Participants: Blake Mathys and Ben Baiser
July 26th: stayed at Hotel Avila
July 27th - 30th: stayed at Posada el Limon, birded Henri Pittier
July 30th: spent the night at Hato la Fe
July 31st - August 2nd: stayed at and birded Hato Masaguaral
August 2nd - 5th: stayed at and birded Hato Pinero
Aug 5th: drove to Merida, spent the night at random hotel
August 6th: birded Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada, spent the night at Posada Dona Rosa
August 7th: birded areas along the road out of the Andes, then drove to Posada el Limon
August 8th: minor birding in Henri Pittier, then drove to Hotel Avila
August 9th: departed Venezuela
Full species list in Microsoft Excel format
We arrived in Caracas on July 26th. I had flown in from Trinidad ($350 US for a roundtrip ticket from Aeropostal, the only airline that flies from Trinidad to Venezuela) and Ben had come from Miami (~$450 US roundtrip). We were met at the airport by Leandro Vivas, a local guide. This had been arranged by Chris Sharpe and Bird Venezuela (see: Bird Venezuela; I recommend getting in touch with them to plan any birding trips to Venezuela), and having someone bilingual to get us started was very helpful. We took a taxi to Caracas to Bird Venezuela's office to make final arrangements. Unfortunately, the Angel Falls section of our trip didn't work out, so we decided on three main parts: Parque Nacional Henri Pittier (including Rancho Grande), the Llanos, and the Andes. Bird Venezuela arranged for our reservations at our accommodations for the Henri Pittier portion and the time we spent at Hato Pinero. We spent the first night in Caracas at Hotel Avila, which is highly recommended. It was 115000 bolivares (~$54 US) for the room for the two of us, which included a nice breakfast. I recommend this place, as it seemed safe and was very nice. We were supposed to go to the bank in the morning and get money to pay Bird Venezuela for the parts of the trip they had arranged. We had been told, and it seemed likely, that getting a cash advance from one's Visa or Mastercard would be easy and straightforward. We had no such luck. Be sure to call your bank/credit card company and inform them that you will be traveling in Venezuela, because our attempted transactions were turned down by our banks (I know this to be true in Ben's case and assume it to be true for me). I had come into the country with $320 US and had changed this to bolivares at the airport (a safe place where you get a decent exchange rate). I was able to get some money from ATMs, but money was a huge problem. Again, be sure to contact your bank before you go. After visiting three banks we actually had the money to pay Bird Venezuela. We then checked out of Hotel Avila and went to get our rental car. I highly recommend Thrifty, as they were very helpful. They brought the car from the airport to Caracas for us, and didn't seem upset at the Caracas office despite the fact that we were hours late to pick it up (partially owing to the money fiasco). The car (a Toyota Yarris) was very nice and clean. They have a weekly rate of $250 US, which is substantially less than what we'd heard about from previous trip reports. There was a tax at the end, when we returned the car, of nearly 50% (I think). Be ready for that. However, we were able to rent a car for 13 days, back into a tree, and pay a total (all taxes plus the car damage included) of ~$850 US. We had intended to buy the $18 a day insurance, but apparently hadn't due to some language difficulties. Fortunately, the damage to the car was only $160, whereas the insurance would've been $234. As far as I'm concerned, backing into a tree saved us money (note the sarcasm here).
After we got the car, we headed for Maracay and Posada el Limon. We encountered stopped traffic on the way, apparently owing to an accident ahead. We did some birding from the area of the car for the two hours we were in the traffic jam. We then proceeded to Posada el Limon, which was to be our accommodation for the next three nights. I highly recommend it. We birded Rancho Grande the first day, Choroni Road the second day, and an area near a metal bridge on the road to Rancho Grande the third day. We did not hire a guide (we prefer the fun and challenge of trying to figure things out ourselves). After leaving Posada el Limon on the 30th, we drove to Hato Masaguaral in the Llanos. This is a private ranch that is also a biological station. We knew someone who was doing research on Green-rumped Parrotlets at the ranch, and so were able to visit for two nights. This area is normally not open to birders, and we were fortunate to be able to visit. After Masaguaral we drove to Hato Pinero. The road to Hato Pinero is full of holes...it is a difficult and time consuming endeavor to weave in and out of all (well, we missed most) of them. We stayed at Pinero for three nights, and went on two excursions every day, including one the evening that we arrived. Hato Pinero is expensive but I very much recommend it. I have not been to Hato Cedral to compare. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay and I would like to return in the future. After Pinero we headed for the Andes. Unfortunately, we only had two days in the Andes, which wasn't enough. The drive from Hato Pinero to Merida took about 8 hours. We stayed at a small hotel on the outskirts of Merida the first night; unfortunately I've forgotten its name. It was 35000 bolivares (about $16). We just stopped at a place that looked likely, and found it to be acceptable. The first morning we went to Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada, which one accesses by going through Tabay. We didn't get as high on the Humboldt trail as we probably should've, but we were relatively satisfied with our results there. The second morning we stopped by Laguna Mucubaji. This area was beautiful and scenic, although the birding was very difficult. We then went to Gustavo's Trail, where we met with absolutely no success until we got back up to the road and found a mixed flock foraging on the far side of the road. After this we drove back across the country to Posada el Limon. and did some minor birding in Henri Pittier the next morning. After we'd arrived back at Posada el Limon, I discovered that my spotting scope and tripod were no longer with us. Unfortunately, it is still in Venezuela. I don't know whether I left it sitting alongside the road somewhere or perhaps it was stolen. Regardless, I left the country without it. The road from Maracay to Caracas had developed a large sinkhole in the intervening time, and this added a couple of hours to our drive back. We stayed at the Hotel Avila again, as we knew it was nice and safe. The next morning we drove to the airport, where we had some confusion finding where to return the rental car. Thrifty, for reasons entirely unknown, does not have an office in the international terminal. Their office is in the domestic terminal. We got the car returned after some discussion and confusion over the insurance and so forth. Ben's plane left on time, and mine was late leaving (I've heard the flight to Port of Spain is always late).
Our final trip total was 242 species. We saw more but were unable to identify many. I am sure that if one hired a competent guide, 350 species in 2 weeks would not be difficult. There were many small tyrants, Myiarchus, and hummingbirds that were not identified. We probably should've spent one less day in the Llanos and one more day in the Andes, although we didn't see Crane Hawk until the final day when we were driving out of Hato Pinero. Overall, I highly recommend Venezuela. I never felt unsafe and travel was easy enough. The birding was quite good, despite the fact we were there in the off-season.
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