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Getting There

By Plane -- Several international airlines and dozens of charter carriers have service to Margarita's Aeropuerto Internacional del Caribe Santiago Mariño (airport code PMV; tel. 0295/269-1081) from major European cities, as well as from Toronto, Montreal, Miami, and New York. Many of these are sold as package tours.

From Caracas, a couple of dozen flights go to Margarita throughout the day. Aeropostal (tel. 0800/284-6637; www.aeropostal.com), Aserca (tel. 0800/648-8356; www.asercaairlines.com), Conviasa (tel. 0500/266-84272; www.conviasa.aero), and Laser (tel. 0501/527-3700; www.laser.com.ve) all fly between Caracas's Simón Bolívar International Airport and Isla de Margarita. Fares vary radically according to season and day of the week, ranging from BsF150 to BsF300 each way. Midweek and low-season fares are considerably less expensive. Conversely, seats sell out well in advance and at a premium on weekends and holidays and during the high season. Flight schedules and travel agents refer to the airport as Porlamar, although it is around 20km (13 miles) from the city, on the southern part of the island near the beach of El Yaque.

By Ferry -- Although much more time consuming and not much less expensive, ferry service has and continues to be one of Margarita's principal links to the mainland. Visitors, residents, cars, buses, and much of the island's goods and merchandise travel by sea. The main ferry station is at Punta de Piedras on the southern end of the island. The main departure points for ferries to Margarita are Puerto La Cruz and Cumaná on the northern coast of Venezuela several hours east of Caracas. Numerous public buses throughout the day connect Caracas to both Puerto La Cruz and Cumaná. The bus trip runs about 5 hours from Caracas to Puerto La Cruz (fare BsF15-BsF30), and 7 to 8 hours to Cumaná (fare BsF18-BsF35). Several bus lines make this run. Or you can try the Unión Conductores de Margarita, Terminal Oriente, Caracas (tel. 0212/541-0035 or 0295/287-0931), which has a direct combined trip that costs around BsF70 each way.

Basically, there are two types of ferries running from Puerto La Cruz and Cumaná: the older regular ferries, which take between 3 and 4 hours each way, and the newer "express" ferries, which make the crossing in around 2 hours. Ferry schedules change drastically according to season and demand, and even the set schedules are sometimes somewhat flexible. For current ferry schedules and fares, contact Conferry (tel. 0501/266-33779; www.conferry.com) or Gran Cacique Express (tel. 0501/693-3779 or 0295/264-1160; www.grancacique.com.ve).

It's recommended to try buying tickets in advance on weekends and during high season. Costs range from BsF35 to BsF134 per person, each way, and BsF75 to BsF135 per car. The cost difference for passengers is tied to the "class" of your ticket and speed of the boat. I recommend you splurge for the higher-class fares on the express ferries, which will get you a seat in an enclosed and air-conditioned lounge deck, and a quicker ride.

Getting Around

Renting a car is not essential, but it does make getting around Margarita easier. Avis (tel. 0800/227-7600; www.avis.com); Budget (tel. 0800/472-3325; www.budget.com.ve), Hertz (tel. 0800/800-0000; www.hertz.com), and Margarita Rentals (tel. 0295/263-2711) all have offices at the airport. It costs BsF180 to BsF300 per day to rent a car. Several outfits around the island rent scooters and mopeds for between BsF90 and BsF120 per day.

Por puesto buses service most of the island. They are a very inexpensive and reliable way to get around, although the going can be slow, as they often stop to pick up and discharge passengers at maddeningly short intervals. Typical service hours are daily from 6am to 8pm. Fares range from BsF0.50 to BsF2.

Taxis are also readily available. It will cost you around BsF70 to travel between the airport and Porlamar; BsF20 between Porlamar and Pampatar; BsF40 between Playa El Agua and either Porlamar or Pampatar; and BsF100 between Playa El Agua and the airport. If you can't flag one down on the street, you can order a cab by calling Sam Mar Taxi (tel. 0295/262-4733) or Taxis Unidos (tel. 0295/263-2269).

Visitor Information

There is a simple, very basic information desk at the airport in Porlamar. However, you're better off heading to one of the scores of tour agencies to be found around Porlamar and Pampatar and at most major hotels on the island.

Fast Facts -- There are scores of banks on Isla de Margarita. They often have ATMs connected to PLUS or Cirrus systems that will advance you bolívares fuertes against your home account. You'll find ATMs in both Porlamar and Pampatar, as well as at all the large malls and some of the large resort hotels.

In case of any medical emergency, consult with your hotel first, or head to the Luis Ortega Hospital in Porlamar (tel. 0295/261-6508).

Internet cafes are located in most malls and major resorts, as well as in Porlamar, in Pampatar, and along Playa El Agua. For regular mail, there are Ipostel offices in both Porlamar and Pampatar. Most hotels will also post mail for you.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.