A March 2004 trip
to Coro by Jose Kevo
Quote: Situated on the northern coastal area of the continent, Coro was one of the first settlements developed by the Spaniards. It's charming, simple and with easy access to three National Park areas, this often-bypassed locale could be one of the biggest surprises you weren't expecting to find in Venezuela.
Quiet on the Set: To really appreciate the Spanish Colonial structures, extend your walk after dinner for taking in the cobblestone streets and plazas by streetlamp. The city is tranquil. With hardly anyone else out, it's easy to conjecture strolling through a scene of an old western movie.
Sands of Time: Located on the northern edge of the city, Médanos de Coro Parque Nacional contains miles of great sand dunes in the continent's only desert while also serving as gateway to Península de Paraguaná; both natural gems which are "must sees" if traveling along the coastal regions.
Best of the Basics: My accommodation and places dined were inexpensive and by far the best of anywhere I experienced during my two weeks as described in this journal's entries.
This city of about 150,000 people definitely favors a refined approach to daily living and currently seemed isolated and unscathed from current problems plaguing the country; the only apparent rebellions coming from younger generations accessorizing their own Hip-Hop movement with multiple piercings and tattoos. Still, the city has retained a traditional, rural feel.
Ciáo Bella: There's definitely an Italian presence here. If you doubt me, go to the back entrance of the pumping Raduno Disco on Paseo Talavera; an olive green building on the corner just across the unmarked street from the Museo de Arte Coro. Find the sign and follow the service way to the back wall and head left up the stairs to a rooftop bar. Between the Italian-laced music and views of multiple domes and spires, you'll feel like you're in Rome under the stars.
Qué Pasa: A detailed regional Overview will help you get the most out of time spent here.
The main connecting point to the east along the coastal route is Maracay; about a 5-hour ride costing Bs14,000, and can be taken in randomly departing older or newer air-conditioned buses. The 3-half hour ride for Tucacas, my next stop along the way, cost Bs10,000.
Taxis: Since the terminal is on the opposite side from the historic center, a taxi waiting outside charged Bs5,000 for the ride to the posada. Erick called for pick-up at departure and I paid Bs2,000 for heading back.
Walking: Everything within the historic center is easily and enjoyably covered by walking around while keeping awareness that cars don't always fully stop at intersections.
Airport: Coro can be reached from several domestic destinations at the small regional airport. They've also daily flights to nearby Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao.
Posada Turística El Gallo is located a couple of blocks off the historic center in a former colonial ruin which the French expat owner has transformed into a haven as home graciously shared with travelers. There's nine simple rooms; five including private bath running Bs30,000. Four rooms using a pair of shared bathrooms are Bs25,000 for two; Bs20,000 for a single - roughly US$10 for a rare find where you're getting more than you pay for.
Erick, the owner, is an artist with shop in front displaying his sculptures, paintings and handicrafts for sale. More impressively, he's used talents for creating this unsuspecting gem beyond the colonial facade. Rooms have been individually designed/decorated with South America's version of Southwest decor and colors in such a way you don't notice all you've got is a bed, table and chair. The window has latchable wooden shutters opening onto the posada's real bonus.
A double courtyard bookends the open-air kitchen/dining area used by Erick's family with another just off to the side for guests. Above is a second-floor terrace with limited views but relaxing atmosphere. Courtyards are filled with tropical plants, numerous sculptures/designs, a fountain pool, and cages of exotic birds. Completing the at-home feel are numerous tables and chairs and another luxury which helped define my entire trip.
Hammocks are strung along shaded walkways and upper terrace. There's nothing begging one to "chill out" more than these tropical rockers with Erick's lullaby coming from unobtrusive chirping of birds and trickles from fountain. Hours were lost reflecting...sipping on a Polar while gazing across distant cloudless skies; the only thing bluer was the Norah Jones cd appropriately left behind by a visitor as if to provide the finishing touch.
