The Los Roques Archipelago is one of the world’s biggest National Marine Parks, and lies 145 km (80 mi) due north of La Guaira, the mainland port for Caracas. About 50 coral cays and sand bars are arranged in a huge oval around a lagoon, but it’s only from the air you get a true idea of its scale – it covers the same area as the whole of the Virgin Islands.
The fragility of the islands and their ecosystem is all too obvious. Luckily they are shielded from eastern currents by a 24 km (15 mi) coral reef running from north to south, and a second barrier running 32 km (20 mi) from east to west. Protected since 1972, they represent a pristine environment that attracts only the most discerning visitors, who come either in their own boats or yachts in search of solitude and untrammelled tranquillity, or in small groups by light aircraft, often just for the day, from Caracas or elsewhere on the Venezuelan mainland island residents, who are descendants of the 110 families who original came from Isla Margarita in the early 19th century, to make a living as fishermen, all live on El Gran Roque (The Big Rock’),
They will welcome you as temporary family members, and you’ll find that, along with the old style of manners and hospitality, they still use the old ways of fishing to catch lobsters, king conch and Spanish mackerel. If you’re not staying on a boat, you’ll probably eat the catch at one of the 66 posadas (small family lodges) scattered throughout the island, but all of which are within 100 m (328 ft) of the beach. Los Roques is about countless transmutations of blue and green beauty, and sharing the natural rhythms of a completely unspoiled, discrete ecosystem.
Population: 1,500 (2007)
When to go: Year-round. Between July and September the possibility of storms muddying the water makes that period less suitable for scuba-diving.
How to get there: By light aircraft from Caracas to El Gran Roque (NB. inbound flights from all points to El Gran Roque come, or remain, under flight control from Maiquetia airport on the mainland); or by boat from Isla Margarita.
Highlights: Getting a close look at the complex interaction between mangrove species and the degree of water salinity – time and the conditions are on your side. Sunset from the lighthouse (built 1870- 80) on El Gran Roque – the archipelago dotted into the horizon, and on a clear day you can see Mt Avila (about 1,600, m, 5,000 ft), near Caracas.
All the marvels to be seen and done on, in and under water next to one of the biggest and best coral reefs in the Caribbean.
The archaeological remains of Amerindian activities that tell of surviving much more hostile conditions than you’ll find today.
You should know:
There are no superlatives to describe the sense of peace you get in the Los Roques Archipelago.