Hello! My spouse and I have just come back from Bella Visa Hotel on Margarita Island. We had a wonderful time; at this point, I would like to re-assure all of you that, like me, read reviews from this site just before leaving and got very very nervous.
Our flight was delayed because of bad weather in Ottawa – happens all the time in winter country. The Airline staff really made the difference, and was most pleasant. It was a great flight after all. To ensure we did not arrive too late in Margarita, the pilot actually flew at a higher altitude allowing for faster speeds; at our arrival point, our delay was of least than 30 minutes. At the Airport, we were greeted by 2 of Go Travel Direct (GTD) Staff, Josée and Paolo (I nicknamed him Senor Meteo….)
At the hotel, we were promptly directed to a room (like for conferences) where we were greeted by hotel staff with drinks (that was kind of nice!). We picked up our key and were directed to the Front desk for Safe Deposit Box and Television Remote Control (free, or course). They will require you to leave an imprint of your card for “deposit” as the Safe will cost you 4000 Bolivares (Bs.) or 2 $US (convert Bs. To $US by dividing by 2000). Take the safe – GTD strongly suggests you do so, and as in any hotels, there are thefts. 2$UD a day is not worth risking ruining your trip.
The room we had was on the 8th Floor and it was perfectly clean, and a fair size – same as you would get in Canadian Hotels. Other people have told us that they did not like their room (air conditioning too noisy, another one was the view – they wanted the Ocean), but went back to the Front Desk and they were immediately changed. We did not have the Ocean View, and did not care for it either; our view was on Porlamar and its beautiful mountain scenery. When we wanted to go on a balcony (happened once…) we went to friends’ room (people we met over there).
The Hotel Food
At the buffet, food was okay – I did not say good, and I did not say terrible either; I have to say it was more Venezuelan than Canadian, and that is OK by me; I am there for a total experience, for better or worse – this was in-between. There was usually choice of beef, chicken, fish, and newly introduced thanks to our GTD reps, pasta, which many people including my spouse, though was good. Do not get discouraged over the buffet – think creatively; you can easily diversify your places of eating if you plan your stay well. Here are a few tips: there is a pizza restaurant (right next to the buffet) that is included in your all inclusive – no buffet then; an “à la carte” supper is included in your stay – another night of something else than the buffet; Tours sold by GTD usually include a meal at a restaurant in Margarita – yet another change from the buffet; you want to have a taste of home, well have some of the French Fries from the Pool Restaurant – although they are not free, they were not bad at all for the price (just under 1.50 $UD) – portions are larger at night than during the day. Burgers and Hot Dogs are served daily between lunch and supper at the Pool bar, are free and good!
The Bella Vista Beach
Unfortunately, the Beach was not what I either imagined or liked. It was not very clean or big. The Hotel had set up an area with a cord where there were chairs and umbrellas. An important thing to know about Margarita Island, is the fact all Beaches are Public (unless I have terribly been misinformed), so Hotels and Resorts cannot prevent anyone from going there (except in the “cord” area). A Security Guard was always on duty for the few times we went there to walk. On the day we left, Hotel Staff we working intensively at cleaning up the Beach, so it can only get better when you go there. I had actually read another person’s comment and remembered it about Bella Vista Beach and it read : “The Beach is useable but it will give you a perfect excuse for going to other Beaches”. I took this person’s advice, and that’s exactly what we did.
