Islas Los Roques
EACH MORNING, while the sun warms the sea and the pelicans bomb sardines, the small harbor in Los Roques, Venezuela, slowly comes alive. Here, about 100 miles north of Caracas, sits arguably the largest concentration of beautiful beaches in the hemisphere—some 42 islands of white sand, with turquoise lagoons and only one town among all of them. Gran Roque (pop. 1,600) has breezy inns, an espresso bar, and sandy streets plied only by flip-flops. But wander down to the harbor and you'll find the fishermen. They're the ones with literally a menu of deserted islands nearby, and for $15 or less they'll take you and your snorkeling gear there. "Francisqui? Crasqui?" they say. "Which island you like today?" The decision isn't easy. There's premium snorkeling among hundreds of thousands of tiny silversides off Crasqui, a 30-minute boat ride away, and great diving in the coral pinnacles of La Guaza, which teems with jacks and grouper. But of all the islands and all the beaches and all the things to do—Francisqui for kiteboarding, Cayo de Agua for lagoons, and so on—Cayo Muerto, just a 20-minute ride away, is particularly special. A sandbar 500 paces long surrounded by a sea so clear you could mistake it for air, "Death Key" is the classic deserted island of castaway fantasies.
PLAYTIME: If riding a fishing boat isn't for you, Ecobuzos Dive Adventures runs boats out of Gran Roque to various destinations off Los Roques. $35; ecobuzos.com
ISLAND LIVING: Gran Roque's newest inn, Posada Natura Viva, features a quiet courtyard and a predominantly Italian clientele and can help arrange everything from flights to renting snorkeling gear. $247; naturavivalosroques.com