Venezuela’s northeast comprises the state of Sucre and parts of the states
of Miranda, Anzoátegui and Monagas. When he first set eyes on the place, Christopher
Columbus is said to have described it as a "Paradise on Earth". Indeed, the region,
with its clear blue waters, coral reefs, white sand beaches, mangroves and forested
coastal mountains justifies such a description.
Puerto la Cruz is the younger and more boisterous neighbor of the Anzoátegui State
capital, Barcelona. Originally a fishing village, Puerto la Cruz now has a population
of 220,000 people and is the biggest tourist destination on the entire east coast.
The town’s touristic center is concentrated around Paseo Colón, a seafront promenade
brimming with hotels, restaurants, cafes, tour operators and marinas - tourists
are certainly well catered for here. The city also has an efficient transport
system. The port, La Guanta, runs several ferries each day to Margarita, and the
bus terminal has connections to all major towns and cities. Barcelona has the
nearest airport, which operates domestic flights to Caracas and major cities.
A host of tours are on offer in Puerto la Cruz, and it is possible to arrange
trips all over the northeast. Popular excursions include the islands of Morrocoy
and Mochima, the beaches along the coast, the Orinoco Delta, Canaima, Caripe,
the Guyana Highlands, the Angel Falls and Amazonas. Boats are also available for
charter to the islands and beyond.
The beaches in Puerto la Cruz are not particularly popular, as the sea is polluted
and unsuitable for swimming. However, a series of enchanting beaches are only
a twenty minute bus ride away. Offering great views of the coast and islands,
the road ascends east from Puerto la Cruz, over the border into Sucre State and
into Mochima National Park.
Barlovento Bay comprises the entire coast of Miranda State, from Higuerote to
Boca de Uchire. The bay is named after the onshore trade winds that carry moist
air to the coast, allowing its lush vegetation to flourish. The region was formerly
known as the "Slave Coast", as hundreds of African slaves were shipped in to
work on its cacao plantations. Today, the African influence is clear in the region’s
music, characterized by drums and dancing. Fine examples of colonial architecture
can be found in the towns and villages dotted around Barlovento Bay. Many of
the bay’s resorts – notably Boca de Uriche - are popular with Venezuelans, particularly
Caraqueños, who motor down from the capital at weekends to enjoy the relaxing
atmosphere and cool waters.
Higuerote, the first resort along Barlovento Bay, is a pleasant, relaxed town
with a population of 14,000. A wealth of sandy beaches and clear waters lie along
its coast, and tourism is on the increase. The town has numerous hotels and posadas
as well as decent camping facilities, and can be reached by bus from Caracas.
|Píritu and Puerto Píritu
Píritu and Puerto Píritu are twin towns situated just inside the neighboring
state of Anzoátegui, and together house 19,000 people. They are pleasant, relaxing
places and have a number of interesting colonial buildings as well as attractive
sandy beaches. Plenty of hotels and restaurants are scattered around the towns,
which can be reached by bus from Caracas and Puerto la Cruz. Nearby are the mangroves
of Laguna de Píritu, popular with ornithologists, and the Islas de Piritu, well
known for their sulphurous mud and excellent scuba diving. Tours to both can
be arranged in town.
Further east lies the town of Cumaná, the capital of Sucre State and the oldest
Spanish town in Latin America. Since the arrival of missioners in 1506, the town’s
history has been marked by conflict with natives, pirates and traders. Little
colonial architecture remains, as the city was largely destroyed by earthquakes
and consequently rebuilt on three separate occasions.
Today, Cumaná plays a vital role in the country’s fishing industry and is a
bustling tourist town with a quarter of a million inhabitants. Various sights
are dotted around the town, and there are plenty of restaurants, hotels and tour
operators. The town has air links to Caracas and Margarita, bus routes to Caracas,
Puerto la Cruz, Caripe and Ciudad Bolívar and several daily ferry crossings to
|The Araya and Paría Peninsulas
North of Cumaná sits a large peninsula which has two arms: the arid landscapes
and colorful salt lakes of Araya, and the rich bamboo forests and mangroves of
its neighbor, Paría. Small fishing villages and towns are scattered along the
coast. The two main tourist attractions, the salt mines and the Castillo de Santiago
(Santiago Fort), can be found in the town of Araya, on the western tip of the
peninsula. The fort was built in 1625 to defend the salt mines and was later
abandoned after a hurricane caused the flooding of the salt mines in 1726. Today,
the mines are back in operation and provide a large portion of the country’s
salt. Both can be visited from Araya. The Peninsula also has many stunning white
sand beaches and great windsurfing waters, especially around Araya, and there
are good walks around the northern cliffs. A por puesto service covers the region,
though travelling by jeep is the most practical way to explore due to the limited
road network. Daily ferries operate to Cumaná. The Peninsula has a range of posadas
and restaurants, and camping is popular.
Further east along the north coast lies the colonial town of Carúpano, home
to some of the most beautiful beaches in the region: Pui Puy and Medina. Hidden
in lush forest and fringed by palm trees, these paradise beaches offer accommodation
and the latter has hot springs and waterfalls within walking distance. The town
can be reached by bus from large cities in the region and the airport operates
daily flights to Caracas and Isla Margarita. A ferry goes as far as the nearby
village of Chacopata.