The Other Beaches
Josée and Paolo informed us at our arrival meeting that a trip was organized to Playa El Agua; my advice, is for you to go! It’s free and Playa El Agua is considered by many the nicest of all Beaches. The Beach is about 30 to 40 minutes from the Hotel and you will enjoy some nice scenery. The Beach is approximately 1 Km long, aqua blue waters (unlike the Bella Vista Beach), and plenty of space for everyone. Two chairs and one umbrella cost us 20 000 Bs (I understand prices go up by 5 000 Bs on weekends). There are “BeachClubs” all along the Beach – some nicer and less nice ones. Go anywhere, you should be well served. Playa El Agua is a “Tourist Beach”. There are some sellers on the beach, and their prices are negotiable, but not as much as you will see in other Caribbean countries (I will keep the shopping hints and tips for another section). I recommend the Banana Chips (even if you do not like Banana, try them, they taste more like potatoes as they were made with plantain bananas) as well as the Cocos (sweet, coconut and sugar as a patty; don’t get the caramel ones, they get too sticky under the sun!). Beer is 1500 Bs (0.75 $US) and Coca Cola 2000 Bs (1 $US). Food is generally neither not very expensive, but nor dirt cheap either. Security is no problem – we left our bags on the Playa, keeping an eye on them of course, just in case; everyone is doing it, and there are always people around that you can ask to keep an eye on your stuff. We had a fantastic time at Playa El Agua.
We had also heard of other beaches before leaving, and wanted to explore them a bit. Playa El Yaque is located just South of the Airport (25 minutes from Hotel) and is frequented mostly by Europeans. There are only small waves at El Yaque – it is known internationally as an excellent site for WindSurfing and Kite Surfing. All equipment can be rented onsite. It is a smaller Beach than El Agua. Although it was very nice and had clear aqua blue water, be thought El Agua was better. There were a lot of things to watch around us as people were coming and going with their kites and Windsurf Boards.
Last Beach we visited and it was the very ultimate best one of all!!! Very close to El Agua, the scenery, the facilities, every thing was perfect. This beach by itself was worth the trip! A definite must! GTD reps were not familiar with this Beach, but we gave them info and hope others can benefit from our finding. How did we find this beach – I basically asked hotel staff what the best beaches were and they answered Parguito because it is the beach for the Venezuelian people; not many tourists there. Can’t blame them for wanting to keep the best part for them!
But how did we get to enjoy this trip so much?
We had very little choices – either stay at Bella Vista and complain about the Beach (which is no fun at all in my book) or make a small effort, and travel elsewhere, a little further, and that’s what we did. Friends we met there actually came with us to Playa Parguito and were in agreement – this was the best of all Beaches, and we all had a spectacular day. And wait, it gets even better….
The City – Porlamar
At Bella Vista Hotel, the main advantage IS the fact you are in the City. You can walk on Santiago Manio Street all the way to Quatro de Mayo and shop, shop and shop…. We did not feel threatened in any way – I do realize that it’s all a matter of perspective on things, but I tell you, I was very confused when I remembered what I had read. Anyway, fact is, do not go out at night. Some people don’t today, and they live in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto…. Same there, except, at night for us meant 6:00 p.m. By then, we were exhausted anyway; we did go out at 9:00 p.m. at one point to make a call from a public phone and even that was no problem. Car alarms do go off frequently in the City, and it is not all due to crime. There were 2 factors for when we were there (that was also true for people having been to Margarita before us) – Basketball or Baseball finals (I don’t remember which one). Tradition is to make noise when you Team wins, and yes, car alarms make noise. I believe this all finished this weekend. They have very fancy alarms, even on the worst cars. When parked, cars are close, and when an older car parked in parallel started its engine, it would often tip off the car behind it’s alarm (and that is something we witnessed).
We only went on the “Highlights” Tour – my spouse is pregnant and many tours were not recommended, if even permitted. It was a great day-long tour. Totally worth the 35 $US. You will find Tours to be generally cheap for what you get. This Tour is sightseeing bus tour, with a nice finale, you are taken to a refuge and get to touch and take all kinds of animals and reptiles (including a Tarantula that I took – nice! Also a monkey) from Venezuela. Drinks are included and practically bottomless. Lunch is also included and was at Casa de Reuben (right next to the Hotel) and was superb; we had the chicken which was very good. Other people had beef I think, and fish, but prepared in a typical Venezuela style (like lasagna). All finished their plate and were very happy.
