Venezuela’s northwest comprises all the territory north and west of the Andes
mountains. Four states comprise this large area of the country: Zulia, Falcon,
Yaracuy and Lara.Zulia, Venezuela's westernmost state, is known to be among the
hottest places in Latin America and produces 70% of the country’s oil. It is
also home to the famous Lake Maracaibo, which, covering an area of 12,800km²,
is the biggest lake on the continent.
Maracaibo, the capital of the state, lies on the northwestern shore of the
Lake. It was here that in 1499 the Spanish explorers Alonso de Ojeda and Amerigo
Vespucci saw Indian houses perched on wooden stilts above the waters, and christened
the land ‘Venezuela’ meaning ‘little Venice’. Maracaibo was settled in 1574,
and formed successful trade routes with the Netherlands Antilles. On the 24th
July 1823, the Republican Navy defeated the Spanish fleet on the waters of Lake
Maracaibo, securing the liberation of Venezuela and all but ending the wars of
Independence. Around 100 years later, oil was discovered in the region. Maracaibo,
previously a quiet city, suddenly became the prosperous oil-capital of Venezuela.
Today, Maracaibo is a modern, bustling city with a skyline dominated by tower
blocks and a population of 1.3 million. There is not a great deal for tourists
here, though the town is dotted with colonial buildings and museums of some interest.
Temperatures maintain an average of around 29°C, and most of the city closes
in the heat of the day. Maracaibo has a large international airport with links
to all major cities in the country and there is a bus link to and from Coro,
Caracas, Valera, San Cristóbal and the Colombian town of Maicao.
However, various sites of interest can be found outside Maracaibo. The Rafael
Urdaneta bridge, the longest pre-stressed concrete bridge in the world, stretches
for 8,679m across the estuary of Lake Maracaibo and offers great views over the
city. The colonial town of Altagracia lies on the other side of the lake, and
can be reached by boat. The recently restored castle of San Carlos de Ibarra,
built in the 1600s to ward off pirates, is now popular with tourists, as are
the tours around the oil towers on the northeastern shores of the lake. The most
popular tourist attraction, however, is the Sinamaica lagoon, the home of the
Añu Indians. Here, you can see more or less what Alonso de Ojedo and Amerigo
Vespucii would have seen when they sailed into the lake all those years ago.
Coro, capital of Falcón State, is a beautiful colonial city situated inland
from the Paraguana Peninsula and has a population of 130,000. Coro is Arawak
for wind, and the name refers to the constant breeze blowing through the city’s
ancient streets. Founded in 1527, Coro was one of the first Spanish colonies
in South America, and was the original capital of the Province of Venezuela.
The Spanish settlers and Arawak Indians lived together in relative peace until
the province was leased to the Germans, and thereafter exploited. The city of
Coro deteriorated and, despite the annulment of German authority in 1546, continued
to suffer throughout the 17th Century. The city was saved in the 18th
Century, when the benefits of a booming smuggling trade with nearby islands were
invested in its revival.
Today, Coro is a tranquil, cultural city. Some of Venezuela’s most impressive
colonial architecture is found here, including one of the oldest cathedrals in
the country and the age-old wooden cross in the Plaza de San Clemente. The colonial
center of Coro is now preserved as a national monument. The city has an airport
with regular connections to Caracas and Barquisimeto, and a port operating ferries
to Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao and other Caribbean islands. There are also bus links
to major towns and cities. Coro makes a good base from which to visit the numerous
national parks and natural attractions in the region. Various tours are available
to the mountains and caves of the Sierra San Luis, the Península de Paraguaná
and the desert of Los Médanos de Coro. Visitors can also hire cars and tour the
Paraguaná is an island connected to the mainland by a narrow sandbank, and
is the largest peninsula in the country. The landscape is predominantly semi-arid
scrub and cactus, yet the region is also home to the small mountain of Cerro
Santa Ana, whose slopes are thick with deciduous forest, cloud forest and grasses.
The area has been declared a national monument, and is home to varied fauna including
mountain cats, ocelots and numerous bird species. Beautiful panoramic views of
the island are offered from the summit. Down below, village rooftops strongly
contrast with the huge black oil refineries on the coast. In the distance lie
solitary beaches, mangrove swamps, Caribbean islands and the pink waters of the
salt mines. Punta Fijo is the biggest settlement on the peninsula, and has several
hotels, a good road network and a bus terminal with links to many major towns
and cities. There is an airport in nearby Las Piedras, with flights to Aruba
and Curaçao, and to various cities within Venezuela. Organized tours around the
Peninsula and to the Sierra San Luis are on offer in Punta Fijo, and hire cars,
buses and taxis are available for independent exploration of the peninsula. The
peninsula’s waters are also very popular with windsurfers.
