Caracas and the Central Region from Venezuela
The central region of Venezuela encompasses the country's capital, Caracas and the surrounding states of Carabobo, Aragua and Miranda.
Despite being the hub of activity and industry that it is today, Caracas has had a turbulent history with little glory. Founded in 1567 as Santiago de León de Caracas, it became Venezuela's third and final capital ten years later. However, beset by pirate invasions, earthquakes and disease for the better part of the colonial era, the settlement expanded little and was of no particular historical significance. Only in the 1700s did Caracas began to show signs of economic and cultural progress, thanks mainly to the establishment of the country's first university and the development of trade and commerce. Nevertheless, growth remained slow, and the city was not significantly modernized until the regime of Guzmán Blanco some 150 years later. The Guzmán era (1870 - 1888) saw the construction of some of the city's oldest monuments and buildings including the Capitol, Santa Teresa Church and the Municipal Theater, all of which were of considerable grandeur for the period. For this, Guzmán became known as El Modernizador. Nonetheless, it was due to the oil boom of the 1920s and 30s that Caracas sprung to life. Suddenly prosperous, the capital went under the knife. The remaining colonial architecture was pulled down and steel, concrete and glass towerblocks grew in their place. In 1936, the population barely exceeded 200,000; by 1971, post-war immigration caused it to exceed the 2 million mark. Little of the oil wealth, however, reached the people and most of the newcomers found themselves in the ever-growing shanty towns of the suburbs.
Today, Caracas is a sprawling urban jungle home to 5 million inhabitants (a quarter of the country's total population), where impressive contemporary architecture is a stark contrast to the poor barrios of the suburbs, now spilling up the valley sides. Caracas, spreading for some 20km over the Guaira valley floor, is by far the most modern, metropolitan city on the continent and is the focal point of Venezuela's trade and industry. The 360km² metropolitan district, constantly thronging with tireless Caraqueños is a hive of activity, with a wealth of shopping centers, hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars nightclubs, commercial plazas, cinemas, theatres and museums.
There are three main areas of interest to visitors: Plaza Bolívar, La Parque Central and La Sabana Grande. Around Plaza Bolívar are historic sites such as the cathedral, Simon Bolívar's birthplace and several buildings commissioned by Guzmán Blanco. La Parque Central is home to high-rise futuristic architecture, theatres, museums and art galleries, and the district of La Sabana Grande is well-known for its shops, bars and restaurants. Caracas also has several urban parks, botanic gardens and zoos, which make a welcome break from the city's traffic and crowds. However, for a real escape from the heaving capital, visitors can explore El Ávila National Park, whose magnificent, green mountains overlook the city.
Getting around in Caracas in not a problem. Taxis, buses and por puestos are everywhere, and there are plenty of car rental offices, especially in major hotels. An extensive motorway network crisscrosses the valley floor and a modern efficient metro system cuts through the heart of the city. Nationally, Caracas has bus and air links to almost every corner of the country. The international airport, Simon Bolívar, and the national airport, Maiquetia, are both located in the coastal town of La Guaira, 28km from the city. Shuttle buses operate frequently between the airports and Caracas.
Plenty of tour agencies are dotted around the city, and offer trips all over Venezuela . Caracas' average temperature is 22ºC, rising to 32ºC in July and August, and falling to 9ºC in January and February. At an altitude of 960m, the overall climate is pleasant and breezy and nights are comparatively cool. The rainy season lasts from June to October, and the dry season from November to May.
The Caribbean coastline north of Caracas is otherwise known as The Central Litoral. Encompassing the small towns of Maiquetia, La Guaira, Macuto and Caraballeda, the Litoral is a well-developed region inhabited by over half a million people. There are some sites of interest here, such as the colonial parts of La Guaira and the marina in Caraballeda. Some of the small towns - linked by a coast road - are holiday resorts and serve as a good alternative to Caracas, especially en route to or from the airport. The coastline is rocky, and not particularly suitable for swimming, but certain resorts have waters partitioned off for swimmers. These are known as balnearios. The Litoral is easily accessible by bus or taxi from the airport and from Caracas. The coast road reaches as far as Los Caracas, before becoming a dirt track which continues to a series of fishing villages and some beautiful sandy beaches backed by densely forested mountains. Accommodation is scarce here, but day-trips are possible from other towns.
