Valencia and around

Founded in 1555, Valencia is the capital of Carabobo State and Venezuela's third largest city. It's the centre of its most developed agricultural region and the most industrialized. Near the city are several groups of petroglyphs while the coast has some very popular beach areas. Best known of these is the Morrocoy national park, but you have to seek out the quiet spots.

A road through low hills thickly planted with citrus, coffee and sugar runs 50 km west from Maracay to the valley in which Valencia lies. It is hot and humid with annual rainfall of 914 mm. Like its Spanish namesake, Valencia is famous for its oranges.

The
Cathedral
, built in 1580, is on the east side of
Plaza Bolívar
. The statue of the Virgen del Socorro (1550) in the left transept is the most valued treasure; on the second Sunday in November (during the Valencia Fair) it is paraded with a richly jewelled crown. See also
El Capitolio
, the
Teatro Municipal
, the old
Carabobo University
building and the handsome
Plaza de Toros
, which is the second largest in Latin America after Mexico City. The magnificent former
residence of General Páez
(hero of the Carabobo battle), is now a museum. Equally attractive is the
Casa de los Celis
(1766), http://mipagina.cantv.net/casacelis. This well-restored colonial house and national monument served as a hospital for wounded soldiers during the Battle of Carabobo. It also houses the
Museo de Arte e Historia
, with pre-Columbian exhibits. Most of the interesting sights are closed on Monday.

Around Valencia

Most important of the region's petroglyphs can be found at the
Parque Nacional Piedras Pintadas
, where lines of prehispanic stone slabs, many bearing swirling glyphs, march up the ridges of Cerro Pintado. The
Museo Parque Arqueológico Piedra Pintada
is at the foot of Cerro Las Rosas, has 165 examples of rock art and menhirs (tours, parking, café).

Other extensive ancient petroglyphs have been discovered at
La Taimata
near Güigüe, 34 km east of Valencia on the lake's southern shore. There are more sites on rocks by the Río Chirgua, reached by a 10-km paved road from Highway 11, 50 km west of Valencia. About 5 km past Chirgua, at the Hacienda Cariaprima, is a remarkable 35 m-tall geoglyph, a humanoid figure carved into a steep mountain slope at the head of the valley.

At 30 km southwest of Valencia on the highway to San Carlos is the site of the
Carabobo
battlefield, an impressive historical monument surrounded by splendid gardens. The view over the field from the
mirador
where the Liberator directed the battle in 1814 is impressive. Historical explanations are given on Wednesday, weekends and holidays.

Coast north of Valencia

Puerto Cabello
, 55 km from Valencia, was one the most important ports in the colonial Americas, from which produce was transported to the Dutch possessions. Puerto Cabello has retained its maritime importance and is Venezuela's
key port. Plaza Bolívar and the colonial part of town are by the waterfront promenade at Calle 24 de Julio. The
Museo de Antropología e Historia
, is in one of the few remaining colonial houses (1790), in the tangle of small streets between Pla
za Bolívar and the sea. It displays the region's history and has a room on Simón Bolívar.

To the east is
Bahía de Patanemo
, a beautiful, tranquil horseshoe-shaped beach shaded by palms. It has three main sectors, Santa Rita, Los Caneyes and Patanemo itself, with the village proper, further from the beach than the other two. All three have lodging, but it may be difficult to find meals midweek (try at posadas). Offshore is the lovely Isla Larga (no shade or facilities), best reached by boat from Quizandal. There are several cafés along the beachfront. Nearby are two sunken wrecks that attract divers.

Parque Nacional Morrocoy

Palm-studded islets and larger islands (
cayos
) with secluded beaches make up Parque Nacional Morrocoy. The largest and most popular of the islands within the park is
Cayo Sombrero
, with two over-priced fish restaurants. No alcohol is sold on this or other islands; be aware of hidden extra costs and take your own supplies. It is very busy at weekends and during holidays and is generally dirty and noisy. But there are some deserted beaches, with trees on which to sling a hammock. For peace and quiet, take boats to the farthest cayos.
Playuela
is beautiful and is considered to have one of the nicest beaches of all. It has a small restaurant at weekends and there's a nice walk to Playuelita.
Boca Seca
is also pleasant, with shade and calm water suitable for children, but it can be windy.
Cayo Borracho
, one of the nicest islands, has become a turtle-nesting reserve, closed to visitors.
Playa Azul
, a nice small cayo, has shallow water. The water at
Pescadores
is very shallow.
Los Muertos
has two beaches with shade, mangroves and palms.
Mero
's beach is beautiful, with palms, but is windy. With appropriate footwear it is possible to walk between some of the islands. Calm waters here are ideal for water-skiing while scuba diving is best suited to beginners. Two things to note, though: a chemical spill in the 1990s destroyed about 50% of the coral in the park, so snorkellers will see very little. Only by diving to deeper waters will you see coral, although in all locations there are still fish to watch. Secondly, take insect repellent against
puri puri
(tiny, vicious mosquitoes) and flies. A number of muggings have been reported around Playa Sur.

Adjoining the park to the north is a vast nesting area for scarlet ibis, flamingos and herons, the
Cuare Wildlife Sanctuary
. Most of the flamingos are in and around the estuary next to Chichiriviche, which is too shallow for boats but you can walk there or take a taxi. Birds are best watched early morning or late afternoon.

Tucacas and Chichiriviche

Tucacas is a hot, busy, dirty town, where bananas and other fruit are loaded for Curaçao and Aruba. Popular and expensive as a beach resort, it has garish high-rise blocks and casinos. Its port area is gaining a reputation for rip-offs and robberies. A few kilometres beyond Tucacas, towards Coro, is Chichiriviche, smaller, more relaxed, but lined with tacky shops, also dirty and not that attractive. Both provide access to Parque Nacional Morrocoy, each town serving separate
cayos
, but only as far as Cayo Sombrero. Apart from this and the diving options, no one has a good word to say about Tucacas or Chichiriviche.

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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