Venezuela sits at the top of South America, with over 2,000 km of spectacular Caribbean coast-line, and year-round hot weather, thanks to its position just north of the Equator. Colombia lies to the west, Brazil to the south and Guyana to the east. Inland, the country is full of surprises, with the enormous plains of Los Llanos, the tepuis of the Gran Sabana (flat-topped mountains and Angel Falls, tallest waterfall in the world) and the mountains of the snow-capped Andes offering dramatic contrast alongside rain forest, cloud forest and mangrove deltas. Venezuela is physically the size of France and Germany combined, and has 35 national parks - the birds, wildlife and marine life within them are prolific, and there is world-class diving and snorkelling, particularly in the archipelago of Los Roques.
Simón Bolívar was born in Venezuela and is known as 'the great liberator' for his role in emancipating much of South America from the colonial powers in the 19th century. He now gives his name to the official name of the country - The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The country has huge natural resources (particularly oil and gas), and produces some of the finest chocolate and coffee in the world. The benefits have not always been distributed equally, however, and Venezuela has a recent history of very high poverty levels. Almost half the population is under the age of nineteen, which makes children and young people very vulnerable to the social situation.
Around 75% of the 26 million inhabitants live in urban areas and 5 million of them are in the capital Caracas, which nestles beneath the Ávila mountain range along the north coast, at 1,000 metres above sea level. As in many Latin American capitals, Caracas displays signs of extreme wealth and development alongside densely populated shanty towns - sprawling hillside communities that have grown up on the hillsides around the city. Since the middle of the last century, people have flocked to the cities looking for work and a better life, even coming in from neighbouring countries such as Ecuador and Colombia. As they began life as temporary settlements, these communities often have little infrastructure and can lack basic services and amenities such as refuse collection, water pipes, electricity and schools. It has been a long slow process to address the problem as it is a huge challenge to create infrastructure retrospectively due to lack of space and often inaccessible locations (some shanty towns do not have road access).
Now the communities themselves, NGOs and of course the government are tackling the issues and making good progress, but the scale of the task and the logistical challenges are enormous - it is a process that will take considerable time and resource to resolve.