Colonial Tovar, founded by German settlers in 1843, was for years isolated from the outside world. Spanish only became the official language in the 1940s and a road link was not constructed until the 1960s. Set in the foothills of the coastal mountains, Colonial Tovar is famous for its weekend street markets. At an altitude of 1800m, the town enjoys a cool climate. It is easily reached from the coast, and has a variety of hotels and restaurants specializing in German cuisine. Hiking around the surrounding mountains is a popular activity, and the town has retained much of its original architecture.
Maracay is the capital of Aragua state and has a population of 538,000. Founded in 1701, the city became an important agricultural center, yet did not expand until the arrival of Juan Vincente Gómez in the 1900s. The Gómez era saw the modernization of Maracay, with the construction of many new buildings, notably an opera house, mausoleum, and the largest Plaza Bolívar in the country. Maracay has continued to progress throughout the last century, and today the city is an important industrial, military and agricultural center. Little colonial architecture remains, but there are some sites and museums dotted around the place. Moreover, the city is the main entrance to the Henri Pittier National Park. Maracay maintains an average temperature of 25ºC and the rainy season lasts from April to October. It can be easily reached from Valencia and Caracas.
Many beautiful beaches lie on the north coast. Just outside the Henri Pittier Park boundaries are the popular beaches of Cata, Cuyagua, Choroní and Puerto Colombia, all with dazzling white sands and a backdrop of lush vegetation. Accommodation and restaurants can be found in the area and boats are available for charter to the nearby beaches of Copo, Oricao and Aroa, all of which are inaccessible by land. In the state of Carabobo to the west lie the expansive white sands of Patanemo, complete with camping facilities.
Founded in 1555, Valencia is the Capital of Carabobo state and the third largest city in Venezuela. The first three hundred years of its history were marked by successive bouts of bloodshed and violence. The city was pillaged and burnt down repeated times by pirates, Indians and adventurers, plagued by smallpox and devastated by the earthquake of 1812. The Wars of Independence followed, and Valencia was seized by the Royalist leader José Tomás Boves, who proceeded to plunder the city and massacre its people. Numerous battles were fought in the region, culminating with the Battle of Carabobo on the 24th June 1821, in which the victory of Bolívar's army marked the end of three centuries of Spanish domination.
Today, Valencia is a significant agricultural and industrial center and has various historic monuments and parks. There are also several attractions around the city, including guided tours of the Campo Carabobo battlefields, the hot springs of Las Trincheras (the hottest of their kind in the world) an impressive collection of petroglyphs at Piedras Pintadas and the country's only geoglyph: a gigantic rock carving in the mountain side at Hacienda Cariaprima. Valencia makes a good base from which to visit these sites, and plenty of accommodation is available. A bus terminal and national airport provide links to all major cities and towns.
|Arístides Rojas Natural Monument
Located 5km northwest of the town of San Juán de los Morros sits the Arístides Rojas Natural Monument. This geological rarity is composed of morros, dramatic red sugar-loaf mountains created from coral reefs with the formation of the coastal mountains. The tallest morro stands at 1,060m. The monument has become a popular climbing spot and can be reached by road from San Juan de Los Morros and Caracas. The site is known as La Puerta de los Llanos (gateway to the Llanos) and provides an overland link with the giant plains.
|National Parks of the Central Region
El Ávila National Park covers 85,192ha of coastal and mountain habitat between Caracas and the Caribbean. Rising from the coast, the mountains reach 2,765m (Pico Naiaguatá) and 2,640m (Pico Silla de Caracas) at their highest points. While the southern slopes overlooking the city are largely uninhabited, the seaward slopes are scattered with settlements. The park is home to a diversity of fauna including jaguar, puma, ocelot, brocket deer, agouti, armadillo, opossum, red howler monkey, sloth and several species of snake. Birdlife is equally prolific and among the many species are toucans, parakeets, orioles, cuckoos, nighthawks and hummingbirds.
