Nationalparks on Venezuela

 

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. In 1935, the mountainous land along the northern coast owned by the dictator Gómez became available after his death and was used to found Venezuela’s first national park. Originally Rancho Grande, the park has been known as the Parque Nacional Henri Pittier since 1953. Today, Venezuela has 43 national parks.

Map of the National Parks

Name
State
Size (ha)
Founded
Attractions
1 585,750
03-11-74
plains, rivers, morichales
2 221,120
08-18-72
coral reefs, keys, beaches, swamps
3
Canaima
Bolívar
3,000,000
06-13-62
savannas, forests, tepuis, waterfalls, rivers
4
Cerro El Copey
Nueva Esparta
7,130
03-02-74
moorland
5 32,294
09-03-90
arid lands
6 226,130
10-07-92
swamps, flooded forests
7 584,368
05-04-88
plains, dunes, rivers
8 4,885
05-28-69
caverns with underground rivers
9 16,000
01-25-90
humid rainforests
10
Dinira
Lara, Trujillo, Portuguesa
45,328
12-22-88
forests, basins, moors
11 373,740
03-07-79
rainforests, rivers, tepuis
12
El Avíla
Distrito Federal and Miranda
85,192
12-18-58
forests, savannas, rivers, gulches
13
El Guácharo
Monagas and Sucre
62.700
05-28-75
caverns, rivers, oilbirds
14
El Guache
Lara and Portuguesa
12,500
03-26-93
cloud forests, rivers
15
El Tamá
Táchira and Apure
139,000
03-07-79
cloud forests, moors
16
Guaramacal
Trujillo and Portuguesa
21,491
05-30-88
cloud forests, moors
17
Guatopo
Miranda and Guárico
122,464
03-31-58
forests, rivers
18
Henri Pittier
Aragua and Carabobo
107,800
02-13-37
cloud forests, dry forests, beaches
19 330,000
03-07-79
forests, tepuis, lakes
20
Laguna de La Restinga
Nueva Esparta
18,700
02-08-74
swamps, waterways, beaches
21 39,100
02-22-74
swamps, lagoon, beaches
22
Macarao
Distrito Federal and Miranda
15,000
12-12-73
humid forests
23
Mariusa
Delta Amacuro
331,000
07-07-92
channels, swamps, palms
24 91,280
02-06-74
dunes, thistles
25
Mochima
Anzoátegui and Sucre
94,935
12-20-73
beaches, reefs, islands
26
Morrocoy
Falcón
32,090
05-27-74
swamps, keys, beaches
27
Páramos Batallón y La Negra
Mérida and Táchira
95,200
01-31-89
moors, humid forests
28 3,900,000
08-01-91
source of the Orinoco, Amazon rainforests
29 37,500
03-07-79
beaches, forests
30
Perijá
Zulia
295,288
03-07-79
rainforests, moors, tundras
31 80,000
07-01-93
rainforests, lowland rivers
32
San Esteban
Carabobo
44,050
02-02-87
forests, coastal landscapes, islands
33 1,360,000
03-07-79
Amazon forest
34
Sierra La Culata
Mérida and Trujillo
200,400
03-29-90
moors, rainforests
35
Sierra Nevada
Mérida and Barinas
276,446
05-02-52
glaciers, moors, forests, lagoons
36 20,000
12-05-87
humid forests, underground rivers
37
Tapó-Caparo
Mérida, Táchira and Barinas
205,000
03-26-93
humid forests, rivers, dam
38
Terepaima
Lara and Portuguesa
18,650
06-10-76
humid forests
39
Tirgua
Cojedes and Yaracuy
91,000
03-26-93
forests, high basins
40 70,000
06-17-92
swamps, channels, aquatic fauna
41 14,584
06-13-62
cloud forests, river sources
42
Yapacana
Amazonas
320,000
03-07-79
Amazon rainforests, tepuis
43
Yurubi
Yaracuy
23,670
03-18-60
cloud forests rivers, gulches

 

Aguaro-Guariquito

Within this vast area are three national parks: Río Viejo, in the western Llanos near the Andes, Aguaro-Guariquito, in Guárico State and Cinaruco-Capanaparo in the eastern region of Apure State. Together the parks encompass a total of 1,250,000ha.

