Cumana

Overview

Introduction

Residents of Cumana boast that it was the first city built by Europeans on the South American continent (1521), although that honor actually goes to Colombia's Santa Maria le Antigua del Darien, founded in 1510. Still, Cumana is South America's oldest continuously inhabited city founded by Europeans, and is the birthplace of many Venezuelan generals and poets. Though located on the mainland, 250 mi/400 km east of Caracas. Cumana is often visited by those vacationing on Margarita Island. A ferry operates somewhat irregularly between the main island and Cumana.

Cumana's main tourist attraction is its historic zone. Despite the fact that major earthquakes in 1684, 1853 and 1929 destroyed much of the original town, the historic zone still charms visitors primarily because of its impressive Castillo de San Antonio de la Eminencia fort. And don't miss the modern-art museum next to it. Calle Sucre is lined with colonial buildings as well as another smaller, less-appealing fort (Castillo de Santa Maria de la Cabeza) and the Convent of San Francisco (the first school in South America; currently being restored). The inviting, tree-filled Parque Guaiqueri parallels the Manzanares River.

An express ferry links Cumana with Araya, on the Araya Peninsula, where you can visit the ruins of a picturesque colonial fort (it was the most expensive construction project in Venezuela at the time) and the adjacent beach. If you have time, take the hour-long drive along the Route of the Sun, the peninsula's coastal highway.

Another frequent side trip is to Caripe, located in the mountains about 90 minutes southeast of Cumana. Its biggest attraction is La Cueva del Guacharo, the largest cave in Venezuela at 33,455 ft/10,200 m (about a third of which is open to the public—guided tours are offered daily). The cave's name comes from the thousands of guacharo birds that inhabit one of its pitch-black galleries.

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