Araya to Paria

Araya Peninsula

The main settlement is Araya which has an airport and a ferry dock. The major sight is the Fortaleza de Santiago de León, built by Spain to protect the salt mines, but of which very little now remains. Construction began in 1622 and it took 47 years to complete. Entry is free, but the only facilities are a refreshment stand and a picnic area. Today the mines are exploited by a state- owned corporation, ENSAL. Windsurfing is excellent, but only for the experienced.

Carúpano

This is a colonial town dating back to 1647, from which 70% of Venezuela's cocoa is shipped. The area around Plaza Santa Rosa has been declared a national and international heritage site by UNESCO. Buildings include the
Museo Histórico
, containing a comprehensive database on the city, and the
Iglesia Santa Rosa
. The
Casa del Cable
, location of the first telecommunications link with Europe, is the headquarters of the Fundación Thomas Merle, run by Wilfried Merle, who has been instrumental in setting up ecotourism and economic development projects in the Paria Peninsula. Carúpano is famous throughout Venezuela as the last place still celebrating a traditional pre-Lenten Carnival: days of dancing, rum drinking, with masked women in black (
negritas
). Book well ahead for places to stay at this time (February). Other local festivals are 3 May, Velorios de la Cruz (street dances); 15 August, Asunción de la Virgen. On the outskirts of Carúpano is
Playa Copey, www.carupano.org.

Caripe

A paved road runs inland from Carúpano to Caripe via Cariaco and Santa María, two hours. Caripe is an attractive town set in gorgeous mountain scenery. There is a lively daily market. It is 12 km from the famous Cueva del Guácharo and a good place to escape from the beaches. It's especially good for walking and biking. At San Francisco, on the Maturín-Cumaná road (212 km, all paved but twisty; beautiful tropical mountain scenery), is a branch road running 22½ km northeast to Caripe.
Feria de las Flores
is on 2-12 August and
NS del Pilar
is 10-12 October. See http://caripe.net. To get to Caripe from Caracas you must go to
Maturín
, the capital of Monagas state, then take a
por puesto
. Alternatively go to Cumaná and then to Santa María for
por puesto
services.

Cueva del Guácharo

This remarkable cave was discovered by Humboldt and has since been penetrated 10½ km along a small, crystal-clear stream. In the first caves live around 18,000
guácharos
(oil birds) with an in-built radar system for sightless flight. Their presence supports a variety of wildlife in the cave: blind mice, fish and crabs in the stream, yellow-green plants, crickets and ants. For two hours at dusk (about 1900) the birds pour out of the cave's mouth. Through a very narrow entrance is the
Cueva del Silencio
(Cave of Silence). About 2 km in is the
Pozo del Viento
(Well of the Wind).

Wear old clothes, stout shoes and be prepared to get wet. In the wet season it can be a bit slippery; tours in the cave may be closed in August-September because of rising water level. There is a caving museum with a leaflet in English, US$0.80; good cafeteria. Opposite the road is a paved path to
Salto Paila
, a 25 m waterfall, about 30 minutes' walk, guides available. A beautiful path, built by Inparqes, starts at the caving museum, with some nice shelters for picnics. Camping is allowed by the cave, or you can sleep without a tent under the roof by the café for free.

Paria Peninsula


Río Caribe

This lovely fishing village used to be a major cacao-exporting port. It is a good jumping-off point for the beautiful beaches of
Playa Medina
(in an old coconut plantation, 25 km east) and Pui Puy, both famous for their crystal-clear water and golden sands. Playa Medina is safe, has shade for rent and stalls selling food and drink; it is crowded at weekends and holidays. Cabins at the beach are very expensive. Further east is the delightful village of
San Juan de las Galdonas
and some great beaches. There is a Banco Venezuela in Río Caribe for exchange. Near Chacaracual, 15 minutes' drive from Río Caribe is
Hacienda Bukare
, www.bukare.com
, a working cocoa hacienda which also sells chocolate and has an inn in beautiful surroundings.

Güiria

At Bohordal, the paved road from Río Caribe across the mountains meets Route 9, which continues to the pleasant town of Irapa. The paved highway continues 42 km to Güiria, a friendly, peaceful town and a badly littered beach. Feria de la Pesca, 14 July. Gasoline is available.

Macuro

A quiet town on the tip of the Peninsula, Macuro is accessible by boat (two hours from Güiria) and by a new road from Güiria (20 km paved, the remainder passable by 4WD). It was around here Columbus made the first recorded European landing on the continent on 5 August 1498. Locals like to believe the landing took place at Macuro, and the town's official new name is Puerto Colón. A big party is held here every year on 12 October to mark the official 'discovery' of America. Restaurants only open at weekends (good food at Sra Mercedes, on C Carabobo, round corner from
Posada Beatriz
, blue house). There are also a few basic shops and a pharmacy.

The beach is unattractive but the coast on the north side of the peninsula is truly wonderful; crystal-clear water and dazzling sands backed by dense jungle. A highly recommended trip for the adventurous is the hike to
Uquire
and
Don Pedro
on the north coast; 4-6 hours' walk, places to hang a hammock or pitch a tent. In Uquire ask for Nestor Mata, the Inparques guard, very helpful.
Note
This part of the peninsula is a national park; you need a permit from Inparques in Caracas.

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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