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Maracaibo is the second-largest city in Venezuelamarker after the national capital Caracasmarker and is the capital of Zulia state. The population of the city was 1,571,885 in the 2001 Census, the metropolitan area is similar in population with Zulia state at just under 3 million in the Census. An intercensal estimate for 2009 by Instituto Nacional de Estadística lists 1,891,800 for Maracaibo and around 3.7 million for the metropolitan area and Zulia state.

Maracaibo is nicknamed La Tierra del Sol Amada ("The Beloved Land of the Sun").


The city was founded three times. First in 1529 by the German Ambrosio Alfinger, who named it Maracaibo or Villa de Maracaibo. The lack of activity in the zone made Nicolas de Federman evacuate the village in 1535 and move its population to Cabo de la Vela nearby Coro. A second attempt by Captain Alonso Pacheco turned into failure. The third and definite foundation of the city, occurs in 1574 when Captain Pedro Maldonado, under Governor Diego de Mazariego', command establishes the village with the name of Nueva Zamora de Maracaibo to honour Mazariego's place of birth, Zamora in Spain. Since its definite foundation the town began to develop as a whole. It is based on the western side of Lake Maracaibomarker which is the dominant feature of the oil-rich Maracaibo Basin. Favoured by prevailing winds and a protected harbour, the city is located on the shores of the lake where the narrows, which eventually lead to the Gulf of Venezuelamarker, first become pronounced.

The name Maracaibo comes from the brave Cacique (Indian Chief) Mara a young native who valiantly resisted the Germans and died fighting them. It is said that when Mara fell, the Indians shouted "Mara cayo !!" (Mara fell !!), thus originating the city name. Other historians say that the first name of this land in Indian language was "Maara-iwo" meaning "Place where serpents abound".

For about 390 years, Maracaibo remained isolated and separated from the rest of the country. Transportation was only possible across the lake by ferry or other marine transport.

Cars, buses, and lorries, with their constant flow of manufactured goods and agricultural product, depended on the ferry system between the city and the eastern shore with their roads to connect to the country's motorway system. Maracaibo and the Lake Maracaibo region's economy was more linked to Colombiamarker than to eastern Venezuela due to the natural route available through Lake Maracaibo then leading to the sea.

This isolation was both a challenge and an advantage. The very nature of the city's location made for a population known for their independent thought and character. The history of this region is plagued with stories about the creation of an independent and sovereign nation apart from Venezuela, a nation called La República Independiente del Zulia, which means The Independent Republic of Zulia, but this has never come to be. Nevertheless, in the minds and hearts of many citizens of Zulia, this far-away dream is a long-lived desire. Zulia has all that is necessary to be a successful country: beautiful landscapes, fruits, vegetables, bread, people, and oil.

The dictatorial regime of General Marcos Pérez Jiménez in the 1950s set as a goal the construction of a bridge connecting the two lake shores. Various bridge projects for the spanning of the Lake Maracaibo narrows near the city were in the works. The general's government had decided that this "city of independent thought" should be more "connected" to the rest of the country.

Proposals for a bridge design that included rail transport and tourist facilities were seriously considered. The fall of the Pérez Jiménez government on January 23, 1958, quickly led to a less elaborate design project that was approved and funded by a democratic and more conservative government.

The building of "El Puente Sobre El Lago de Maracaibo "General Rafael Urdaneta"—(General Rafael Urdaneta Bridgemarker over Lake Maracaibo) named after the distinguished General hero of the War of Independence was opened to public traffic in 1962. The project was completed on schedule in 40 months.

This bridge construction project was a remarkable feat. Built under very difficult conditions, when completed, it became the longest prestressed concrete bridge in the world. The structure is in constant use and remains today as the most important link between Maracaibo, along with much of the state of Zulia, and the rest of Venezuela.

Maracaibo was elevated to the status of Roman Catholic Archdiocese on 30 April 1966 with the creation of the Archdiocese of Maracaibo. Since November 2000, its Archbishop has been Ubaldo Ramón Santana Sequera.

Henry Morgan's Attack

In March of 1669, Henry Morgan sacked Maracaibo, which had emptied out when his fleet was first spied, and moved on to the Spanish settlement of Gibraltar on the inside of Lake Maracaibo in search of more treasure. A few weeks later, when he attempted to sail out of the lake, Morgan found an occupied fort blocking the inlet to the Caribbean, along with three Spanish ships. These were the Magdalena, the San Luis, and the Soledad. He destroyed the Magdalena and burned the San Luis by sending a dummy ship full of gunpowder to explode near them, after which the crew of the Soledad surrendered. By faking a landward attack on the fort, thereby convincing the Spanish governor to shift his cannon, he eluded their guns and escaped.