Archipiélago Los Roques

The archipelago of Los Roques is probably the best known of Venezuela's Caribbean islands. Situated 170km north of Caracas, it is an atoll of reef-islands, tidal islets and reefs surrounding the Laguna Central, and is one of Venezuela's most beautiful sights. A massive variety of marine life exists in and around the reef habitats, and for this, the area was declared a national park in 1972. Covering an area of over 225,153ha, the archipelago is Venezuela's largest marine park. The islands are edged with brilliant white sand, and at low tide, finger-like sandbars protrude into the turquoise sea. The waters over the surrounding 19km of coral garden are crystal clear, providing fantastic snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities. The coastlines, interspersed with green mangroves, form a striking contrast with the barren grass and arid scrub of the inland terrain.

The archipelago maintains an average annual temperature of 29ºC, though nights remain cool thanks to the regional breeze. The temperature reaches a peak of 34ºC in July and a low of 24ºC in January, and there is occasional rain from September to January.

Los Roques was originally settled by Indians some 900 years ago. Colonization began some years later on Isla El Gran Roque, after Margariteño fishermen discovered the rich waters of the area. Today, El Gran Roque, the largest of the islands, is home to the majority of the archipelago's 1,000 or so inhabitants. The remainder of the population is mostly Caraqueños, who reside in holiday homes on the neighboring islands of Rasquí and Madrizquí. Many tourists also frequent the archipelago, and the most visited island is Cayo Francés. Like Isla Margarita, Cayo Francés is comprised of two islands connected by a sandbank, and provides both calm waters and surf.

Los Roques is renowned for its variety of marine fauna. Just some of the many species include parrotfish, barracuda, red snapper, dolphin, shark, octopus, lobster and the near-extinct queen conch. Green turtles visit the beaches to lay their eggs, and the island of Dos Mosquises Sur is the home of La Fundación Científica Los Roques, a biological research station dedicated to preserving the green turtle populations in the region. The resident and migrant bird population of the archipelago exceeds 90 species and includes enormous gull colonies, boobies, frigates, pelicans, herons and scarlet ibis. No native mammals inhabit the area, but dogs and goats have been introduced on El Gran Roque. Many reptiles, including iguanas, chameleons and salamanders, live on the larger islands.

Tourists visiting the Los Roques can explore the region by taking day-trips or by chartering a boat. There are 30 or so hotels on El Gran Roque, and posadas on Cayo Francés, Francisqui and Krasqui. Those wishing to camp need to obtain a permit from Inparques in Caracas. Daily flights operate to Los Roques from Margarita and Maiquetia. The archipelago can also be reached by boat from La Guaira, a town northeast of Caracas. Some tour operators offer all-inclusive package deals to the islands.

Canaima

Canaima National Park is the sixth largest national park in the world. Covering some 3 million hectares and with an altitude range of 400 - 2,400m, the park encompasses the Laguna Canaima, the Carrao river basin, the mountains of Sierra de Lema, the Gran Sabana and the Angel Falls. The landscape of the park is dramatic and contrasting. Massive geological and altitudinal variation has produced a huge range of habitats within which flourishes an exuberant diversity of flora. The savanna varies from dry grasslands to wetlands interspersed with moriche palms. The moist air of the rainforest canopy is home to bromeliads, tree ferns and over 500 species of orchid, and cloud forests are rich in epiphytes, including mosses and lichens. The landscape is drained by a series of rivers, most of which are edged by gallery forests. The park is characterized by its numerous waterfalls and is famous for its tepui (table top mountains rising out of the flatlands), which are concentrated in the Gran Sabana and create an absolutely stunning setting at sunrise and sunset. The park is home to massive variety of exotic fauna. Jaguar, puma, ocelot, bush-dog, spectacled bear, giant otter, tapir, armadillo, capybara, brocket deer, agouti, giant anteater, raccoon, peccary, tree porcupine, sloth and capuchin, red-howler and stripey-faced monkeys are just a few of the countless mammals found within the various habitats. Canaima is renowned for its abundance of bird species, among the better known of which are toucans, macaws, parrots, parakeets, cock-of-the-rock, banaquit and hummingbirds. There are many species of reptile and amphibian, notably chameleons, caymans, iguanas, tree-frogs and many species of snake. The average temperature ranges from 10-21ºC depending on altitude and season. The dry season is from January to March.

