The Caribbean Coast Feature

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Parque Nacional Los Roques

If you are looking for a spalike vacation, then the Parque Nacional Los Roques is your place. Los Roques has several "posadas" or bed-and-breakfasts ranging from rustic and simple to elegant and exclusive. An archipelago composed of some 350 tiny islands sprinkled in the dazzling Caribbean, Parque Nacional Los Roques is a 30-minute (propeller-aircraft) flight north from Caracas. Only one of those islands, Gran Roque, boasts a bona fide town, tiny as it is. A few others have private weekend retreats or fishermen's shacks, while most are completely uninhabited. Some are so small they disappear at high tide. The sandy beaches of Parque Nacional Los Roques are uncommonly white, even by uncompromising Caribbean standards. Coral reefs here are home to more than 300 species of fish.

A national park since 1976, Parque Nacional Los Roques is subject to strict federal regulations that protect it from overdevelopment. New construction is prohibited on any of the islands. Every structure on Gran Roque—which enjoys fresh water from a desalinization plant and electricity from a generator—existed before the archipelago became a national park. Many have been extensively remodeled and are meticulously maintained as posadas (small inns). A handful of bars and eateries make up the rest of the businesses. A mid-19th-century lighthouse, its windmill-like appearance revealing its Dutch heritage, overlooks the town from a small hill nearby.

Los Roques is considered one of the finest locales for hooking bonefish and other types of fish. You can head out in powerboats or in peñeros (local fishing boats). Sea kayaking is also popular, and some of the islands have emerged as premier sailboarding destinations. More sedate pastimes include scuba diving and snorkeling. Sunbathing, however, remains the most popular activity. Approximately 60 posadas line the sandy roads of Gran Roque. Most have two to six rooms with private or shared bath and a common dining area. Except during the peak season you should have no difficulty finding lodging on the island.

Italian-born innkeeper Elena Battani's heritage is evident throughout the exquisite Posada Mediterraneo, from the simple furnishings of the rooms to the white stone staircase leading to the rooftop terrace hung with sun-shaded hammocks. Join her for a chat at the rustic wooden dining table on her flowering vine-laden front patio. Pros: Heaven on earth, good food, trip of a lifetime. Cons: Getting here, rustic. Calle Las Flores 99, Isla Gran Roque. 0414/329-0621. www.posadamediterraneo.com. 6 rooms. All meals. no TV, safe, restaurant.

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