Life in Maracaibo, Venezuela – Part One

Colorful colonial houses of Maracaibo, Venezuela

Maracaibo is the second largest city in Venezuela, 500 km west of Caracas, with a population of three and a quarter million. In recent years, many people have moved there from Caracas to escape the unchecked crime in the capital.

The city of Maracaibo sits on the shores of Lake Maracaibo; it’s the capital of the beautiful and agriculturally productive Zulia state. Separated from Caracas by distance and geography, Maracaibo has been shaped in unique ways by its isolation and its overwhelming physical feature, the lake. 13,000 square kilometers in size, the lake cuts a huge teardrop shape out of Venezuela’s northern coast.

Map of Venezuela. See Maracaibo at the upper left.

Map of Venezuela. See Maracaibo at the upper left.

For 390 years of the period of Spanish settlement, Maracaibo could only be reached by ferry across the immense lake. The General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge, named after a hero of the War of Independence, was completed in 1962. It spans Lake Maracaibo; 5.5 miles (8.7 km) long, it is the longest pre-stressed concrete bridge in the world.

Bridge across Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela

Bridge across Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela

The people of Maracaibo – known as Maracuchos – are proud of their city, their culture, and of Zulia. They sometimes think of themselves more as people of Zulia than Venezuelans.

Maracaibo is known for its colorful houses, warm weather, the unique indigenous lake villages and canoe traffic still found on the lake, the famous bridge across the lake, its own style of Afro-Venezuelan folk music called gaita Zuliana, its unique dialect (the people speak quickly and roughly and use the Castilian “vos” plural), and for generally being culturally different from Caracas in every way.

A floating church on Lake Maracaibo

A floating church on Lake Maracaibo

The Source of Maracaibo’s Wealth

If I’ve made Maracaibo sound like some backwater lake village, forgive me. In fact it is a bustling, modern metropolis, with modern towers lining the lakeshore. With its remote location, this might seem unlikely, except for one fact: oil.

I’ll write specifically about this in Part Two, so stay tuned.

A gaita zuliana band in Venezuela

A gaita zuliana band in Venezuela

4 thoughts on “Life in Maracaibo, Venezuela – Part One

  1. Ana

    This is so interesting! I want to kow more about Maracaibo !! , the lake sounds fascinating. I´m British , living in Madrid (ESP) and I have lots of friends from venezuela here and I never tire of hearing about this country… I hope that one day i´ll be able to visit. keep up the good work with the forum !

  2. Amber

    I agree with the previous note, Maracaibo does sound interesting! I am doing a college project on it for a Spanish class in the US and finding info is tough. This was very helpful, I wish that there were more info like this available.

  3. mili

    Could be interesting for the Amber´s report to know that we had in Maracaibo and eastern shore of Maracaibo´s lake an important american presence since 1918 to 1974. In Maracaibo, there were some oil camps, and the houses were very tipical and different. We are losing right now this architectonical patrimony that oil companies had left. They made houses for their employees, sort of colonies were they lived apart: The creole and the shell company had their own camps, with social clubs and hospitals. All those people who came from overseas spread the american way of life in our city, making with that influence, speacially from TX workers, part of what we are right now.

  4. Lori

    During our homeschooling, we googled “houses in Venezuela” and got this site. what a wonderful resource for learning about geography from a 1st person experience. Thank you!

Leave a Reply