Nueva Esparta is one of the 23 states of Venezuela, granted free-port status in 1973 and located in the Caribbean Sea, just a short distance off the northeastern coast of Venezuela.
Nueva Esparta comprises the larger Margarita Island with around 420,000 residents, the nearby smaller island of Coche with around 10,000 residents, and the even smaller Cubagua which is only very lightly inhabited.
The state is made up of the following regions, or local municipalities:
- Juan Griego is a city of around 45,000 people. Not far from the city center is the site of the fortress La Galera. In the early 1820s, a fierce battle for independence was fought at this site. Juan Griego also has some smaller shopping centers and beaches.
- La Asunción is the capital of the Federal State of Nueva Esparta and is located in Arismendi on Margarita Island. It is the seat of the regional government and home to around 25,000 people. La Asuncion has some colonial era pink cathedrals and is home to the fort "Castillo de Santa Rosa".
- Pampatar the second largest city has several beaches, around 95,000 inhabitants and is home to a good number of the larger shopping malls including; Centro Comercial AB (Avenida Bolivar), La Redoma, Rattan Depot, Sambil Margarita. There is an area downtown that hosts restaurants with local and international cuisine.
- Playa El Yaque - Once a sleepy fishing town only 10 minutes from the airport, Playa El Yaque is now a Internationally renowned wind and kite surfing location. International championships are held there every year. There are many classes available from the beginner to the advanced. The beach is lined with International, National and Local Hotels, Restaurants and Bars. The white sandy beach and the shallow water makes it a favorite for families as well as sports enthusiasts.
- Porlamar is the states largest city. This is the main commercial center and has many shops and good restaurants. Population reported to be between 200,000 and 300,000 during the low season rising in the high season. It has two city beaches.
- Isla de Coche - A small island about 11 km long and 6 km wide. The capital is San Pedro de Coche. The main activies are fishing and tourism. Estimated population on Coche is said to be less then 10,000 and the island is located just 8 miles from Margarita Island. Coche has a small airport Andres Miguel Salazar Marcano (ICAO: SVIE).
- Pedro Gonzalez- A village located between two rocky hills. A white sandy beach extends along a bay for around 2 km with clear water and good surf.
- Punta de Piedras- A fishing port and the good place to admire the traditional colourful local houses with their brightly painted windows and doors. Site of the College, La Salle Foundation Oceanographic Experimental Station and Technical Fishing school.
- Playa El Agua - Is said to be a more popular beach destination, due to the surf conditions, the good selection of shops and restaurants available. The surf at times does get very rough and there are no life guards on duty.
Nueva Esparta is situated in the Caribbean Sea, off the northeastern coast of the mainland and located to the Northeast of the country's capital Caracas. It is about a 35 minute flight to Caracas, if your flight is on time or a few hours by sea using the ferry from Puerto La Cruz. The state is the smallest in area within Venezuela and is located off the northeast Caribbean coast of Venezuela.
Margarita Island is the largest in the island group with a total area of 934 km² and is also the site of Porlamar, the largest city in the state and La Asunción, the capital of the Federal State of Nueva Esparta
Nueva Esparta is outside the "hurricane belt", situated in the Caribbean Sea, off the northeastern coast of the mainland and has never been hit by a hurricane. The tropical weather is about the same all year, hot. Seasons tend to come and go with such gradual change one hardly notices. It tends to rain more in the winter then anytime else. It is not unusual for the rain to be nightly, leaving many sun filled days. It is said that the state gets on average over 320 sun filled days per year. The state has more than 60 beaches along 145 miles of coastline.
The language is Spanish, although in many of the tourist areas they may speak and understand English as well as other languages. Keep in mind that even if someone says they do not speak English, many understand it although some are to embarrassed to speak it.
Del Caribe-Santiago Mariño Caribbean International Airport (Spanish: Aeropuerto Internacional del Caribe "Santiago Mariño") (IATA: PMV, ICAO) is located 20-25 km southwest of the city center of Polamar and is serviced by several airlines providing flights to Europe, Canada, South America and the Caribbean. The Airport has two terminals divided for international and domestic flights. The two terminals are separated by only a few minutes walk. Primary domestic routes are to Caracas, Maturín and Ciudad Bolivar.
Via ferry from mainland Venezuela at Puerto La Cruz with Conferry . Passenger/vehicular ferries operate the route providing access to the state for motorbikes, cars, buses and trucks.The Carmen Ernestina or any express ferry is preferable.
Once on Margarita, Coche can be reached by private boat service out of Playa El Yaque or the ferry from La Isleta and Punta de Piedras. On Coche the most popular means of transportation is by bicycle and walking. There are private vehicle services available, as well as ATV rentals.
