Lying about Margarita

Sumito Estévez wants to persuade you Margarita is a swell place to vacation in 2016. In doing so, he makes himself an accomplice to an outright swindle.

Protesta por falta de agua.

I was born on Margarita Island and I lived there for 23 of the scant 26 years I’ve been on the planet. Ever since I can remember I had the sense that high season – which only later would I learn was a crucial economic driver for the island – meant the collapse of all public services. Tourist season always meant water rationing, blackouts and Caracas-style traffic on streets originally built for horse and mule traffic.

(No, seriously: the road that links Porlamar with the most popular beaches has just two lanes. Se imaginarán.)

Recently, on social media, a campaign was launched to persuade tourists not to come to Margarita this Easter holiday – or, well, at all. There’s just not enough water, not enough food, not enough power to go around.


Sumito Estévez – the celebrity chef, entrepreneur, political analyst and dental mechanic – is leading the charge against this campaign, with a series of tweets promising the island is as beautiful as ever.

Sumito’s mantra crashes head on with what I’ve gathered from my mom and my friends back home about life these days on the island that’s as beautiful as ever. An international airport with no air conditioning and no running water greets tourists. Stories of holiday-makers forced to scoop up water from the swimming pool to be able to flush the toilet, daily protests over water rationing and a stifling fear of crime, which has become common place all over the country. 

Here in Uruguay we play hosts to the Latin American branch of RCI, the time-share company. A friend who works customer service there tells me about the curious situations they deal with when clients go to Margarita. From five star hotels without toilet paper, to the astonished reaction of clients when they find staff staring vacantly at them as they explain that they do expect to be able to wipe their ass with TP daily. And then there’s the whole family of insanities around the black market for currency exchange, but that’s a whole other story. 

The reality is that Margarita, today – despite its landscapes and its history – is in no condition to play host to anyone. 

Faced with this sad situation, you have a choice: you either warn potential tourists through a “hateful campaign” via social media that Margarita’s become insufferable, or you deny it, lying to tourists so they’ll turn up, see the disaster with their own eyes and contribute, as ever, to the collapse of public services. This latter option has the single virtue that it guarantees that that tourist will never ever go back to the island again.

Frankly, only the first option strikes me as ethical, or even logical.

As a friend commented yesterday, promoting a place that won’t even allow you to flush the toilet in peace as a tourist destination amounts to theft. Unarmed theft, but theft nonetheless. Offering something you can’t deliver is a shakedown, no matter how sincere you might be in wishing you could offer it.

The thing that gets me is that Sumito, in his breathless boosterism, is engaged in the exact same deception as the government. Even if they have different motivations. They’re both saying everything my family and friends have to put up with is pura paja, and therefore they’re just paja-talkers.

And that’s just about the worst thing anybody can tell you when you’re struggling to get by.


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  1. Local Turism probably will continue to go as usual. But to compare the margarita of today with what is was 15 or 20 years ago its an absurd. Margarita is again one of those few places that had a potential and lost it. I used to live there the year before Chavez dos to power and yes there where not so many malls and all that infrastructure for an influx of turismo but I preferred that way than a overcrowded in collapse place that it is now day.
    Better go to coche or cubagua if its still a not so crowded place.

  2. I agree with you, but it’s only natural for people who make a living by running tourism-based businesses on the island to try to keep their clients coming, even if that means a little deceit.

    Da arrechera la paja, claro… But in the end they’re just trying to market and advertise their services to stay alive… And there’s a ton of bullshit in marketing and advertising in general anyway (“I lost 100lbs. in 3 weeks!”, not just in Margarita or in Venezuela.

  3. Any tourist who goes to Margarita (or anywhere in Venezuela) and doesn’t know what to expect clearly hasn’t done a single minute of homework. I’d almost say they deserve what they get…

  4. Honestly, this is a man who needs his business to keep gaining customers, and he depends on tourism to do so. It’s not his fault the government has so efficiently run everything to the ground.

  5. The time has passed long ago when anyone travels to Venezuela for anything other than the most pressing business, except relatives of Venezuelans, predatory looking mafia types from Belorusia, and insane or delusional gringo activists. Is my sense.

  6. Margarita was always complicated, way before Chávez. There were no services, no water, the airport was a disaster, the flight and ferry schedules were unreliable and renting a car was incredibly expensive, unreliable and almost impossible to get. One would find scorpions and bats in one hotel room or roaches all over the place in a rented house Yet, El Agua was magnificent, waking up watching the ladies pick Guacucos in Playa Guacuco was amazing, listening to the little kids that tell the story of Juan El Griego was an experience, visiting La Sierra was great and stopping in a place where they would sell jugo de caña but couldn’t at the moment because the whole family was watching a telenovela was interesting. The food was amazing in any place and so were the people of the island.

    In the end, despite the lack of so many comforts, I always went back to Margarita.

  7. First of all let me point out that I live in Isla Margarita & that I’m involved in the tourism industry.

    While I’ve been reading many horror stories about Margarita for us many of them are not an accurate picture.

    We’ve had no problem finding food and other things like TP, detergent or chlorine for the pool because we’re prepared to pay for it when given the opportunity & so we stock up sometimes for months in advance.
    We have a large freezer to store meat & chicken which we buy in quantities when it’s available.
    Up until now we’ve had no major problems with electricity but we have our fingers crossed about that.

