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View of downtown Caracas, a valley of skyscrapers

The capital of Venezuela is a huge, vibrant and energetic city built on tremendous wealth and desperate poverty. Gravity is equally defied by the city's thrusting towers of steel and glass and the teetering shantytowns that cover the city's surrounding hills.

As cosmopolitan and captivating as it can be depressing, Caracas has all the assets of a big city - great restaurants, plush hotels, theatre, museums, nightlife, shopping - and many of the problems - petty crime, grinding poverty, pollution and the loss of heritage.

It's an oil-money place of traffic jams and progressive culture, the unquestioned centre of the country's political, scientific, cultural, intellectual and educational life. It's a showcase of modern architecture, flaunting public sculptures, mosaics and murals at every turn. It enjoys a perfect position on the Caribbean coast, and is the gateway to the Andes and the Amazon.

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