Cerro El Copey

Margarita has two national parks: Cerro El Copey and Laguna de la Restinga, and three natural monuments (small parks): Cerro Matasiete y Guayamurí, La Laguna de las Marites, and Las Tetas de María Guevara (María Guevara's breasts!). All protect a range of habitats and are home to various species of wildlife. Birds such as flamingoes, pelicans and scarlet ibis are most prolific in and around the mangrove swamps of La Laguna de la Restinga. The park has an area of 10,700ha and can be reached easily by road. Visitors can hire boats from the jetty to cruise the mangroves. Cerro El Copey covers an area of 7,130ha, and comprises both flat land with small villages and woodland-covered mountains, the latter of which offer fantastic views of the island. The park is located in the central eastern part of the main island and can be reached by road from La Asunción.

Cerro Saroche

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.

Ciénagas del Catatumbo

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, notably flamingoes.

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 its delta.

Cinaruco-Capanaparo

Within this vast area are three national parks: Río Viejo, in the western Llanos near the Andes, Aguaro-Guariquito, in Guárico State and Cinaruco-Capanaparo in the eastern region of Apure State. Together the parks encompass a total of 1,250,000ha.

Cueva de la Quebrada del Toro

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.

Chorro El Indio

Almost one million hectares of the Venezuelan Andes has been granted national park status; there are eight parks in total of which the most popular are Sierra Nevada and Sierra de La Culata. Sierra Nevada National Park was established in 1952 and covers 276,446ha of the Andes, including the smaller mountain chain of Santo Domingo. Within the park are the country's highest peaks; Pico Bolívar (5,007m), Pico Humboldt (4,942m), Pico La Concha (4,920m) and Pico Espejo (4,765m), the latter of which has the longest and highest cable car in the world. La Culata National Park has an area of 200,400ha, with the curious páramo de piedras blancas at its highest point. The remaining Andean national parks are Dinira, Guaramacal, Páramos Batallón y La Negra, Chorro El Indio, El Tamá and Tapó-Caparo.

The Andean parks foster a variety of habitats within the considerable altitude range (150-5,000m) of their peaks and valleys. Sub-montane tropical forests spread amongst the foothills, cloud forests occupy the higher slopes and above 3,300m lies open moorland known as the páramos, which rises as far as the perennial snow of the summits. Mammals within these diverse ecosystems include the puma, jaguar, mountain cat, ocelot, fox, weasel, deer, tapir, capybara, red howler monkey, sloth, raccoon, porcupine and the endangered spectacled bear. Trout and salmon spawn in the rivers, and among the bird population are species of eagle, hawk, parrot, parakeet, hummingbird, quetzal, owl, jay, pipit, nightjar and toucanet as well as the Andean condor, which was only recently reintroduced to the country. Flora is equally diverse. Thousands of different species have been identified so far, including various species of fruiting tree, fern, pine, orchid, bromeliad and lichen. The famous frailejón (espeletia) is the typical flora of the páramos. Over 40 species of this large, beige-leafed plant grow in the area, and blossom with yellow flowers from September to December.