Book early for Tours as you might not be able to get what you want on the day you want. There are plenty of places, but better be safe than sorry. The most popular Tour was the Jeep Safari. I have little to tell about it because we were unable to go as explained earlier. Those I saw coming back were as happy as possible; comments we heard were: “fantastic tour, best view of the island so far, great beach, there was alcohol aplenty…” The Dolphin Swimming was also popular because of its low price (75 $US I believe).
Tricks that will make your stay more pleasurable
Here are a few things we learnt in Margarita that I hope will give you an advance on all others. We got most of the stuff
Getting Money (Bolivares)
Get enough for the tax money first, and then put it away. Get 100 $US (200 000 Bs.) worth to start (unless you are a heavy shopper).
Change your money at the Foreign Exchange Office in the Hotel (Cambio in Spanish). Do NOT go at the bank as you will get a poorer rate and pay a commission of at least 8% When we were there, we got a rate of 2125 for 1 $US – this is better than the official rate. The gentleman there speak perfect English and we though he was a valuable resource for providing tips on how to get around the city.
Banco Provincial is 4 blocks down on Santiago Marino and is reputed to accept many credit cards and Interac Cards. I confirm they work with Desjardins and CIBC cards. Language options are on the screen, but even if you select English, it might be in Spanish; the sequence of the steps is the same. You have to be quick as the teller has a 5 seconds timeout (slightly annoying). Think ahead of the amount you want to withdraw, 5 seconds is short...
The best trick I have is tip – tip, tip and tip. Tip little, but often. They will appreciate and demonstrate their gratitude. A good tip is 5000 Bs.; a regular tip is 2000 or 3000 Bs. Who to tip? Bartender, waitress at restaurant (they have 2 shifts, morning and evening.) On your first day, notice the staff, and on the second day, tip someone you have seen the day before (that of course looks friendly enough to you!). By doing that, you ensure you are tipping a regular staff (as opposed to someone just helping out that night) and also you are guaranteeing yourself good service throughout your stay. I suggest giving them a “reminder tip” at the middle of your stay. Managers might refuse tips. The average employee at the hotel makes 420 Bs. per month; this should give you an indication of how much tip is required if anything extraordinary happens (like us, when my spouse lost and found her passport, a particular person received a generous tip as he helped us tremendously). I will write out the passport story later, as it actually illustrates well the friendliness of the Margaritans. You also tip Room service, and bring them items from Canada, especially things for children. Venezuela is a poor country, in as in many poor countries, people have many children. Our maid had 8 children, and she was really thankful for the plush tiger and crayons we had given her on top of a 5000 Bs. tip; I wish we would have had more toys and stuff for her. Typical things you would buy for Cuba/Dom. Rep. such as nylon socks and gum, they have over there. I was giving my gum as Canadian Gum; they were laughing.
A little bit flaky down there – sometimes they say the line is busy while it really isn’t. At the airport, phones were down…. All to say, do not call direct from the hotel to Canada, it is too expensive. Get a calling card, but not from Canada – from Venezuela. Josée had bought some for us guests; the price was 5000 Bs. for 55 minutes. No matter what you say, but this is dirt cheap! Canada Direct (Bell Canada) long distance is like 1.37 $CAN per minute. Calling Card is a 0-800 number and the hotel will change you something like 0.50 cents per call at most. Before using your telephone in the room, you must ask front desk to open a line for you.
GTD reps will tell you about Rattan and Sambil (expensive apparently). We wanted to go the Venezuela way, and asked staff for their help. We directed to the Mercado de Conjehero (pronounced konyéhéro – I suggest you write it down). It is like a huge outdoor covered market, with T-shirts, copies of your favorite brands of sunglasses, caps, they also have beach towels, fruits, music. Go before 2:00 p.m. as stores start closing around that time. We went at 10:00 in the morning and all was opened. Do not wear jewellery and watch your pockets – it is a market with many people. I suggest wearing a wallet around your neck, in your shirt. No problem then. Why no jewelry? Many reasons. You are probably already identified as a tourist just by the color of your skin – if not, consider yourself at an advantage. You do not want to be seen as having money; your will be less tempting for anyone with bad intentions, but more importantly, if they think you have a lot of money, they will not want to bargain with you and will send you packing if you are too pushy. Less jewelry equals better prices. Bargaining is harder than elsewhere in Margarita.
