Los Roques, Venezuela
Caribbean Relaxation at its Best
Los Roques adventure could start right at the beginning of the trip. The voyage by sea cleaving through different shades of blue waters that could be hardly imagined until you actually see them is a luxury foretaste; whereas by air, the spectacular dimension of a seascape with plane and narrow keys teeming with light and solitude is embraced.
Even though the archipelago appeared in ancient Spanish maps from 1529, no settlements were ever established there because of the lack of springs or fresh water sources and scarce rains, so that the only visitors to Los Roques isles in centuries were lost sailors, adventurers and passing-by fishermen.
Deserted islands and coral reefs dominate the view minutes away from this far-out atoll to the south of the Caribbean Sea, where the myth of the noble savage and the Garden of Eden are still alive.
The Greatest Allures
Los Roques coral reefs are exceptionally diverse in terms of habitats, with areas where waves break and others where the water is calm and large patches of nutrients attract a wide variety of fishes making up the abundant marine life of the place
Still today that is precisely its greatest enticement: leaving behind the mundane uproar and getting away from the world to indulge oneself in the whim of having a beach as pristine today as it was in the beginnings of time and enjoy the adventure of the noble savage bearing just comfortable sandals and shorts, eating fish fresh from the sea, away from the daily news and the publicity hooks of the internet.
With some 42 green keys and more than 250 coral reefs that take different silhouettes as the tide changes, Los Roques is part of the great marine park located exactly 166 Km (about 100 miles) directly north of the Port of La Guaira in the central coast of Venezuela.
Towards the northeast, protected by a 24 Km-long coral barrier, the hills of El Gran Roque –the main island– rise up, where the few facilities available in the archipelago are anchored. This is the first stop for overnight visitors and for those who are going to stay for the week. An official of the park welcomes the newcomers and tells them what can or can’t be done within the area of the natural reserve created by presidential decree on August 8, 1972 and currently managed by the National Institute of Parks (INAPARQUES).
Truth is that Los Roques is no longer a secret place for fishermen, a handful of Venezuelans and solitary sailors with good references, for that reason, authorities are especially careful in the exploitation of the island to protect its fragile ecosystems from the human hustle and bustle.
It has an airport for small aircrafts, a mooring, a few warehouses to keep basic supplies and water deposits, lockers, a handful of rooms in comfortable inns, offices for local and park authorities, a couple of restaurants and bars, telephone booths, small stands to rent diving equipment and a few other things.
Leisure options include renting of kayaks, sailing, windsurfing, overflying the isles in the Ultraligero, going on seafaris, lying at a lonely beach bathed by the tropical sunlight or getting away in a catamaran sailing the labyrinth of waterways flowing around the rocky isles until you find the perfect spot to jump into the water and be delighted with its wonderful sea bed. For sea and water sports lovers, Los Roques is a true paradise with all conditions to leave no room to boredom. But, it is also the perfect place for ecotourism travelers looking for rarities and exclusivities. The archipelago, for example, is one of the few places in the world offering night excursions to watch the spawning of sea turtles. It is the home for endemic birds such as the mangrove warbler and the reinita negra, as well as very odd reptiles like the lagarto guaripete or black lizard which feeds from cactus flowers and has
become quite a predator of eggs laid by some species of birds that usually arrive in the archipelago.
Iguanas, other weird reptile known as machurife, salamanders and only one species of mammal –the fishing bat–, are some of species making up the local fauna; together with sea birds, a large populations of gannets, laughing gulls, stone curlews, penguins, gulls and sandpipers; and a numerous colony of pink flamingoes that inhabits in Los Canquises keys.
When hiking down the narrow paths scattered all over those small pieces of land, you can come across interesting scenes, always with the ocean on the back; you can even find exotic cactus species mingling with thorns and other xerophilous plants, typical of dry and hot tropical areas.
Ecology-inclined naturalists or tourists usually visit the Dos Mosquises Scientific Association, the top research center in Los Roques which is related to the Ecochallenge international organization and conducts major studies on corals, marine life and the exploitation of fishing and oceanographic resources
The greatest curiosity of the archipelago’s vegetation is the so-called fisherman’s tabaquillo, widely known for its strong hallucinogenic effects; whereas red, black and white mangroves and the botoncillo or yellow mangrove also distinguish the local flora. Naturalists and tourists interested on ecology usually visit the Scientific Society of Dos Mosquises, Los Roques’ leading research center. This biological station collaborates with the Ecochallenge International Association and leads major studies about corals, fishes, exploitation of fishing resources and oceanography. In their effort to make people sensitive to nature, one of Los Roques’ best features, scientists with Dos Mosquises offer visitors the possibility to become “godparents” of baby turtles and sharks, which receive special attention and care as they become a new member of the underwater family of the park. As part of the sponsoring program the baby turtles and sharks are marked and monitored for several years as they grow adults.
But all in all, the most cherished treasure of this huge Caribbean reserve in Venezuela lies just there on the sea floor surrounding the island, where the coral reefs and thousands of species that live in them offer a beautiful and dazzling scenario of biotopes of high ecological, physiographic and visual value. Thus, sea animals and other forms of marine life that find refuge in the reefs constitute Los Roques’ wealthiest and most important natural resource and it is undoubtedly what attract more visitors into the island. Among marine species that are most seen are navajones, surgeon fish; cachamas, isabelitas and parrot-fishes which got its name because of its large parrot-like mouth that tit uses to remove the polyps from the corals’ calcareous surface as a natural cleaning action that helps those formations maintain its vitality and color.
Also abundant are horse mackerels, spiny lobsters –the largest volume of Venezuela’s national production of this species is caught in Los Roques–; king conchs, starfishes, tubular sponges, anemones and lettuce, fire and elephant-ear corals, among many more that can be found all the way from the shallow waters to the banks.
In the evening, when there is need to recover strengths after having fulfilled the first part of the program, the view of the horizon from El Gran Roque –the rendezvous of the archipelago–, appears like a golden line sparkling at the bottom of the visible universe, right over the emerald waters of the sea.
Following on the rules of the perfect tourist, nothing will be better now than to lie on a sun lounger by the cliff, have some snacks of shellfish with mayonnaise and a cold beer, and get ready to photograph the sunset, another experience that can’t be missed in this singular Caribbean paradise
All across Los Roques there are just some 600 people and the few available midsize lodgings are located in Gran Roque