François de Pons, an agent to the French government in Caracas, provides some historical insight into the people of Maracaibo in his travel journal . The following excerpts describe the local population of Maracaibo:

They perform coasting, or long voyages, with equal facility; and when all trade is suspended by the operations of war, they enter privateers. Bred up in the neighbourhood of the lake, they are mostly all expert swimmers and excellent divers. Their reputation stands equally high as soldiers. Those who do not enter into the sea service, form plantations, or assist in cultivating those, which belong to their fathers. Nothing proves better their aptitude for this kind of occupation, than the immense flocks of cattle with which the savannas of Maracaybo [sic] are covered.

He also notes the appreciation of literature, the arts, education, and culture among the people of Maracaibo:

But what confers the greatest honour on the inhabitants of Maracaibo, is their application to literature; in which, notwithstanding the wretched state of public education, they make considerable progress....They likewise acquired the art of elocution, and of writing their mother tongue with the greatest purity; in a word, they possessed all the qualities which characterise men of letters.

During the period of de Pons' visit, however, he believed the men of Maracaibo to lack integrity with regard to honouring their commitments:

After allowing that the inhabitants of this city possess activity, genius, and courage, we have nothing further to say in their praise. They are accused of violating their promises, and even of attempting to break through written engagements. Their character, in this respect, is so notorious, that every stranger whom business induces to visit Maracaybo, affirms, that it would be much better to enter into commercial speculations with the women, because they appear themselves to possess that sincerity and good sense which are every where else considered as belonging particularly to men.

Modern times

The City at Night

Maracaibo has become a large metropolitan city, comprising two municipalities: to the north the municipality of Maracaibo and to the south the San Francisco municipality (established in 1995). In recent years, due to political/economic and cultural reasons, many have moved to Maracaibo from rural areas and other cities (including Caracasmarker).

In the political arena, the citizens of Maracaibo (and most other cities and municipalities in Zulia state) have in recent years voted for a competitive political system in where the governor is from a certain political party and the mayor or mayors are from the opposite political party. This system has brought many good things to the city and the state; for example, if the governor builds a bridge, one of the mayors will build two, if a mayor cleans a public park, the governor retaliates by cleaning and remodelling another one. Currently the governor is Pablo Perez from the Un Nuevo Tiempo party, and the mayor of Maracaibo, Giancarlo Di Martino, is from the Movimiento Quinta Republic party. Both parties are their opposite in Venezuelan politics; in the past the governor of the state was Francisco Arias Cárdenas from the Causa Radical and the mayor of Maracaibo was Rosales, the current governor.

Maracaibo also boasts one of the best universities in the country, the state university. La Universidad del Zulia (LUZ) is well renowned for its excellent law and medical schools. Other major universities and schools include Universidad Rafael Belloso Chacin (URBE), with its excellent engineering school, and Universidad Rafael Urdaneta, with one of the country's leading psychology schools.

Culture in Maracaibo is very indigenous and autochthonous, is recognized in every state and city in Venezuela, and is very influential with its gaitas, desserts, style, living, and customs. Most major houses of advertising in Venezuela acknowledge how opposite the culture of Maracaibo is from that of Caracas. Studies of both prove, for example, that Caracas' leading soft drink brand is Coke, while in Maracaibo it is Pepsi. This has made many brands create special localised advertising of their products (including several Pepsi commercials spoken by local celebrities).

The Maracuchos (and most of the inhabitants of Zulia state) are known to be the only users, in Venezuela, of the Castilian dialect, using words such as "vos" when referring to the second person singular, as is done in Argentina, Uruguay, and much of Central America; in the rest of the country the word "tu" or "usted" is used. This has led Maracuchos to be recognized almost anywhere by their rough accent.

Maracuchos are extremely proud of their city, their culture, and all of Zulia. They usually claim that Venezuela wouldn't be the country it actually is without Zulia. Rivalry with inhabitants of other regions is common, specially with Gochos (people of the Mérida and Táchira state) and Caraqueños (people of the city of Caracasmarker).