Keep enough USD to pay your Tours – you get better prices that way.
Prices are listed in the Lobby – negotiate before taking the taxi as there are no meters, and even if it feels awkward, pay the driver when embarking, at departure point if your Spanish is “so-so” like mine. Friends of ours got into an argument with a driver as the drive they requested was negotiated using a hand, showing five fingers. Driver interpreted it as 50 thousand while the intention was 5 thousand. Ended up paying 5 thousand as other taxi drivers intervened at destination point. Bottom line, pay upfront, we never gto into trouble by doing so, we only avoided it.
Staff and Spanish / English translation
Many staff speak English. Some perfectly, some okay, some say “yes-no-toaster” and others not at all. Learn a few words, they will feel flattered; very flattered! In turn, they might ask you how to say things in English. This hotel is used to serving Venezuelians and Brasilians mostly. I never spoke Spanish before in my life, never took lessons, and I was practically having small conversations with them by the end of the week. I was even asking for “Could I get 2 towels for Room number “X” please” all in Spanish and they would answer “Muy bien” (very well!). It was a lot of fun. If you hear the Pool Towels Guy speak French, it’s because I gave him my Spanish / French dictionary. By the way, forgot to cover this, but there were enough towels – no problem.
Now the part that no one want to hear….. Sickness
Yes, there were a lot of people sick when we were there. I heard of at least 3 different couples that called the doctor. Why, I will not talk about specifics of their case, but, people sometimes do stupid things (although they might be very smart). Think about this – you are close to the Equator, almost on it. The sun is about 40 times stronger there than here. If you go in the sun, for even 1 single hour with no cream, you will burn. I personally burnt to a crisp (serious, I never burnt so bad). In our case, it was a problem with the sun lotion which was in my opinion defective. Second time we use it, second time we burn. We changed brand over there, works A-1, but it was too late. Why do I tell you this? To make sure you do not mess up your holidays; a sunburn is a serious thing – it can be just like a burn on a stove or in the fire. When you get a serious enough one, you get a fever (that we had), and when it is worse, your system will simply refuse to process any food and some liquid resulting in dehydration, and difficulty to re-hydrate the person. It was the case of most persons; I personally, strongly do not believe there was any food poisoning at our hotel. One of the reasons that makes me think that is the fact we spoke with other hotel guests and the situation was the same. This is not Mexico – the heat and sun is brutal. With lotion and a hat, they are your friends, but beware.
A good trick is to bring reasonable supply of Imodium and Pedialyte (re-hydration). A friend of ours got sick and had purchased a Venezuela version of Imodium, and after 2 days of taking it she was still sick. She had one of ours, and she was back up on her feet quickly. I have no idea what their medication contains, but our Canadian stuff seems better.
There you go, I hope this will help you enjoy your stay at Bella Vista. It is a great Island, with fantastic and friendly people. Get to know the place, travel by taxi (it’s dirt cheap!). GTD reps are there 2 hours a day and some days 4 hours. If you see Josée and Senor Meteo (Paolo) tell them Marty says Hi! GTD Reps were fantastic – I know some people gave them a rough time because they were unsatisfied. I looked on my last day and compared it to my first, and I even saw changed and improvements, thanks to them. I cannot criticize them in any way; they are doing an excellent job!
Feel free to e-mail me and please put VENEZUELA in the title somewhere, I will ensure my “Junk Mail” filer does not intercept it. I have a few photos I can send if you are curious. Enjoy your holidays!
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- Also Known As:
- Bella Vista Porlamar
- Bella Vista Hotel Margarita Island, Venezuela - Porlamar