A March 2004 trip
to Morrocoy by Jose Kevo
Quote: Unless planning to head off-shore to the Los Roques archipelago or Margarita Island - both rather costly, Morrocoy National Park is your best bet for decent, convenient beach along Venezuela's Caribbean coastline.Planned itinerary only called for one day of explorations...though I could've stayed and played for much longer.
Life's a Beach: Who knew that for two weeks in Venezuela, my only dips in the Caribbean would come from this locale? Leaving footprints along several beaches, there were many qualities not overly impressive. But compared to previous and eventual findings, Morrocoy is worth taking the good with the not so good as entries detail.
The Sun King's Intensity: My beach magnetism goes hand-in-sand with an obsession for the dark side. Fortunately, I come by it naturally. The over-charred passport photo was on Playa Mero; fourth day in the Venezuelan sun. Though never turning red, I eventually peeled for the first time in years.
Beach Eats: Aside from bottles of water, there's no need packing lunch unless heading to one of the more remote cays. Food kiosks and roving beach vendors inexpensively served up some of the best Local Foods I devoured during my entire trip.
Tucacas was my choice which appeared to be the better one. Chichiriviche is the other option described in the Free Form.
Prearranged Excursions: Amigos del Mar organizes inexpensive Day Trips for four or more travelers costing Bs30,000 () per person. Unfortunately, lack of tourists during my stay prevented taking their trip, but André and Norbert went above and beyond call of duty finding a driver that allowed me to ride with him all day.
I had extended time on four different beaches, and Carlos shuttled me around to several obscure areas between pick-ups. Perhaps you'll find what I've described more appealing than an organized excursion - even if you don't speak much Spanish. I gave the driver Bs25, 000 for 8-hours of sun and fun; roughly .50.
AVOID this place! About an hour east along the coast is Puerto Cabello with promises of tempting beaches and historic fortresses. This was to be my next stop - even though Lonely Planet cautioned travelers. Then, my posada owner told of being stopped and robbed at gunpoint just while driving through. Enough said!
Grand Water Central:: In Tucacas, follow Avenida Libertador towards the waterfront and take the last left between a cerveceria and large basketball court heading towards new condominium towers and Amigos del Mar Dive Shop. About one block down, you'll see a parking lot enclosed behind tall cinder-block walls on the right. Ticket booths are toward the back with departure docks just beyond.
By the Boatload: Watercraft can take up to seven people; mostly in rather rickety older models which split these round-trip costs from Tucacas listed as of March 2004:
Call it a Day: Unless you've made special arrangements for camping on one of the cays, boat service appears to cease for the day by 7pm, so plan your time accordingly.
Attraction | "In Search Of The Caribbean"
Cayo Paicías is the Park's second most popular destination, closest off the mainland. The southern part is the most developed area at Playa Paicías with sandy white beach expanses extending around the tip from leeward to windward side. There's a small ranger station, restrooms and food kiosks.
As first stop for the day, a quick survey was made without much to be impressed with...depending on what else potentially awaited. Compared to what was eventually found, the beach wasn't half bad - especially for sun seekers.
Cayo Boca Seca had a long narrow beach area on the windward side; again with basic necessities present. Otherwise, this turned out to be a great example of what you will or won't find within the National Park.
A distant barrier hemmed in the inlet keeping conditions shallow, but enjoyment was somewhat challenging since additional rock formations are dispersed under waters right up to shore. They create just enough wake to make walking difficult stepping around exposed tops as well as clumps of underwater vegetation potentially concealing sea urchins and other foreign objects.
Despite how appealing waters may look, walking stirred up too much underwater particles creating a cloudy affect like found when wading in rivers/lakes. The problem seemed to be worse where sand was darker. Even on Morrocoy's best beaches, uninterrupted underwater along the coasts were too far and few between almost making aquasox desirable.
Off the major waterway routes near Cayo Sombrero, my driver detoured to show me Playa Mayorquina which is part of a dramatic extension off the mainland. Bordered by cliffs, this was the longest stretch I found with perhaps less than thirty people present thanks to distance and remoteness.