The only access to Cubagua is by private tour.
When traveling on Margarita Island ensure that you carry sufficient local currency in smaller denominations so that you can make purchases without running into problems. Smaller local traders and transport operators may not be able to give you sufficient change for larger bills and will most likely be reluctant to accept foreign currency as it will be difficult and troublesome for then to exchange it later.
Taxi hire is subject to negotiation with the driver. Taxis can often be chartered for a day. Most of the taxi have fix rates and should be inexpensively priced.
The taxi painted in white with yellow license plate are often considered to be the most reliable. It must be understood that only taxi with the official government issued yellow plates are licensed to operate as a taxi service. Care and common sense should be used to ensure the taxi and driver are legitimate and licensed, especially late at night. Before commencing the trip try to ensure that you have sufficient local currency in smaller denominations to pay the driver as they may otherwise not be able to give correct change when you arrive at the destination.
Por puesto service most of the island. These are a little like a shared taxi having much more flexibility than a conventional bus service. Many locals use the Por Puesto services which normally travel a fixed route offering a cheap and safe alternative to a taxi. The journey can sometimes be a little slow however, as they often stop to pick up and discharge passengers at frustratingly short intervals and this may draw a trip out considerably.
Buses run to the most destinations in daytime only. Typical service hours are daily from 6 am to 8 pm with reasonably priced fares. Flag the bus down if you are on the side of the road and want it to stop. Check the rate to your destination with the driver as you board the bus and pay when you arrive. The local buses may be a little too rustic for some visitors used to more modern transportation systems but they are a good inexpensive way to get about and to meet the local people.
Buseta (mini-buses) offer an opportunity to travel cheaply and to get in touch with the locals. Trip times will depend on distance and traffic conditions. Knowing a little Spanish is always helpful to get through, but some locals will be pleased to practice their English with you. Fares are inexpensive and depend on the length of your travel. Before boarding a mini-bus, ask the driver how much the fare is to your specific destination to ensure there are no misunderstandings.
Rental cars are available from major chains such as Avis, Budget and Hertz, as well as local operators. Look for established operators with an identifiable operating base. Outlets are to be found in the main city of Porlamar, at Playa El Yaque, and there are several offices and kiosks at the islands airport. Always use common sense when renting and make sure to check for any hidden costs and levies that may appear when you return the car. To rent a car you will need a current driver’s license and a passport. Make sure you have adequate insurance to cover any loss/damage or purchase a Collision Damage Waiver and do not leave your passport, drivers licence, or any other important documentation with the rental company as a security deposit. Since in most cases the contract will be in Spanish, make sure you understand what you are signing. Do not take the rental agents word in translating it, you are signing a legally binding contract. Thoroughly check over the vehicle including the glass and all panels for any damage and have the salesperson initial a damage record. If in doubt at all photograph the vehicle from all sides prior to taking delivery. Make sure that the vehicle is registered with the municipality as a rental car, there will be a sticker on the drivers side windshield. Check the vehicle over thoroughly before you leave the depot to ensure everything is functioning on the vehicle and that it is roadworthy. Fuel is cheap so most companies do not require the car be returned full.
The climate is warm and pleasant with vacationers visiting all year long. It becomes extremely busy in the summer months and Christmas holiday season as Venezuelans bring their family for holiday. During those times it is wise to pre-plan all aspects of your holiday. Many visitors enjoy the state's duty-free shopping. In the evening, a active nightlife awaits you, full of beach bars, discos, salsa clubs and fine restaurants. The Caribbean's largest indoor shopping mall, Sambil, with over 250 stores, is located in Pampatar.
Exploring the mangroves of La Restinga National Park, visiting Spanish Colonial historical sites, swimming with dolphins, horseback riding, exquisite spa treatment, a shopping trip to buy a hammock made in the state, a visit to the maritime museum, fishing or sailing, Wind and kite surfing are the major tourist activities on Coche and in Playa El Yaque.
- Visit La Restinga National Park, which consists of a sandbar that unites the eastern part of Margarita with the Macanao Peninsula and is home to interesting flora. The park's mangrove-covered natural canals can be accessed by boat from El Indio sector, where one can take either an hour or half hour tour of the mangroves. Once at the beach let the boat driver know what time you want to be picked up to go back. The beach is made up of very fine seashells. There are a few restaurants that are open air and serve on paper plates. The oysters on the half shell served there are the freshest available. The park can be crossed by vehicle on the road to San Francisco if you have a 4x4 vehicle.
