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40km (25 miles) N of Cumaná

Known locally as La Perla del Caribe, or the Pearl of the Caribbean, Isla de Margarita is Venezuela's most popular tourist destination. Venezuelans come here in droves for weekend and holiday getaways, and to take advantage of the island's status as a duty-free port, while Canadian, European, and Latin American travelers come to enjoy the warm sun, white sands, and turquoise waters of this small Caribbean island. In many ways, the pleasures to be had on Isla de Margarita mirror and compete with those offered in Cancún, Punta Cana, Varadero, and other beach destinations around the Caribbean, although on a much smaller scale. And Margarita remains relatively undiscovered and unexplored by Americans. Columbus actually landed here, in 1498, on his third voyage, and named the island La Asunción. However, a year later it was rechristened La Margarita.

Margarita is really two islands joined in the middle by a stretch of sand, mangrove, and marsh that make up La Restinga National Park. The western side, called the Peninsula de Macanao, is largely undeveloped. It's an extremely arid and dry area, crisscrossed with rugged dirt roads and horse trails, and it's home to the endemic yellow-headed and yellow-shouldered Margaritan parrot. Almost all development is found on the larger, eastern side, which has three principal cities -- Porlamar, Pampatar, and La Asunción -- and a couple of dozen different beaches and resort areas. The island has two national parks and three nature reserves, as well as several colonial-era forts and churches.

Margarita's climate is hot and tropical, with ample sunshine and very little rainfall year-round. You're most likely to encounter some rain during the months of July and August and between November and January.