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Cruise Port Isla de Margarita (or Margarita Island in English) is an island in the Caribbean Sea about 25 miles north of the Venezuelan mainland, a 363 square mile island surrounded by the Caribbean at about 23 miles from the coast of Venezuela, is a spectacular journey into the glorious past of the region and its swanky present.
 
The island is a popular resort area due to its weather and beaches. While mainland Venezuela, particularly Caracas, has major safety issues for tourists, Isla de Margarita is relatively untouched by these problems and is popular with European visitors.
Porlamar, the largest city around the island, is a gorgeous town filled with slick dining facilities and greenery. Despite the tourism boom and contemporary vibe, Isla Margarita has fastidiously held onto its ancient roots.
 
High end restaurants and stylish shopping complexes plonk happily besides erstwhile historic sites like the Ports Chapel and the Castillo p San Carlos Borromeo. The Parque Nacional Laguna p la Restinga, a sheltered natural habitat and bird sanctuary, is great for nature aficionados who love to experience the natural bounty of a destination up, close and personal.
 
Docking & Local Transportation
Cruise ships dock at the Puerto del Marly. Plenty of taxis are available to ferry visitors to Porlamar and the scenic parts around the island. There is a bus service that connects the primary town of Porlamar to the surrounding regions of Isla Margarita.
Things To See and Do
One of the biggest attractions of Isla de Margarita is the beach. Thousands of tourists flock to the island to enjoy the white sandy beaches and warm ocean waters. The eastern half of the island is where most of the populated beaches and resort areas are. The western half of the island is arid and largely uninhabited, however, if you're looking for a secluded beach, it is worth the trip. The islands are full of historic attractions, as many of the settlements were founded in the early 16th century, only a few years after Christopher Columbus' arrival in the West Indies. Many of the island's cities still retain their early colonial architecture, including historic churches, forts and mansions.
 
The Paris Chapel in La Pampatar is a striking structure that towers over the area trees was erected during the 18th century.
 
The Parque Nacional Laguna p la Restinga, is a breathtakingly beautiful bird park and nature sanctuary.  People throng here during weekends for parties in the back drop of Margarita’s heady greenery. Bird watching enthusiasts can spot cormorants, scarlet ibises and pelicans. San Carlos Borromeo, is an intriguing fort that was used by the Spanish armed forces to defend themselves.
 
Porlamar is the largest city and the commercial hub of the island. Founded in 1536, Porlamar is not particularly attractive. The city center is a chaotic jumble of shops and small department stores. However, these days the majority of shoppers are heading to large, modern malls built on the outskirts of the city. Still, Porlamar has the highest concentration of shops, restaurants, bars, and dance clubs on Margarita.
 
Pampatar, about 10km (6 miles) northeast of Porlamar, is much more picturesque and calm. Founded in 1535 around the island's most protected deep-water harbor, Pampatar still retains much of its colonial-era flavor and architecture. The main attraction here is the Castillo de San Carlos Borromeo, a 17th-century fort that protected the town and harbor from foreign and pirate attacks. The fort's thick stone walls and bronze cannons still watch over the beach, harbor, and Caribbean Sea. The fort is open Monday through Saturday; admission is free. Across from the fort, you'll find the Iglesia de Santísimo Cristo del Buen Viaje, a church of great importance to the sailors and fishermen of Margarita. Legend has it that the crucifix here was left as a last resort, when the colonial-era vessel transporting it was unable, after repeated attempts, to leave the harbor. At the eastern end of the harbor are the ruins of the Fortín de la Caranta, which offers excellent views of the town and bay. Located on a hillside, inland from Pampatar, La Asunción is the capital of the island and of the entire state of Nueva Esparta. The city's church, La Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, is said to be the oldest in Venezuela. A few minutes from the center of town is the Castillo de Santa Rosa, another of the island's historic and battle-worn forts.
 
In between Porlamar and Pampatar is the area known as Los Robles. Here, you'll find the colonial-era Iglesia El Pilar de Los Robles, whose statue of the Virgin Mary is reputed to be of solid gold.
 On the road north of La Asunción is the town of Santa Ana. In 1816, Simón Bolívar signed the proclamation of the Third Republic in the small church here. It's now best known as the hub for a series of small artisan villages and roadside crafts shops.
 
Finally, on the northern coast of the island is the popular fishing village and bay of Juangriego. This spot is becoming increasingly popular, particularly for sunsets. The small Fortín La Galera, on a bluff on the northern end of the bay, is probably the most sought-after spot for sunsets on the island. Arrive early if you want a prime table and viewing spot at one of the small open-air restaurants and bars here.
 
