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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 and surf.

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.



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