Los Roques Archipelago National Park was created in 1972 to protect a marine ecosystem of exceptional beauty and ecological value dominated by coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass beds. It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful natural areas of Venezuela. The park, located about 80 miles (128 km) north of the port of "La Guaira" in Caracas, covers 221,120 hectares (546 acres), making it the largest marine park in the Caribbean Sea.
The coral reefs host some of the most beautiful underwater fauna and flora of the Caribbean. The park has exceptionally beautiful beaches of white sand and multicolor, crystalline warm waters which make it a diving, sailing and fishing paradise.
Long before it was declared a national park, an important fishing practice was establishing in the archipelago, one that developed into the small native town of Gran Roque Island, which produces 90% of the lobster for consumption in Venezuela. But it was not until the middle of the 20th century that Venezuelan fishers started to inhabit the archipelago permanently. They came from Margarita Island and progressively brought their families with them. By 1941, Los Roques had a population of 484 people spread amongst eight islands (Gran Roque, Crasquí, Carenero, Cayo Pirata, Domusquí, Esparquí, Isla Fernando and Prestonquí).
The population had grown to 559 people by 1950. In 1956, there was a school running in Gran Roque, electricity was generated with fuel, and there were plans to build a desalination plant. After the national park was created, population was limited to Gran Roque Island. In 1987, Los Roques Scientific Foundation performed a census and determined there were 847 inhabitants in Gran Roque. Only 663 of these were permanent residents and the rest were fishers that came from Margarita. Presently, the island has 1,209 permanent residents, which include native settlers, tourist operators, and institutional personnel.
In 1996, Los Roques was declared a Ramsar site because of its importance as a reservoir of biodiversity and food resources. Historically, fishing has been the major economic activity in the archipelago but has been strictly regulated since the creation of the national park. About 300 fishermen take up temporary residence on the island during the fishing season.
This national park protects one of the highest-quality coral reefs with respect to species diversity, area of live coverage, and low incidence of diseases in all the Caribbean. Los Roques harbors about 61 species of corals, 200 species of crustaceans, 140 species of mollusks, 45 species of echinoderms, 60 species of sponges, and 280 species of fish. In addition, 92 bird species, 50 of which are migratory, can be seen in the park. Four globally endangered sea turtle species nest regularly on the islands, including the most important nesting site for Eretmochelys imbricata in Venezuela.
Over the past ten years, tourism has replaced fishing as the main economic activity. Locals were not involved in tourist activities until 1990. Before this, outsiders (wealthy Venezuelans from Caracas and foreigners) who could buy houses inside the park, managed the few existing lodges. Access was restricted to light aircraft or private boats. Aerotuy was the only commercial airline operating in Los Roques at the time. Today, more than 50,000 tourists, who stay in any of 60 available inns, locally called posadas, visit the park yearly. Today, Gran Roque has more than 1,200 residents and its tourism services are becoming insufficient.
Without a doubt, tourism is the most important economic activity in the park. In Gran Roque, it generates direct employment for almost 40% of the active population between 18 and 70 years of age. From 1996 to 2001, the Autoridad Única de Área (AUA, organization which coordiantes the functions of goverment institutions present in the park) received an average of 400 million bolívares per year (about US$400,000) from tourist entrance fees paid by those who come to Los Roques by plane.
Los Roques Archipelago attracts a number of visitors that come to do many different activities. The natural beauty of the beaches attracts most tourists. Coral reefs are of special interest to professional and recreational scuba divers. Sport fishing and windsurfing are also practiced in Los Roques, and it is even possible to go for a ride in an ultralight. Among other tourist attractions are the Virgen del Valle celebrations in the second week of September, and the Lobster Festival at the beginning of the lobster-fishing season in November. Sailors and pilots also consider Los Roques to be a very interesting place due to its distance from the mainland. It is considered by many as one of the top archipelagoes in the Caribbean.
Accommodation in Gran Roque
It is possible to stay at Los Roques and enjoy the spectacular sights and beaches at one of the 60 posadas or inns present on the island. These posadas were once fishermen's homes which have now been transformed and renovated to host tourists, offering rooms to rent. Lodging generally includes breakfast and dinner and prices range from US $50-200 per night per person. Some lodges also include transfers to the nearby islands, lunch, beach chairs, sun umbrellas and snorkeling equipment. Staying on a sailboat is another option for about US $150 a day per person. The cheapest option is to camp in designated INPARQUES areas. Even though Los Roques has a variety of lodging options, 96% of the tourists stay in the posadas, 3% in sailboats and less than 1% camp (AUA 2000).
- Posada Movida Los Roques - Posada Movida is a charming posada in Los Roques, offering six double rooms with ceiling mounted fans and in-room private bathroom. The hotel in Los Roques offers rooms to rent and transfers to nearby islands.
- Los Roques - Learn more about Los Roques Archipelago by ParksWatch.
The park is famous for underwater immersions, kite surfing and sport fishing. You can also fly over the archipelgo with an ultralight glider.
Scuba diving trips to the Los Roques reef can be organized through one of the three diving centers on the island. All of them offer the same rates for two immersions a day, including all equipment. Special offers are available if you are interested in diving on more than one day.
Los Roques is the ideal place to practice kite surfing because there are always constant winds. It is possible to practice kite surfing on all islands. A "sailing" center offers lessons and equipment rental for kite and wind surfing.
In Los Roques it is also possible to practice two kind of sport fishing: fly fishing and trolling. Fly fishing takes place in the "flat" areas where you can find Bone Fish and Tarpon. Local guides garantee 15 catches a day. Trolling instead takes place close to the big barrier where you can catch big barracudes, wahoos, snappers and tunas. In both cases, a rental boat and local guide are necessary.