La Restinga National Park
This 10,700-hectare (26,429-acre) park encompasses a zone of mangroves, marshland, sandbar, and coral-sand beaches, making a natural land bridge between the two islands that today are Isla de Margarita. A visit to the park usually involves a boat tour through the mangroves, followed by some beach time on the 10km (6-mile) stretch of beach that forms the isthmus uniting the two sides of Margarita. You'll find some simple beachside restaurants and souvenir stands here. The bird-watching is excellent in the mangroves, and the park's beach is renowned for its supply of seashells. To reach La Restinga, take a taxi or the Línea La Restinga por puesto out of Porlamar. At the park entrance you'll have to pay a BsF1 entrance fee and then walk to the nearby pier, where scores of boats are waiting to take you on a tour. The boats charge BsF20 to BsF45 per person, depending on the size of your group. The trip through the mangroves usually lasts between 30 minutes and 1 hour, at which point you will be left at the beach. Have the boatman wait, or arrange a firm pickup time and place for your return to the pier.
 
Islas Coche & Cubagua
The entire state of Nueva Esparta is made up of Isla de Margarita and two much smaller neighboring islands, Isla Coche and Isla Cubagua. The pearl beds off these two islands were major sources of wealth during the colonial period. Both islands are popular destinations for day cruises, which bring folks to their pristine and nearly deserted beaches. Isla Coche has some development and rolling hills, while Isla Cubagua is mostly barren, flat, and undeveloped. One of the only attractions here is the ruins of Nueva Cádiz. Founded on Isla Cubagua in 1528, this was the first Spanish town formally established in the Americas. However, its heyday was short-lived: An earthquake and tidal wave destroyed the town in 1541.
 
Day tours by small cruise ships and converted fishing boats are common. The full-day tour usually includes round-trip transportation from your hotel to the marina, continental breakfast, a buffet lunch, an open bar, beach chairs, umbrellas, and organized activities on the island. Prices range from BsF75 to BsF150 per person. Be forewarned: There's a real cattle-car feel to most of these tours.
 
There's also a daily Conferry vessel leaving at 6:30am from the Punta de Piedras pier for Isla Coche and returning at 4pm. The cost is BsF17 per person, BsF38 per car, each way.
 
Beaches
Margarita Island offers idyllic beach spots, with Parguito being the most sought after beach in town. The balmy weather and near perfect waves offer great surfing conditions. El Yaque is touted to be the most visitied windsurfing beach on Margarita Island. Another popular beach is Guacuco. The glistening silver sand and azure waters attract holiday makers from all over the planet.
 
Isla de Margarita is ringed with dozens of white-sand beaches. Some have huge modern resorts and facilities, others are home to a handful of fishermen and locals, and some are entirely undeveloped and deserted. Perhaps the most popular beach on the island is Playa El Agua, a long, broad, straight stretch of white sand with moderate surf, backed by palm trees and a broad selection of restaurants and shops. Playa Parguito has begun to rival El Agua in terms of popularity. Both of these beaches can get packed on weekends and during peak periods. To the south and north of Playa El Agua, you'll find beaches such as Manzanillo, El Tirano, Cardón, and Guacuco. Manzanillo and El Tirano are my favorites, because they are the least developed and often quite deserted. Manzanillo is a great place to watch sunsets. Playas Parguito and El Tirano are the best surf breaks on the island. Close to Porlamar, folks head to Playa Bella Vista and Playa Morena, although I'm not particularly taken by the vibe or water quality at either.
 
On the northern coast of Margarita you will find a string of excellent and less developed beaches, including Playa Caribe, Playa Pedro González, and Playa Puerto Viejo. These are some of my favorite beaches on Margarita, and they are building up fast. Those looking for solitude should head to the still-undeveloped beaches that ring the Macanao Peninsula.
 
Although one of the least attractive beaches on the island, Playa Pampatar is nonetheless quite popular with locals. It is also lined with a string of simple restaurants set on the sand, just a few yards from the sea.
In addition to the activities mentioned below, jet skis and WaveRunners are available at many beaches and resorts around the island, as are parasail flights.
 
Amusement Parks -- Parque El Agua, Av. 31 de Julio, El Cardón, on the way to Playa El Agua (tel. 0295/263-0710; www.parqueelagua.com), is a fairly extensive and well-maintained water park with an assortment of pools, slides, and rides. The park is open daily from 10am to 6pm. Admission is BsF75 for adults, BsF55 for children. During the low season, the park only opens Thursday through Sunday.
 