Pounding tides, with hints of a very strong undertow, had sculpted a steep incline to slope of beach suggesting this would not be a good place for children or anyone that wasn't a strong swimmer. There's a small ranger station, but no restrooms or food kiosks and no shade - the Perfect Place to head for seclusion and sun.
Playa Mero was my last and longest stop while Carlos made some other shuttle runs. Mero translates into "Grouper" because of what used to be an obvious fishing jackpot within the cove, which has this area's signature coral barrier creating the bathtub affect. Today, as a further extension on Cayo Paicías, it's more of a wilderness area for tent campers really looking to rough it; there are no facilities or services so prospects need bring everything for surviving.
Cayos Muerto, Sal, and Borracho are other said good beach areas, but they're better reached from Chichiriviche, not Tucacas.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 27, 2004
Morrocoy National Park
Morrocoy National Park, Venezuela
Attraction | "Now We're Talkin'...Cayo Sombrero"
Cayo Sombrero is actually closer to the town of Chichiriviche, but arriving from Tucacas provides a better boat tour along the way, as well as easy access to other drop-off spots.
The round-trip cost, which can be split between up to seven people, was Bs70, 000 ($35) and well worth the price.
The cay is positioned the farthest off any mainland area which helps create an island affect not only in appearance but also from natural conditions. The only dock is on the leeward side and if arriving by water taxi, there's a pair of options for nestling into the sand.
Left off the dock is a long strip of beach with calm waters and plenty of shade mostly accommodating those which have arrived with private watercraft. Taking a right at the small Ranger's station, a trail leads passed a land-locked lagoon to what's likely the crowning jewel for the entire National Park; a pristine stretch of "authentic Caribbean" on the windward side.
A couple of hundred yards off-shore is a reef system where tides consistently break and keep lapping their way towards land with just enough mediocre force to prevent any type of recreational boarding...but just enough wake to erase any calm affects. This was by far the Best Beach I found anywhere along Venezuela's mainland coast. Crowds were out for a Sunday, but not beyond anything unpleasant; litter in the sands/tides was not a problem here.
Along the windward side, there's changing rooms, bathrooms and showers clustered near the trail opening as well as some shack kiosks selling plates of food, drinks, and authentic, made from scratch pina coladas for Bs5, 000. Alcohol is supposedly banned on the cays but people were obviously bringing their own. Otherwise, drinking water is all I suggest bringing. As you'd expect with Sombrero's popularity, this is where Beach Vendors hawking foods were most abundant.
Based on catching a ride with the water taxi, I didn't have quite an hour on Sombrero - not nearly enough. When departing, this is where I met up with the two Czech guys that had been camping here for two nights. They detailed an area near the northern tip where several were roughing it in tents. There are nearby restrooms on the leeward side and a kiosk, which stays open late serving food. Otherwise, lots of mosquitoes, no open fires, and what sounded like the times of their lives!
Camping is also allowed on other more remote cays and can be arranged through the Parks office inside Banco Unión in Tucacas.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 27, 2004
Morrocoy National Park, Venezuela
Attraction | "The Fragileness of Natural Significance"
Somewhere in the mid-to-late nineties, an oil refinery had a major leak affecting this entire coastal region. Not only did the government deny problem, they did little to clean it up either! I'd already departed when realizing I'd forgot to ask André for snorkel gear since I wasn't taking his organized excursion. Turns out, it was just as well.
It's estimated that 85-90% of the extensive reef system is dead. Travelers which had dove around Paicías and Playa Azul had already confirmed what I found at Playa Mero using my Czech mates' gear: Fish and other small forms of marine life were making a comeback, but reefs will likely never respire again thanks to suffocating pollution...kind of like the oil-slick feeling I'd first detected at Cayo Punto Bravo before ever knowing there'd been a problem.
