Results 1-3of 3 Reviews
by Jose Kevo
August 12, 2004
From Maracay, only two roads permit entry to the park; one heading for the coastal town of Cuyagua, the other for Puerto Colombia. Lonely Planet's Venezuela guide provided comprehensive details for natural wonders enclosed in this 669-square mile refuge, but unless you come prepared for hiking and bird watching, rides towards the coast are the only limited opportunities for glimpsing diverse environs.
Bouncing along in a broken-down bus, anticipation rose almost as quickly as the altitude along the narrow road that snakes its way through foothills. Wide-open vistas start out painted in scenes of dry scrub and vegetative browns...gradually easing into typical forest.
Exhaust fumes from the bus coughing its way uphill rather hung in the tropical heat, but thankfully not for long. A cool breeze ushering in fresh air flooded through the open windows, but it's not the only notable change. Lush rainforest all but swallows vehicles with a dense canopy - you'll need to take precaution if sitting next to windows lest you get slapped by a branch!
The road narrows further, coming to hairpin curves so tight that larger vehicles can only make them by stopping, backing up, and re-angling towards the next strip of ascent. There were plenty of blind curves to be aware of, with some traveling way too fast. If driving, keep the windows down just to listen for blowing horns; the one on our bus was loud enough to drown out the roaring sound system.
When nearing the 1380-meter pinnacle, this is known as cloud forest; about the only notable difference being the absence of tropical growth. Of an early morning, the clouds were like driving through dense fog. There's a place for pulling over on top; any lookouts are long overgrown, and the road begins an immediate descent in the same haphazard fashion.
Again, circumstances caused me to make this round-trip twice, but there was no debating that the windward side of the mountain chain provided a better experience; especially through tropical rainforest areas where gentle streams gushed through hidden crevices. Delicate moss and ferns sprouted from cliffs on one side, while various plant life, covering plunging drop-offs, still towered up over the bus from the other side.
Through the final stretches, there are also shacks and small wide-spot-in-the-road communities tucked away; the human element only complementing the Edenic ambiance, further embellished by simple, natural lifestyles. By the time the land has tabled near Choroní and the coastal region, children play in mountain streams under the watchful eyes of mothers doing laundry.
Photo opportunities were less than chance from transportation, and be advised that on all four journey segments we passed public transportation buses that had broken down while making the long haul.
From journal And Deliver Us From Eden's Evils...
From the only road looping through town, the U-turn effect takes place along the historic malecón; a small park with a promenade like those usually found in coastal Latin settlements. These places are hubs of leisure for enjoying cool breezes and vistas; Puerto Colombia no different.
This is one of Venezuela's few areas that developed with slaves, and African heritage has been preserved with rituals beginning towards midnight on weekends. Locals gather with every form of crude tribal percussion instruments...banging away in concerted effort until sunrise. Passing through around 10:00 pm, festivities weren't close to beginning and I wasn't about to jeopardize early departure. If the "real thing" was anywhere close to groups of small children playing in streets of a night, this is something not to be missed!
Otherwise, the malecón always had a mixed crowd of locals, travelers, and global wandering youth types congregating every night; very bohemian with appearance, activities and performances. Locals sell handmade jewelry and beaded work off tables, while others pass through crowds carrying wares...and obviously selling a lot more. When looking for my robbers, it was these roving vendor-types police were pulling from houses. Otherwise, time on the malecón is no problem with common sense.
Choroní is the area's original town from the early 1600s, built a good distance inland to survive attacks from European fleets and marauding pirates. On my first ride down the mountain, the road twists and turns through verdant jungle/forest right into the village almost before realizing what's happening. The road splits into one-way to pass around before reconnecting to the throughway.
The town wasn't built within fortress walls, but it certainly has a medieval feel, regardless of how colonial. The narrow street is lined with quaint, shuttered structures that could have been touched by reaching out either side of the bus. After quickly passing through a shaded plaza area with a recommended "must see" church, the street briefly passes another row of colonial gems, and that's it; one of those places you could almost miss if you blinked.
There are supposedly secluded places to stay here in lieu of Puerto Colombia's questionability. It would make a good base point, and Choroní is a photo shoot waiting to happen! Take a taxi from the coast; it's too far walking.
Apparently, the area's best beaches are along the coast and can only be reached by water taxi from Puerto Colombia. I heard no reports on beaches, but several people I spoke with highly recommended the old cocoa plantations that are still in operation around the village of Chuao, which is also known for annual Diablos Danzantes African cultural celebrations.
From Puerto Colombia, water taxi rates are negotiable and split among passengers, averaging US$5 per person. Chuao is a good 3+-mile uphill walk from the coast through jungle with amazing descriptions of botanical environs. Note, it's also reported that locals turned and/or fled at the sight of cameras.
Maybe the picture was old, even digitally enhanced compared to what was found, further torched by the tail-end of dry season.. But nothing could have possibly suggested such a disappointing, uneasy environment. Arriving in town, various posada signs warned: Never! leave anything unattended because of theft. Where haven't we seen those signs, but there was something shady feeling about Playa Grande...and I'm not talking about just from the palm trees.
With small bluffs bookending this long narrow strip, forceful tides suggested vulnerability as uninviting as the parched scenery overshadowing everything. For an uneventful weekday afternoon, too much litter was scattered about. The beach was terribly eroded in places thanks to monstrous waves gobbling up debris and just as forcefully regurgitating it back. The depth of water quickly dropped, obvious from the few braving the tides; even local surfers appeared to prefer the waters off the malecón. Based on the whole questionable package, I never even got wet!
Off the only road through town is a pedestrian bridge spanning a small river that also has underwater concrete crossing for vehicles. Follow the road a good half-mile to reach Playa Grande. At the entryway is a cluster of restaurants. Bathrooms/showers, costing Bs300, are just beyond. There were also vendors renting chairs and canopies, but I never saw any hawking food. The beach has no lights and is to be avoided at night; it's first place police asked about when learning I'd been robbed!
Lonely Planet listed another beach within walking distance, which I'd hoped would be a better option. Heading towards Choroní, take Calle El Cemeterio. The walk was rather distant but led through a peaceful residential area and passed a pair of accommodations listed as posadas but with more of a resort look/feel.
Just beyond el cemeterio is a trail leading off to the left for reaching Playa El Diario, but the other option is continuing on the paved service road for what promised to be the best panoramic views of the region atop the hill crowned with communication towers. There's a gated entryway stating, Keep Out!, but I took that for vehicles and proceeded along the pedestrian path unblocked.
I'm telling you right now: Enjoy my pictures, but don't bother! The incline proved more ball-bustin' than it looked, and must be done in scorching heat without a shade tree in sight for catching your breath. Coming back down was even more grueling, only justifying the back problems I began having later that night without suspecting I'd been drugged until too late.
Atop the hill, views were nice, but so much for the optional beach as seen in the picture. Otherwise, this is a long walk for nothing.