On the tip of the Paría Peninsula is its largest town, Güiria. Though the town
itself has little by way of tourist attractions, the surrounding region has a
much to offer. The surrounding mountains are part of the Península de Paría National
Park, and can be explored right along the coast. Tours can also be arranged to
the Orinoco Delta and Caribbean islands. The town can be reached by bus from
most large cities, and the airport, just outside the town, operates flights to
Margarita several times a week. There are regular ferry crossings to Margarita,
Trinidad and other Caribbean islands.
Inland to the south, the road winds into thickly-forested mountains, interspersed
with shimmering lakes, picturesque mountain villages and coffee, pineapple and
orange plantations. The road leads to the state capital, the oil city of Maturín,
which is supposedly the fastest growing town in the world but is of little of
interest to tourists. In the same region is Caripe, a tranquil tourist town in
a beautiful mountain setting and a popular place for hiking, camping, cycling
and horseriding. The town has plenty of posadas and hotels, and is easily reached
by bus. The nearest airport is in Maturín. Several tour operators offer trips
to the Orinoco Delta, the Gran Sabana and the nearby Cueva del Guácharo.
|National Parks of the
Mochima National Park covers 94,900ha of coastal and marine habitat. For more
information on the islands of the park, click on the following link to The Caribbean
Islands. The mainland portion of the park consists principally of mountainous
coastline, mangroves and golden sandy coves. Along the coast, scattered trees,
grasses and shrubs predominate the dry terrain. As the land rises to the coastal
mountains, the vegetation grows thicker and more exuberant, fostering a wider
variety of flora, particularly ferns and orchids. Resident fauna includes jaguars,
sloths, capuchin monkeys, opossums, armadillos, agoutis, iguanas, many species
of snake and sea-birds such as gulls, pelicans and frigates.
Playa Arapito, Playa Colorada and Playa Santa Fe are the best known of Mochima’s
beaches. Though quiet throughout the week, the beaches transform into busy tourist
hotspots at weekends. The calm waters are perfect for swimming and fishing boats
can be chartered to visit a number of islands and reefs just offshore, which
are wonderful for snorkeling and fishing. Further inland are waterfalls, clear
pools and woodland hiking trails. All the villages have several small hotels,
posadas, and restaurants, and camping is popular on the beaches. Por puestos,
taxis and buses operate along the coast road and any beach or bay is easily accessible.
Along the coast of Barlovento Bay is Rio Chico, a town roughly equal in size
to Higuerote. The beaches are attractive and the town is a popular destination
with Venezuelans. Buses also operate to Rio Chico from Caracas, and there are
various hotels. Situated behind the town is the Tacarigua de la Laguna National
park. The park consists of a coastal lagoon separated from the sea by a sand
bank, and comprises 18,400ha of important wetland habitats. The region is home
to a rich aquatic bird fauna, including pelicans, cormorants, flamingoes, frigates,
egrets and ibis. Visitors can enjoy tours around the lagoon and the maze of surrounding
canals, and boats can be hired to explore the park and surrounding beaches. Permits
(available from Inparques) are needed to enter the park. Access is from the village
Occupying some 37,500ha, the Península de Paría National Park encompasses the
single mountain range on the northeast tip of the peninsula. The relief is relatively
low; coastal lowlands rise into steep slopes reaching a height of 1,300m. The
arid coastline is rich in xerophytes while thick deciduous, tropical moist and
cloud forests cover the mountain sides, fostering a diversity of bromeliads,
heliconias, lianas, orchids and an abundance of climbers and endemic epiphytes.
The endemic colored parakeet inhabits the park, and mammal species include puma,
ocelot, deer, armadillo and monkey. Access to the park is via the road between
Carúpano and Güiria or by boat. Tours are available.
Turuépano National Park encompasses Turuépano Island in the Gulf of Paría,
south of the Peninsula. Covering some 70,000ha, it is the most extensive area
of protected marshlands in Venezuela. Savannas, lagoons, channels, marshes, mangroves,
swamp forests and peat bogs form an incredibly biodiverse landscape. The most
prolific flora are ferns and moriche palms. The wide range of wetland habitats
supports a variety of fauna including otters, tapir, fox, raccoon, bats, many
species of waterfowl, water-snakes, coastal alligators and cayman. The park is
also inhabited by the Warao Indians. The entrance to the park is from Puerto
Ajíes and can only be reached by boat.
The Cueva del Guácharo National Park covers an area of 45,500ha. The main feature
of the park is the cave system itself, which, with a length of over 10.5 km,
is the largest in the country. It was discovered along with its unique inhabitant,
the guácharo (oilbird) by the scientist and explorer Alexander Humboldt in 1799.
A unique, frugiverous (fruit-eating) species, the oilbird leaves the cave at
dusk to search for food, using echolocation to maneuver in the dark. The colony
numbers around 18,000 and occupies the first chamber of the cave together with
mice, crickets and crabs. Visitors are guided by lanterns down a concrete path
that meanders alongside a stream and amongst vast piles of decomposing palm-seeds
dropped by the guácharos. Spindly palm-seedlings sprout from these mounds, but
soon die, starved of light. Ornate stalactites and stalagmites and other intriguing
geological formations decorate the entire subterranean network, many of which
resemble and are named after plants, animals and famous landmarks. Visitors have
access to the first sector of the cave; deeper exploration is possible but only
with specialized equipment and permission from the park’s authorities. Access
varies according to the time of year, as the caves are liable to flood during
the rainy season in August and September.
The remainder of the park, accessible by trails, encompasses thick, lush forest
and a waterfall and is home to a variety of birds and plants.
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