There are two main entrances into La Sierra Nevada: the village of Los Nevados in the north, which can be reached by cable car from Barinitas or by jeep from Mérida, and la Laguna Mucubají in the south, just off the Santo Domingo road. Sierra de la Culata is most easily accessible from the town of La Culata. Jeeps can be hired with or without drivers, the former is advisable for routes off the beaten track. Dinera is accessible by road from Barquisimeto and Trujillo, Guaramacal from Boconó, Páramos Batallón y La Negra from San Cristóbal, Mérida and La Grita, Chorro El Indio from San José de Bolívar, El Tamá from San Cristóbal and Tapó-Caparo from San Cristóbal. Permits are needed to enter the parks, which are obtainable from Inparque offices.

Dinira

Almost one million hectares of the Venezuelan Andes has been granted national park status; there are eight parks in total of which the most popular are Sierra Nevada and Sierra de La Culata. Sierra Nevada National Park was established in 1952 and covers 276,446ha of the Andes, including the smaller mountain chain of Santo Domingo. Within the park are the country's highest peaks; Pico Bolívar (5,007m), Pico Humboldt (4,942m), Pico La Concha (4,920m) and Pico Espejo (4,765m), the latter of which has the longest and highest cable car in the world. La Culata National Park has an area of 200,400ha, with the curious páramo de piedras blancas at its highest point. The remaining Andean national parks are Dinira, Guaramacal, Páramos Batallón y La Negra, Chorro El Indio, El Tamá and Tapó-Caparo.

The Andean parks foster a variety of habitats within the considerable altitude range (150-5,000m) of their peaks and valleys. Sub-montane tropical forests spread amongst the foothills, cloud forests occupy the higher slopes and above 3,300m lies open moorland known as the páramos, which rises as far as the perennial snow of the summits. Mammals within these diverse ecosystems include the puma, jaguar, mountain cat, ocelot, fox, weasel, deer, tapir, capybara, red howler monkey, sloth, raccoon, porcupine and the endangered spectacled bear. Trout and salmon spawn in the rivers, and among the bird population are species of eagle, hawk, parrot, parakeet, hummingbird, quetzal, owl, jay, pipit, nightjar and toucanet as well as the Andean condor, which was only recently reintroduced to the country. Flora is equally diverse. Thousands of different species have been identified so far, including various species of fruiting tree, fern, pine, orchid, bromeliad and lichen. The famous frailejón (espeletia) is the typical flora of the páramos. Over 40 species of this large, beige-leafed plant grow in the area, and blossom with yellow flowers from September to December.

There are two main entrances into La Sierra Nevada: the village of Los Nevados in the north, which can be reached by cable car from Barinitas or by jeep from Mérida, and la Laguna Mucubají in the south, just off the Santo Domingo road. Sierra de la Culata is most easily accessible from the town of La Culata. Jeeps can be hired with or without drivers, the former is advisable for routes off the beaten track. Dinera is accessible by road from Barquisimeto and Trujillo, Guaramacal from Boconó, Páramos Batallón y La Negra from San Cristóbal, Mérida and La Grita, Chorro El Indio from San José de Bolívar, El Tamá from San Cristóbal and Tapó-Caparo from San Cristóbal. Permits are needed to enter the parks, which are obtainable from Inparque offices.

Duida-Marahuaca

Duida-Marahuaca National Park lies in the center of the state. Notable features include the tepuis of Huachamakari and Duida-Marahuaca, the beautiful waterfalls of the Río Cunucunuma and various petroglyphs. The park is also a haven for birdwatchers, and can be reached by boat along the Iguapo, Padamo and Cunucunuma rivers. The nearest airstrips are at Esmerelda and Comunidad de Culebra.

El Avíla

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.

