Things aren’t looking good in Venezuela. Still. The South American country’s economy destabilized when oil prices sharply dropped. Since then, inflation, unemployment, crime, and poverty have sharply increased. Food is scarce. While President Nicolás Maduro has created an authoritarian regime to try to maintain power. Last month, he placed further restrictions on internet access to block online news sources. You won’t be traveling to Venezuela anytime soon.
It’s too bad. You were hoping to finally return to Margarita Island this summer. The Pearl of the Caribbean is, or at least was, the most popular destination in Venezuela. The largest island in Nueva Esparta, the country’s smallest state, is famous for its dry, sunny weather—even during the rainy season. It’s also known for its volcanic hills, white-sand beaches, peaceful national park, and duty-free port.
Margarita Island lies 25 miles off the northeast coast of Venezuela. Its two peninsulas are joined by an 11-mile isthmus. This was the home of the Guaiqueríes people before Christopher Columbus arrived in 1498 during his third voyage to the Americas. When an abundance of pearls was found on the mountainous island, the Spanish quickly overtook it. By 1525, it was the center of the Margarita Province. Constant attacks led to the creation of fortifications; many still stand along the waterfront today. It later became the first Venezuelan territory to gain its independence from Spain.
Pampatar, not Porlamar, has always been your home base on the island. Porlamar may be larger and more popular, but you prefer the prettier city six miles to the northeast. It’s where San Carlos de Borromeo Fortress overlooks Pampatar Bay. The star-shaped fort was built entirely out of coral in 1662 after the Dutch destroyed the original fortifications on the same location. It’s now a museum with gorgeous sea views. The whitewashed Christ of the Good Voyage Church is nearby. Its belltower features an outside staircase, an oddity found on many of the island’s churches. Plus the octagon-shaped Pampatar Lighthouse, which also serves as a naval base, offers views of the salt pans and the beaches up and down the coast.
Along with the historic side of the city, you also miss the hotel that felt like home. The modern Hotel Boutique Isabel La Católica was built around old stone walls that once housed captains’ quarters and then a school. Its 14 rooms surround an open central courtyard. They feature bright accent walls, wide terraces, and panoramic views of the bay. The hotel’s restaurant, Juana La Loca, is considered one of the best on the island. It has a boho-chic vibe with brick columns, comfy couches, and soft lighting. The best seats are at the eight-person chef’s table, though. But your favorite spot at the hotel is probably the pool. More couches, sun loungers, and colorful pillows dot the tiered rooftop space. From high above the water, you can see the fortress in one direction and the lighthouse in the other.
At least you could. You aren’t sure what’s become of Hotel Boutique Isabel La Católica, Pampatar, or Margarita Island at this point. The president of Venezuela may think he has his country under control, but he’s lost so much more in the process.