They head for the hills and go deep into the jungle. And most tourists end up on Venezuela's white-sand tropical beaches.

AT THE END of a day in Caracas, Venezuela’s chaotic capital, clown Juan Diego wearily removes his lavish makeup, his on-the-job cheerfulness gone. His prop, a life-size puppet, lies on a park bench.

In much of Caracas, the mood has been somber since the death in early March of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. A fiery socialist leader who presided over the country for 14 years, Chávez’s death ushered in political uncertainty, coupled with an economy that’s crumbling despite Venezuela’s vast oil reserves.

The teeming, tough city of Caracas isn’t a popular destination for U.S. tourists. Those who do travel to Venezuela often go for outdoors adventure. They head for the hills — to the Andes — and go deep into the jungle to Angel Falls, the world’s tallest waterfall, which drops a stunning 3,212 feet.

Most tourists end up on Venezuela’s white-sand tropical beaches, as enticing as Caribbean island beaches but with lower-priced resorts. Margarita Island is one of the hot spots, where tourists from Europe, Latin America and North America find, at least for a few days, that life’s a beach.

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Kristin R. Jackson is The Seattle Times’ NWTraveler editor. Contact her at