Diverland, Isla Aventura near Pampatar (tel. 0295/267-0571), is a combination amusement park and water park, with a wide range of attractions and rides. You'll find typical amusement park rides, such as Ferris wheels and roller coasters, as well as go-karts, a petting zoo, and batting cages. They also have trained dolphin and seal shows, as well as a swim-with-the dolphins program. However, I find both the shows and the swim program rather sad and unfortunate for the animals. It's open from 10am to 11pm daily throughout the high season and most weekends the rest of the year. Operating days and hours are much more limited during the week and low season. Admission is BsF55 for adults and BsF35 for children for unlimited use of the rides and pools. Some features and exhibits, such as swimming with dolphins, have additional fees.
 
Biking -- The stunning scenery and combination of off-road and paved highway possibilities make Margarita a good place to rent a bike for exploring. Be careful, though: The sun can be brutal, and the distances between towns and beaches can quickly become more daunting than you might expect. The best place for mountain biking is the Macanao Peninsula.
 
Cruises & Sailboat Charters -- The most popular day cruises from Margarita are to the islands of Coche, Cubagua, and Los Frailes. Trips cost from BsF100 to BsF200 per person for a full-day tour with lunch.
 
With the constant trade winds and translucent turquoise waters, Margarita is a great place to sail. A host of charter vessels anchor in the Pampatar harbor and other protected anchorages and bays around Margarita. The fleet fluctuates seasonally, but a sailboat is always available for a day cruise or multiday charter. Day tours cost from BsF90 to BsF200 per person. Rates for all-inclusive multiday charters range from BsF200 to BsF500 per person per day. Contact Explore Yachts (tel. 0212/635-2166 or 0414/287-7554; www.explore-yachts.com), which manages a fleet of vessels.
 
Fishing -- The waters off Isla de Margarita are excellent fishing grounds. A day's catch might include any combination of tuna, dorado, marlin, and sailfish. You can hire a guide and a boat for the day, with lunch and beverages, for between BsF700 and BsF2,500, depending on the size of the boat, number of fishermen, and game sought; check with your hotel or call Explore Yachts .
 
Golf -- There's only one working 18-hole course on the island. The Isla Margarita Golf Club (tel. 0295/265-7371) at the Hesperia Isla Margarita is a 70-par links course. The course is fairly flat and open, with few trees, little rough, and very inconsistent grounds keeping. During the dry season, the course gets particularly brown and parched. This isn't a popular golf destination, so tee times generally aren't required, but it never hurts to make a reservation. Greens fees are free for guests at both Hesperia hotels on the island and BsF90 for visitors.
 
Horseback Riding -- Whether you fancy a ride on the beach, through the forested hills of the Cerro El Copey, or over the barren desertlike landscape of the Macanao Peninsula, there are great opportunities for horseback riding all over Margarita. Inquire at your hotel, or contact Cabatucan Ranch (tel. 0416/681-9348; www.cabatucan.com), which specialize in tours of the Macanao Peninsula. A 2-hour ride, with transportation to and from your hotel, should run around BsF90 per person.
 
Jeep Tours -- Small 4X4 jeeps are the ideal transport for a full-day tour taking in a wide range of the sights and scenery of Isla de Margarita. The tours usually include pickup at your hotel, a trip to the top of Cerro El Copey, visits to a couple of churches and forts, a boat ride through La Restinga, stops at several beaches, and lunch and an open bar. The prices range from BsF90 to BsF180 per person. Both Highberg Tours (tel. 0414/789-7000; www.highbergtours.com) and Walter's Tours (tel. 0295/274-1265 or 0416/696-2212; www.margaritaislandguide.com) offer this adventure outing.
 
Kitesailing & Windsurfing -- Although you can rent a Windsurfer on many of the beaches on Margarita, Playa El Yaque, on the southern end of the island near the airport, is the place to be if you are a windsurfer or kitesailer. A handful of small hotels here cater specifically to windsurfers and kitesailers, usually with a wide selection of boards and sails for rent, and lesson options. El Yaque Paradise (tel. 0295/263-9418; www.hotelyaqueparadise.com) and El Yaque Motion (tel./fax 0295/263-9742; www.elyaquemotion.com) are both excellent options.
 
Scuba Diving & Snorkeling -- As this is the Caribbean, count on some good snorkeling and scuba diving on and around Isla de Margarita. Conditions immediately around the island can be a little too rough and murky. Two of the more popular dive sites close to Margarita are Los Frailes, a group of small rock islands about 11km (7 miles) offshore that are good for both snorkeling and scuba, and the Cueva el Bufón, a small cave near Pampatar thought to be a hiding place for pirate loot that can only be visited with scuba gear. Off Isla Cubagua, you can dive the wreck of a sunken ferry, with intact cars still aboard.
 
