Areas within and around San Esteban National Park have a long history of human influence. During colonial times, there was a lot of commercial activity out of the port located at Puerto Cabello (1732). Nonetheless, that did not represent the beginning of human existence in the region. The petroglyphs and menhirs are evidence of this; they are at least 1,800 years old.
Valencia was founded in 1555 in the area that today borders the park’s southern slope. A road known as the “Camino Carabobo” crosses the mountains and connects the towns of Valencia to Puerto Cabello. The Spanish built this road between 1737 and 1808 in order to facilitate transportation of cacao and coffee, which were at that time the province’s most important export crops. The road also led to the town of San Esteban, founded cerca 1630. Today, this “Camino de los Españoles” and the town are located within the park. In 1990, San Esteban had 1,798 inhabitants (OCEI 1994).
Cacao plantations, with their slaves, began to appear in 1565 along the coast towards the east of Puerto Cabello (Elschnig 1996).
Recent research reports that the inhabitants of the Patanemo River Valley extracted and consumed mollusks (Cittarium pica and Astraea caelata) and mangrove oysters (Crassostrea rhizophorae), for over 80 years (González 2003).
The park is located within one of the country’s fastest urbanizing and most industrial zones; which has produced pressure on the park’s continental and coastal-marine portions even prior to the park’s creation.
One of the park’s most outstanding, yet little-known features is its importance protecting Venezuela’s archeological heritage. Within the park there are at least 26 petroglyph sites, which reveal something about the Arahuaco cultural groups that inhabited the Coastal Range 1,800 years ago. Most of the sites are protected and some have been studied.
Menhirs and Petroglyphs. In the park’s archeological museum there are more than 200
inscribed rocks and there is a row of rocks stood up like menhirs for several dozens of meters.
In the part of the park within Guacara municipality there are 13 petroglyph sites, most of which are protected in the Historic-Cultural or Paleonthological Interest Zone (IHC) of Tronconero sector. In San Diego municipality, there are four other sites, six in Puerto Cabello and at least three in Nagua-Nagua (Leonardo Páez, personal commentary). In the town of San Esteban there are at least two easily accessible locales where people can appreciate glyphs created by ancient indigenous inhabitants. Most petroglphys are found in this area, since San Esteban National Park has the highest density of petroglphys in the country (Leonardo Páez, personal commentary).
There is a functioning Archeological Park-Museum (called Piedra Pintada) in the Tronconero IHC Zone. This museum depends on the Fundación para la Defensa del Patrimonio Cultural del Estado Carabobo. There are more than 200 engraved rocks exhibited in the museum, and it is the first open-air archeological museum in the country.
San Esteban receives thousands of people per year. According to Inparques, 92,646 people visited in 2000 and 110,986 in 2001 (Lau 2002). Most visitors go to the park’s coastal-marine areas, especially the recreation zone on Isla Larga. A preliminary research study conducted during the off-season estimated that there are approximately 12,000 visitors per month (Jorquera and Romero 2002).
Isla Larga has many tourist attractions including sun, beach, boating, and diving. To reach this beach, tourists take a boat from Quizandal Beach (it costs 6,000 Bolivars per person, which at the time of this writing was about $3), or they can drive their own boats through the navigation channels. Boat owners are supposed to pay a tariff based on the size of their boat.
Most tourists visiting San Esteban head towards Isla Larga where they enjoy the beaches and tourist’s amenities.
Isla Larga has a restaurant, paddle boats (which cost 4,000 Bolivars per ½ hour, equivalent to about $2), cabañas for rent (10,000 Bolivars per day, about $5), awnings (6,000 Bolivars per day, $3), and beach chairs (1,500 Bolivars per day, which is $0.80). These services are offered by a concessionary that pays Inparques 619,600 Bolivars per month for the right to work there.
During February 2004, three thousand people visited Piedras Pintadas Archeological Museum. Entrance to the museum is free and the visitors get a guide.
It is likely that there are more visitors than reported since people visiting the beaches and lagoons of Yapascua, Bocaina and other places within the park are not registered.