The beautiful state of Lara is at the heart of Venezuela’s northwest. Here,
lush valleys and rolling hills merge into mountains and mark the origin of the
Andes. Much of the beautiful landscape is protected, and there are five national
parks within the state. The state capital, Barquisimeto, has a population of
730,000, making it the fourth largest city in the country. Located in the foothills
of the Andes, it is a dry hot city, with an average temperature of 25ºC. Barquisimeto
is important both industrially and commercially, yet has had a troubled past.
The town was founded in 1552, but was destroyed by fire shortly afterwards. It
moved three times before its current location was permanently established in
1563. Development was slow, as the native Indians were hostile to the colonists
and passionately defended their land. Little evidence of the era remains, as
the earthquake of 1812 devastated all but a handful of the town’s colonial buildings.
Like many Venezuelan cities, Barquisimeto has been dramatically modernized
in recent years. The city has several parks, museums, hotels and restaurants.
There is an international airport with flights to America, Caracas, Margarita
and various other destinations. The bus system is very good, and Barquisimeto
is also accessible by the only passenger railway in the country, which operates
from the coastal town of Puerto Cabello. Comparatively few tours to the surrounding
region are on offer, but hire cars and a good bus network can be used to explore.
Southwest of the city is the Quibor valley, where visitors can also buy traditional
artesania such as rugs, hammocks, wooden carvings and pottery from indigenous
Yaracuy is a small, little-known state sitting between the Andean foothills
and the coast. The state capital is the pleasant town of San Felipe, which was
founded in 1729 as San Felipe el Fuerte. At one point, the town was a significant
commercial center, but was destroyed by the notorious earthquake of 1812. Today,
remains of the old ruined town can be seen at Parque El Fuerte. However, sensational
reporting has drawn more interest to the town of Chivacoa, whose mountains house
the sacred site of the María Lionza cult. The cult - reputed to help people
fulfill their desires - combines indigenous worship, African voodoo and Christian
customs and involves witchcraft and magic. Belief in the cult has now spread
throughout Venezuela, and people come to Chivacoa from far and wide to make offerings
and worship the deity María Lionza.
Zulia’s people, the Zulianos, are well known for their sense of humor
and folk music. The state’s traditional music is the Gaita, and consists
of improvised rhyming vocals over four-string guitars and maracas. The Gaita
is featured in festivals throughout the year and has now become Venezuela’s traditional
In the northwest of Zulia live the Guajira Indians, the largest indigenous
group in Venezuela. Living in a matriarchal society, the Guajira move
with the limited water supply of the peninsula throughout the year. They are
often seen in Maracaibo wearing their traditional dress; women in long, brightly
colored dresses and men in loincloths. Many are artisans, and weave tapestries,
blankets and hammocks to sell in the Guajira markets and craft shops.
|National Parks of the
Morrocoy National Park is located on the east coast of the state, between the
towns of Chichiriviche and Tucacas. Morrocoy became a national park in 1972,
and comprises picturesque beaches, islands, keys, coral reefs, coconut groves
and mangroves within its 32,090ha of coastal and marine habitats. For information
on the islands of the park, click on the following link to Caribbean Islands.
Adjacent to the park is the Cuare Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the world's largest
birdlife reserves. Together, they are home to nearly 80% of Venezuela’s aquatic
birds and almost 70% of its migratory species. Herons, flamingos, scarlet ibis,
boobies, pelicans, cormorants, egrets, hawks and hummingbirds are but a few.
Moreover, the area is not just rich in birdlife. The lush hills behind the park
are an important site for mammals, including jaguars, howler monkeys, anteaters,
raccoons, opossums, kinkajous, agoutis, ocelots and mountain cats.
The park can be reached from Chichiriviche or Tucacas, which are both accessible
by bus. Visitors can enjoy a variety of activities such as water skiing, snorkeling,
scuba diving and sailing.
Médanos de Coro is the only desert in Venezuela and was declared a national
park in 1974. It lies on the Isthmus of Médanos and covers 91,280ha of desert
and coastal habitat, including salt marshes. Massive sand dunes, known as Médanos
can reach 40m in height and are constantly transformed by the unrelenting wind.
Rainfall is rare, thus flora consists of little more than thorny shrubs. Likewise,
fauna is scarce, and the park is home mainly to lizards, rabbits, anteaters,
foxes, pigeons and kestrels. Visitors can wander amongst the dunes by camel,
and the park is easily reached by bus or taxi from Coro.
