It might sound strange to use the words ‘danger’ and ‘paradise’ in the same sentence.
But after a trip to the idyllic Los Roques islands in Venezuela, I found therer almost couldn’t be one without the other.
Amid all the warnings about Venezuela, the lack of tourism in the country compared to its South America neighbours is still astonishing.
All you hear on the road about Venezuela from other backpackers are things like, “You’re going to Venezuela? Why? It’s rough and dangerous”.
Foreign offices warn against tourists entering the country. Caracas, the Venezuela capital, is touted as being one of the most dangerous cities in the world. The last article I read before entering the country, it was number three.
Maybe that’s because Caracas has the second highest murder rate in the world, maybe it’s because 98 per cent of crimes are never prosecuted. Either way, it’s clearly a dodgy place.
So how can paradise be here?
To me, as a backpacker, the word ‘travel’ means that sometimes things are going to get a little uneasy. That’s part and parcel of seeing things locally and finding freedom.
I’d heard a little bit about the mysterious and beautiful Los Roques Islands and despite all the warnings I was determined to get there.
The trip to Caracas from Ciudad Bolivar, where I had been staying to visit Angel Falls, was eventful in itself. The overnight bus was first come first serve, whether you had a ticket or not.
There had been delays as there was a death on the road during the night. I didn’t find out what happened. This was Venezuela; there were problems that just couldn’t be explained.
As we got into Caracas I counted four different sirens from ambulances at different times. It felt like I was entering Gotham City.
I wondered how long I was going to stay in Caracas. The nights were spent boarded up in my apartment-turned hostel, seven floors up in the centre of the city. People had watched me and other backpackers wander during the day, eyeing our every move. I’d been referred to simply as Gringo by some locals. While all the nicer locals were apologising for their country’s current antics, questioning my presence. I started to wonder, what was I doing here, was it really somewhere I should be?
But I was here for one reason, to get to paradise.
Despite Venezuela’s currency being almost worthless, getting to Los Roques isn’t dirt cheap — you have to pay for accommodation in US dollars, not local Bolivars. But the islands’ reputation proceeded them — it was hard to get a booking.
Finally, I found a local in a hostel who was able to organise my trip. “$400 for four days, flights, boat trips, food, accommodation — everything. Do you want it?” asked Maria.
I was in.
Flights to Los Roques depart from a tiny terminal at Maiquetia airport. The planes are small — ranging from three-seaters to 14 seaters. The flight I took was on a single engine plane.
Flying over Los Roques, as I gazed at the countless tropical islands beneath me, I felt worlds away from Caracas. Landing on Gran Roque airstrip was unique. It’s a small runway with little margin for error, located next to the accommodation on the only inhabited island out of 300. I was in a different world.
Paradise is something we all look for. And if paradise means sitting peacefully on a stunning beach with clear waters, then Los Roques is it.
But despite its beauty, I barely met any foreign tourists during my stay. It was a Venezuelan haven. Away from the unrest and turmoil that surrounds the country, it remains a getaway for the more wealthy and fortunate.
There is nothing backpacker-like about this place. Everything is all-inclusive, so all you have to do is sit back, enjoy and relax. The only additional thing I decided to pay for was some superb scuba diving.
As I got to my first deserted island shortly after landing, I looked around and said to myself ‘Will this get any better’?
From being in one of the world’s most dangerous cities, to 166km away in Los Roques, it was in the closest I have ever been to paradise.