One of the more obscure countries to visit these days is Venezuela, which makes the news for all the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, all is not lost and there is still a small number of visitors to this once extremely popular place; many of them visit thanks to Ben, Founder of Osprey Expeditions, who talks to us today about himself and, mostly, about Venezuela.
Ben tell us something about your early life and then how you became involved in the travel industry.
I got a degree in Tourism in 1996 and started guiding Nature Tours in Venezuela. I lived in Isla Margarita for a few years and worked for reputable companies, one of them from Denmark (I speak Danish), I was very lucky to guide some of the most interesting tours all over my country. I did tours everywhere, Angel Falls, Orinoco Delta, Llanos, Los Roques, Caracas, Henri Pittier, Roraima, etc, etc.
In 2002 I decided to launch my own company, Osprey Expeditions without a dime in my pocket. Osprey started in a cheap hostel for backpackers, I sold tours using a photo album of my days as a Tour guide and here I am 18 years later. It has been quite a thrill.
I am also a web designer with my startup Ben7K, we are specialized in website concepts for travel companies, hotels and tour operators.
What was the Venezuela of your childhood compared to the Venezuela of today?
I am from Caracas and when I was a kid Venezuela was the land of opportunities in South America. I grew up surrounded by kids from Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Spain, Portugal, Italy and more. We lived in a relatively safe country, we all had possibilities to continue our studies in Venezuelan Universities that were quite nice and competitive back then.
Given the news in the last years, Venezuela is currently considered out of bounds. Is this true or are there still good ways to enjoy a trip in Venezuela?
Of course there are still possibilities to visit my country in a very safe way. Probably not as a backpacker as it would be quite a challenge (no cash, no reliable bus services, etc.) but if you take a few hours to plan it will surely go in a good way. We have had a few international travelers using our services to get the best experience and it has worked out perfectly.
Tell us about Osprey Expeditions, which you head – what are your main offers, what are your challenges and your rewards doing this?
I founded Osprey Expeditions back in 2002 I was inspired to give travel-lovers the best experiences in Venezuela and Colombia (since 2017). Our winning formula today is based upon our tours efficiently combining nature, interaction with local people, outdoor activities and relaxation plus plenty of independence – this way we feel that our clients will get the best impression of the country first hand. We can do all kind of nature Tours in Venezuela: Angel Falls, Roraima, Los Roques, Orinoco Delta, Catatumbo, Choroni plus the vast array of different experiences we can offer in Venezuela.
I love my job and enjoy when my clients are satisfied and positively impressed with our destinations and services. This is pretty much like being an Ambassador, the best experience they have, the better they will talk about Venezuela and Osprey Expeditions.
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffett.
Apart from the obvious sights such as Angel Falls, the Orinoco Delta and some of the more known colonial towns, what are some hidden gems of Venezuela that you believe most people won’t know about and should discover?
There are a few places that are not even in catalogs, google maps, etc.
Phantom Cave and Kamarata Valley in Canaima National Park: 80 kilometers hike, waterfalls, indigenous communities, dense jungle, Table top mountains, caves. It will take a few years until this place is known and popular. I would rather prefer it remains unknown and only visited by a few people.
It would probably be one of the top hikes of South America. it is a real expedition, we need 2-3 porters per passenger. Truly Amazing.
Los Testigos: Group of islands located 80 kms off shore. Amazing beaches, diving, snorkeling. 100% authentic and pristine. A mini Seychelles Islands version in Venezuela. Not even in catalogs.
Avila National Park: In Caracas, so many beautiful treks that can be done in hours, days and weeks. Waterfalls, dense rainforest, practically in front of the International Airport. It is going to be a success in a few more years.
Peninsula de Paria: Dense rainforest, waterfalls, Cocoa and Coffee plantations, fishermen villages. Totally secluded, unexplored.
La Blanquilla: so much to say summed up in a question: is this island among the top 3 beaches of the Caribbean?
Kukenan Tepuy: the sister Tepuy of Roraima in a more challenging version.
So what do you believe makes Venezuela special and different compared to some of its neighbouring countries?
I would say the combination of Andes, Amazonas and Caribbean in very logical and short distances. All South american countries are charming, each of them have a unique nature, geography and authenticity so it is difficult to say we are really special.
I would say that our top destinations/places to see are not really far away from each other and that you can get to see so much biodiversity in a matter of few hours.
Turning to your own travels, tell us of some travel experiences which have made an impact on you.
Believe it or not, I am not a real traveler. Of course, I have seen many places in the American continent and Europe but none of them really impacted me in a more existential sense. They all are unique, interesting and sure I want to go back there.
What are some of the places on your bucket list which you would really like to see in the future?
Surely I would like to experience the Seychelles, The Transiberian railway, Montenegro, Australia, Madagascar.
And our signature question – if you could invite any four people from any period in human history to dinner, who would you invite and why?
That is a tough question.
Probably Salvador Dali, he is a genius and quite a character. Freddie Mercury, one of my favorite musicians. George Harrison, my favorite Beatle and probably Mike Tyson, the one of these days, not the crazy guy of the 90’s.