Henri Pittier National Park is the oldest of Venezuela’s national parks and, given the significant changes in altitude in the park, it is famous for the diversity of its ecosystems.
The park, declared in 1937, did not start out as “Henri Pittier” but was re-named in recognition of the Swiss biologist who was instrumental in its foundation. Henri Pittier arrived in Venezuela in 1917, and classified more than 30,000 species of plants in the country and he decided to dedicate many years to studying the flora and fauna in the area of the current park.
Henri Pittier National Park is located between Aragua and Carabobo States and is the largest national park of the Cordillera de la Costa (Coastal Mountain Range) region. There are several distinct habitats along the park’s elevation gradient, which ranges from sea level to 2,346 meters above sea level. The park’s cloud forests and coastal region are a great attraction for scientists.
As I mentioned above, Henry Pittier National Park has vast biological diversity – forming a so-called “hotspot” of the tropical Andes. The most studied ecosystem is the cloud forest, where up to 150 different species of trees have been reported as well as over 140 species of mammals, 580 birds, 97 reptiles and 38 amphibians with the number of insect species estimated to be over one million. And that’s just in the cloud forest!
The complete absence of park personnel, infrastructure, designated trails and means of transportation and communication make adequate exploration of the park a difficult task. So, as mentioned in this previous post, my Italian and I hired a local Venezuelan to show us the best trails and sights in Henri Pittier National Park.
Of course, there are others ways in too – as demonstrated by this guy that caught a ride on the Polar Ice beer truck:
Our guide picked us up in Puerto Colombia and then took us into the heart of the park. The start of the trail we utilized was marked by this donkey rather than a sign. How the hell are you going to know something like that without a guide?
Scenes from inside Henri Pittier National Park:
The trail we loosely followed was originally formed by the indigenous people named the Choroni. They were fishermen and hunter/gatherers and lived in huts on the beach or in the jungle.
When we stopped for lunch, our guide told me about an American that lives near the park – a two and a half hour walk from any road or trail. Apparently, he is fairly young, but “hates the system” and so lives in a hut with no electricity, radio – anything. To support himself, he and his Spanish girlfriend make trinkets for tourists, but they don’t like visitors and so only sell their trinkets when they reluctantly venture out to town.
It’s hard to tell, but this spider was the size of a dinner plate:
That bit in my opening about the significant altitude change was no joke. We often had to use vines to climb the near-vertical hillsides or to rappel down:
Unfortunately, just because it is a park does not mean it is truly protected as the picture below reveals. With no park personnel, there is no force to halt human encroachment. And, of course, poachers are a constant threat.
The most threatened animal species within Henri Pittier National Park include birds, such as the plain-flanked rail, the yellow-faced siskin and the red siskin, mammals, such as the white-bellied or long-haired spider monkey, the bush dog and the tapir, as well as the American crocodile, the Veragua stubfoot toad and the Hercules beetle. Several threatened species of birds and mammals are particularly symbolic of the park such as: the trogon, the handsome fruiteater, the harpy eagle, the puma, the jaguar, and the red howler monkey: