across the Coastal Range

The Venezuelan Coastal Range is recent in geological terms (and especially if we compare it with the history of the Gran Sabana to the South). The Range extends from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia up to the islands of Margarita and Trinidad and Tobago which are part of the same geological system.

This system emerged from the ocean floor at the end of the Cretacean, 65 million years ago, from the pressure originated by the movement of the continental plate of the Caribbean and North America against the sediments of the Guyanese shield to the South. Then the work of millions of years of erosion created the deep valleys, and the sediments product of the erosion contributed to the creation of the plains to the South (Los Llanos).

The central area of the Range extends for 400 km (250 miles), from the State of Yaracuy to the Lagoon of Unare to the East. It is made of 2 ranges, that run parallel to the Sea: the Northern one, highest, falls abruptly to the Sea and the Southern one rises from the plains to the South. Between them, a series of basins and valleys: the Lake of Valencia, the Valley of Caracas, Aragua and Tuy. The highest peaks are close to Caracas, the Naiguata Peak with 2,765 meters (9,071 ft.) altitude, and the Oriental Peak with 2,637 meters (8,650 ft.).

The Henri Pittier National Park

The Henri Pittier National Park, named from Henri François Pittier, a Swiss scholar who spent many years studying all the things that grow in the forest of the Coastal Range, was the first National Park created in Venezuela in 1937.

It is located in the Central Part of the Coastal Range, between the States of Aragua and Carabobo. It is composed of various ecosystems, marine, savannas and Cloud Forest. The altitude varies from 0 at sea level to 2,436 meters (7,992 ft.), Pico Cenizo, its highest peak.

Its topography is very rugged with the strongest variations occurring on its Northern flank. This relief generates contrasting weather conditions, like the temperature, which varies from 6°C (30°F) at altitude to 30°C (86°F) on the coast.

The vegetation is composed of mangroves, coconut palms, and thorny bushes in the coastal low regions, then the savannas cover the slopes from 300 to 700 meters (1.000 to 2.300 ft.), these are essentially the result of human occupation. Over 600 meters (2.000 ft.) begins a dense, seasonal, dry forest, which transforms in a permanent green forest over 800 meters (2.600 ft.).

The Cloud Forest appears between 1,300 and 2,200 meters (4.260 ft. and 7.200 ft.), with trees over 30-40 meters (100 ft.) high, a green carpet of arums, ferns and Gunnera pittierana, a grass with unusually large leaves, endemic to that area.

The wildlife is especially rich, especially birds. More than 530 species have been reported in the park alone, which represents 6.5 % of the world’s birds population and 41% of Venezuela’s.

The largest mammal living in the forest is the tapir, we find also the panther, the ocelot, as well as a quantity of monkeys, of which the howling monkey is the most “outspoken”, and a numerous representation of the reptile family, from venomous snakes like tigre mariposa (Bothrops venezuelensis), the coral snake and the rattlesnake, to a quantity of non-venomous ones like the boa constrictor. The strangest mammal you can see in the cloud forest is the pereza (Bradypus variegatus). It is difficult to see because it hangs high in the trees and moves so slowly, when it moves at all...

The variety of climates, temperatures and humidity levels, that we find from 0 to 2.000 meters (6,500 ft.) is propicious to about any kind of tropical and sub-tropical agricultural crops. Of primary importance during the colony was the production of cacao. The world’s best cacao used to come from Chuao and Choroni, this is why the first category, “Grade 0”, according to the world’s commercial classification, is made-up of 3 types called Venezuela, Choroni and Chuao.

Starting in 1830, coffee substituded cacao as the major export from Venezela and large haciendas existed in all the Coastal Range, between 500 and 1.000 meters (1,600 and 3,200 ft.) as coffee plantations in Venezuela need a temperature between 17 and 24°C (60 and 74°F) to be productive.

Forced labor was imported from Africa to work in the coffee and cacao plantations. Slavery was abolished in 1853 but the black population stayed and is majoritary in the little coastal communities, and continue to maintain alive its African traditions.

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