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Robinson Crusoe Island Travel Guide
Last Updated: Aug-18-2014, Hits: 4,976, Rating: 0, Reviews: 0, Votes: 0 Bookmark and Share
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Robinson Crusoe Island Travel Guide Hotels and Lodging (6)
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Location: South America
Geography: Island, Mountains, Forest
Vacation Type: Adventure, Culture and History
Popularity: Off-the-Beaten Path
Costs: Moderate
Attractions: Historical Sites, Scenery, Ecotourism, Fishing, Hiking, Scuba & Snorkeling

Facts and Stats:
Population: 843
Land Area: 18.51 square miles
Highest Point: El Yunque - 3,002 feet
Lowest Point: Sea level
Country Dialing Code: 56
Area Code: 9
Languages: Chilean Spanish
Electricity: 220V
Currency: Chilean Peso (CLP)
Time Zone: CLT (UTC-4), CLST (UTC-3 - Summer)
Current Time:

This island is famous for being the location that Alexander Selkirk was stranded alone for 4 years. His story inspired the world reknowned novel "Robinson Crusoe" by Daniel Defoe. Robinson Crusoe Island is also a world class, yet barely known, ecotourism destination.

Despite being located in the South Pacific, there are no real beaches to speak of, few tourists, and few things to do other than explore nature.

Robinson Crusoe Island is the largest and most populated of the Juan Fernandez Archipelago which is comprised of 2 other islands (Santa Clara and Alejandro Selkirk). Robinson Crusoe is located 416 miles west of San Antonio, Chile in the Pacific Ocean. Valparaiso is the 2nd closest mainland city to the island. The uninhabited island of Santa Clara is located just off the southwestern tip of Robinson Crusoe Island.

The island was formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago creating mountains as high as 3000 feet. The island has deep valleys and rugged terrain caused by erosion over the years. The majority of the island's land is a national park.

The only settlement on the island is the town of San Juan Bautista which is located on the north side of the island at Cumberland Bay. San Juan Bautista has a population of about 800 people and is backdropped by the dramatic mountains behind it.

The Juan Fernandez Archipelago is a national park and has been designated a Worldwide Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. This is due to the fact that it has the most endemic flora and fauna species anywhere in the world. In fact, it is said that the islands have 61 times the plant species, and 13 times more bird species than the Galapagos Islands. This includes 38 species of ferns, rare hummingbirds, and a variety of native trees. There are a number of hiking trails through the jungle that also offer spectacular views from the mountaintops. Bikes and horses are also popular methods of exploration.

Under the water is excellent visibility, and one of the most popular activities is snorkeling or diving with Fur Seals which were nearly extinct, but are now estimated to have a population around 30,000. They are referred to as "wolves" locally. Of course, you'll also see a wide variety of other marine life including lobster and golden crab which are prolific here.

Brief History:
It is believed that the Juan Fernandez Archipelago was named in 1574 after being discovered by a Spanish captain named Juan Fernandez. He named Robinson Crusoe Island "Mas a Tierra" (Closer to Land). It retained this name until 1966 when it was changed to promote tourism by the Chilean government.

The island's most notable event occurred in 1704, when Scottish pirate Alexander Selkirk was left on the island by Captain Thomas Stradling after a disagreement with his him about the seaworthiness of their ship, the Cinque Ports. He was left there with only a musket, axe, his clothes, a knife, and a bible. Here he survived for nearly 4 and a half years until he was picked up by the English ship Duke. His story inspired Daniel Defoe to write the famous novel "Robinson Crusoe" which was published in 1719. Incedentally, the Cinque Ports did eventually sink off the coast of Columbia, and those that survived were captured by the Spanish and endured imprisonment in Peru.

After Selkirk's rescue, the island was uninhabited until the Spanish established a small settlement there in 1749. In 1877, Alfred Von Rodt rented the island from Spain. He established the settlement of San Juan Bautista which remains the only settlement on the island.

In 2010, Robinson Crusoe Island was hit by a tsunami that was triggered by an 8.8 magnitude earthquake offshore. 16 people lost their lives and the town was severely damaged. The town is slowly being rebuilt and tourism has been coming back.