    We’ve had little or no problem with water as I prepared for this when I remodeled our posada back in 2008 even though the contractor tried to talk me out of it saying it wasn’t necessary.
    Combined with conservation to lower usage we have 80.000+ litres of holding tanks so that when water comes we have adequate storage.

    We get a number of foreign guests.
    We have Americans arriving today & 2 couples from Canada in April.
    One of the couples was here in November & is returning for 4 weeks.

    We, of course, will help them during their stay with us to assist them in avoiding many of the problems.

    I’ve lived here for almost 30 years.
    I learned back in the late 80s & early 90s that preparation is the key to a less stressful life here.
    You have to adjust to the circumstances.

    I understand that many people can’t live like we do due to lack of resources but it’s unfair to say that all tourism here is untenable.
    The tourists just need to be informed about where they are going & how well prepared the location is to deal with the problems.

    • If you were a tourist from the US or Canada or Europe, or wherever, would you choose to go to Margarita over all the other equally beautiful but safe and hassle free places in the region and world?

      Is it because it’s super cheap for those with foreign currency?

    • Certainly it’s the cost of things that attracts the visitors that come to visit, especially the long term guests of 1 month or more.
      We had a couple here from the UK in Dec. / Jan / Feb for 2 months & they were actually earning money while they were here because everything was so inexpensive.
      The man even had a complete set of dentures made for about 20% of the private cost in the UK.
      He had a set from the National Health Service that were driving him crazy because they weren’t made correctly.
      The ones from here were perfect.

      The tourists we get are either repeat visitors or independent travelers that don’t like “all inclusives”.

      Would I come to Margarita – sure.
      I’ve been coming here since 1985 & moved here in 1987.
      To us it;s as safe as most other places.
      You have to be aware but in almost 30 years we’ve only had 1 problem back in 2001 that was mostly our own fault.
      The costs of the alternatives like Aruba or Barbados, for example, are many times more expensive than here. Where else in the world can you get free gas & 36 bottles of beer for $2.50? 🙂

      • Certainly everyone is entitled to their own opinion and level of risk they are willing to take. Thankfully,I sold my place in PLC two years ago and got the hell out. Free gas and cheap beer wasn’t enough of an incentive for me to risk my life on a daily basis there.

  8. I guess I can tell where Sumito’s attitude comes from, it’s that same “patrioterism blindfold” that makes people zealously claim that “nobody here talks bad stuff about Venezuela” (#AquiNoSeHablaMalDeVenezuela / # Aquí no se habla mal de Venezuela) which is nothing more than another useless manipulation from chavismo at making people believe that “chavizta regime IS Venezuela”

    You know, the ridiculous axiom that says “if you complain about chavizmo, you’re not a true Venezuelan, thus you deserve everything we’re doing here to screw you”.

  9. I work in tourism out of Caracas, the world’s most dangerous destination (besides those at war or in natural catastrophes). I have a guesthouse called Nelson’s Place that I recently rented long-stay. The reason i did this is because I do not want the problems many accommodation owners must go through because of the shortages. Therefore, I am helping my guests navigate Caracas and Venezuela by placing them in alternate hotels that are well-stocked and that have large tanks and big power generators. The travelers that come here are people that have been around and who want to come specifically to Venezuela, to write it off their “to do” list. I do not invite people to come here; I help those that do. That’s my policy. Whoever comes here knows what he’s getting into, and I’m here to make it as stress-free as possible. My guests feel very well when they leave, not scammed, not deceived, because they had all the facts from the start, yet they feel great because they manage to “do” Venezuela successfully, made simple with the proper guidance. Now Cheverito, that guy should be selling used cars. He is using deceptive advertising to lure tourists (not hardened world travelers) to come get scammed, robbed, and even shot.

  10. Lying / advertising , they are trying to sell a product , they sold the dream of socialism ,and people bought it , and now they want a refund .
    It’s exactly 40 years since Concorde started flying the Paris – Caracas route ( via Azores ) !
    I don’t think margarita has any international flights any more. . Maybe there is one to port of Spain and there was talk of a Moscow flight starting .
    You could never recommend that somebody should take their kids to visit Venezuela.
    I think there is hope for the future if you look at Colombia and how it has become a popular tourist destination . Or South Africa ( 10 million tourists a year ) , Cambodia , chockablock tourists .
    Tourism Is a sure fired banker for Venezuela if you get any stability and basic services back .
    Margarita was supposed to have a F1 Grand Prix , And the cruise ships ? There are seven billion people in the world , and half of them go on holidays … Just sell half price jet fuel to the airlines and tap the Chinese market the right way , not just begging .

  11. I’ve been to Margarita over 20 years ago and it wasn’t to stay in a 5 star hotel. Thankfully my stay was only for 3 days. However, back then TP was not to be thrown in the toilets, you were cautioned to use it sparingly (I bought my own) water and power was rationed; so explain to me if Margarita was and still is dependent on Venezuela for a lot of its resources like water etc. How can conditions there be better than Venezuela who is experiencing shortages which are leading to poor hygiene and malnutrition? People do the math…


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