Guests are on the honor system not required to pay until time to leave including self-kept tallies of how many beers, soft drinks you pulled from the cooler costing Bs1,000. Refrigerated water is complimentary.
The entire facility is secured. Room keys must be left when leaving creating the only adjustment guests make. Entry is blocked by a gate with overhead bell to signal when you want in or out; enough to stimulate consciousness for not coming home late, but yet accepted if done.
In addition to tourist information, Erick provides another service which leaves you wondering how/when he gets everything done. For two or more people, he loads up his land rover for taking all-day excursions to mountainous Sierra de San Luis Parque Nacional, or Médanos/Sand Dunes and arid Península de Paraguaná which my next journal details.
If paying in US$, either all-day excursion costs $25 including everything! Anyone visiting Coro can book one of these trips, but based on what you'll find, why would you need or consider staying anywhere else?
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 23, 2004
Posada Turística El Gallo
Calle Fedración 26
Restaurant | "Dining In General"
Pizzería la Barra del Jacal is famous for brick oven pies, but they've a full menu of local specialties. Located outdoors in a 3-level courtyard that looks like someone's patio, the parilla/grill is just off the side loaded with churrascos, which are the continent's famed broiled meats. The carbon smell commands you to order a plate; the half order of steak cuts, lightly fried yucca, and a pile of coleslaw hard to finish for only Bs8000 - about US$4.
We also devoured creole stewed goat and sauteed sea bass in black bean and cheese sauce which were just as appetizing and filling in the same price range. The Latin music and atmosphere invited us to stay - bottles of Polar beer Bs1000 and snifters of Aniversarío rum Bs3000. Who knew that this would be considered a splurge for the trip?
The restaurant is located just off Avenida Manaure on Calle 29; there's an unsuspecting sign to watch for cause this was a place you don't want to miss.
Cento Social Italo Venezolano is likewise just off Manaure on the opposite side where Calle 31 Urdaneta hooks into 30. Also in an outdoor courtyard, this place has more of the common Latin feel to it thanks to plastic tables/chairs, music and middle class families keeping cultural traditions of frequently dining out.
While they've too a full menu, pizza is the specialty here; plan an additional wait as oven space is limited. A small pizza with pepperoni heavy on the cheese was Bs8000 for 8 healthy slices. I went with Lomito de Escalopina (Veal Parmesan) served with soggy tostones and salad for Bs4000; beers were Bs500.
The food was ok but portions seemed small - at least compared from the night before. This place is more recommended to come after Jacal for enjoying beers in the authentic, laid-back environment.
Panadería Costa Nova is nearby on Manaure just across from Hotel Intercaribe. This place is a combination deli, bakery, ice cream/coffee bar, and take-out diner that will set your senses to dancing right along with the music. Between smells and visuals, where did one start? What proved more confusing was policy of telling the clerk and paying for what you want upon entry, and then taking receipts to the appropriate counters. Trouble was, I didn't know what half this stuff was!
The first time was a patience and point encounter; a trio of various regional pastries and two large coffees (barely equaling a regular cup) was Bs3000. The second time I was with two others from the posada and staff waited on us before paying. This place easily worked for breakfast or lunch. There's a small seating area inside the brightly lit interior with the beveled, galvanized walls resembling an old diner, and also outdoor tables.
The Historic Center
Attraction | "In the Beginning...Coro's Historic Center"
With everything clustered near Plaza Bolívar, ambling around the historic center was a peaceful, relaxing endeavor further complimented by shaded pedestrianized streets. True to Spain's Catholic influences, three churches dot the interior with The Cathedral, across from the plaza, more impressive as the country's oldest surviving church.
Begun in the late 1500's, the simple baroque interior from 1700's was a good introduction to these colonial masterpieces. Without typical ornateness, the plain cavernous interior was accented with wood - everything from carved chandeliers and polished slatted ceiling which create a distant canopy to simple benches below. Massive fortress-like wooden doors line the length; when opened providing breezes that set the candles' flames to dancing while filtered sun accents towering white walls.
