint, travellers are encouraged to arrive and depart only during daylight hours.
You should make advance arrangements for travel from the airport to your accommodation.
Also be aware of being overcharged when paying airport tax for both international flights and domestic flights within Venezuela.
Always check the amount printed on the receipt issued for the tax (normally a sticker affixed to the back of your ticket) before handing over any money. Currently the domestic airport tax, including journeys from Caracas to Margarita Island, is BsF 38.
International passengers must pay two taxes to exit the country. The international departure tax increased in February 2011 to BsF 228 (from BsF 195) but it is usually, although not always, included in the cost of the airfare ticket. (If you purchased your flight tickets before February, you may be asked to pay the difference by the airline when you check in, which should be BsF 33.)
There is also an airport tax of BsF 190 that must be paid in cash (Bolivars) after check in at the airport (at one of the tax payment booths). Check with your airline before agreeing to pay anything extra.
In case of theft it is wise to make two photocopies of your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.
Clearly traveling in Venezuela is not for the feint hearted. So consider if your travel is essential, be prepared for a challenge and exercise extreme caution.
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