Isla de Cubagua, Venezuela: Uncommon Attraction
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Isla de Cubagua, Venezuela: Uncommon Attraction

You won’t find much on Cubagua. The destination is the smallest and least populated of the islands that comprise the state of Nueva Esparta, Venezuela. Cubagua is flat (highest elevation: 105 feet) and small (total area: under 10 square miles). It’s also exceedingly dry. Rain falls so infrequently that water has to be shipped in from mainland Venezuela. There are no roads, no real structures (much less hotels), and very little infrastructure whatsoever. It’s little wonder then that less than 100 people live in Cubagua. What’s more wondrous, though, is that this forgotten island was once home to one of the most thriving cities in all of the West Indies.

Venezuela’s First City

Nueva Cádiz was founded here in 1528, just 30 years after Columbus first sighted Cubagua. From the harsh desert conditions, Nueva Cádiz quickly grew in size and population. Notably, it became the first settlement in Venezuela to officially attain the title of “city.”

Desert island of Cubagua, Venezuela | Credit: Flickr user Laura Domínguez

Desert island of Cubagua, Venezuela | Credit: Flickr user Laura Domínguez

The Spanish established Nueva Cádiz as its primary base of operations to launch invasions into South America. They built a slaving center here to supply labor for their plantations on the Venezuelan mainland and beyond. They also brought in enslaved Lucayan Indians from The Bahamas to dive for pearls, further buttressing Cubagua’s wealth and prosperity.

The Fall of Nueva Cádiz

The high times in Nueva Cádiz didn’t last for long, though. The oyster beds had already depleted by 1541. An earthquake and subsequent tsunami on Christmas Day of the same year wiped out the city. All that remained were haunting ruins like the ones pictured above.

At its height, Nueva Cádiz had a population estimated at up to 1,500. Less than 100 people call Cubagua home these days. Nearly all of them scratch out a meager existence as subsistence fisherman.

Visiting Cubagua Today

It’s easy to visit Cubagua today. Tour boats and ferries hop over regularly from nearby Isla Margarita.

No doubt, there are few places in the Caribbean that offer beaches as empty, history as significant, and sunny skies as guaranteed.

 

*Lead photo credit: Flickr user Wilfredorrh.

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