sexta-feira, 15 de outubro de 2010

Trip Tips: Margarita and Coche Islands

This was the first post about travel tips: Margarita and Coche Islands, in the Venezuelan Caribbean. The main motivation of the posts that I intend to do about traveling is the difficulty that has been concentrated to find completeness of information on the Internet about backpack travels. Usually you can find few information of packages on tour operators web sites.
I would note, however, that although the trips are planned in the low cost style, I try to request minimum quality standards, such as comfort and hygiene. When not meet those minimum standards, I promise that I will comment on what it isn't worth.

First of all: you do not need visa to travel as a tourist for short periods in Venezuela, you need to have a valid passport for at least six months. The official rate is 2.15 Bolivares Fuertes (BSF) for every $ 1 (U.S.). Upon arrival at the international airport in Maiquetia Simon Bolivar, which is in a neighboring city of Caracas (Venezuela's federal capital), there are since luggage carriers to taxi drivers offering to exchange up to 5 BsF for each 1 U.S., which makes the exchange to be interesting for anyone who travels with cash. But I do not know if this type of transaction is safe and is legal, nor tried to make official exchange outside of houses. If you insist on such exchange, other blogs on the Internet have recommended to be careful in two things: the first is not to be wandering at the airport after making exchange, the other is to be careful when doing the exchange, because the parallel exchange is prohibited in Venezuela.

I also read a lot about the insecurity in Caracas, which has a homicide rate higher than Sao Paulo (Brazil). I have found nothing very attractive in terms of tourism in the capital. If your domestic flight is not just after your international arrival in Maiquetia, choose to wait in the domestic departure lounge. There is a walk between the international and domestic arrivals, as if you were to make direct connection to a domestic flight, even if you have not done the check-in. You can wait there until the hour of your domestic check-in, when you need to leave the departure lounge and go outside to do the check-in on the board of chosen airline. There are several companies that make the route Caracas-Porlamar Laser, AeroPostal, Rutaca and Conviasa are some of which I have requested prices. All of them sell over the Internet with a credit card. The cheapest I found at that time was the Laser, which sold for BsF 255.00 each way. The domestic check-in in Venezuela must be made two hours before departure, while the international check-in must be done three hours earlier. These recommendations are are found at Airport.
There are airport charges which are paid for boarding domestic and international boarding and are based on a government index. When I traveled, the rate domestic and international cost BsF 27.50 BsF 137.50. You can find the value of these fees on the main page of Maiquetia airport.

The following trip itinerary is for six days and five nights, and it is only a basis for the traveler, who can adapt it according to his planning.

The first day was the flight from Sao Paulo to Caracas, which lasts about six hours by Gol/Varig. The flight leaves Sao Paulo at 11:00 and arrives in Caracas at 15h:30 (local time). Arriving in Caracas, as had been unable to buy a ticket to Porlamar on the same day, I called the hotel Muevete por Vargas, which has service van to the airport and I spent the night there, paying few BsF the night. The hotel is very comfortable, the room is very clean, has cable TV, air conditioning and hot water, with daily BsF 310.00 non-negotiable and the van service already included. I dined in the hotel's own restaurant and decided to eat a Venezuelan parrilla, that definitely not looks like the Argentine parrilla, it looks much more like a plate of yakissoba. It was having dinner that day I had the opportunity to take the first time the best beer in Venezuela: Green Solera, a beer tasting strong, with 6% alcoholic graduation, with a can of reduced volume compared to those sold in Brazil (222 ml only). As I really like Heineken, Carlsberg and Stella Artois, the beer brand made me love it instantly and I diddn't drink other brand throughout the rest of the trip.

On the second day, very early, I woke up, took the hotel van and returned to the airport, I did the check-in on the balcony of the Laser, which has staff polite and helpful, and took the flight to Porlamar. The sight of the arrival is beautiful, and can be compared to the arrival of Fernando Noronha, but Margarita is infinitely greater than Noronha.

I made reservations at a hostel called Las Trinitarias, located in El Cardón, northeast of Margarita. For a hostel listed on Hostelling International, Las Trinitarias is very good. The rooms are huge (about 40m2), overlooking a mountain next to the shelters, air conditioning, hot water, cable television (where later I was able to watch the game Sport Recife against LDU by the Libertadores da América tournament), a small pool (why need a swimming pool if you're in the Caribbean?) and breakfast is included in room rates, which costs BsF 172.00. The landlady, a nice Caraqueña lady called Janeth, make transfers from the airport to the hostel and only charges BsF 36.00, half the amount that a normal taxi would charge up El Cardón. On arrival, make sure you do have a historical walk through the streets of Asuncion, capital of the island, and get rid of this kind of ride for the rest of the trip, since who is going to the Caribbean with the intention of enjoying the beach, sun and sea. In this historical tour, you can visit the castle of Santa Rosa, the political center of Margarita, some of their churches and houses full of stories.

After this quick tour, arriving at the hotel, already got to go walk along the beaches closest to the hostel: El Cardón, Los Tiranos, El Parguito, El Água, and finally see the sunset on the beach El Manzanillo. In El Parguito and El Água there are several food stalls, where you can rent a tent (20 BsF paid for one) and get to eat a goldfish done on time. From El Água to Manzanillo is better to go by bus, which costs BsF 1,00 per person.
I have got the phone of few taxi drivers who have negotiated attractive prices for tours on the island. Car rent is also an excellent choice if you want to do longer rides (El Yaque, peninsula beaches of Macanao, the mangroves of La Restinga).
The sunset in Manzanillo really is very beautiful to see, mainly because there is nobody on that beach, only local fishermen. Recommended see the sunset on Juan Griego, but I don't think is a beautiful beach, and the sea is infected. I have no suggestions for night clubs or wonderful dinners, because usually at night I was tired and did not want to go that far.

