My titles used to be more unique…give it time. Then again, who’s going to do a search for “changing lettuce in Caracas, Venezuela?”
Since speaking directly about US dollars in that country can be taboo, they have been nicknamed lechuga verde, or green lettuce. Let me tell you, if you are carrying greenbacks you’re already one step ahead.
Just don’t let the airport (official/ATM) exchange rate set you thousands of steps back.
I did some sleuthing before I went to Caracas for a brief few days – where to find the least hygienic arepas, top ten places to not get mugged, why are you coming to Caracas anyway – but the trickiest part by far was learning about where to change money into bolivares. For instance, checking rates at the Embassy Suites hotel for random stays always displayed results that reached into the US$800s:
OK, so tourists who enjoy spending (wasting?) their money in Manhattan might be able to relate, but two points stood out on the website; 1) the message relating to Venezuela’s “SICAD II” exchange rate, and 2) the Advanced Purchase rate for significantly less. Search with your usual hotel booking website and report back if you dare.
In spite of this, there are only two numbers that you should be concerned with: the airport rate, which is roughly $1= 6.3 bolivares (as of 12 January 2015) and the black market rate, which is debatable (and illegal).
I’ll regale you with a couple of photos of how much $40 can get you, first with the official rate, and then with the find-someone-willing-to-exchange rate:
In total, $40 x 6.3 = 252 bolivares. But exchange rates – in Spanish, tipo de cambio – mean nothing without references. The public bus from the airport to Bellas Artes station downtown cost me 60 of these. Officially, that’s about ten bucks. Sounds steep when gasoline costs about two cents a liter. Another example is a bottle of water in a vending machine. I saw a price as low as 12 bolivares in airport vending machines and 7-30 bolivares downtown so wow, continuous agua purchases can definitely add up.
Or do they?
Here you have what $40 buys you if you found a generous rate on the street…or in the back of a store. Apparently, the highest black market rate is derived from trading in Colombia, Venezuela’s western border, and you can verify it at this website. The more you are willing to sell, the better a rate you are likely to get, but even that depends on your counterpart’s mood/zest for dollars/ability at spinning yarns. Do keep in mind that the highest denomination of bolivares is only 100, so if are used to sticking your wallet in your pocket, be creative when someone gets curious…
For now, if you are willing to take a chance and arrive in Caracas/Venezuela without a hotel reservation but with plenty of cash, you’ll save quite a lot if you don’t book somewhere online first.
Have you recently visited Caracas?