- Visit the fort just north of Juan Griego to watch an awesome sunset. "Fortin de la Galera" is atop a large hill overlooking the bay in Juan Griego. Parking can be an issue the closer it gets to sunset.
- Visit Isla de Coche, a quiet fishing island with around 10,000 inhabitants. The island offers windsurfing and kitesurfing. Take a ferry from Punta de Piedras or a lancha from El Yaque. The most popular beach on the island is Playa la Punta.
- Visit Conejeros Market, located just outside of Porlamar on the main highway coming from the airport it is on ones left. This "flee market" type shopping is filled with souvenirs,clothing, beach towels shoes, sunglasses and knock offs of all kinds. The market is only open in the mornings and early afternoon. Some sellers begin closing around noon but most stay open until 1 or 2
- Go for a night out at Kamy Beach in Pampatar, a great club where many of the mainland tourists go. Another club is Pampatar Beach Bar located in the La Caranta section of Pampatar. It is beach front and on Thursday nights offer cinema night where one can sit back and watch a newly released feature while sipping on their favorite cocktail.
- Try your luck at surfing if you are so inclined at Playa Parguito, located just off 31 de Julio, just before Playa el Agua. Like Playa el Agua, the surf can get quite rough at times and there are no life guards on duty.
- Take a private tour to Cubagua, the smallest island of Nueva Esparta, located to the southwest of Margarita Island and about 15 kilometers to the west of Coche. Some like to snorkel and explore the sunken ferry that is just off the coast.
- Visit Plaza Bolivar in La Asuncion, located in a valley making it very lush and green most of the year. Spend a few hours checking out the museums around the plaza, the Cathedral, said to be the second oldest surviving colonial church in the country and walking amidst the houses painted in many Caribbean colors. About a 15 minute uphill walk will take you to the fort "Castillo de Santa Rosa".
- Explore on your own. If on Coche, rent a bicycle or ATV to see the island. On Margarita Island one can rent a car to explore the island. It can take a full day to drive around the entire Island, so plan for at least 2 days to explore.
- Spend a day at Playa El Agua, one of the most popular beaches with Venezuelans and foreigners on Margarita Island. Take the time to have something to eat in one of the many restaurants along the beach. Playa El Agua is a good location to arrange tours or to do some shopping from one of many stalls selling things like hand carved sculptures, handmade jewelry and paintings, Many unique and inexpensive souvenirs are available here.
Alcoholic beverages abound throughout the state. Both import and domestic alcohol are available, the beer tends to be mostly domestic production. A popular brand is Polar, it comes in both bottles and cans. There is a light, a regular and a dark. Sunday has recently become a dry day and the purchase of alcoholic beverages has been restricted. So make sure you stock up on Saturday. It is popular to pack a cooler with ice, beer, your favorite spirits, spending the day on the beach getting sloshed.
There are many popular tropical drinks in Nueva Esparta. Just ask at the club, hotel, bar or restaurant you are visiting and the local bartender will no doubt be pleased to get things moving. Watch out, some of these drinks can be a little potent.
- Cuba Libre Load the glass with ice, add rum to just under the brim, add a splash of Coca Cola, serve with a lemon wedge.
- Coco Loco 1 fresh coconut, 1 cup ice, 1 ounce white tequila, 1 ounce melon liqueur, 1 ounce coconut rum, 1 ounce pineapple juice, 1 Tablespoon sugar, 1/2 fresh lemon. Slice a couple of inches off the top of the coconut, keeping the coconut milk inside. Put everything inside the coconut and squeeze the lemon half over the mixture then drop the lemon in. Stir, drink, repeat.
- Margarita Mojito 1 teaspoon powdered sugar, juice from 1 lemon, 4 mint leaves, 1 sprig of mint, Cacique Rum, club soda. Put the mint leaves into glass and squeeze the juice from a cut lemon over it. Add the powdered sugar, then crush the mint into the lemon' juice and sugar with a muddler or spoon. Add crushed ice add rum until glass almost full, stir, add a splash of club soda and garnish with mint sprig.
- Kapiroska Squeeze the juice from one lemon into a glass, add 2 Tablespoons of powder sugar, fill glass with crushed ice then add vodka until almost full and shake for a full minute. Strain into clean glass and garnish with lemon wedge, drink, repeat.
- El Ritual is not about mixing the flavors in a glass, but setting up the steps that allow you to mix the flavors in your mouth. First pour a shot-glass of Pampero Aniversario (aged Venezuelan rum), next you need a lemon wedge, then you pour brown sugar and instant coffee into two separate piles on a small dish. Dip one side of the lemon into the sugar, the other into the coffee and bite and suck on it, chug the rum and let the flavors intermingle in your mouth before swallowing.