||The Caribean Islands
72 Caribbean islands lie off Venezuela’s 2,800km of coastline. Of these, Isla
Margarita is the largest and most populated. (Click on the link for a detailed
description). The remaining islands comprise the archipelagos of Los Roques and
Las Aves, the national parks of Morrocoy and Mochima and the large islands of
La Tortuga, Los Testigos, La Blanquilla, La Orchila and Aves.
|The Archipelago Los Roques
The archipelago of Los Roques is probably the best known of Venezuela’s Caribbean
islands. Situated 170km north of Caracas, it is an atoll of reef-islands, tidal
islets and reefs surrounding the Laguna Central, and is one of Venezuela’s most
beautiful sights. A massive variety of marine life exists in and around the reef
habitats, and for this, the area was declared a national park in 1972. Covering
an area of over 225,153ha, the archipelago is Venezuela’s largest marine park.
The islands are edged with brilliant white sand, and at low tide, finger-like
sandbars protrude into the turquoise sea. The waters over the surrounding 19km
of coral garden are crystal clear, providing fantastic snorkeling and scuba diving
opportunities. The coastlines, interspersed with green mangroves, form a striking
contrast with the barren grass and arid scrub of the inland terrain.
The archipelago maintains an average annual temperature of 29ºC, though nights
remain cool thanks to the regional breeze. The temperature reaches a peak of
34ºC in July and a low of 24ºC in January, and there is occasional rain from
September to January.
Los Roques was originally settled by Indians some 900 years ago. Colonization
began some years later on Isla El Gran Roque, after Margariteño fishermen discovered
the rich waters of the area. Today, El Gran Roque, the largest of the islands,
is home to the majority of the archipelago’s 1,000 or so inhabitants. The remainder
of the population is mostly Caraqueños, who reside in holiday homes on the neighboring
islands of Rasquí and Madrizquí. Many tourists also frequent the archipelago,
and the most visited island is Cayo Francés. Like Isla Margarita, Cayo Francés
is comprised of two islands connected by a sandbank, and provides both calm waters
Los Roques is renowned for its variety of marine fauna. Just some of the many
species include parrotfish, barracuda, red snapper, dolphin, shark, octopus,
lobster and the near-extinct queen conch. Green turtles visit the beaches to
lay their eggs, and the island of Dos Mosquises Sur is the home of La Fundación
Científica Los Roques, a biological research station dedicated to preserving
the green turtle populations in the region. The resident and migrant bird population
of the archipelago exceeds 90 species and includes enormous gull colonies, boobies,
frigates, pelicans, herons and scarlet ibis. No native mammals inhabit the area,
but dogs and goats have been introduced on El Gran Roque. Many reptiles, including
iguanas, chameleons and salamanders, live on the larger islands.
Tourists visiting the Los Roques can explore the region by taking day-trips
or by chartering a boat. There are 30 or so hotels on El Gran Roque, and posadas
on Cayo Francés, Francisqui and Krasqui. Those wishing to camp need to obtain
a permit from Inparques in Caracas. Daily flights operate to Los Roques from
Margarita and Maiquetia. The archipelago can also be reached by boat from La
Guaira, a town northeast of Caracas. Some tour operators offer all-inclusive
package deals to the islands.
|The Archipelago Las Aves
Archipelago Las Aves is Los Roques lesser-known western neighbor. It shares
the same crystal clear waters and abundant marine life, but is a lot quieter.
Fishing, snorkeling and scuba diving are excellent. Las Aves can be reached by
boat charter from Los Roques, but is more commonly visited by yachts sailing
between Bonaire and the mainland.
|The Archipelago Los
Northeast of Margarita is Los Testigos, a small archipelago of three islands:
Isla Conejo, Isla Iguana and the larger Isla Testigo Grande. Home to a huge colony
of frigate birds and a small population of fishermen, the area is renowned for
good lobster and fresh fish. It is, however, a protected area, and diving and
the use of harpoons are not permitted. Los Testigos can be reached by boat charter
Isla La Tortuga is Venezuela’s second-largest island and lies west of Margarita.
Its landscape is rather flat and arid, but bordered by stunning sandy beaches
and clear blue waters. The island offers great opportunities for fishing, diving
and snorkeling, particularly around the offshore coral reefs of Los Palaquemos,
which are easily accessible by boat. Yachts and charters frequently anchor around
la Tortuga, and are the most common way of reaching the island. The island has
an airstrip for light aircraft.
|Isla Blanquilla and Isla
Isla Blanquilla, lying north of Margarita, is reputed to have the best snorkeling
and diving in the whole of Venezuela. The coast is lined with dazzling white
sandy beaches and coves, and numerous caves - both underwater and on the shore
– await exploration. The island is accessible by boat or plane, and various tours,
including day-trips are available from Margarita. Not far from Blanquilla is
Isla La Orchilla. Like its neighbor, Orchilla is surrounded by amazing coral
reefs good for snorkeling, and can be reached by boat from Los Roques.
Located 500 km north of Margarita, Isla de Aves is Venezuela’s most distant
Caribbean island. The island has an area of 65km², yet coastguards are its only
inhabitants. As its name suggests, Isla de Aves is home to massive sea bird colonies,
and is also an important nesting site for the rare and endangered green turtle.
The clear waters of the island can be reached by yachts and boat charter from
Bonaire and the mainland.
|National Parks of
Morrocoy National Park is another beautiful region of the Caribbean. Situated
on the east coast of the Falcón State, the park comprises 32,090ha of coral islands
and reefs, as well as part of the mainland coast. For more information on the
mainland area of the park, click on the following link to The Northwest. The
park was founded in 1974, and its calm blue waters, numerous coral gardens and
deserted beaches attract a great number of Venezuelan and foreign tourists alike.
The park is renowned for its birdlife, which includes frigates, pelicans, cormorants
and boobies. Oyster beds line the mangroves, and marine life is prolific. Hundreds
of colorful fish live in and around the reefs, and stingray bask in the shallows.
There are excellent spots for snorkeling and diving, and water skiing is becoming
increasingly popular. The most-visited island is Cayo Sombrero, which can get
busy at weekends and during national holidays.
To explore the park, tourists can charter boats or go on day-trips from the
mainland towns of Tucacas and Chichiriviche. At low tide, it is possible to go
between some islands on foot. The only way to stay on the islands is to camp,
though there is no fresh water.
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