El Guácharo

The Cueva del Guácharo National Park covers an area of 45,500ha. The main feature of the park is the cave system itself, which, with a length of over 10.5 km, is the largest in the country. It was discovered along with its unique inhabitant, the guácharo (oilbird) by the scientist and explorer Alexander Humboldt in 1799. A unique, frugiverous (fruit-eating) species, the oilbird leaves the cave at dusk to search for food, using echolocation to maneuver in the dark. The colony numbers around 18,000 and occupies the first chamber of the cave together with mice, crickets and crabs. Visitors are guided by lanterns down a concrete path that meanders alongside a stream and amongst vast piles of decomposing palm-seeds dropped by the guácharos. Spindly palm-seedlings sprout from these mounds, but soon die, starved of light. Ornate stalactites and stalagmites and other intriguing geological formations decorate the entire subterranean network, many of which resemble and are named after plants, animals and famous landmarks. Visitors have access to the first sector of the cave; deeper exploration is possible but only with specialized equipment and permission from the park's authorities. Access varies according to the time of year, as the caves are liable to flood during the rainy season in August and September.

The remainder of the park, accessible by trails, encompasses thick, lush forest and a waterfall and is home to a variety of birds and plants.

El Guache

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.

Guaramacal, El Tama

Almost one million hectares of the Venezuelan Andes has been granted national park status; there are eight parks in total of which the most popular are Sierra Nevada and Sierra de La Culata. Sierra Nevada National Park was established in 1952 and covers 276,446ha of the Andes, including the smaller mountain chain of Santo Domingo. Within the park are the country's highest peaks; Pico Bolívar (5,007m), Pico Humboldt (4,942m), Pico La Concha (4,920m) and Pico Espejo (4,765m), the latter of which has the longest and highest cable car in the world. La Culata National Park has an area of 200,400ha, with the curious páramo de piedras blancas at its highest point. The remaining Andean national parks are Dinira, Guaramacal, Páramos Batallón y La Negra, Chorro El Indio, El Tamá and Tapó-Caparo.

The Andean parks foster a variety of habitats within the considerable altitude range (150-5,000m) of their peaks and valleys. Sub-montane tropical forests spread amongst the foothills, cloud forests occupy the higher slopes and above 3,300m lies open moorland known as the páramos, which rises as far as the perennial snow of the summits. Mammals within these diverse ecosystems include the puma, jaguar, mountain cat, ocelot, fox, weasel, deer, tapir, capybara, red howler monkey, sloth, raccoon, porcupine and the endangered spectacled bear. Trout and salmon spawn in the rivers, and among the bird population are species of eagle, hawk, parrot, parakeet, hummingbird, quetzal, owl, jay, pipit, nightjar and toucanet as well as the Andean condor, which was only recently reintroduced to the country. Flora is equally diverse. Thousands of different species have been identified so far, including various species of fruiting tree, fern, pine, orchid, bromeliad and lichen. The famous frailejón (espeletia) is the typical flora of the páramos. Over 40 species of this large, beige-leafed plant grow in the area, and blossom with yellow flowers from September to December.

There are two main entrances into La Sierra Nevada: the village of Los Nevados in the north, which can be reached by cable car from Barinitas or by jeep from Mérida, and la Laguna Mucubají in the south, just off the Santo Domingo road. Sierra de la Culata is most easily accessible from the town of La Culata. Jeeps can be hired with or without drivers, the former is advisable for routes off the beaten track. Dinera is accessible by road from Barquisimeto and Trujillo, Guaramacal from Boconó, Páramos Batallón y La Negra from San Cristóbal, Mérida and La Grita, Chorro El Indio from San José de Bolívar, El Tamá from San Cristóbal and Tapó-Caparo from San Cristóbal. Permits are needed to enter the parks, which are obtainable from Inparque offices.

Guatopo

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.

Henri Pittier

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.

Jaua-Sarisariñama

Jaua-Sarisariñama National Park occupies the southeastern corner of the region, covering some 330,000ha. The three principal tepuis of the park are noted for their distinct caverns. Formed by subterranean waterways, these are possibly the oldest caverns on the continent. A range of vegetation types flourish in the sub-montane and montane habitats, including many endemic species. Access, however, is restricted to scientific researchers only.

