After a few stressful days in Venezuela I'm sharing some info with you.
Chris Doyle's guide to Venezuela and Bonaire is looking decidedly dated, some people have suggested to me he plays down security risks in places where he has advertising. I can't comment on that, just repeat it. I should say in his defence that the Doyle Guide (2002 publication) intro does say its not as often updated as the other Caribbean guides and with the size of Venezuela it is hard to update. I can sympathize entirely. I also must say that the problems listed bellow are recent, security and the money situation has deteriorated since I last came here in 1999. Feel your way carefully in Venezuela
Please don't be put off by the first three headings, Venezuela is beautiful and its people exceptionally friendly. Its worth a visit
There is a security problem in Venezuela, quite bad in Margarita. Less so on the outlying islands? That's a guess by the way. The friendly locals in Robledal came up to us in droves saying "What are you doing here? It is very dangerous here". The Chris Doyle guide marks this as safe and quaint. Every house is barred up. The shop has a tinny portcullis in the bars for serving customers. The night before we arrived a fishing boat had been robbed at gun point and a man was in hospital. If they're going to rob a fishing boat like that, a yacht is a far more tempting target.
Boca Del Rio, has had its share of robberies, I have heard.
Polimar is safe enough I would guess. But hoist your dingy aboard at night and chain up your outboard.
Venezuela appears to have learned from the Vogons of Hitch Hikers Guide fame. Its a nightmare. It is recommended you get an agent to check in, in the guide. I doubt you have much choice. We never found any info on where or how to do it ourselves. It will certainly take 2 days on your own.
Getting checked in aside, there are different clearances for the Islands and the mainland. If you stop in at Los Testigos, before check in you must see the coastguard there. Los Rocas is a national park so you must pay when you get there.
Chris Doyle's guide paints a rosy picture of cash points and change houses. Things have changed. Firstly the locals reckon the US dollar exchange rate is 5000 odd, and you can get that if you ask around with cash. The banks will give you 2144. Less than half. I could not find one cash point that would let me take out money and I tried dozens. All the banks have mammoth queues. I after 48 hours managed to change some travellers cheques, had to fingerprint them and it took for ever. I got 2144 (half what even one of the yacht related locals had offered me for cash). Then there was commission and an admin charge. I only saw one change house - and I was hunting.
The old bolivar was replaced by the new on the 1st of January 2008. 1000 old Bolivars is 1 new Bolivar. They've just lopped the noughts off.
You will need to bring US dollars cash, other wise your going to have a lot of trouble. You'll have to balance this with the security problems. Take enough at least to cover officialdom $50 dollars min for check in $10 for out, more for mainland or Los Rocas. That way at least you won't get stuck as we did with no funds, or access to them.
Apparently this is direct policy form the Venezuelan government. They wish to restrict the flow o money in and out of the country, and believe me its working, the black market exchange is almost certainly messing they're tax an economy.
The good stuff
These are a beautiful group of Islands, with little or nothing but fishermen on them. No ferries or airstrip. They make a nice stop over on route from Grenada to Margarita.
I did little exploring, but had a lovely swim, and a lot of waving to local fishing boats. Friendly bunch the Venezuelans
We anchored quite happily off Testigo Grande, near to the Salt Pond. Your supposed to go see the Coast Guard, on Isla Iguana Grande, we tried and failed but it was a Sunday
I do not remember the any lights working, but cannot be sure. There is a generator with cables slung around the houses on Testigos Grande so there will be some lights on shore
There's effectively nothing to buy here, and nowhere to change money. Bring provisions with you, the beach is a workshop for fishing boats.
Pamapatar is the Port of Entry, but yachts are not allowed, except in the new marina which I have not visited. The next bay round is Polimar. Where most yachts will go. In the bay are several docks, which offer reasonable dinghy security, use them! The furthest into the bay leads to a small building. Here is a small shop, large book exchange and Juan's check in service, clearly the most popular one.
Jaks bar listed in the Doyle Guide is no more, the bar by the southern jetty offers line of sight to your dinghy and is cheapest.
The inner part of the bay is shallow as hell. As in do not charge around in your outboard as you'll break the sheer pin. That shallow.
Anchorage in Polimar is good, but a little rolly. Several yachts had stern anchors out to keep them head on to the swell. If your going to do this remember most people don't bother and they'll swing you wont.
The centre of town is a huge shopping area, I didn't have any money, nor would I be interested in designer goods. If you are this is the place for you.
Towards Pampatar, there is the "Center Margarata" or similar. With a supermarket. There is a bank here that will not even talk about changing money. Further on towards Pampatar is another shopping centre (mall), huge modern and new looks straight out of LA. Cash Machines all over, do they work? Do they bollocks!
There are many other anchorages in Margarita, the West Coast at Robledal is a no go zone at present, we ran. Boca Del Rio I have been to on a previous visit, its fun, but only for the boat ride through the mangrove swamp. I have heard of robberies and holdups hear also. I'd be tempted to do it by taxi from Polimar
Isla La Tortuga
A low Island, sandy, lacks good anchorages. I wouldn't want to be here in poor weather. The anchorage we used is Playa Caldera, in the north east corner of the island. We came in at night which I would not recommend! The swell swings around into the bay so the best anchorage is to be found in the north eastern corner, where the swell can't bend round enough. Please note, on one of our electronic charts, but not the other, it marks a line of reef running north south from the end of the headland. This is far longer than either the Doyle Guide or the other charts marked. Weather it exists or not I can't say, but I suggest coming into the southern end of the bay and motoring parallel to the beach to get into the less rolly north east corner.
Behond the sand dunes is an airstrip, there is defiantly a bar there as well. That's as far as my amenities report goes. I doubt however there's much out there, bring your own provisions and water. I did see a boat full of gerry cans motoring around with a name including agua, so you might be able to get water.
Some nice sports fisherman offered me a free fish, a barracuda. However I'm not sure about cigaterra in the region so I refused.