Active + Adventure

World's Most Controversial Destinations

by Susan Hack

VENEZUELA

Why go: Amazing natural attractions including beaches, deserts, the Andes Mountains, and the wildlife of the Orinoco River Basin. In one trip, travelers can visit the world's highest waterfall (3,000-foot Angel Falls), take the world's longest and highest cable car (15,633 feet above sea level), and see the world's most dangerous fish (the piranha). Worth a trip on its own is the Los Roques archipelago in the Caribbean, more than 300 islands devoid of cruise ships and major development—just beaches and towns of pastel-painted houses.

Why not go: Although it's an oil producer, OPEC member, and one of the richest of Latin American countries, Venezuela has rampant unemployment, rising violent crime, and pervasive poverty. Commentators critical of President Hugo Chávez are reported to suffer government harassment. According to Human Rights Watch, the national security forces were responsible for more than 6,000 extrajudicial deaths, mainly of criminal suspects, between 2000 and 2007. The CIA believes that Venezuela has become an export center for cocaine, heroin, and human trafficking, while Venezuelan companies are reported to have served as covers for Iranian-government arms sales to Uruguay and other Latin American clients. Chávez advocates a world "devoid of U.S. influence" and has strengthened political and economic ties to Iran, Syria, and Cuba.

Experts say: According to Transparency International, Venezuela ranks 169th out of 179 countries on its corruption perception index. Crime is a major problem in Caracas and many tourist and resort areas near cities, but not in Los Roques or the countryside

If you go: Arrange transportation to and from airports in advance, and stay clear of the Colombian cross-border violence, kidnapping, smuggling, and drug trafficking are frequent. If you are not a fluent Spanish speaker and want to travel to remote areas, it's worth working with Geodyssey, a British company that has specialized in Venezuela trips since 1993 (Tel: 44-20-7281-7788; www.geodyssey.co.uk).

NEXT: Should I stay or should I go? Traveling to the world's most controversial places >

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Information may have changed since date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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