Porlamar, with more than a third of Isla Margarita's population, is the island's center of commerce. Since it was granted free-port status in 1973, its store-lined avenues have been mobbed with tourists in search of tax-free bargains. Many of the goods found here are no cheaper than on the mainland, however. Porlamar is also the most cosmopolitan city on Isla Margarita, boasting many restaurants, bars, clubs, and casinos. This area is home to the Hilton hotel and several large shopping malls, most notably the Centro Comercial Sambil. It's also, unfortunately, a place where plenty of abandoned construction projects stand surrounded by spray-painted walls. This strange mixture of divine coastline, urbanization, and half-baked projects makes for a less-than-ideal spot for many vacationers. Most sunseekers simply say, why come to this island to stay in a city? Others point out that you can have the best of both worlds—coastline, ocean, shopping, nightlife, and restaurants—if you stay in or near Porlamar.
Just 10 km (6 mi) northeast of Porlamar is the sleepy, charming town of Pampatar, once a small fishing village. Fishing craft of all sizes line the bay and sandy beach here, offering up a gorgeous range of fish, from pargo (red snapper) to mero (grouper). Farther inland a culinary awakening is taking place—in fact, Pampatar has replaced its older sibling to the south as the place to wine, dine, and dance.