Mochima National Park – Aquatic Adventures

31 Oct

Parque Nacional Mochina is Venezuela’s second oldest national park, created in 1973 to protect the beautiful coastline, offshore islands and marine life against the unregulated building of holiday homes. The pace of life is slow and laid back and many travellers make this a logical stop to or from an inland expedition to Angel Falls or Roraima and stay for longer than they planned. Scorched, rust coloured mountains dotted with cacti make for a beautiful backdrop and plunge into calm, shallow bays with golden beaches. The islands offer a chance to get away from it all and find tranquility in your own slice of tropical paradise. It’s a great spot to recharge your batteries, or, if adventure is your desire, diving, snorkelling and boat trips can easily be arranged.

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There are several towns to base yourself along this stretch of coastline from which to explore the park, with the most popular being Sante Fe and Mochima. We chose to stay in Santa Fe for its beach lined with coconut palms. Regular buses or ‘por puestos’ (shared mini vans) travel between Puerto La Cruz and Cumana, the only two towns of any size either side of the park, and will drop you at Santa Fe’s petrol station on the highway. From there you can walk through the town towards the beach and all of the accommodation options.

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Our initial impressions of Sante Fe were of a rather scruffy and lived-in town. Because of the easy access it offers to the national park, Sante Fe has grown quickly from a small fishing village in a rather haphazard fashion to accommodate tourism but it still retains its working class roots. The chilled out beach front is like stepping into a different world. The long golden strip of sand is lapped by calm, clear water and the views across the Gulf of Santa Fe are simply beautiful.

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Rustic houses line one end of the shoreline and have porches leading straight into the sea. Wooden fishing boats are guarded by flocks of rowdy pelicans who look like they may have been fed too many scraps to actually be bothered to fish for dinner themselves. The pace of life is slow and it won’t be long before you’re feeling laid back.

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Everything you need is close at hand. There’s a small market selling fish, bread, cheese, fruit and vegetables at one end of the beach and small cafes dot the beach selling food and drinks during the day, although many close down early evening so be prepared to cook for yourself or ask if your pousada offers dinner.

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We stayed at Bahia del Mar owned by a super friendly French – Canadian couple. The pousada was a relaxing haven with spacious ensuite doubles, a comfy communal area with books and board games and a well equipped outdoor kitchen for guests to use. At around $12 per night, this place offers incredible bang for your buck. One of the biggest plus points is the location directly on the beach so within 10 steps of the front gates, across the sand, you can find yourself floating in the warm sea. It’s advisable to like animals if you stay here as they have two gorgeous dogs who love to be part of the action. The owners are a fountain of information on Venezuela and can help to arrange trips and tours around the country.

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Locals offer water taxi services to numerous beautiful beaches in the area or, as we did, you can take a day tour around the national park. The tour includes snorkelling at coral reefs and stops at the islands to relax on secluded beaches. We joined a couple from Holland on the trip and paid around $10 USD per person which included snorkels, masks and flippers. Wet suits could be hired but the water was so warm we didn’t need them.

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Our skipper for the day was a friendly man who spoke excellent English. He was tall with tanned skin, a mop of brown curly hair and dark eyes with laughter lines. He was a well-travelled and self-educated man who’d been drawn back to Venezuela because of family ties and had fallen in love with the area again. “It’s a strange feeling” he said “I never realised what I had on my doorstep until I went away, and now I know that the thing I was searching for, was here all along.”

The National Park has around 30 striking offshore islands formed by what remains of sunken mountain ranges and the valleys are now filled with water and form the gulf in front of the village. The sea is very calm in the sheltered bays and it’s very common to spot pods of dolphins playing around.

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Many indigenous groups of people live right on the water in rustic houses and of course everyone has their own boat. Although not everyone’s boat has an engine as we found out when we came across a group of people making hard work out of rowing across the bay and offered them a tow!

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There are around 60 dive and snorkel sites in Mochima National Park to explore the beautiful under water world. There are deep and shallow reefs, caves, shipwrecks and bubbling hot springs. Venezuela has some of the best developed and most diverse coral in the Caribbean. The water is rich in nutrients and over 200 types of fish have been recorded in the park.

We stopped at three separate sites with beautiful craggy scenery and plunged in to enjoy the marvels beneath the glittering waters. It was like delving into a well stocked aquarium. We were mesmerised as schools of stripped angel fish, multi-coloured parrot fish and spiky puffer fish swirled and danced in the currents.

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We’d been told that we’d stop for a BBQ lunch during the day so before we set off, we borrowed a cool box from our pousada and stocked it up with goodies from the market – freshly caught fish with plantains (staples for any good Caribbean grill) along with bread, cheese and tomato. We also purchased two large bottles of water and indulged in eight ice cold beers.

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We had lunch at Playa Tacuaramo on Islas Caracas and it turned out to be our favourite spot of the day, with powdery soft sands and clear water all to ourselves. We gathered sun bleached driftwood from along the shoreline and sauntered back to our guide who was building a fire pit under a shady tree. Whenever we started to overheat, we plunged into the sea until we were neck deep and waited there until our temperature had dropped a notch or two. Cool again, we’d sauntered back to our beach mats and sipped cold beer which tasted oh so good.

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Within 20 minutes a small fire was crackling and the delicious smells wafting down the beach made our mouths water. There’s something about eating food outdoors that makes it taste even better than usual and we’d all worked up a big appetite snorkelling.

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Once our island hopping was done, we headed back to shore to watch the setting sun. As the ungainly pelicans entertained us diving for their supper, we found ourselves succumbing further still to the simple charms of Parque Nacional Mochina. Before we could consult the map to locate our next destination, we’d already given in to temptation and extended our stay.

 

 

 

3 Responses to “Mochima National Park – Aquatic Adventures”

  1. millynomad November 3, 2014 at 12:43 pm #

    Awesome pics!

  2. millynomad November 3, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    P.s. I posted it on my company’s Facebook page too 🙂 https://www.facebook.com/GapYearExperts/posts/834272623289730

    • latinchattin November 3, 2014 at 6:08 pm #

      Thanks for your support and really pleased you liked our pictures!

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