Humans have been present in the park since the first millennium of our era.
Recent archaeological studies indicate that indigenous people frequently visited
the archipelago. They navigated from the mainland to fish, capture turtles and
queen conchs, and extract salt in Los Roques. These activities followed until the
time of the Spanish occupation when fishers, pearl divers, and mangrove
harvesters began to visit the archipelago, and pirates and smugglers used it as a
base or hiding place. By the middle of the 18th century, Los Roques was a very
important place for guano harvesting. In 1866, the Venezuelan government
signed an agreement with a Dutch businessman for the extraction and
commercialization of guano from Los Roques. Also during this period, fishers and
salt harvesters from Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire visited the archipelago. The
peculiar names of most of the keys in the archipelago we owe these visitors;
names that end in "qui," which is a deviation from the English word "key"
(Northeast Key: Nordisquí, Sails Key: Selesquí, St. Louis Key: Celuisquí, to name
It was not until the middle of the 20th century that Venezuelan fishers started to
inhabit the archipelago permanently. They came from Margarita Island and
progressively brought their families with them. By 1941, Los Roques had a
population of 484 people spread amongst eight islands (Gran Roque, Crasquí,
Carenero, Cayo Pirata, Domusquí, Esparquí, Isla Fernando and Prestonquí). The
population had grown to 559 people by 1950. In 1956, there was a school
running in Gran Roque, electricity was generated with fuel, and there were plans
to build a desalination plant (SCNLS 1956). After the national park was created,
population was limited to Gran Roque Island. In 1987, Los Roques Scientific
Foundation performed a census and determined there were 847 inhabitants in
Gran Roque. Only 663 of these were permanent residents and the rest were
fishers that came from Margarita (Posada & Brunetti 1988). Presently, the island
has 1,209 permanent residents, which include native settlers, tourist operators,
and institutional personnel (AUA 2001).
Historically, fishing has been the major economic activity in the archipelago;
however, since the early 1990s tourism has experienced an immense growth.
Fishing has been strictly regulated since the creation of the national park and
about 300 fishers take up temporary residence on the island during the fishing
According to archaeological research done in the park, resource exploitation of
fishing resources in the area dates back to pre-colonial times (Antczak & Antczak
1988). Nowadays, fishing is an important economic activity for the inhabitants of
Gran Roque, and furthermore, Los Roques represents an important source of
food for the rest of the country. Los Roques produces 94% of the lobster
consumed in Venezuela and it also represents an important part of the high
commercial value of fish species, especially the snappers and groupers
Since the management plan was created in 1991, fishing is strictly regulated by
the Autonomous Fisheries Service (SARPA), a part of the Ministry of the
Environment. This organization registers the size and weight of the 1,000,000 kg
of fish and 120,000 kg of lobster that are extracted by Los Roques and Margarita
fishers during the season. According to the superintendent, in 2000, lobster
fishery revenues were in the order of 300 million bolívares (about US $300,000).
About 100 people are currently dedicated to this economic activity (AUA 2001),
which is less than in 1987 when research reported 172 resident fishers from a
total of 767 inhabitants in the archipelago (Posada & Brunetti 1988).
In the last decade, tourism has become important in Los Roques. Locals were not
involved in tourist activities until 1990. Before this, outsiders (wealthy
Venezuelans from Caracas and foreigners), who could buy houses inside the
park, managed the few existing lodges. Access was restricted to light aircraft or
private boats. Aerotuy was the only commercial airline operating in Los Roques at
There are 60 lodges, 50 travel agencies and six airlines currently operating in Los
Roques. However, Aerotuy still dominates the tourist industry in the area. In
2000, 49% of the tourists that traveled by air did so through Aerotuy; 43% of
foreign tourists and 27% of the Venezuelan tourists stayed at 10% of the lodges,
all of which are owned by Aerotuy. Tourist packages for 33% of the Venezuelan
tourists were bought in the Aerotuy travel agency (AUA 2000).
More than 75,000 tourists visited Los Roques in 2001 (AUA 2002). At the
beginning of the tourist boom, 60% of the visitors were foreigners, most of them
from the United States, Italy, Spain, Germany, France and the United Kingdom.
However, in the last three years, this tendency has reversed. International
tourism in the country has decreased after the Vargas State landslides towards
the end of 1999 (for more information see ParksWatch news). The consequent
reduction of "sun and beach" destinations in the central Venezuelan littoral, and
the increasing offer of affordable tour packages of one or two days to the park,
has boosted local tourism. In 2001, 65% of the tourists that visited Los Roques
were Venezuelan. That year, the highest tourist influx happened during school
holidays from July to September, in December, Easter and at Carnival (AUA
Out of all the tourists that visit Los Roques, 95% of them arrive by plane while
the rest travel by boat (AUA 2002). Airfare from Caracas is US $130. Most of the
60 existing lodges belong to foreign businesspeople, though some of them are
the property of families from Los Roques. Lodging includes breakfast and dinner
and prices range from US $50-200 per night per person. Some lodges also
include transfers to islands, lunch, beach chairs, sunshade, and snorkeling
equipment. Staying on a sailboat is another option for about US $150 a day per
person. The cheapest option is to camp in designated INPARQUES areas. Even
though Los Roques has a variety of lodging options, 96% of the tourists stay in
lodges, 3% in sailboats and less than 1% camp (AUA 2000).
Los Roques Archipelago attracts a number of visitors that come to do many
different activities. The natural beauty of the beaches attracts most tourists (AUA
2000). Coral reefs are of special interest to professional and recreational scuba
divers. Sport fishing and windsurfing are also practiced in Los Roques, and it is
even possible to go for a ride in an ultralight. Among other tourist attractions are
the Virgen del Valle celebrations in the second week of September, and the
Lobster Festival at the beginning of the lobster-fishing season in November.
Sailors and Pilots also consider Los Roques to be a very interesting place because
it is an amazing archipelago due to its distance from the mainland.