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Venezuela’s New Sparta, A Gem of the Caribbean

Venezuela's New Sparta
Venezuela’s New Sparta legislative palace. Credit: José Alfaro, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedia Commons

Located off the northeast Caribbean coast of Venezuela is a state with the surprising name of “Nueva Esparta,” or “New Sparta.” The state comprises the lovely, verdant islands of Margarita, Coche and Cubagua.

Margarita Island was originally densely populated with indigenous people; the tribe called the island “Paraguachoa,” which means “Fish in abundance” in the indigenous tongue.

The tribe was hospitable and friendly, and they were skilled fishermen and great navigators. These indigenous people were very proud of their homelands and they defended them to the death when attacked by nearby enemy tribes.

New Sparta in Venezuela was first reached by Columbus

What eventually became Nueva Esparta was first reached by Europeans on August 15, 1498, during Christopher Columbus‘s third journey to the Americas. On this journey, Colombus came across two small islands which today are called Cubagua and Coche, and a third, larger island, Paraguachoa.

Columbus gave the name of Asunción to the island of Paraguachoa and later, in 1499, it was re-named by the sailor Cristóbal de la Guerra, who christened it “Margarita,” In Greek, this term means “pearl’; the coast of the island was at that time abundant in pearls, which represented almost a third of the New World’s riches given to the Spanish Crown.

The navigator Alonso de Ojeda landed on the island and established friendships with its indigenous inhabitants.

The tribe believed that these foreign people who had come to their shores were their brothers and that their arrival meant the beginning of a new, prosperous future, so they received them with great kindness and hospitality.

However, as soon as the people of the island showed the Spanish explorers the pearl-rich oyster beds of Cubagua, the foreigners forced the indigenous people to extract thousands of oysters, whose pearls would be handed over to the Spanish state.

Venezuela's New Sparta
Coche Island Credit: Krlos 12, CC BY-SA 3.0/ Wikipedia Commons


The ideas of human rights and freedom eventually made inroads into the Spanish colony, giving rise to an inexorable independence movement.

In Venezuela, the fight to win independence took place between 1810 and 1821 under the military leadership of Simón Bolívar. Margarita Island was one of the first provinces that was able to defeat the Spanish oppressors, who wielded vastly superior military power than did the inhabitants of the island.

The island successfully gained independence from the Spanish in 1814 and became the first permanent, free territory in Venezuela.

The island took the name of “New Sparta” upon the creation of the States of Venezuela in 1864 as a tribute to the great heroism of its inhabitants during Venezuela’s revolution for independence from the Spanish, comparing them to Greece’s ancient, valiant warriors.

As the first Venezuelan region to be liberated, New Sparta was held up as an example for the rest of the country in its fight to be free of the colonizers.

In the same province, we also come across a town with the captivating name of “Juan Griego,” which in Spanish of course means “John the Greek.” The city currently has a population of 45,000 people and is one of the most important ports in all of Venezuela.

The city owes its name to Juan Griego, a Spanish sailor and explorer who was one of the first European inhabitants of the island. Griego was born in Seville, Spain in the early 15th century.

Venezuela's New Sparta
Handicrafts items from Margarita Island, Venezuela. Credit: Wilfredor, CC0/Wikimedia Commons

The Island Today

The island was declared a free harbor in 1974, thereby earning great economic dividends. Even though its sweltering temperatures and relentless sunshine initially represented a bit of a barrier against the area’s economic development, these later became one of its most valuable attractions.

The traditional kindness of its people, with their plentiful knowledge about the sea and their commercial prowess, combined with the lovely weather and stunning island landscapes, have now turned the island into a tourist destination.

Today, the island of New Sparta has increased the quality of its amenities and its hotel infrastructure and is now able to satisfy the needs and desires of tourists from all over the world who now visit the island.

It provides travelers with many first-class attractions such as commercial and business centers, hotels right on its white-sand beaches, lively nightlife, golf courses, and plenty of entertainment opportunities.

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