Lake Maracaibo is a large brackish bay in Venezuela. It is connected to the Gulf of Venezuela by Tablazo Strait (55km) at the northern end, and fed by numerous rivers, the largest being the Catatumbo. It is commonly considered a lake rather than a bay or lagoon, and at 13,210 km² it would be the largest lake in South America. The geological record shows that it has been a true lake in the past, and as such is one of the oldest lakes on Earth at 20-36 million years old.
Lake Maracaibo acts as a major shipping route to the ports of Maracaibo and Cabimas. The surrounding Maracaibo Basin contains large reserves of crude oil, making the lake a major profit center for Venezuela. A dredged channel gives oceangoing vessels access to the bay. The General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge (8.7 km long; completed 1962), spanning the bay's outlet, is one of the longest bridges in the World. The lake is also the location of Catatumbo lightning. The first known settlements on the bay were those of the Goajiros, who still are present in large numbers, but have re-settled in the western boundary area with Colombia. The first European to discover the bay was Alonso de Ojeda on August 24, 1499, on a voyage with Amerigo Vespucci (the same one for which the American continents were named).