Island hopping in Morrocoy National Marine Park

23 Jul

“Where you go today?” smiled our regular skipper as we climbed aboard his speedboat, brightly stencilled with a Bob Marley design. We paused for a moment before making another tough decision – which tropical island with powder soft sand ringed by coral reefs would we visit that day? It’s really tough being a backpacker.

As budget travellers we’re used to travelling economy class. To pulling up a seat alongside society’s working class, sacks of grain and the occasional goat…but in Venezuela everything was different. The black market exchange rate meant the bang for our buck was astronomic and we lived royally…or in this case like international super spy’s hiring private speed boats to ferry us around some of the 30 secluded Cayos (reef-formed islands) inside Morrocoy Marine National Park.

Located on the west-central Venezuelan coast and covering 32,000 acres of both land and sea in the Golfo Triste, Morrocoy National Park is a protected area of mangroves, bays, cays and islands set at the foot of the Chichiriviche hills.

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The park can be accessed from two points, the small town of Chichiriviche (population 12,500) in the north, and larger Tucacas in the south. We stayed in Chichiriviche which, to tell the truth, was a little bland, but it did have a cute waterfront with colourful, old fishing boats and a selection of B&B’s and restaurants.

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Its biggest plus point is its proximity to the National Park and a host of willing boat drivers ready to put together a tailor made sight-seeing package for a very reasonable price. The boat drivers stand on the harbour front with bill-boards featuring jaw dropping images of tropical island scenes. Prices per boat are listed for the transfer to any particular island but deals are there to be done. It’s possible to share boats (and costs) with others going to the same destination, or you can hire a boat for the day to take you on a tour of the islands you wish to visit. The boat drivers will wait with the boat whilst you explore or alternatively you can agree a time for them to return to pick you up later in the day.

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We travelled to Chichiriviche by bus from Coro which took 3.5 hours. There is no direct bus but take any bus heading to Valencia and ask to get off in Sanare, at the turn off for Chichiriviche, where you can jump on another bus the rest of the way.

We stayed in Spanish themed Villa Gregoria (300 Bolivars a night) in a bright and spacious upper floor room with ensuite bathroom, air-con and Wi-Fi. We were well and truly looked after by the Spanish owner who’d travelled here in his late 20’s, fell in love with the country and a local lady, and never left. He was now well into his 80’s but very sprightly, a fountain of local knowledge and had a killer twinkle in his eye.

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The beaches here are dazzling white and numerous. The weekends can be busy with local holiday makers but visit on a weekday and it’s likely you’ll have your own little slice of palm tree paradise to yourself…well, apart from the Hermit Crabs gaily chasing each other across the sand.

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Some of the most popular and beautiful are Sombrero cay, Pescadores cay, Sal cay, Borracho cay, Mero cay, Playuela and Varadero. Journey times vary depending on location and the tide but the closest cay is just 10 minutes away and the furthest a mere 30 minutes away. The boat drivers are very accommodating so if you can’t decide which island you’d like to visit and you’re short on time, ask them to take you on a tour of a few, or spend the morning on one and the afternoon on another.

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The warm tropical weather is influenced by northeast trade winds and year round temperatures hover around 30 degrees. There are plenty of palm trees for shade in the midday heat but don’t expect to be refreshed by the water as it’s almost like stepping into a warm bath.

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If you feel like being active, it’s possible to rent kayaks from Chichiriviche and independently explore the mangroves, lagoons, marshes, saline shoals and caves which are home to a rich variety of bird life including flamingos, ospreys and pelicans.

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On some of the cays there are a few basic facilities, whilst others have been left completely natural, so ask your boat driver what’s on the island you plan to visit so you can plan ahead as to whether you’ll need a beach mat or some lunch for the day. On several of the beaches it was possible to rent sun loungers and snorkeling equipment to check out the offshore reefs and tropical fish.

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Several locals vendors travel to the islands each morning to sell food and drink to the visitors. Within just a few paces from your beach front position, it’s possible to indulge in lobster, ceviche, grilled chicken and pork and even some sweet desserts. It will come as no surprise that we were particular fans of the mouthwatering and stagger-inducing fruit cocktails.

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There is no accommodation as such on the islands, however, if you have your own tent and camping equipment it is possible to spend the night on several of the islands. As this is a National Park, permission must be sought in advance through INPARQUES (National Parks Institute), custodians of the natural environment.

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So if you could think of nothing better than being spoiled for choice with beautiful tropical beaches, fish filled coral reefs and mangrove swamps teeming with a wealth of marine bird life, Morrocoy Marine National Park is one to add to your ever increasing list of places to visit. And besides, think of the bragging rights you’ll have after being able to afford your own speedboat and skipper for the day!

 

2 Responses to “Island hopping in Morrocoy National Marine Park”

  1. thetravellush July 24, 2014 at 3:31 am #

    Wow, Morrocoy National Park looks like heaven. It would be so amazing to be able to pitch a tent on any of those beaches! With each and every post you write, you guys are making me seriously want to go to Venezuela!

    • latinchattin August 9, 2014 at 11:59 pm #

      There was certainly plenty of space to pitch a tent and act like a real life Robinson Crusoe. We really enjoyed finding places we never knew existed too. It was a nervous step into the unknown visiting Venezuela but we really enjoyed it and would recommend a visit if you’re ever back in South America.

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