As food supply re-flourishes underwater, the area's migrate bird population is also regaining momentum. What was left of seasonal flamingos, cranes and other wader species can be found in low-lying areas on the road to Chichiriviche, but an infamous section of Cays had no current shortage of feathered friends.
Isla de los Pajaros / Island of the Birds, is a cluster of several mangrove and tree areas closer inland than cays with beaches. In such a vast area, hundreds of birds circling like hawks signal location; the majority of boats appearing to pass for closer inspections.
Aside from gulls, pelicans and other species you'd expect to find, in most abundant supply were large black birds looking like a cross between a raven and a heron...up close in flight casting images of humongous bats Alfred Hitchcock should've included in his thriller! Their numbers, further concealed within the dense vegetation, was almost spooky - especially when startling them into flight out of nowhere. I never quite understood the Spanish word for what they're called and forgot before actual verification.
It wasn't until Playa Mero that we headed into the Park's most narrow channels with growth touchable from either side of the boat. The natural highlight beyond wasn't the beach, but the largest forest of coconut palms that I found anywhere within the park. Aside from beauty, their shade was a welcomed relief during our long wait since swimming/snorkeling wasn't worth staying wet for.
At pick-up, Carlos instructed us to put life vests on in taking a different way back to Tucacas - wide open Sea! It takes a lot to challenge my comfort zone, but there was an uneasy touch accompanying excitement navigating monstrous waves in the small wooden craft; faster passing speedboats disappearing at times between swells. Fortunately, I'm not the queasy, seasick type, but I can't deny staggering from the natural intoxication by the time we docked.
A tap on my shoulder startled me back to presence from the young kid eagerly beaming from the crowded aisle. It took a brief moment to register I'd seen him in the Cays the day before selling obleas on the beach. Digging through my pocket, I pulled out 500 bolívares to make up for his inability for previously making proper change, thanked him, and went back to look beyond the glass.
I felt a shift in the seat and turned to see he'd traded places with his schoolmate, but a giddy shyness kept him from saying anything more. A pair of flamingos, winged by a scarlet ibis, were mid-flight along the marsh edge as if trying to keep pace with the bus. The curious teenager asked if we had those in Puerto Rico. I assumed he was talking about the birds, but my "no" sufficed for whatever question he'd asked.
About the time I'd determined it might be nice if he wanted to show me around for the day, the bus stopped again and students began heading for the exit. There was nothing remotely resembling a school in sight. He offered up a "Ciáo" before I could even attempt bribing him to play hooky for the afternoon. It was just as well since we both needed educating.
With no map and very limited information, finding my way around this small coastal village of 7,000 ended up being a much bigger challenge than I expected. Stepping off the bus in the heart of the commercial strip along the only road into town, there was no sense of fulfilling basic touristy needs. Curiosity was flourishing based on the locals' split opinions on whether Chichiriviche or Tucacas provided the better home-base for exploring Morrocoy National Park.
The pueblo obviously hadn't undergone the same upscale commercial facelift, and the absence of banks and other official agencies only complimented the authenticity of wall-to-wall structures hawking foods, anything fathomable beach related, and basically everything you'd need to survive. And of course, for dirt-cheap prices.
Main street tee's into the coastal road with open-air restaurants lining the inland side allowing patrons to gaze off across the Caribbean. There's a small, unimpressive malecón/promenade, and a pair of docks used for launching travelers into the cays. Small colorful wooden fishing boats were more picturesque than the actual beach, but all would not be lost.
Cayo Muerto is visible just off the shore, and the short boat ride over was Bs1,500 for anyone serious about soaking up the sun. Otherwise, Tucacas did appear to have better access to a wider variety of the National Park cays.
With several budget listings in the Lonely Planet guidebook, I wanted to scout around to see what else I potentially missed and began asking for directions. Venturing into these small Latin villages and finding no street names/markers was nothing new. What I wasn't expecting was the apparent clueless ness of local proprietors when asking for directions that invariably turned out wrong. That is, if they even knew what or where the place was to begin with!
