Located off the northeastern coast of Venezuela, Margarita is a paradise island for all vacationers who love sun, beaches, shopping, and night life and is among the largest of islands sprinkled through the azure waters of the lowest Caribbean. Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” could easily have been written about this “Pearl of the Caribbean.”
Sailors know about this tropical isle as a good option for a boat during hurricane season since it is below the latitude required by some insurance companies for coverage. Dave and I are among those who do our provisioning up in duty-free Sint Maarten, while making last minute boat repairs, before heading for our new Latino homeland where we can live for much less money while enjoying some 100 miles of shoreline with multiple beaches and quaint towns filled with cultural sites and terrific local cooking.
Many of Margarita’s visitors hail from the United States—mostly the East Coast—and join the Venezuelan, German, French, and Italian vacationers and cruisers who discovered it long ago.
Polamar and Pampatar are both lovely towns where hotels, malls, museums and condos have sprung up to meet the sun worshipers and duty-free bargain shoppers that flock in. Located on the island’s southeastern coast and founded in 1536, 38 years after Columbus sailed these waters, both of these vacation resorts still retain the look of yesteryear with cobblestone streets, pastel houses and Plaza Bolivar central squares. New high-rises and ocean front condos are outside of the vieja ciudad or old city.
Windsurfers enjoy Isle de Margarita’s Playa El Yaque, a lovely old fishing village located on the south coast about 15 minutes from Porlamar that ranks among the world’s top spots for the sport with its steady trade winds and warm, shallow water. Although this small town doesn’t really “swing” after the sun goes down it is nevertheless a true hangout for lovers of windsurfing. Because of this, it is possible to buy boards, sunglasses, wetsuits (although who needs them in this warm climate) and basic supplies in groceries.
On the nearby Isla de Cubagua there are excavated ruins of one of the first settlements in the New World. It was here that rich pearl oyster beds were discovered and where Nueva Cádiz was established on the island in 1500. Although the European royalty of the 16th century exhausted the pearls and an earthquake and tidal wave finished off the settlement in 1541, you can still buy a strand of pearls on the streets of Margarita for around $10.
If you enjoy snorkeling, Los Frailes is your destination, a group of rocky islets to the north known for good snorkeling and diving. The coral here is alive and well, just as it is in Mochima National Park on the mainland. Laguna La Restinga is a 40-mile national park that includes 25,000 wetland acres, crushed-seashell sandbars and tropical mangrove swamps; it is also the link between the windward and leeward shores of the island.
History buffs also can take a local bus inland, to the capital city of La Asunción, to visit the old cathedral and sit in the shaded city square, something you will find in most South American cities. Castillo de Santa Rosa, high above the square and one of seven Spanish forts built to ward off pirates, is high with both action and history.
In fact, there is something for everyone on Isla de Margarita—and I can hardly wait to return.
Nancy Terrell is a freelance writer who has lived in the Caribbean for 21 years. She holds an MA Degree in Literature and is currently cruising on her trawler, Swan Song, throughout the Caribbean.