Unfortunately, the city of Maracaibo has no facilities to treat domestic sewage. All sewage is pumped into Lake Maracaibo, which along with the removal of the land bridge to the sea, has been responsible for transforming the lake from crystal clear waters teeming with fish to a brackish green mess.

Law and government

Maracaibo has one municipality: Maracaibo Municipality, Venezuelan law specifies that municipal governments have four main functions: executive, legislative, comptroller, and planning. The executive function is managed by the mayor, who is in charge of representing the municipality's administration. The legislative branch is represented by the Municipal Council, composed of seven councillors, charged with the deliberation of new decrees and local laws. The comptroller tasks are managed by the municipal comptroller's office, which oversees accountancy. Finally, planning is represented by the Local Public Planning Council, which manages development projects for the municipality. According to United Nations reports, Maracaibo like Caracas has significant infrastructure deficiencies under current government, including shortfalls in clean drinking water.


The city of Maracaibo is located at the denominated Maracaibo plain. It has low fertility, typical of a dry-tropical forest. It presents a great number of rivers, sewers and gorges. The city dominates the entrance to Lake Maracaibomarker.


Maracaibo is one of the cities of Venezuelamarker where the highest temperatures are registered, it has a severe warm climate, only attenuated by the moderating influence of the lake, its average historical temperature is 29 °C. In the past the climate of the city, as well in all the coast of the Lake Maracaibo, was unhealthy, due to the combination of high temperatures with high humidity, being a zone of importance. At the present time, the effects of urban development, and control of plagues, has almost eradicated that. The registered high temperature of the city is 41.0 °C, and the low 18.0 °C.

Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Avg high °F 89 89 90 90 89 91 91 92 90 88 89 89 90
Avg low °F 74 75 77 78 78 78 78 79 78 76 76 75 77
Avg high °C 31 31 32 32 31 32 32 33 32 31 31 31 32
Avg low °C 23 23 25 25 25 25 25 26 25 24 24 23 25
Source: Weatherbase

Colleges and universities

Several universities are based in the city:


Bella Vista
Sambil Mall, North Maracaibo
  • The Maracaibo Metro, also known as Metro del Sol Amado (due to the city nickname), is a subway system currently under construction, it encompasses the suburbs of Maracaibo with the city's downtown. Currently, six metro stations are open and running.
  • Buses are the main means of mass transportation, this system runs a variety of bus types, operated by several companies on normal streets and avenues:
  • bus; large buses.
  • buseta; medium size buses.
  • microbus or colectivo; vans or minivans.
  • por puesto; cars.
  • La Chinita International Airportmarker, was opened on November 16, 1969, during the government of president Rafael Caldera to open a gate to the western part of the country and alleviate congestion from the Simon Bolivar Airport near Caracas, which manages about 90% of the international flights in Venezuela. In fact, the only international destinations from Maracaibo are Arubamarker, Bogotámarker, Barranquillamarker, Cartagenamarker, Curaçaomarker, Miamimarker and Panama Citymarker.
  • General Rafael Urdaneta Bridgemarker, inaugurated in 1962, is located at the outlet Lake Maracaibomarker, in western Venezuelamarker. The bridge connects Maracaibo with much of the rest of the country. It is named after General Rafael Urdaneta, a Venezuelan hero in the War of Independence.
Made of concrete, it spans 8.7 kilometres (5.4 miles). The bridge is a cable-stayed bridge that carries only vehicles. The competition to design the bridge started in 1957 and was won by Riccardo Morandi, an Italianmarker. Construction was done by several companies. They included: Grün & Bilfinger, Julius Berger, Bauboag AG, Philipp Holzmann AG, Precomprimido C.A., Wayss & Freytag and K Ingeniería.


Due to the regionalistic nature of Marabinos, they strongly support their native teams. Maracaibo, and the rest of Zulia, are represented in baseball by the Águilas del Zulia, a Venezuelan winter league team that plays in the Liga Venezolana de Béisbol Profesional,and which is based in the Estadio Luis Aparicio El Grandemarker. Regional teams include the Unión Atlético Maracaibo and the Zulia FC in football, and the Gaiteros del Zulia in basketball, a team that participates in the Liga Profesional de Baloncesto de Venezuela, whose home is the 5.000-people Pedro Elías Belisario Aponte stadium.

Their city has one football stadium:

In the 2000 Little League World Series, the Sierra Maestra Little League of Maracaibo, Venezuela defeated Bellaire Little League of Bellaire, Texas in the championship game of the 54th Little League World Series.

