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Isla margarita


Spanish colonisation

In pre-Columbian times, peaceful Indians lived on Isla Margarita (then: Paraguachoa), subsisting on fishing and agriculture.

The colonial history of the South American continent began in 1498 with the discovery by Christopher Columbus of the islands of Isla Margarita, Cubagua and Coche. In 1499, the first European, don Alonso de Ojeda, set foot on the island.

In 1500, the very first Spanish settlement in South America, Nueva Cadiz, was founded on Cubagua.


The discovery of beautiful pearls triggered a pearl trade, which Spain tried to monopolise. This failed due to the lively smuggling trade, and eventually they decided to grant licences to other countries. Most of the work was done by the original inhabitants of the islands, the Camajuya Caribs. This relationship with the Indians turned into a slave-master relationship. In 1525, the first governor was appointed by the Spanish Crown, Marcelo Villalobos, who died before he could begin his work. In 1532 La Asunción was founded in the Santa Lucía valley, the present capital of Isla Margarita. But first Isla Margarita came from 1532 to 1542 under the domination of the pearl island Cubagua, with Nueva Cádiz as its capital.

Around 1540 the oyster beds were already almost emptied and the interest of the Spaniards quickly turned to Mexico and Colombia. The Europeans left in 1541 and in the same year the islands were hit by a severe earthquake followed by a tidal wave. The islands remained uninhabited until 1548, when the Spaniards again attempted to colonise Isla Margarita. After that, the islands disappeared from the world stage for many centuries.

In 1600, La Asunción became the capital and the seat of parliament. The consecration of the cathedral of La Asunción in 1621 was a special event, as it was the first cathedral in the New World. The Dutch also contributed to the history of Isla Margarita: in 1626 the fort of La Caranta in Pampatar was destroyed by Dutch pirates. The French were also very active and 600 French pirates destroyed La Asunción in 1677.

Venezuela independent

The islands did not return to prominence until the 19th century. In the struggle for independence from Spain, the three islands were the first Venezuelan territories to definitively defeat the hated Spaniards. In 1810, the first independence movement was founded on 4 May, and already in 1812 the freedom fighters were persecuted by the Spaniard Pascual Martínez. A year later, Martínez was captured in Pampatar and executed in La Asunción. In 1815, Spanish general Pablo Morillo arrived in Pampatar with 65 ships and 15,000 soldiers. Due to its enormous superiority, the island surrendered unopposed. After Morillo's departure, the resistance immediately came into action and, under the leadership of General Arismendi, the Spanish troops that had stayed behind in Juangriego were taken by surprise.

In 1817, Isla Margarita was used by the famous Simón Bolívar as a springboard for his decisive campaign against the Spaniards in Venezuela, after a heroic battle in Matasiete. In 1818, he officially named the islands Nueva Sparta (New Sparta). After the battle of Carabobo on the mainland, all of Venezuela became independent and in 1830 the separation from Great Colombia followed.

Isla Margarita duty-free zone and international holiday destination

In 1975, the Venezuelan government granted Isla Margarita the status of 'Zona Franca', a tax-free area. This attracted many bargain hunters and gradually Isla Margarita became a popular holiday destination as well, initially only for the Venezuelans themselves. With the economic crisis of the early nineties, the Venezuelan tourist couldn't afford it anymore, but North American and European tourists came in, and put Isla Margarita on the map as an international holiday destination.

See also the history of Venezuela.


Launspach, W. / Reishandboek Venezuela, Margarita

O’Bryan, L. / Venezuela


Verbeeck, I. / Isla Margarita, Puerto La Cruz & Cumaná
Van Reemst

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated June 2024
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