Laguna de La Restinga

Margarita has two national parks: Cerro El Copey and Laguna de la Restinga, and three natural monuments (small parks): Cerro Matasiete y Guayamurí, La Laguna de las Marites, and Las Tetas de María Guevara (María Guevara's breasts!). All protect a range of habitats and are home to various species of wildlife. Birds such as flamingoes, pelicans and scarlet ibis are most prolific in and around the mangrove swamps of La Laguna de la Restinga. The park has an area of 10,700ha and can be reached easily by road. Visitors can hire boats from the jetty to cruise the mangroves. Cerro El Copey covers an area of 7,130ha, and comprises both flat land with small villages and woodland-covered mountains, the latter of which offer fantastic views of the island. The park is located in the central eastern part of the main island and can be reached by road from La Asunción.

Laguna de Tacarigua

Along the coast of Barlovento Bay is Rio Chico, a town roughly equal in size to Higuerote. The beaches are attractive and the town is a popular destination with Venezuelans. Buses also operate to Rio Chico from Caracas, and there are various hotels. Situated behind the town is the Tacarigua de la Laguna National park. The park consists of a coastal lagoon separated from the sea by a sand bank, and comprises 18,400ha of important wetland habitats. The region is home to a rich aquatic bird fauna, including pelicans, cormorants, flamingoes, frigates, egrets and ibis. Visitors can enjoy tours around the lagoon and the maze of surrounding canals, and boats can be hired to explore the park and surrounding beaches. Permits (available from Inparques) are needed to enter the park. Access is from the village of Tacarigua.

Macarao

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.

Mariusa

The lower delta, still under the influence of the Orinoco, is subject to flooding during the dry season, when water levels may vary by up to 15m. Since 1991, 331,000ha of the lower delta has been protected under Mariusa National Park.

Médanos de Coro

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.

Mochima

Mochima National Park covers 94,900ha of coastal and marine habitat. For more information on the islands of the park, click on the following link to The Caribbean Islands. The mainland portion of the park consists principally of mountainous coastline, mangroves and golden sandy coves. Along the coast, scattered trees, grasses and shrubs predominate the dry terrain. As the land rises to the coastal mountains, the vegetation grows thicker and more exuberant, fostering a wider variety of flora, particularly ferns and orchids. Resident fauna includes jaguars, sloths, capuchin monkeys, opossums, armadillos, agoutis, iguanas, many species of snake and sea-birds such as gulls, pelicans and frigates.

Playa Arapito, Playa Colorada and Playa Santa Fe are the best known of Mochima's beaches. Though quiet throughout the week, the beaches transform into busy tourist hotspots at weekends. The calm waters are perfect for swimming and fishing boats can be chartered to visit a number of islands and reefs just offshore, which are wonderful for snorkeling and fishing. Further inland are waterfalls, clear pools and woodland hiking trails. All the villages have several small hotels, posadas, and restaurants, and camping is popular on the beaches. Por puestos, taxis and buses operate along the coast road and any beach or bay is easily accessible.

Morrocoy

Morrocoy National Park is another beautiful region of the Caribbean. Situated on the east coast of the Falcón State, the park comprises 32,090ha of coral islands and reefs, as well as part of the mainland coast. For more information on the mainland area of the park, click on the following link to The Northwest. The park was founded in 1974, and its calm blue waters, numerous coral gardens and deserted beaches attract a great number of Venezuelan and foreign tourists alike. The park is renowned for its birdlife, which includes frigates, pelicans, cormorants and boobies. Oyster beds line the mangroves, and marine life is prolific. Hundreds of colorful fish live in and around the reefs, and stingray bask in the shallows. There are excellent spots for snorkeling and diving, and water skiing is becoming increasingly popular. The most-visited island is Cayo Sombrero, which can get busy at weekends and during national holidays.

To explore the park, tourists can charter boats or go on day-trips from the mainland towns of Tucacas and Chichiriviche. At low tide, it is possible to go between some islands on foot. The only way to stay on the islands is to camp, though there is no fresh water.