| Ciénaga De Los Olivitos
Nature Reserve and Ciénagas del Catatumbo National Park
Eco-tourism around Lake Maracaibo is still in its infancy, though tours can
be arranged to the Ciénagas del Catatumbo National Park and Ciénaga De Los Olivitos
Nature Reserve, both of which are home to a variety of wildlife. Los Olivitos
was established as a reserve in 1986, and rare species such as manatees, coastal
alligators and sea turtles live within its 26,000ha of marine, coastal, freshwater
and mangrove habitats. The reserve is also a significant site for migratory birds,
Ciénagas del Catatumbo National Park covers 269,400ha, and is situated on the
southwest shore of the lake, between the rivers of Catatumbo and Santa Ana. It
was granted national park status in 1991 to protect the rich swamp and wetland
habitats of the area. The park has a large population of both resident and migratory
birds, including species of heron, egret and stork. Mammals are also plentiful
and include capybara, raccoon and freshwater dolphins. The area is known as the
lighthouse of Maracaibo, as it is subject to regular lightening storms across
Perijá National Park lies south west of Lake Maracaibo and encompasses 295,288ha
of the Serranía de Perijá, which runs along the Colombian border. The topography
of the park is dramatic; the mountains rise abruptly from the lowlands of Lake
Maracaibo to a height of 3,500m (Pico Tétari). The dense vegetation, comprising
rainforest, cloud forests, highland moors and sub-alpine and alpine tundra is
home to a wide variety of flora. The region’s rich fauna includes the spectacled
bear and capuchin and howler monkeys. Access to the park is by road from Maracaibo,
and organized tours are available. Camping is permitted in the grounds of the
South of Coro are the mountains of the Sierra de San Luis, of which 20,000ha
has been granted national park status. The entire sierra lies on a limestone
base which has been eroded to form a network of caves and waterways, among which
is the largest underground lake in the country: la Cueva del Río Acarite. The
park harbors the hydrological resources of the Paraguaná Peninsula. Tropical
and cloud forests cover the valleys and slopes, fostering a variety of flora
and fauna including the oilbird (guácharo) and the mountain cat. The park can
be reached from Curimagua, where there is also accommodation and tour agencies.
Further to the southeast is the smaller park of Cueva de la Quebrada del Toro.
The park is most famous for its extensive cave system and magnificent stalactites
and stalagmites. The largest cavern, la Cueva del Toro is 1,200m long and is
inhabited by the oilbird (guácharo) and many species of bats. Many of the caves
have subterranean watercourses, including two vast reservoirs over 200m long
which can be explored by boat. A guide is needed to enter the caves which can
be reached by jeep from Santa Cruz de Bucaral.
Situated in both Lara and Yaracuy states, Tirgua National Park encompasses
part of the western mountain range known as the Cordillera de la Costa; actually
a small branch of the Andes. The landscape consists of savanna and ridges carpeted
in tropical dry and sub-montane forest. Several rivers flow through the park,
all of which drain into the Orinoco basin. Wildlife includes howler and capuchin
monkeys and an abundance of flora. The park can be reached by road from several
towns in the surrounding area.
Terepaima National Park is located south of Barquisimeto on the Rio Amarillo,
actually within the state of Portuguesa. The park covers 16,971ha of savanna,
rainforest, cloud forest and mountains, and is an important natural reservoir
of hydraulic resources. Wildlife of the park includes puma, ocelot, opossum,
capuchin and red howler monkey, kinkajou, skunk, tapir and sloth, and rattlesnakes.
Birdlife is prolific, and species common to the park include racket-tails, wrens,
finches, woodpeckers and mockingbirds. The park can be reached by road from Barquisimeto
and has camping facilities.
Covering 125,000ha, El Guache spreads over the border into the state of Portuguesa
and lies between two separate mountain ranges. The park’s vegetation is composed
chiefly of sub-montane and montane flora, and resident fauna includes howler
monkeys, spectacled bear, deer and anteaters.
In the foothills of the Andes, the Yacambú National Park occupies some 14,580ha
of tropical rainforest and the headwaters of the Rio Yacambú. The rugged topography
and stunning landscapes of the eastern part of the park encompass the beautiful
Laguna El Blanquito, the nearby Angostura Canyon dam and the dormant Sánáre volcano.
An abundance of flora and fauna can be found in the park, including pumas, foxes,
deer, opossums, a variety of birds, notably hummingbirds and parakeets, and many
species of lizard and snake. The park can be reached from Quibor, Sanare, and
Cubiro, and offers many tourist facilities, including camp sites, picnic areas
Cerro Saroche lies in the center of the state and covers 32,294ha of plains,
hills and mountains. The land is covered mostly by dense lowland heath and resident
fauna includes mountain cats, anteaters and turpials. Access to the park is from
the town of Barquisimeto.
North of San Felipe is the Yurubí National Park. The park is located in a mountainous
region and covers an area of 23,670ha. The landscape is predominantly thick
tropical vegetation streaked by the rivers of the Yurubí, Guayabito, and Carabobo.
Rainforest gives way to cloud forest between 1,000-2,000m, and the moist air
supports many arboreal ferns, orchids and bromeliads. Fauna includes ocelot,
agouti, opossum, tapir and many species of reptile. The park is of great ecological
importance as it protects the hydrographic basin of the Yacambú river, a vital
source of water for San Felipe. Yurubí can be easily reached by road.
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