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".
The first indigenous settlements of Arawak and Carib origin date back eleven thousand years. Around the main group were the Añu tribe who built rows of stilt houses all over the northern riviera of the Lake Maracaibo. The first Europeans arrived in 1499. The city was founded three times: First in 1529 by the German Ambrosio Alfinger, who named it 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 Maracaibo, 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 Venezuela, first become pronounced.
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 Maracaibo.
Maracaibo is one of the cities of Venezuela where the highest temperatures are registered. It has a semiarid 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.
Culture in Maracaibo is very indigenous and unique, 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). 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 Caracas). 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 Venezuela, for geographical and historical reasons. The Lake Maracaibo maintained separated the city, with its neighboring states and Caracas, capital of Venezuela. The people from Maracaibo, having been influenced by Andalusian colonists, apply the term "vos" instead of tú (English: "you"). 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: Spain, Italy, Germany, and Latin American countries. The General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge, 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.