To enter the park, visitors require a permit (available from Inparques).The park has its own campsites and a hotel. Over 200km of hiking trails provide visitors with excellent routes to explore the park, weaving around beautiful waterfalls and up to panoramas with fantastic views. 4x4 vehicles can also be hired to access the single track which crosses the park. The park is accessible from Caracas or La Guaira.
The Swiss biologist Henri Pittier was the first to point out the ecological problems in Venezuela and the necessity to protect the country's ecosystems. Thanks to his pioneering efforts, the national park system was born and in 1937, the mountainous region along the northern coast became Venezuela's first national park. Originally Rancho Grande, the park has been known as la Parque Nacional Henri Pittier since 1953. The park covers 107,800ha and extends south from the Caribbean coast into the mountains almost as far as Maracay. Its dramatic topography is characterized by steep slopes covered with deciduous and tropical forest and cloud forest at higher elevations.
The park's flora is exuberant, and arboreal ferns, bromeliads, and several species of ornamental plant, notably the rare, endemic Gunnera pittierana, flourish. Animal life is equally diverse and the park is home to pumas, ocelots, otters, brocket deer, tapirs, kinkajous, coatis, tree porcupines, several species of snake and lizard and the marsupial frog. Moreover, because the park lies on a significant migratory route, the bird population is incredible. Some 550 species (over 40% of Venezuela's birdlife) have been identified here, one of the highest recorded species densities in the world. The list includes curassows, parakeets, hawks, eagles, kites, toucans, oropendolas, parrotlets, owls, bellbirds, manakins, jays, caciques, chachalacas and woodpeckers. Portachelo Pass is the lowest point on the ridge, and as such is used as the crossing point by thousands of migratory birds each year, making it the best birdwatching spot in the entire park.
A biological research station (Estación Biologica de Rancho Grande) complete with a zoological museum is located within the park and is open to visitors. The park can be reached by bus or taxis from Maracay, and is a popular venue for hiking and camping. The rainy season is from April to November, and the dry season from December to March.
Macarao National Park lies within both the Federal District and the State of Miranda. Founded in 1973, the park, which protects the hydrographic resources of the capital, encompasses 15,000ha of coastal mountains. The boundaries include the basins of the Macarao and San Pedro Rivers. Sub-montane tropical moist forests and montane cloud forests are the primary vegetation types within which flourishes a variety of flora, notably orchids and tree ferns. Fauna includes red brocket deer, opossums, red howler monkeys, peccaries, raccoons, rabbits and three-toed sloth, tinamou, helmeted curassow, and band-tailed pigeons. Horseriding is popular in the park, which also has good hiking trails and picnic sites. The park is accessible from the road between Caracas and Los Teques.
Located to the east of Henri Pittier, the San Esteban National Park covers 40,000ha. Founded in 1987, it encompasses the western tract of the coastal mountains as well as coastal habitats and the islands of Rey, Ratón, Alcatraz, Santo Domingo and Larga. The coastal region is characterized by dry forests, which give way to sub-montane tropical moist forests and montane cloud forests in the higher regions. Fauna includes puma, tapir, spectacled bear, deer, raccoon, ocelot; parrots, owls, doves, jays and many species of reptile. Swimming, diving and boat tours are popular, as are tours around the mountains of the park. San Esteban can be reached by road from Puerto Cabello.
Southeast from Caracas and over the border into Miranda State is the Guatopo National Park. The park occupies the mountain range between the towns of Santa Teresa del Tuy and Altagracia de Orituco, covering an area of 92,640ha.
The park is predominantly covered by tropical moist forest streaked by numerous streams and rivers, and nurtures a rich and varied wildlife. Several species of orchid flourish amid the typical rainforest vegetation. Resident fauna includes jaguars, pumas, ocelots, margays, tapirs, giant armadillos, opossums, peccaries, capuchin and red howler monkeys, vipers, rattlesnakes, fer-de-lance, boas and coral snakes. A birdwatcher's paradise, the park abounds with species such as harpy eagles, macaws, toucans, parrotlets, curassows, hawks, hummingbirds, chachalacas, caciques and green jays. The climate varies with altitude, and temperatures range from 14ºC to 32ºC. The park offers plenty of good hiking trails and camping facilities, and has a road link to Caracas serviced by regular buses.
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