Torres del Paine National Park

Robinson Crusoe, an Island with a Novel Name

Robinson Crusoe Island
 The Juan Fernandez Archipelago is a group of Chilean islands of volcanic origin located 362 nautical miles off the coast of South America. It includes the islands of Robinson Crusoe, Alexander Selkirk, Santa Clara and other smaller islands. Its population lives mainly from fishing, especially the extraction of lobster, which has become its most representative product. 

The archipelago, with the island of Robinson Crusoe, whose original name was Mas a Tierra, opened itself to the world through the novel "The Life and Adventures of Alexander Selkirk, the Real Robinson Crusoe" by Daniel Defoe, masterpiece of literature, published in 1719. Alexander Selkirk was a Scottish sailor who spent four years and four months marooned on the easternmost of the Juan Fernandez Islands and whose stories inspired Defoe. Selkirk decided to abandon the ship he was traveling on, the Cinque Ports, in 1704 because he feared it was not seaworthy. He spent more than four years in solitude on an island in the Juan Fernández Archipelago off the coast of Chile. One of the islands, then known as Más Afuera, is now called Alejandro Selkirk Island in his honor.

Since the discovery of the archipelago on November 22, 1574, it has been constantly visited by pirates and privateers because it was a strategic point of supply and rest, perfect to regain strength after long voyages across the South Pacific. So there are many legends about great hidden treasure, one of which could have been buried in 1714 by the Spaniard Juan Esteban Ubilla y Echeverria, consisting of 800 barrels of gold valued at 10,000 million US$, a hundred chests of silver, a golden rose with emeralds and precious stones, a treasure that is still being sought.
There are also stories of past wars. In 1915, during World War I, the German cruiser SMS Dresden was dynamited by its own crew in Cumberland Bay, after being hidden for months in the Quintupeu fjord, Chilean Patagonia, and being chased and attacked by the British vessels HMS Kent, Glasgow and Orama. Today, more than one hundred years after the events, the Dresden is at a depth of 78 meters and 500 meters from the beach of Cumberland Bay and of the nine German sailors killed in combat seven rest in the cemetery of the island in a tomb in charge of the Chilean Navy, a place visited by tourists. In 2006, 91 years after the sinking, the bell of the Dresden could be rescued and sent on loan to Germany, where it was displayed at the Military Historical Museum of the city of Dresden.

In February 2010, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake shook Central and Southern Continental Chile, the earthquake itself was not felt in the islands but triggered a tsunami with waves up to 15 meters height which caused severe material damage and death. After the disaster, Robinson Crusoe has slowly been returning to normal in all areas, one of them tourism because apart from its natural surroundings, it offers a unique setting for snorkeling, taste traditional lobster or enjoy the sunsets. Despite having great attractions, the tourist traffic in Robinson Crusoe and adjacent islands is still modest. Few Chileans dare to reach this so remote, unknown but wonderful place on Earth. For the remoteness of its location and many other reasons (no magazines or local newspapers e.g.), the English newspaper The Independent chose the Archipelago as one of the top six islands of South America to disconnect from the World. Here is a list of places to visit and activities in Robinson Crusoe Island.


El Mirador de Selkirk (Selkirk's Lookout)

View from Alexander Selkirk's lookout in Robinson Crusoe Island
A view from  Alexander Selkirk's lookout            

A tour through the main attractions of the island, must undoubtedly include a visit to the "Mirador de Selkirk" (Selkirk's Lookout). This is located at Cerro Portezuelo, 565 mts. above sea level, a point that dominates much of the geography of Robinson Crusoe.  The sailor abandoned here in 1704 often climbed up to this place to scan the horizon in case a ship approached to rescue him. Fate and his eagerness to survive allowed him to endure this condition of almost four and a half years of isolation. 

