Choroní is one of the most important towns adjacent to the park on the north side
Photo: Eduardo Gonzalez
Before the Spanish colonization, the territory of the park was inhabited by the Aragua Indian tribe. After the Spanish armies moved from the coast towards the central region of Venezuela, the indigenous settlements remained in this zone only for a short time (BNV 2005). The figures engraved on rocks (petroglyphs) found throughout the park are historical records of the first settlers of the area.
Cacao was among the various agricultural products that grew wild in the forest. Once large cacao plantations were established, African slaves were used to cultivate this product, which soon became an item for exportation. To this day, the cultivation of cacao and the descendants of slaves, remain one of the major cultural features of the areas surrounding the park (PC n/d).
There is no up-to-date information about the number of settlements within Henri Pittier National Park, however, the population inside the park in 2003 was estimated at approximately 50,000 (Herrera 2003). Special use zones in the park allow towns of proven historical value to remain in the area. However, invasions have occurred in these and other areas, violating all legal regulations (Fundación Agua Clara 2005). The growth of the towns inside the park is an indication of increasing population. For example, the relative growth of Ocumare de la Costa, San Joaquín, Girardot, and El Limón has been 47%, 52.7%, 11.2% and 6.3%, respectively (INE 2001).
The people living in and around the park are dedicated mainly to agricultural activities, supplemented by raising some types of livestock. The main agricultural products are cacao, coffee, bananas, avocados, cassavas, yams and sugar cane. The livestock is mostly pigs; pork is part of the daily diet. Fishing activities only take place outside the park’s boundaries in the towns on the coast. Cattle ranching is seen only in certain places such as Trincherón, located between Turmero and Chuao.
Traditionally, Venezuelan cacao has been considered one of the best in the world. Although its economic importance has decreased considerably, its prestige and quality have remained, and today it is a product of national pride (Fundación Tierra Viva 2001).
Sedimentary rocks are extracted from the park for construction in the towns of Cura and El Guamacho, located near San Joaquín (State of Carabobo). Also, mineral water is extracted for industrial purposes in El Castaño, located a few kilometers from the city of Maracay, on the way to Choroní.
In the far south of the park are Lake Valencia and the metropolitan area of the city of Maracay, which has a population of around 850,000 inhabitants (INE 2001). Access to and transit within the park is on two main roads that start in Maracay (running north-south). The longer one (50 km) takes the western route from El Limón until it branches in two directions: to Ocumare de la Costa- Cata-Cuyagua and to Cumboto-Turiamo, while the other road connects El Castaño and Choroní in the eastern zone of the park. The Rancho Grande Biological Station, located at Km 12 on the western road, provides lodging and laboratory facilities to researchers, students, and bird watchers, among others. It also has an interpretive nature trail and a museum collection that some years ago was moved a few kilometers down the road to the town of El Limón. The recreational area of Las Cocuizas, located at Km 2 on the eastern route, has cabins for barbecues and is a good place for enjoying the river environment. There are scenic overlooks and water taps along both roads.
The flow of tourists through the park is mostly people on their way to beaches located in the coastal towns of Cata, Cuyagua, and Choroní. The number of people that travel through the park each season has been estimated at 450,000 (Herrera 2003). Some visitors make day trips, while others camp or stay in hotels, inns, or vacation homes in the towns mentioned above.
The beaches of Cata and Choroní, on the north of the park, are frecuently visited by tourists
Cuyagua beach is located within the park, and because of its
open ocean character, it is preferred by surfers
Photos: Eduardo Gonzalez
The Rancho Grande Biological Station is an historical building that represents an attraction for tourists. Visitors must notify the School of Agronomy of the Universidad Central de Venezuela in Maracay to obtain authorization to visit or stay over night. Next to the biological station is the “Andrew Field” interpretive trail. Visits to the trail also require authorization from INPARQUES.
The park has several recreational areas, including Las Cocuizas, La Trilla, La Guamita and El Polvorín, where pedestrian access is free of charge, but there is an entrance fee for automobiles. There are also different hiking paths, some used more than others. The main trails are: Choroní-Sinamaica-Chuao, Uraca-Tremaria, Turmero-Chuao (the most visited), Cepe-Chuao, Cumboto-Santa María-El Loro, Cumboto-San Joaquín, Rancho Grande-Pico Guacamaya (Flores 2004).
Rivers within the various recreation areas, such as El Polvorín, are used for bathing (left); in La Trilla visitors take advantage of facilities for barbecueing
Photos: Eduardo Gonzalez
Visitors can either use private transportation or public buses that depart from the Maracay Bus Station for Ocumare and Choroní. There is also a private minibus terminal in Caña de Azúcar (near El Limón). The stops along the way do not have much to offer (only coffee and rest rooms) and the road signs need improvement. Tourist information is scarce and found mostly at the inns in towns on the coast region. Guided tours to the park are infrequent, and most people organize visits on their own without the assistance of a travel agency.