Is Caracas a good starting point for a trip to the Patagonia along the atlantic coast? Would it be better to start in Northern Brazil?
We would like to know if Venezuela is safe for backpackers,
How long is a piece of string? It depends on how long you have. Glad you are seriously considering the safety and crime factors. I did learn last Fall from a tour leader of a global tour company that he HATES going to Venezuela because of its dangers (corrupt officials, dodgy taxis, theft etc). I have heard that Caracas is very unsafe from both people who live there and my brother who travels there a lot for work.
When I was in Venezuela many years ago it was after elections, major landslides and prison riots where inmates broke loose in Caracas-crazy time to be there and I didn't feel too safe just heading to a coastal town not far from the airport. That was a unique time to be there (granted) but from what I have heard, it hasn't scrubbed up dramatically since then. The rest of time in Venezuela (Los Roques and Isla Margarita) were fine and fun. I would say, if you go, just make sure your flight lands during the day.
Here are two links to weigh up (one is the US government take, hence conservative, but Virtual tourist takes experiences from other travelers which I put a lot of stock in)
http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/South_America/Venezuela/Distrito_Federal/Caracas-1637665/Warnings_or_Dangers-Caracas-TG-C-1.html about 10 years ago