Los Roques is an Italian enclave in Venezuela's Caribbean, surprising given Italy's distance and the difficulty of getting here. Even though Los Roques has some of the best kite-surfing spots in the world, the beaches are why most of us are here. The majority of the posada owners in Los Roques are Italian, as are the tourists. There are only a few Americans and lately people from Brazil and Argentina. El Gran Roque (or the Big Rock) is the largest island in the archipelago of Los Roques. It's the only inhabited island, about 160 kilometers north of mainland Venezuela and a 35 minute flight from Caracas. Reflecting the popularity of the island among Italian tourists, the restaurant menus include risotto and fish carpaccio. It is now possible to get a decent espresso in the morning.
It was only 15 years ago when the island received electricity and the first international turists. In fact the first posadas were renovated fisherman's shacks. Today there are some 1000 permanent residents and about 70 posadas, set amid some 1,400 square kilometers of lagoons, reefs, and the most beautiful beaches we have seen. "The Maldives of the Caribbean" as another traveller called Los Roques. Malibu one of the most sophisticated of the posadas on the island (and there are many beautiful posadas to choose among), seamlessly blend the indoors with the out, with lush tropical plants filling every hallway, niche and corner designed by the owner Antonella.
Island hopping is a daily ritual. Excursions to the stunning "fantasy islands" which surround El Gran Roque, are part of the posada package, called "full board." You can choose any of the islands, and the posada takes care of getting you there, supplying lunch with sandwiches and cold beer, beach chairs and umbrella (a must no matter where you go, as the islands offer no shade).
Los Roques was declared a national park and ecological reserve in 1972. The closest islands are only a 10 to 15 minute boat ride away, none of them have buildings other than a rustic restaurant or the occasional boathouse. The islands include Madrizkey, Francisqui, Selesqui, Crasqui and Nordisqui. They were named by Dutch explorers and then renamed by Spanish cartographers. Northeast Key became Nordisqui, Sailor's Key became Selesqui, and so on.
Snorkellers can swim through schools of fish on Francisqui andÂ Craskey, fly fishermen can fish for bonefish off several of the islands and sunbathers can watch the kitesurfers stunts on Francisqui. It is no problem to find an island to yourself. We opt for Francisqui. "10 a.m. and 10 degrees from the equator," says Raul, the guy hired by our posada to run guests back and forth to the islands. He smiles, the sun glinting off his gold teeth, as he moves our beach umbrella and packed cooler to a better spot. I move my toe into the shade of my umbrella. I am already so relaxed, I have only a fuzzy recollection of being whisked to this uninhabited island in a motorboat by two men in white Scuba T-shirts.
Los Roques strikes the perfect balance between comfort and rusticity. The atmosphere in the posadas and in the town is Caribbean casual. There are no cars, the streets are pure sand and everyone goes barefooting. Supplies are sailed in from the mainland and fish is caught fresh every day. There are only a handful of restaurants.
A small local disco (Neptuno) with great nightlife is the perfect way to end the night, and believe me it can be a long night, extending the party to one of the Posadas or the Beach in front.
Getting to Los Roques is easy, and the standard posadas (Magalis, Roquelusa, Gremary, and Dona Carmen) are reasonably priced.
By law, none of the posadas can be larger than 14 rooms or taller than 5.5 meters some with a mezzanina. The heat, which is unrelenting during the day, drops to comfortable temperatures at night. On the beach, posadas and bars put out candlelit tables or artful arrangements of beanbag chairs (The Art Cafe and Aquarena) is the place to go.
The island dogs play dead on the beach. They like to fall asleep exactly as they hit the cool sand and no one disturbs them. After a day of unforgiving heat, this is a dog's idea of paradise.
Los Roques is our idea of paradise too. I am already starting to think about coming back. In the meantime, perhaps I will take up kite surfing or Bone Fishing.