Páramos Batallón y La Negra

Almost one million hectares of the Venezuelan Andes has been granted national park status; there are eight parks in total of which the most popular are Sierra Nevada and Sierra de La Culata. Sierra Nevada National Park was established in 1952 and covers 276,446ha of the Andes, including the smaller mountain chain of Santo Domingo. Within the park are the country's highest peaks; Pico Bolívar (5,007m), Pico Humboldt (4,942m), Pico La Concha (4,920m) and Pico Espejo (4,765m), the latter of which has the longest and highest cable car in the world. La Culata National Park has an area of 200,400ha, with the curious páramo de piedras blancas at its highest point. The remaining Andean national parks are Dinira, Guaramacal, Páramos Batallón y La Negra, Chorro El Indio, El Tamá and Tapó-Caparo.

The Andean parks foster a variety of habitats within the considerable altitude range (150-5,000m) of their peaks and valleys. Sub-montane tropical forests spread amongst the foothills, cloud forests occupy the higher slopes and above 3,300m lies open moorland known as the páramos, which rises as far as the perennial snow of the summits. Mammals within these diverse ecosystems include the puma, jaguar, mountain cat, ocelot, fox, weasel, deer, tapir, capybara, red howler monkey, sloth, raccoon, porcupine and the endangered spectacled bear. Trout and salmon spawn in the rivers, and among the bird population are species of eagle, hawk, parrot, parakeet, hummingbird, quetzal, owl, jay, pipit, nightjar and toucanet as well as the Andean condor, which was only recently reintroduced to the country. Flora is equally diverse. Thousands of different species have been identified so far, including various species of fruiting tree, fern, pine, orchid, bromeliad and lichen. The famous frailejón (espeletia) is the typical flora of the páramos. Over 40 species of this large, beige-leafed plant grow in the area, and blossom with yellow flowers from September to December.

There are two main entrances into La Sierra Nevada: the village of Los Nevados in the north, which can be reached by cable car from Barinitas or by jeep from Mérida, and la Laguna Mucubají in the south, just off the Santo Domingo road. Sierra de la Culata is most easily accessible from the town of La Culata. Jeeps can be hired with or without drivers, the former is advisable for routes off the beaten track. Dinera is accessible by road from Barquisimeto and Trujillo, Guaramacal from Boconó, Páramos Batallón y La Negra from San Cristóbal, Mérida and La Grita, Chorro El Indio from San José de Bolívar, El Tamá from San Cristóbal and Tapó-Caparo from San Cristóbal. Permits are needed to enter the parks, which are obtainable from Inparque offices.

Parima-Tapirapecó

Parima-Tapirapecó National Park covers the entire southeast portion of the state. With a total area of 3,900,000ha, it is the fifth largest national park in the world. Almost all the Yanomaní of Venezuela live within its boundaries, for which access to the area is restricted. The park is also home to the source and headwaters of the Orinoco and the Sierra Parima mountains.

Península de Paria

Occupying some 37,500ha, the Península de Paría National Park encompasses the single mountain range on the northeast tip of the peninsula. The relief is relatively low; coastal lowlands rise into steep slopes reaching a height of 1,300m. The arid coastline is rich in xerophytes while thick deciduous, tropical moist and cloud forests cover the mountain sides, fostering a diversity of bromeliads, heliconias, lianas, orchids and an abundance of climbers and endemic epiphytes. The endemic colored parakeet inhabits the park, and mammal species include puma, ocelot, deer, armadillo and monkey. Access to the park is via the road between Carúpano and Güiria or by boat. Tours are available.

Perijá

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 park.

Río Viejo

Within this vast area are three national parks: Río Viejo, in the western Llanos near the Andes, Aguaro-Guariquito, in Guárico State and Cinaruco-Capanaparo in the eastern region of Apure State. Together the parks encompass a total of 1,250,000ha.

San Esteban

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.

