Around Caracas

Between the capital and the Caribbean coast is the national park of El Avila, not only a popular recreational area for caraqueños, but also a refuge for wildlife within earshot of the city and a good place for birdwatching and hiking. The coast itself is also a favourite weekend escape, although it can get busy. Nor, at weekends, can you expect to have Colonia Tovar to yourself, a German immigrant town to which city folk flock for the local produce and mild climate.

Monte Avila

The 85,192-ha
Parque Nacional El Avila
forms the northern boundary of Caracas. The green slopes rise steeply from both the city and from the central Caribbean coast. Despite being so close to the capital, fauna includes red howler monkeys, jaguar and puma. There are also several species of poisonous snake. Access is from Caracas, with several marked entrances along the Cota Mil (Avenida Boyacá), designed for hikers. Access from the old Caracas-La Guaira road which crosses the park north to south on the western side was damaged by heavy rains in December 1999. The Caribbean side of the park was worst affected, but all parts of the park are open. See www.el-avila.com.

A
cable railway
(
teleférico
) runs up Monte Avila. The
Humboldt Hotel
on the summit has been refurbished and is open for guided tours but not for sleeping. Camping is possible with permission. At El Avila station is skating rink. A dirt road runs from La Puerta section of San Bernardino to the summit. A recommended trip is to ride up in a vehicle and hike back down (note that it is cold at the summit, around 13°C).

Litoral Central

The Litoral Central is the name given to the stretch of Caribbean Coast directly north of Caracas. A paved road runs east from Catia La Mar, past the airport and then through the towns of Maiquetía, La Guaira and Macuto. This became the state of Vargas in January 1999 and in December that year was the focus of Venezuela's worst natural disaster of the 20th century. Prolonged heavy rains on deforested hillsides caused flash floods and landslides, killing and causing to disappear an estimated 30,000 people and leaving 400,000 homeless. It is planned to turn the whole area into a national park. From La Guaira a panoramic road runs to the beaches at Chichiriviche de la Costa,
Puerto Cruz (nice beach, no shade, bars) and Puerto Maya (very nice beach with shade and services).

La Guaira
, Venezuela's main port dates back to 1567. It achieved its greatest importance in the 18th century when the Basque Guipuzcoana Company held the royal trading monopoly. Much of the city was severely damaged in the 1999 floods.

Colonia Tovar and Guatopo

This picturesque mountain town was founded in 1843 by German immigrants from Kaiserstuhl in the Black Forest; a small
museum
, tells the history of the founding pioneers. They retained their customs and isolation until a paved road reached the settlement in 1963. It is now very touristy, attracting hordes of weekend visitors, but the blond hair, blue eyes and Schwartzwald-accented German of the inhabitants remain. This
Tovarense
farming community make great bread, blackberry jam, bratwurst and beer. Colonia Tovar offers delightful landscapes, mild climate, old architecture and dignified hospitality.

In
San Francisco de Yare
(90 km from Caracas), a celebration is held at Corpus Christi in early June (the eigth Thursday after Thursday of Semana Santa). Some 80 male 'Diablos' of all ages, dressed all in red and wearing horned masks, dance to the sound of their own drums and rattles. From Santa Teresa make a detour to the beautiful and little frequented
Parque Nacional Guatopo
on the road to Altagracia de Orituco. You must return to Santa Teresa to continue your journey to Yare. At the Parque Guatopo are various convenient places to picnic on the route through the forest and a number of good nature trails. Take insect repellent. Free camping at Hacienda La Elvira; take jeep from Altagracia de Orituco and ask to be let off at the turn-off to the Hacienda. A permit must be obtained at the Inparques office, which has some accommodation, or baggage can be stored temporarily while walking in the park.

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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