On the third day is a great option to go for the beautiful beaches of the North: Puerto Cruz, La Galera, El Caribe and Juan Griego. The owner of the hostel had given me a small cooler to accompany me during the daily walks. I went to the supermarket, I made a huge stock of Soleras, which I stored them in a refrigerator of the restaurant of the hostel, in front of the building of the rooms, and bought enough ice to every morning prepare it for the cooler daily departures. At the end of the day never even one was left. La Galera is a beach with few people and few waves. EL Caribe is the most beautiful beach, with several tents and one option is to stay in the tent that I forgot the name, where you can eat a delicious paella made from scratch and the value of BsF 40.00. If you negotiate, since they will eat a paella, the owner of the place can get rid of the rent of the awning. Latin music plays at this restaurant all the time, including the successes of the Brazilian axé early 90s. In the evening a dinner option is a restaurant of a British hostel next to Trinitarias, which is in the seaside of El Cardón. They sell a steak sandwich which is great taste and enormous. Later that night I returned to the hotel to watch the victory of the Sport 2 x 0 LDU on the Copa Libertadores da América.

On the fourth day the option was to call a neighboring island Coche. Leave early to go to Playa El Yaque, which is adjacent to the airport and one hour from El Cardón. From there you can catch a catamaran for the price of BsF 25.00 each way to go to the island of Coche. The journey is pretty quick and you can enjoy the view of the arrival on the island, and see firsthand that pelicans will fly very close to the catamaran.
In Coche, which has a very white sand and crystal clear water, you can stay all day strolling through beautiful and unspoiled beaches or sitting in a tent taking a sun and enjoying the sea.
There are boat rides where you can snorkel and eat fresh oysters. This tour can also be done in Los Frailes, a small island that lies in the northeast of Margarita and the fishermen of El Tirano usually offer this type of ride.
In Coche, I made the boat ride paying BsF 25.00. The ride is very good, the boat goes up to 2km from the beach and stops at a sort of natural pool, where you can snorkel and enjoy the local species: many colorful fish and sea stars. After snorkeling, it's time to take pictures with sea stars, and then get on the boat to eat super fresh oysters, with a little lemon and a Polar beer offered by the boatman.
After a day in Coche, returning to El Yaque, there are several restaurants along the beach. El Yaque is a beach known for windsurfing and there you can rent equipment to practice the sport.

On the fifth day, I was planning to rent a car and drive to the beach Punta Arenas, located across the island, peninsula Macanao, but to rent the car I should return it the next day after the flight schedule, so it was impossible . Redesigning the trip, I went again to the beach Manzanillo to know a deserted beach and little frequented by tourists: La Propria. Go to Manzanillo, talk to a fisherman so he can make the leading leg and confirm a return time previously. The value that the fisherman charges is nothing more than BsF 50.00. A good choice is already negotiate with one restaurant the menu of the lunch and negotiate the loan of a tilt to bring La Propria, as in the case of a deserted beach, there aren't stalls offering drinks and awnings. One suggestion is to eat in the restaurant Dona Mindismar, who prepares a sensational lobster, served with wine Sauvignon Blanc Gato Negro. The value of the lunch is not more than BsF 150.00.
The beach La Propria is super small, surrounded by mountains and rocks on all sides, has crystal clear water and is inaccessible by land, there can only be reached by boat.
In return of Manzanillo, I recommend taking the taxi driver Alex, who takes you to the hostel, waiting for you to shower and change, then takes you to the Sambil, a shopping center of Margarita, and combines a time to catch you and take you in Sambil back to the hostel. Before returning to the hostel still stopped at the supermarket to buy chocolates that are delicious in Venezuela. The taxi driver charged only BsF 60.00 throughout this stretch.
The Sambil Mall is ideal for shopping for perfumes, electronics, wine and anything else that imported in Brazil is much more expensive, because Margarita is duty-free port. I bought wine Frontera Concha y Toro for a measly US$ 4.00. Take the opportunity to spend the rest of your dollars, because everything is very cheap even. Do not forget to save the only BsF 27.50 (domestic) and BsF 137.50 (international) airport fees, because they do not accept credit cards. An extra fee of BsF 18.00 was charged by VARIG counter as the difference in rates, as had been adjusted.
At night it's time to get things back to Brazil.

On the sixth day I took the flight from Caracas to Margarita Caracas and then to Brazil. At the airport in Caracas have no lockers, so you can't leave your luggage and try to risk a ride through the city of Caracas. As I traveled with suitcases and still did the Sambil shopping, I chose to sit for the flight back to Brazil at the same airport. Another thing you can't do is check-in early because the VARIG balcon only opens exactly three hours before the flight.
End of travel is a great option for last minute shopping in the International Duty Free, which sells chocolate El Rey with various concentrations of Venezuelan cocoa, rum and whatever you would like to buy during the trip, but it is much better buy than there have to be carrying during the journey.

I could have stayed another day and have enjoyed some of the rides that was in debt: dive or snorkel at Los Frailes; know the La Restinga Mangrove; know the beach Punta Arenas and La Pared; and possibly catch a flight and know the fantastic island of Los Roques.

So that's it! If you want more details I can provide, just get in touch by sending a comment, then comes the advise in my email.
The expensive is just the air ticket to Caracas. From Caracas to Margarita I bought online, but if you want to get the risk, it is much cheaper to shop there on time, because there are flights all the time to there and in several companies.

Hug and good luck!

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