Cubagua Island - Atlas Obscura

Cubagua Island

This island in Venezuela is known for its significance in early Spanish colonization and pearl trade. 


Located off the northeastern coast of Venezuela, Cubagua Island holds a fascinating history and is home to the remnants of the once-thriving city of Nueva Cadiz. This small island, measuring only 9.2 square miles, played a significant role in the early exploration and colonization of the Americas. 

Nueva Cadiz, founded in 1500 by Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda, was one of the first European settlements in the New World. It quickly became a bustling hub of activity, attracting merchants, explorers, and fortune seekers from far and wide. The city’s prosperity was primarily driven by pearl diving and trade.

Pearl diving was the main economic activity on Cubagua Island during this time. The waters surrounding the island were abundant with oysters that produced exquisite pearls coveted by European nobility. The pearl industry thrived, attracting divers who risked their lives in search of these precious gems. Pearls from Cubagua became highly sought after and were exported to Europe, where they adorned royalty and aristocracy.

Nueva Cadiz flourished as a result of this lucrative trade. The city became a melting pot of cultures, with merchants from Spain, Portugal, Italy, and other European nations settling there. Its strategic location made it an important stopover for ships traveling between Europe and the Americas. 

However, Nueva Cadiz’s prosperity was short-lived. Natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes struck the island multiple times, causing widespread destruction. Additionally, changes in trade routes and the discovery of richer pearl beds elsewhere led to a decline in Cubagua’s importance as a pearl diving center. 

By the mid-16th century, Nueva Cadiz was abandoned completely. Today, visitors to Cubagua Island can explore the remnants of this once-thriving city. Archaeological excavations have uncovered ruins of houses, churches, and other structures that offer glimpses into its past glory. 

Aside from its historical significance, Cubagua Island is also a captivating natural destination. Its pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and diverse marine life make it a paradise for nature lovers. Snorkeling and diving enthusiasts can explore the underwater world surrounding the island, where remnants of past civilizations lie submerged. 

Cubagua Island and its city of Nueva Cadiz serve as a reminder of the early European presence in the Americas and the impact of trade and exploration on shaping world history. It offers a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty, making it an intriguing destination for travelers seeking to delve into the past while enjoying the tranquil beauty of the present.

Know Before You Go

You can go from Punta de Piedras dock on Margarita Island.

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November 16, 2023

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