Henri Pittier National Park
Henri Pittier National Park is a wildlife treasure-house, especially for birds—some 600 species, one of the highest concentrations in the world, almost as many as in the entire area from Alaska to Mexico. They respond here to the great variety of climate and habitat—something for every kind of bird—from arid Caribbean beaches with lagoons where bright flamingos gather, rising to 6,000 feet (2,000 m) in Cordillera de la Costa Mountains where a v-shaped dip allows passage of migrants from as far away as Argentina and Alaska.
Descending in both directions are cloud and evergreen tropical forest with tumbling mountain streams, semidry deciduous woods and, at the shore, coastal scrub, mangroves, and coconut groves—all in a fairly short distance, a few hours’ drive over the two (unconnected) roads winding through.
In trees 200 feet (61 m) tall are helmeted curassows, blood-eared parakeets, bearded bluebells, and earth’s most powerful avian predators, harpy eagles, along with six other eagle species, plus well-named handsome fruiteaters, shining white-tipped quetzals and, in low understory, spectacular golden tanagers and long-tailed sylphs.
Powerful pumas, jaguars, and ocelots prowl the jungle below with giant anteaters and shy 440-pound (200-kg) tapirs. Prehensile-tailed porcupines climb trees where three-toed sloths languidly browse and red howler monkeys make cliffs resound for miles. Marsupial frogs in moist enclaves advertise for mates with penetrating nocturnal calls issued 250 times an hour, after which females brood young in pouches on their backs.
This spectacular area just two hours west of Caracas was first noticed by dictator Juan Vicente Gomez who started building an elegant hideaway and hotel here; it was left unfinished after his death in 1935. Two years later the area was set aside as Venezuela’s 416-square-mile (1,080-km2) first national park, named after the Swiss naturalist who founded the country’s park system. In the park is Estacion Biologica de Rancho Grande with zoological museum and trails, reachable by road from Maracay, El Limon, or Choroni. Lodging dormitory-style is available at the station; hotels at nearby towns and beaches. Best times are dry season December–March; for bird migration September–October.
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