People & Culture:
Local residents are very proud of their island, and are known for being very friendly. It is custom to greet everyone you see with "Hola" no matter how many time you come across them in a day. Failing to do so is considered rude.

This is a very off-the-beaten-path tourist destination, hence much of the economy revolves around fishing, especially lobster. As in many places with important natural resources, there is much debate among locals (and the Chilean government) as to how to balance tourism with protecting the local ecosystems.

Food & Nightlife:
Much of the cuisine on the island is Chilean, but revolves heavily around seafood including lobster, golden crab, vidriola (yellow-tailed amberjack), and breca. Lobster empanadas and Perol (lobster chowder) are favorites here, but lobster fishing is only allowed between October and mid-May. Keep in mind, that many of the food and supplies that islanders rely on is shipped from the mainland, and these shipments only occur about every 3 weeks. This means that they may run out of items.

It is said that the water on the island is safe to drink, however, it is still recommended that you buy bottled water as the local water may be different than what your body is used to and cause issues.

At this time, there are no nightclubs or late night bars on the island. There are a few bars, most of which are part of a restaurant and do not stay open late. The legal drinking age is 18.

Money & Costs:
There are no ATMs or banks on the island, and most places do not accept credit cards. The monetary unit here is the Chilean Peso, and make sure you bring enough cash for your stay.

Lodging on the island ranges from average to expensive. Many of the lodging options offer full board and/or half board plans. Make sure you check with them to find out what this includes. This is important as different establishments include varying services in their plans (food, tours, drinks, etc.). If you are on a full-board plan, it is possible that your lodging operator will be providing the bulk of the services you utilize on your trip, so you want to make sure that they are highly rated and will meet your needs.

A standard tip in bars and restaurants is 10%-15%.

Getting There & Around:
ATA and LASSA are small airlines that provide the best options for getting to Robinson Crusoe Island. The flight takes about 2 hours from Santiago. After landing at the Aerodromo, a short Jeep ride down to a dock in El Padre Bay, and then a 1.5 hour boat ride around the island will get you to San Juan Batista. It is most likely that your accomodations will pick you up at the town dock. Keep in mind that flights are often delayed both ways due to weather conditions as these are very small passenger planes. It is also important to note that the planes will only allow 1 piece of luggage with a max weight of 10 kilograms (22 pounds) and 1 cabin bag per passenger.

There are a couple of options for reaching Robinson Crusoe Island by boat. There are private tour companies on the mainland that provide ecotours of the island and it's waters. It is also possible to catch a ride with the Chilean Navy (with island residents getting preferential access). The trip lasts two days (in either direction), although it can take longer in the event of unfavorable weather.

There are also several cruise lines that have routes that stop at Robinson Crusoe. These include Holland America, Oceania Cruises, and Silversea Cruises. You will most likely only get around 8 hours to explore the island which could rule out some of the better treks.

Once you have settled into your accomodations, your transportation options will be boat (for tours), bicycle rental, and your feet. The Jeep that drives people from the airport to the boat dock is one of the only cars on the island.

The eastern side of Robinson Crusoe Island has a subtropical Mediterranean climate with cool winter temperatures and warm summers (rarely hot). There is not a huge variation on average between winter and summer (see table below). The higher elevations experience regular rainfall. Humidity is typically in excess of 70%.

The western side of the island (i.e. where the airport is located) is desert-like and much drier. The Pacific Ocean surrounding the island is fairly cool to cold.

If you are from the northern hemisphere, keep in mind that their summer is our winter, and vice versa. The best time to visit the island is between November and April.

The table below shows the average high and low temperatures in San Juan Bautista.

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg High 72 72 70 68 64 61 59 59 59 61 64 68
Avg Low 59 61 59 55 54 52 50 48 48 50 54 59
Precipitation 1" 1" 3" 3" 6" 7" 7" 5" 3" 2" 1" 1"
Days of Rainfall 11 10 13 15 21 23 21 19 16 14 10 10

Tips & Additional Information:
  • There is internet on the island, but it is unreliable and slow. Only 1 company provides cell service on the island.
  • There are no dangerous species of plants or animals on land.
  • There is a doctor and a nurse on the island. Anything serious will require a flight to the mainland.

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