Snorkel trips average between BsF90 to BsF180 per person for a full-day tour with lunch, and scuba tours cost around BsF205 for a two-tank dive trip. Contact Ecobuzos (tel. 0295/262-9811; www.ecobuzos.com).
 
Surfing -- If the swell is right, you can find ridable surf on the island. Playa Parguito, just south of Playa El Agua, and El Tirano, a little farther south, are the principal breaks on Margarita.
 
Eating Out
Despite the fact that most visitors to Isla de Margarita stay at all-inclusive resorts, there are a host of restaurants around the island. Many of the beaches have simple restaurants on or close to the sand; they're great options for a lunch of fresh fish, lobster, or pabellón, the Venezuelan national dish consisting of shredded beef, rice, beans, and fried plantains.
 
Tip: Even if you are staying at an all-inclusive resort, I recommend heading out on the town to any of the restaurants recommended below, at least once or twice during your stay.
 
In addition to the places listed in the guide, El Rancho de Pablo, Avenida Raúl Leoni, Porlamar (tel. 0295/263-1121), and La Isla, Bulevard Turístico, Playa El Agua (tel. 0295/249-0035), are two excellent open-air waterfront restaurants specializing in fresh local seafood, while Il Positano, Calle Fermín and Calle Tubores, Porlamar (tel. 0295/264-1110), is a good choice for Italian. Both El Rancho de Pablo and Il Positano have sister restaurants in the Sambil Mall.
 
El Viejo Muelle in Juan Griego and are known to whip up excellent Spanish delicacies. The waiters are clothed in eye catching traditional wear. Cheers on Avenue Santiago Mariño features a fun, upbeat and relaxed vibe. For authentic and delectable Japanese food, head o Nikkei Sushi Bar. Saemi serves the best sushi in Margarita, with chefs trained painstakingly in their craft. Bug Coast is a popular nightclub situated on Avenue Santiago Manño. The most sought after bar in town is Señor Frogs, located at Avenue Bolivar Costa Azul.
 
Given its status as a vacation getaway, Isla de Margarita has plenty of bars and nightclubs. Still, many visitors stick to their all-inclusive resort, which usually features a small collection of bars and a dance club and nightly entertainment revue. Others like to barhop sections of Avenida 4 de Mayo and Avenida Santiago Mariño.
 
The loudest and most happening scene can be found at Kamy Beach, on Playa Varadero, just outside Pampatar (tel. 0414/794-1188). For a similar vibe, you can try Beach Bar, on Calle El Cristo in the La Caranta section of Pampatar (tel. 0295/267-2392).
If you're looking for something somewhat familiar, Señor Frogs (tel. 0295/262-0451), the popular Mexican chain, has a lively restaurant and bar in the Centro Comercial Costa Azul which turns into a raging dance club most evenings after 11pm, while over in the Sambil Mall, there's a local branch of the Hard Rock Cafe (tel. 0295/260-2400).
 
For a mellower scene, with a lot more atmosphere, I recommend both Guayoyo Café (tel. 0295/262-4514) and Mykonos Lounge (tel. 0295/267-1850), two side-by-side joints set on a steep cliff overlooking the ocean in Pampatar.
Casino gaming is an option on Margarita, with modern and well-fitted casinos at the Laguna Mar and Marina Bay hotels.

Shopping
Venezuelans and visitors alike take advantage of the island's status as a duty-free port, although the fact is the deals and selection are not all that special. The downtown heart of Porlamar is a chaotic jumble of shops and small department stores selling everything from perfume to lingerie to electronics and appliances to liquor and foodstuffs. In 2002, the Puerto de la Mar pier was opened for cruise-ship traffic, allowing cruise passengers to disembark in downtown Porlamar, just blocks from the aforementioned jumble of shops and stores. However, as is the trend across Venezuela, large malls draw shoppers away from the downtown options. The biggest of the bunch is the Centro Sambil Margarita, Avenida Jovito Villalba, Pampatar. Other popular malls include the Centro Comercial Rattan Plaza, Avenida Jovito Villalba, Los Robles; and Centro Comercial Jumbo, Avenida 4 de Mayo.
 
At shops and roadside stands around the island, you will come across locally produced jewelry and ceramic wares of varying quality. Among the nicer and more readily available handicrafts for sale on Margarita are the local hammocks, or chinchorros, an intricate weave of thin strands of rough natural fibers. You'll also find woven baskets, hats, and handbags. The town of Santa Ana and the roads that form a triangle between Santa Ana, Pedro González, and Juangriego are prime hunting grounds for crafts shops and galleries.




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