Nothing overly impressive but certainly worth time for reflections while cooling off. Based on the structure's position, outer photos are impossible unless packing a wide- angle lens. Admission was free; there appeared no disapproval for entering wearing shorts.
Paseo Talavera runs along side the cathedral leading to a pair of art museums housed in restored colonial mansions. There's no entry fee but expect to be tracked down and brought back to the main hallway if you don't sign the guestbook. Both museums were currently displaying modern art exhibitions but I confess being more impressed with the architectural designs.
To the other side of the cathedral is Paseo la Alameda containing most of today's government branches in historically preserved buildings. The paseo is wide, lined with shaded benches; natural ambiance further created by winds rustling dried pods clinging to branches...random fallings more lazy than yourself melted into the overall experience.
Coro's significance and popularity draws scores of tourist buses; from where I've no clue, but exhaust fumes from them parked and running throughout downtown did little to improve a questionably polluted environment. Thankfully, they all cleared by 4:00 p.m. as had scores of vendors selling what appeared to be mass-produced local handicrafts for an expected upscale price.
Bordering east of downtown is Avenida Manaure; the primary bustling commercial strip of Coro. In addition to numerous eateries, banks, and other official agencies, you'll find department stores, shopping plazas and discount stores along crowded sidewalks stacked with street vendors. Side streets reveal the truths of Latin America with an appropriately seedy feel still safe for exploring.
Except for restaurants and bars, everything closes by 6:00 p.m. Before returning to the posada of a late evening, the highlight was definitely walking the abandoned cobblestone streets silhouetted by street lamps; a magical non-threatening experience that definitely registers the South American wild west feel...all to yourself.
Lonely Planet's city map of Coro suffices for getting around and easily pinpointing listings of places needed.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 23, 2004
Coro's Historic Center
The Central Plaza area
Médanos de Coro Parque Nacional is truly a unique destination for the entire continent! Los médanos grandes, "The great sand dunes", have been sculpted by time and position in South America's only desert region. Situated on the northern border of Coro, the National Park is along a narrow strip leading to Península de Paraguaná. With a raging nearby sea on two sides and a distant mountain range to the south, a natural wind vortex continues reshaping this entire domain.
All but giddy scrambling out of the land rover with my pair of comrades, traversing the initial piles seemed effortless at first. We figured out any type of footwear, and the previously desired sunglasses, only impeded indulgence. Tramping up the steep incline of our first conquest was an all but futile effort; each step only buried downward leaving us huffing and puffing by the time we crested as if just completing the ultimate Stairmaster workout. With central dunes rising over 100 feet, it didn't take long to figure out that meandering our way through the withered valleys accomplished more with a lot less effort.
Eventually we went our separate ways in an unspoken moment signaling the magic would only be enhanced solo. As my first desert adventure from anywhere on the globe, I was driven from within to blaze my own trail forging ahead...winds immediately erasing footprints from where I'd came. Photos often glanced over in Latin American textbooks paled in significance; my mind all but delusional, not from heat or thirst but pure experience.
The inner-kid mode had definitely shifted into high gear compelling me to conquer the next dune, and the next and next that stretched before me simply for seeing what was on the other side. All ever found was only more; and there was no problem accepting that once actually stopping to drink in the surroundings. A barely visible distant sea was glimmering in the morning sun while mountains were shedding their hazed camouflage - perhaps the ultimate combination of environmental experience.
Coming here was first stop on an all-day excursion arranged through Posada El Gallo before heading on up the peninsula. Arriving of a morning was great before crowds appeared and sands heated up for making barefoot impossible. We stayed and played for maybe 30-minutes, but Erick's leisureliness will allow you all the time you desire.
If wanting to explore the dunes independently without booking an excursion, the Park is located right on the edge of town. Lonely Planet's Venezuela guidebook lists which routes to take if using public transportation but considering the proximity, a private taxi would be just as inexpensive and more convenient.
Scaling the Sands of Time
Médanos de Coro Parque Nacional