Up in the northeast corner of Venezuela, two peninsulas join together to form a â€śT.â€ť The western arm is the Araya, with a desert landscape. The eastern arm, the Paria, has jungle-draped mountains that tumble into the sea.
CarĂşpano is the base point for exploring this fascinating region of Venezuela. It was also once the main port for the exportation of cocoa when that crop was king, and where BolĂvar emancipated the slaves of Gran Colombia. Today, it is more renowned for being the only place in the country where the traditional pre-Lent Carnival is celebrated, with processions, costumes and music. This attractive colonial town also boasts a regional museum and a landscaped park on the waterfront.
Traveling east along the Caribbean coast, youâ€™ll come across many sandy beaches and cozy posadas. RĂo Caribe is a fishing village with many colonial buildings painted in pastel colors. Further along the coastal road is Puerto Santo, and the Los Cocos, Medina and Puipuy beaches. San Juan de las Galdonas has many inns and fine restaurants. Beyond that, the road becomes a dirt track of little interest to travelers, with few services available.
Another paved road from CarĂşpano goes inland and crosses the mountains. Around El Pilar are several expensive posadas, spas and eco-tourism resorts with all-inclusive packages. Many have private swimming pools and offer tours to cocoa farms, beaches, mangroves, the national park, hot springs and other areas. The route emerges at Irapa on the Gulf of Paria. Christopher Columbus called this area â€śThe Gardens.â€ť This is also allegedly where Papillon landed after escaping Devilâ€™s Island.
The road ends at GĂĽiria, a small fishing town with beaches. From here departs the Trinidad-bound ferry. Boats also leave for Macuro, a tranquil village on the very tip of the peninsula, and for Pedernales, a largely indigenous settlement on the River Orinoco delta. The latter two places can only be reached by boat.
Parque Nacional Paria includes most of the coastal range and the northeastern coastline of the peninsula. It consists of dry and wet tropical forests, as well as a swath of cloud forest. Almost 30% of the bird species reported in Venezuela can be found here, including the scissor-tailed hummingbird, native to this region. There are also two and three-toed sloths, the silky anteater and other animals.
An adventure into the little-visited Paria Peninsula in the Sucre state poses a contrast to its sister peninsula. Where else can one find glittering desert on one side of a plateau and rich jungle on the other? While traveling through the Paria, it is also worth stopping off at one of the many homes offering blocks of homegrown, organic chocolate: the icing on the cake, as it were, of this sweet journey into verdant mountains and crystalline seas.