Before the Spanish came to Venezuela, approximately 500,000 indigenous peoples lived in the area. Most of these peoples were from three groups: Carib, Arawak and Chibcha. The Chibcha made roads that can still be seen today in the Andean region of Venezuela.

 In 1498, Christopher Columbus became the first European to see Venezuela. Many explorers at the time thought that Venezuela held the legendary city of gold, El Dorado. Europeans, however, found only small quantities of precious metals in Venezuela. In the 16th century, Europeans settled in the coastal areas. When they tried to conquer the indigenous people, they met fierce resistance. At one time, the Carib leader Guarcaipuro led 10,000 warriors against the Spanish.

In the early 1620s, cocoa became an important crop in Venezuela. More Spanish colonists came to Venezuela and people were brought from Africa to work as slaves on plantations. The colonists disagreed with the way the country was being run by the Spanish. Their discontent paved the way for Simón Bolívar, a Venezuelan military leader, to mobilize Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru to fight for independence. Venezuela declared independence in 1811 and in 1821 Bolívar and his troops won a decisive victory over the Spanish at the Battle of Carabobo.
   Did you know?
Simón Bolívar is called the Great Liberator, and Venezuelans are extremely proud that he was born in Venezuela. 
At first, Venezuela was part of the country of Gran Colombia, which was made up of present-day Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. In 1829, Venezuela became an independent republic.

 In the period after independence, Venezuela was run by a succession of dictators known as caudillos. The economy depended largely on cocoa and coffee. The discovery of oil near Lake Maracaibo in 1922 boosted the national economy, but the money earned from oil was not shared equally among Venezuela's people.

In 1958, resistance to Venezuela's last dictator, General Marcos Pérez Jímenez, led to a general strike and street fighting in the cities. Jímenez resigned and left the country. Venezuela became a democracy. Venezuela enjoyed a much better standard of living than most of its neighbours until the mid-1980s, when oil prices began to fall. Since that time, poverty has been increasing in Venezuela. 

The 1990s were a time of economic crisis, unrest and attempts at reform. In 1998 a new president, Hugo Chavez, was elected. Chavez faces the challenge of relieving poverty while reducing the country's debt.

   Did you know?
The boundaries of Venezuela on Venezuelan maps differ from those shown on maps from other South American countries. This is because some land is claimed by both Venezuela and by Guyana. The boundary was determined by an international tribunal in 1899, but the Venezuelan government disagreed with the decision and still claims part of Guyana.