I ended up seeing more of this village than I'd ever imagined simply trying to track down Villa Gregoria; the top-listed budget posada for the area. Obviously, the given address and directions meant nothing with no street markers. There was also another major realization factor that should be taken into high consideration if planning to stay here. Off the main strip, none of the side streets are paved and the rutted roads were rather muddy and swamp-like even now in the dry season.
Ringing the buzzer at the gate, Aurelio welcomed me in as a potential guest and what I found was like an oasis. Protected behind a compound wall, the Villa Gregoria is a two-story structure with 22 rooms facing a well-manicured courtyard. Singles start at Bs15,000 ($7.50) and increase by 5,000 Bolívares per person for up to four people.
The Spanish-born owner had done an impressive job of creating a laid-back atmosphere with scattered hammocks, tables and chairs, and all the little extras providing comforts of home. Rooms looked fresh and new; the tiled floors including in the private bathrooms, all but sparkling in the light from the large, screened windows which were pulling a nice breeze even without fan running.
The easiest, clear-cut way for finding here: when entering the town on the main road, about half-way down is a vacant lot on the left/north doubling as the bus lot/transportation center. Beyond the ticket booth and scattered vendors is Calle Moriño and you'll see a smaller posada with a painted, redbrick facade. Take a right and Gregoria is just a short distance on the left.
Actually, there's four small posadas along this strip. Aurelio says the owners are all friends and work together. Of course, he recommended his posada...as well as Chichiriviche the better choice over Tucacas. I had to agree his establishment was by far the most appealing accommodation in either location, but the friendly debate continued over which actual village was better. There was an unspoken truce of agreeing to disagree in a friendly way. Before stepping back through the entry gate, he asked if I was enjoying Venezuela better than Puerto Rico?
Back out on the main road, the intense sun was all but partnering in punishment with my state of daze from the previous night's Marathon Ritual in Tucacas. Pacing back and forth trying to decide on a place for a late lunch, I did find one other advantage Chichiriviche had over other destinations I'd so far explored.
There were at least half-dozen small shops selling authentic local handicrafts that definitely would not be considered tourist junk. Various artifacts of clay and pottery, along with wind chimes and other mementos made from shells, driftwood and things from the sea, were in cheap abundance. At this point, I reasoned it was still too early in the trip for loading up my bag and hauling things for the rest of my journey. I gambled on eventually coming across similar places in other towns; I didn't.
Just beyond the bus lot heading towards the coast, the main road widens briefly in a triangular intersection where I found Restaurante El Ríncon de Arturo on one of the inside corners. Eateries were also a dime a dozen with likely the same types of local foods, but what caught my attention here were the shaded sidewalk plastic tables that also provided a front-row viewing for all that was happening along the busy intersection.
I selected one of their daily specials from the ejecutivo portion of the menu which included a large bowl of chicken soup stocked with veggies and choice of fruit juice which accompanied the main dish - carne de la gardenia; a heaping portion of tender shredded beef stewed in a Creole sauce with more veggies, and served with large helpings of rice, beans, and salad for Bs5,000 (roughly $2.50.)
I sprang for the extra-large chilled bottle of water as my ongoing recovery dessert and lingered long enough while scribbling in my book to attract the owner's attention. Arturo eventually joined me at the table striking up another debate on why I'd chosen Tucacas. When preparing to leave, he said that maybe he'd go there some time. Tucacas? No, he pointed to me, and I looked down to have it consciously register all the day's puzzling questions stemmed from a beach scene screaming Puerto Rico emblazoned across the front of my shirt...
Getting to Chichiriviche is perhaps the other minor drawback since the town has no direct service off the Coro - Morón road unless coming from the east where you can find a few direct lines at the Valencia terminal; about 2-hours away.
From Tucacas, it's only 35km and you'd wait at the main stop along the highway for the first bus passing to Chichiriviche. The 25-minute ride cost Bs1,500 one-way. If coming from Coro and the west, you'll need tell the driver to drop you off at the Chichiriviche intersection along the main highway and wait for the next passing bus.