For centuries the park area has been of great importance to humans. Native inhabitants that lived in the mountains approximately 500 years ago built trails, which cross the mountains connecting the coast to the valley of Caracas. Spanish colonizers used some of these trails during the 17th century, as did pirates and merchants traveling to Caracas. Today, there are many more trails and roads which add to the recreational and tourism value of El Ávila. Many people from Caracas who enjoy the outdoors often use these trails. The so-called Camino de los Espańoles (trail of the Spaniards) is the oldest trail, and together with some forts built during the colonial period, was declared national historic patrimony in 1966. They are protected by special legislation, which is mostly ignored.
El Ávila has endured a long history of human intervention and colonization, most occurring prior to its creation. On several occasions, the government bought private land at the base of the mountain facing Caracas. In 1974, agricultural lands in the state of Miranda were included to increase its area. The growth of slums in many of the lower areas around Caracas has diminished the natural sectors by several hundred hectares. To the west of Caracas, around La Guaira and along the old road to the airport, there are 21 slums and an estimated 600,000 people. All these people live within the Environmental Protection and Recovery Zone. Since the disastrous mudslides of 1999, when 30,000 people died and more than 60,000 homes were destroyed, the exact number of people who continue to live in this area is unknown.
There are three native villages that predate the formation of the park: Galipán (400 homes), Hoyo de la Cumbre (68 homes) and El Corozo (60 homes). There are also three agricultural communities: Culebrillas (45 homes), Santa Rosa (30 homes) and Sanchorquiz (45 homes). Information on these villages and communities is out-dated, and the current number of inhabitants is likely to be much higher. Last year a national census was conducted but the data is still unavailable.
Most visitors to El Ávila are Venezuelans who hike, camp or visit the recreational areas. Some foreign tourists visit the park on day-tours through Avenida Boyacá or educational tours to the village of Galipán. Bird watching tours are a potential tourism alternative to be developed.
Hiking and camping are important recreational activities in El Ávila. Thousands of people walk the trails daily, and many more on weekends for exercise and to access the campgrounds. Recreational hiking began with Alexander Von Humboldt, who reached the Silla de Caracas and the Pico Oriental (2,625 m above sea level) on January 3, 1800. Then, on April 23, 1872, English merchant James Mudies Spencer climbed the Pico Naiguatá, which at 2,765 m above sea level is the highest point of the entire Cordillera de la Costa range. Today, these mountains are used by various groups of mountaineers from the city. The first groups to use the park were the Centro Excursionista Caracas and Centro Excursionista Codazzi, and newer groups include Grupo Excursionista Oikos, Centro Excursionista Manuel Angel González, Centro Excursionista Universitario and the Centro Excursionista Loyola. In addition to these groups are many others that appreciate the recreational opportunities that El Ávila offers.
The hikers, media and several private companies comprise the most important allies of El Ávila. This support group has come together quite spontaneously. During ParksWatch visits to El Ávila, we were able to witness the good relationship between rangers and hikers, who are the people most familiar with the Park.
Most visitors utilize the park on weekends although it is difficult to quantify the precise number of hikers that use the many roads within El Ávila. Each weekend approximately 1,000 people visit the recreational area Los Venados and another 4,000 take the cable car up to Cerro El Ávila, while approximately 200 vehicles use the road that goes to Galipán.
Visitors on their way to the summit of peak Ávila