Serranía La Neblina

Serranía La Neblina National Park lies on the southern tip of the state and comprises the Serranía La Neblina mountain range. The range peaks at 3,040m with the Pico La Neblina, Latin America's tallest non-Andean mountain and the largest tepui in on Earth. The massive tepui is all but sliced in two by the Cañon Grande del Río Baría, one of the deepest canyons in the world. The park, along with Parima-Tapirapecó is part of the Alto-Orinoco-Casiquiare Biosphere Reserve.

Sierra Nevada, Sierra La Culata, Tapó-Caparo

Almost one million hectares of the Venezuelan Andes has been granted national park status; there are eight parks in total of which the most popular are Sierra Nevada and Sierra de La Culata. Sierra Nevada National Park was established in 1952 and covers 276,446ha of the Andes, including the smaller mountain chain of Santo Domingo. Within the park are the country's highest peaks; Pico Bolívar (5,007m), Pico Humboldt (4,942m), Pico La Concha (4,920m) and Pico Espejo (4,765m), the latter of which has the longest and highest cable car in the world. La Culata National Park has an area of 200,400ha, with the curious páramo de piedras blancas at its highest point. The remaining Andean national parks are Dinira, Guaramacal, Páramos Batallón y La Negra, Chorro El Indio, El Tamá and Tapó-Caparo.

The Andean parks foster a variety of habitats within the considerable altitude range (150-5,000m) of their peaks and valleys. Sub-montane tropical forests spread amongst the foothills, cloud forests occupy the higher slopes and above 3,300m lies open moorland known as the páramos, which rises as far as the perennial snow of the summits. Mammals within these diverse ecosystems include the puma, jaguar, mountain cat, ocelot, fox, weasel, deer, tapir, capybara, red howler monkey, sloth, raccoon, porcupine and the endangered spectacled bear. Trout and salmon spawn in the rivers, and among the bird population are species of eagle, hawk, parrot, parakeet, hummingbird, quetzal, owl, jay, pipit, nightjar and toucanet as well as the Andean condor, which was only recently reintroduced to the country. Flora is equally diverse. Thousands of different species have been identified so far, including various species of fruiting tree, fern, pine, orchid, bromeliad and lichen. The famous frailejón (espeletia) is the typical flora of the páramos. Over 40 species of this large, beige-leafed plant grow in the area, and blossom with yellow flowers from September to December.

There are two main entrances into La Sierra Nevada: the village of Los Nevados in the north, which can be reached by cable car from Barinitas or by jeep from Mérida, and la Laguna Mucubají in the south, just off the Santo Domingo road. Sierra de la Culata is most easily accessible from the town of La Culata. Jeeps can be hired with or without drivers, the former is advisable for routes off the beaten track. Dinera is accessible by road from Barquisimeto and Trujillo, Guaramacal from Boconó, Páramos Batallón y La Negra from San Cristóbal, Mérida and La Grita, Chorro El Indio from San José de Bolívar, El Tamá from San Cristóbal and Tapó-Caparo from San Cristóbal. Permits are needed to enter the parks, which are obtainable from Inparque offices.

Sierra San Luis

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.

Terepaima

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.

Tirgua

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.

Turuépano

Turuépano National Park encompasses Turuépano Island in the Gulf of Paría, south of the Peninsula. Covering some 70,000ha, it is the most extensive area of protected marshlands in Venezuela. Savannas, lagoons, channels, marshes, mangroves, swamp forests and peat bogs form an incredibly biodiverse landscape. The most prolific flora are ferns and moriche palms. The wide range of wetland habitats supports a variety of fauna including otters, tapir, fox, raccoon, bats, many species of waterfowl, water-snakes, coastal alligators and cayman. The park is also inhabited by the Warao Indians. The entrance to the park is from Puerto Ajíes and can only be reached by boat.

Yacambú

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 and shops.

Yapacana

Located in the mid-west of the state, Yapacana National Park encompasses Venezuela's highest plain; perhaps the highest in the world. The unique plateau rises abruptly from the surrounding lowlands to 1,345m and is inhabited by an enormity of endemic flora and fauna, including 46 species of herpitofauna.

Yurubi

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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