Caracas, like the nation of which it is the capital city, is a place of innumerable contrasts and contradictions. Perched amidst the sunny coastal highlands of northern Venezuela, it enjoys a pleasant year-round climate and a gorgeous natural setting. If Caracas is known for one thing, it is a sense of lively exuberance that is expressed in countless ways: nightlife, cultural and artistic production, and haute cuisine. Yet the city has a dark side in the form of widespread poverty and urban decay, and the plight of its lower-class residents is visible just below the glitzy surface.
Unfortunately for visitors and residents alike, the crime and squalor of Caracas's slums infects every corner of the city, and violent crime is a major problem. Tourists en route to Caracas (of whom, it must be said, there are very few) are advised to do all they can to blend into the crowd and to take special precautions with critical documents such as passports. Venezuelan police, to make matters worse, are notoriously corrupt and unhelpful. While the majority of foreigners are not victimized by criminals, it is necessary to take extra security measures when traveling to Caracas.
That foreign visitors come to Caracas at all despite these dangers is a testament to the city's charm and appeal. Its museums, historical sites, and botanical gardens rival some of the best in Europe and the United States and the hiking trails just outside the city affords magnificent views. One of the most popular attractions in Caracas, both for students and for simple tourists, is the beautiful campus of Universidad Central de Venezuela. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, the campus is scattered with artwork, and its buildings are a sublime example of midcentury architecture.
The Universidad Central de Venezuela, or UCV, is famous for its academic diversity. In a country where public education is often little more than a propaganda outlet for the state, UCV shows admirable resolve in maintaining its independence from the government's point of view; students here are free to explore ideas that are taboo at many other institutions of higher learning in Venezuela. In almost 300 years of continuous operation, UCV has given Caracas a well-deserved reputation as a learned city and a place where education is valued. Over time, the city has built up an impressive array of educational institutions including more than a dozen universities and colleges, as well as international schools and private language academies.