Venezuela visitors

The latest figures released by the state of Nueva Esparta in Venezuela show that Europeans, and especially the British, are increasingly falling in love with the best kept secret in South America…

Located off the North East Caribbean coast of the country, it comprises three picturesque islands with a total population of less than half a million.

Figures from the Nueva Esparta tourism corporation, Corpotur, show a 3.42 per cent increase in visitor arrivals (2,045,143) to the state for the period January to September 2008.

'State of New Sparta' as it was named in 1864 measures 50 miles by 12 and its main land mass is Isla Margarita founded in 1525.

The state's name comes from the heroism shown by its people during the Venezuelan War of Independence, thought similar to that of the Spartan soldiers of Ancient Greece. Isla Margarita, known widely as the "Pearl of the Caribbean", benefits from being outside the hurricane belt with an average climate of 27 degrees Celsius.

It boasts little rain, a variety of natural scenery from mountainous terrain to lush vegetation and over 200 miles of sandy beaches.

The area around the main town, Porlamar, offers a large number of facilities and activities for visitors including an 18 hole golf course, shopping, windsurfing, scuba diving, snorkeling and hiking. For this reason it has been a popular vacation destination for around 30 years.

These once undiscovered islands and their rich history is something more and more people are travelling to experience. In 2007 2.5 million people visited Isla Margarita alone, over five times its population. However, this masks the full story.

Nueva Esparta has remained largely hidden to those from outside the area as most visitors come from mainland Venezuela.

91 per cent of visitors in 2008 thus far arrived from Venezuela, suggesting a still traditional destination unspoiled by western tourism. Nevertheless, word of mouth about the islands and their status as an undiscovered haven is increasingly reaching more and more potential visitors further afield.

Since 2001, the percentage of hotel rooms occupied by visitors to Nueva Esparta has more than tripled to 76 per cent. Europeans are the most enamored by the islands, making up the vast majority of international visitors.

60,000 Europeans make the journey compared to only 25,000 from the rest of the world. The tourism figures also revealed the love affair an increasing number of Britons are having with Nueva Esparta.

Now the third major international tourist market, nearly 10,000 British tourists visited the islands during the last year. This represents a 38 per cent increase on the previous 12 months when around 6,500 Britons visited.

In addition, other northern European countries have also discovered Nueva Esparta and Isla Margarita. The Dutch, Danish and French are nearly as eager as the British, with the keenest Europeans coming from Germany with around 15,000 visitors.

Like their ancestors hundreds of years ago, Europeans are increasingly interested in Nueva Esparta. This is particularly the case with northern Europeans looking for an alternative sunny island retreat from the Mediterranean norm, with a Caribbean style twist as well.