Travel: Insider's guide to... Caracas

What is the weather like now?

Caraquenos argue that their city's temperate climate beats any of the world's capitals, though at present it's cats and dogs with the most torrential rainy season they've had for years.

What are the locals complaining about?

With unemployment topping 20 per cent, the economy shrinking, political instability and rising crime, what aren't they complaining about?

Who's the talk of the town?

Ex-paratrooping President Hugo Chavez Fras. You just can't get away from the man, or his weekly talk-to-the-people radio shows, or his wife for that matter, whose spin-doctors mould her Evita image at every photo opportunity. Chavez's red beret-ed portrait is graffitied on to half the nation's houses, and will doubtless soon become as ubiquitous as Che Guevara's in Cuba.

What's the cool drink to order this year?

Beer, because it's cheap, and then there's a singa parao, a speciality from eastern Venezuela: a Machiavellian concoction of cherry, pineapple, passion fruit, guava, orange and white rum whose name translates as a "stand-up shag".

What are people eating?

Hot dogs and arepa (maize bread) for the poor. Sushi for those who can afford it. Tambo's in Chacaito offers an interesting mix of Peruvian and Japanese cuisine in an exotic setting, while the shades-on-for-Sunday- brunch bunch head for Barrock in Altamira.

What's the latest outrageous stuff on TV?

Lottery-crazed game shows, littered with blonde bimbos and push-up Wonderbras, are the national obsession along with soap operas. Meanwhile, the dubbed Spanish version of South Park premieres this week on national TV.

Where would the locals not dream of going?

Their museums, art-house cinemas, theatres and dance venues. The economic crisis has taken its toll, and Venezuela was never a cultural heavyweight to begin with. Their 40-odd national parks are full of foreigners, since getting to them might involve the locals sullying their jeeps.

Where are the locals going that tourists don't know about yet?

They Grand Old Duke of York up to the peaks of the Avila mountain, with the blues of the Caribbean on one side, and the chaos of Caracas on the other.

And what do they do up there? March back down again, of course.

Where are the chic doing their shopping?

Miami, or else the Sambil shopping mall with its rooftop views and restaurants.

What's the trendy place to escape to for the weekend?

The Los Roques archipelago, for the discerning. The beaches that are a two-hour drive from the capital for the post-pubescent would-be surfer crowd.

Dominic Hamilton is currently living in Caracas while researching the `Traveler's Venezuela Companion' guidebook).

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