Although there is evidence that humans inhabited parts of Venezuela as far back as 15,000 years ago, the establishment of permanent settlements began in the first millennium. Groups that were once nomadic began organizing and developing agricultural techniques and formed three main groups: the Carib, the Arawak and the Chibcha. It was these groups that the Spanish encountered when they arrived in Venezuela at the end of the 15th century.
The territory that Venezuela inhabits was claimed by Christopher Columbus for Spain in 1498. The following year, explorers Alonso de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci arrived on the western coast and named the territory Venezuela or “Little Venice”. Other explorers came to the area and saw locals wearing ornaments made from gold and stories began to spread providing the base for the legendary myth of El Dorado. People began flocking to Venezuela and Colombia in search of such wealth and colonisation happened quickly. The Spanish introduced slaves from Africa to work the plantations on the Caribbean coast. The arrival of these slaves diversified the culture that existed in Venezuela and by the end of the 18th century, the African population outnumbered the indigenous populations.
Early in the 19th century, the desire for independence from Spain began with Francisco de Miranda. Despite eventually being handed over to his enemies, Miranda helped lay the foundation on which Simón Bolívar was able to base his revolution. A native of Venezuela, Bolívar was a military and political leader that was instrumental in Latin America’s independence from Spain. Under Bolívar, the people of Venezuela fought not only for the liberation of their own country but also for Colombia and down the Pacific Coast. In 1819 he established Gran Colombia which unified Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, however, Venezuela was not fully liberated from Spain until 1821.
The organization of Gran Colombia proved to be difficult as the new country was too big and encompassed many people of varying backgrounds. It existed for only a decade before it was divided into three separate countries. For a century afterwards, despite true independence, Venezuela came under military dictatorships. Oil was discovered in the country early in the 20th century and greatly helped the economy and allowed Venezuela to pay off its foreign debt. While oil certainly benefitted the nation in many ways, the wealth was rarely distributed to average citizens.
Venezuela’s first democratic election occurred in 1947 but was followed by a coup a mere eight months later led by Colonel Marcos Pérez Jiménez. He too was overthrown in 1958 and the country was returned to democratic rule. By the end of the 1970s, Venezuela was faced with an oil glut as well as an international recession. Unemployment, inflation and foreign debt became commonplace. In the 1980s, social and labour unrest prompted the government to stabilize the economy.
Venezuela faced an unexpected military coup attempt led by Colonel Hugo Chávez who drew on the support of the poor population. Although the coup was unsuccessful, Chávez formed his own party in 1997 and won the 1998 election. Chávez rewrote the convention which granted him more power than previous presidents. He ruled until his death in 2013, remaining a controversial figure both in Venezuela and internationally. Venezuela may not be as well known as other South American countries, yet it remains a fascinating destination. While the country is very urban, nature and wildlife are abundant. From tropical beaches to Andean peaks, cosmopolitan Caracas and quaint colonial towns, Venezuela is waiting to be explored.
Venezuela Travel Information
At Goway we believe that a well-informed traveller is a safer traveller. With this in mind, we have compiled an easy-to-navigate travel information section dedicated to Venezuela.
Learn about the history and culture of Venezuela, the must-try food and drink, and what to pack in your suitcase. Read about Venezuela's nature and wildlife, weather and geography, along with 'Country Quickfacts' compiled by our travel experts. Our globetrotting tips, as well as our visa and health information will help ensure you're properly prepared for a safe and enjoyable trip. The only way you could possibly learn more is by embarking on your journey and discovering Venezuela for yourself. Start exploring… book one of our Venezuela vacations today!
Extend Your Trip
After your Venezuela tour, why not consider another of Goway's Latin America tours? These include a large selection of other exciting countries in Central and South America. We offer Chile vacation packages and Easter Island tours, Ecuador vacation packages which include Galapagos cruises, Peru vacation packages which include Machu Picchu tours and Brazil tours including Iguassu Falls tours among many others.
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