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
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.