Ciudad Guayana and the Orinoco Delta

Ciudad Guayana

In an area rich in natural resources 105 km downriver from Ciudad Bolívar, Ciudad Guayana was founded in 1961 by merging two towns, San Félix and Puerto Ordaz, on either bank of the Río Caroní where it spills into the Orinoco. Now a single city, it is hot, humid and futuristic. Its wide avenues, lack of sidewalks and public transport reflect the influence of the US-owned Orinoco Mining Company, which had its headquarters here and was nationalized in 1976. East of the Caroní is the commercial port of
San Félix
and the Palúa iron-ore terminal. Across the Caroní by the 470 m concrete bridge is
Puerto Ordaz
(airport), the iron-ore port connected by rail with the Cerro Bolívar open-cast iron mine. The second bridge across the Río Orinoco, Puente Orinoquia, 3,156 m long, was opened in Ciudad Guayana in 2006.

Visitors should be particularly careful while exploring Ciudad Guyana: it is surrounded by some desperately poor neighbourhoods. Violent crime, including rape, is unfortunately very common. And so is police unwillingness to answer 171 calls, let alone to investigate.

Excursions

Unlike elsewhere in Venezuela, there is little emphasis on arts and culture. However, you can get beyond the urban functionality into some pleasant parks, all well kept and free to enter. Just up the Caroní at Macagua, some truly beautiful cataracts called Salto Llovizna are in the
Parque Nacional La Llovizna
, which covers 26 islands separated by narrow waterways and connected by 36 footbridges. Also in the park are hydroelectric plants, but these do not spoil the views of the larger and smaller falls, diverse fauna, including monkeys, and magnificent plants growing from the falling water. There are several trails. A facility on the hydroelectric dam, houses an ecological museum, art exhibitions and displays on the dam's construction, and a café. Near La Llovizna, the iron-tinted waterfall in the pretty
Parque Cachamay
 is worth a visit. A third park, adjoining Cachamay, is
Loefling Wildlife Park
, with tapirs, capybaras and capuchin monkeys.

Higher up the Caroní is the massive Guri dam, take your passport; the area gets busy during holidays, Easter or carnival, powered by the world's second-largest reservoir, which is filled by the Paragua and Caroní rivers. The trip to Guri takes 90 minutes by taxi.

Los Castillos
, supposedly where Sir Walter Raleigh's son was killed in the search for El Dorado, are two old forts down the Orinoco from San Félix.

Tucupita

A worthwhile side trip along asphalted roads can be made to Tucupita (
Climate: very humid
), on the Orinoco delta. Though capital of Delta Amacuro state and the main commercial centre of the delta, there's a one-horse feel about it.

For a 3-4 day
trip to see the delta
, its fauna and the indigenous
Warao
, either arrange boats through the tourist office . Boats are not easy to come by and are expensive except for large groups. Bargain hard and never pay up front.

Excursions often only travel on the main river, not in the
caños
where wildlife is most often be seen. To avoid disappointment, be sure to determine where your guide intends to take you before you leave. If the river level rises after a downpour, arrangements may be cancelled. On all trips agree in advance exactly what is included, especially that there is enough food and water for you and your guide. Hammocks and mosquito repellents are essential.

Barrancas

An interesting and friendly village, founded in 1530, Barrancas is one of the oldest villages in the Americas, but its precolonial past dates back to 1000 BC. Situated on the Orinoco, it can be reached by road from Tucupita (63 km), or from Maturín. The village has a large community of Guyanese people who speak English. It is possible to take a boat to the
Warao
villages of
Curiapo
and
Amacuro
(near Guyana border), check at harbour.

It is possible to take a cargo boat to Mabaruma in Guyana from Curiapo. A trustworthy boatman is Bimbo, who lives at Wirma's guest house, where you can sleep if stuck in Curiapo (very likely). Contact Bimbo in advance through his sister in Tucupita; just ask for the “English woman” on Calle Amacuro - everyone knows her. In Curiapo, find Miss Teresa to get your exit stamp; she is rarely at home at the weekend. Take plenty of dollars cash, be prepared to wait for a boat and to cover yourself with a large plastic sheet once at sea (the mid part of the trip is on the open ocean). If thinking of taking this route, visit the Guyanese Embassy in Caracas first.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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