Sports teams


Carabobo street contains much of the city's famous colonial architecture

An interesting aspect of the city, is the humor and the musical culture of its people, the Gaita Zuliana, is a traditional christmas music from the region. It is known that Maracaibo was culturally separated from the rest of Venezuelamarker, for geographical and historical reasons. The Lake Maracaibo maintained separated the city, with its neighboring states and Caracasmarker, capital of Venezuela. The people from Maracaibo, having been influenced by Andalusianmarker colonists, apply the term "vos" instead of usted (English: "you"); making it one of the few places in the Americas to use the Castilian dialect. The "vos" term, the fast speaking and the strong tone of the voice, produced a particular style, that nowadays is a “mark of origin” of the people from Maracaibo.

The city is also home to an array of immigrants from but not limited to: Spainmarker, Italymarker, Germanymarker, and Latin American countries.The General Rafael Urdaneta Bridgemarker, the freeway Machiques - Colón, and the ship transportation, unites the communications of the city, with the rest of Venezuela, this united with the oil boom, cultivated since 1914, is going to conform a new Maracaibo.

Our Lady of Rosario of Chiquinquirá

Is one of the many popular representations of the Virgin Mary in Venezuelamarker. The image is most venerated in Maracaibo. The story of discovery of the virgin dates from the XVIII century. An old lady would make a living by washing other people's clothes, a job she did every morning at the shores of the lake. On 18 November 1709, she had taken a bulk of clothes, and as usual, headed to the lake to start washing them. This old lady was at her chores when she saw a wooden board floating towards her. She picked it up thinking that it might be of some use. When she finished her work, she went home carrying the clothes, the board and a small vase with fresh water. She then placed the board on top of the vase. Then, she noticed a small figure in the board but could not tell what it was like.

She fell asleep, and when she awoke up it was already late and dark. She decided to go to a local grocery store to buy some candles. On her way back a small gathering of people had formed outside her house, and after coming closer she noted that her home was filled with light. After entering she and some of the neighbours witnessed the small wooden board floating in the air surrounded by light with a bright crisp image of the Virgin Mary. At this, everyone was amazed and called the event a miracle.

Since that day the street where she lived was renamed "El Milagro" which means ¨Miracle¨ in Spanish, and to this day it is one of the most important streets in the neighbourhood of "El Saladillo" in the city of Maracaibo.

Gaita Zuliana

The Gaita is the name of an Afro Venezuelan folk music from Maracaibo, it is normally considered a christmas-time music. According to Joan Corominas, it popularised in the middle 60's of the XX century in all the country, and it fused with other types of music like salsa and merengue in the 70's. There are many famous Gaita groups like: Maracaibo 15, Gran Coquivacoa, Barrio Obrero, Cardenales del Éxito, Guaco (when Guaco started was a gaita group, now is a Tropical music band), Koquimba, Melody Gaita, Estrellas del Zulia, Saladillo, and many others.

Notable natives


Maracaibo Districts
Venancio Pulgar • Idelfonso Vázquez • Coquivacoa • Barrio 18 de Octubre • Juana de Ávila • El Naranjal • San Jacinto (La Marina) • Mara Norte • La Trinidad • Las Tarabas • La Estrella • Maracaibo I • Maracaibo II • Lago Mar Beach • Antonio Borjas Romero • San Isidro • Francisco Eugenio Bustamante • San Rafael • Ziruma • San Miguel • Luis Hurtado Higuera • Manuel Dagnino • Cristo de Aranza • Cecilio Acosta • Cacique Mara • El Amparo • Raúl Leoni • Caracciolo Parra Pérez • Los Olivos • Chiquinquirá • Santa Lucía • Santa Rosa • Bolívar • Bella Vista • Historic zone of Maracaibo • El Saladillo • Isla Dorada

Sister cities

Maracaibo has four sister city:


Panoramic view of Maracaibo from the lake

External links

Line note references

  2. Maracaibo (Archdiocese) [Catholic-Hierarchy]
  3. Appropriate Technology for Sewage Pollution Control in the Wider Caribbean Region, Caribbean Environment Programme Technical Report #40 1998
  4. United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). New York, NY. "Safe Drinking Water." Excerpt from "Progress since the World Summit for Children: A Statistical Review." September 2001.
  5. [1]
  6. Sister Cities designated by Sister Cities International, Inc. (SCI). Retrieved June 8, 2006.
Cada Lugar en Maracaibo.


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