Selkirk was close to a state of barbarism when on January 31, 1709 arrived on the island another English expedition, commanded by Captain Woodes Rogers, who finally took him back to London. There, Selkirk's story began spreading everywhere reaching the ears of Daniel Defoe, who immortalized the experience of the Scottish sailor through his work published in 1719, the novel also captures the adventures lived by the Spanish Pedro Serrano, who in turn suffered a similar experience in a Caribbean island. 

Robinson Crusoe is considered to be the first English novel. On the site there are two commemorative plaques of Selkirk's adventure, one left by the officials of the British ship Topaze and the other by a direct descendant of the Scottish sailor.

Artillery fire on the Dresden Cruiser   

On March 14, 1915, during World War I, the German cruiser Dresden was pursued, attacked and sunk by a Royal Navy fleet in Bahia Cumberland, Robinson Crusoe Island. Some of the artillery shells missed their targets and remained embedded in the slopes of the surrounding cliffs of Cumberland Bay. These shots came from HMS Kent and HMS Glasgow. There was also damage to the village of San Juan Bautista, so after the short battle, the commander of the Glasgow compensated the affected civilians. To this day, the impacts are still visible in the area of San Juan Bautista and you can see and touch the shells that sank the Dresden more than 100 years ago.

Cemetery of the Island

In this small graveyard located at the northern end of the town you can also visit the tombs of some sailors of the SMS Dresden, German warship of the First World War and of Baron Alfred von Rodt. The Swiss settler Alfred von Rodt, known as Baron Rodt, was a visionary pioneer, shipping entrepreneur and businessman who died in 1905 and could not see all his projects completed but had the merit of having started a work of extraordinary importance for the archipelago, trying to promote the colonization and economic development of Juan Fernandez Islands.

La Cueva de Los Patriotas (Patriots' Cave)

Located in Bahia Cumberland, in the proximity of Fuerte Santa Barbara, "La Cueva de Los Patriotas" are some caves made in the rocks surrounding Cumberland Bay, set of excavations dating from the eighteenth century during the colonial period, reign of Viceroy Jose Antonio Manso de Velasco. At the beginning, the caves were used to house prisoners convicted by the Audiencia of Santiago and Quito. After the defeat experienced by the patriot forces in the Battle of Rancagua in 1814, different authorities were banished to the island, who made use of the excavations for shelter from inclement weather. Many of the deportees were voluntarily followed by sons and daughters, besides some of their servants. During the twentieth century it was also used to exile political prisoners.

Diving and Snorkeling in Robinson Crusoe

Diving, Robinson Crusoe Island, Chile.
Image: Diario La Tercera

     Because of the clarity of its waters, remains of ancient shipwrecks and the rich marine life, it can be said, -without exaggeration-, that this part of the South Pacific around Robinson Crusoe and Juan Fernandez Archipelago is a true paradise for diving and snorkeling, this activity being by far one of the most requested on the islands. Besides its underwater life, also abound caves and crevices where many small fish hide from predators and what makes the undersea tours much more interesting. The most suitable season is from October to March, the water's temperature is warm as the area is beyond the influence of the Humboldt Cold Current. 
Some of the most interesting places include: Punta Loberia, an ideal place for snorkeling and diving at Bahia Cumberland, five minute crossing from San Juan Bautista, the only town on the island. At a few meters depth, there is a variety of fish, molluscs and crustaceans and over 20 meters you can find two enormous anchors that belonged to the British ship Speedwell, which sank in these waters in 1720 when it was commanded by Captain George Shelvocke who had been sent as a privateer to the place by the commercial company London Adventurer Knights.

Punta San Carlos, on the opposite end of Punta Loberia, near the pier of Bahia Cumberland, where the German cruiser Dresden was shelled and sunk by three British ships in March 1915, during the First World War. Punta San Carlos is an underwater volcanic tongue with an incredible abundance of marine species. Another place that offers optimal conditions for diving is Loberia Tres Puntas, East of Robinson Crusoe, without a doubt, one the top diving spots where hundreds of sea lions approach the explorers, some of them just a few centimeters from them, so in the beginning, the adventure is a bit intimidating. 

Approximately one hour by boat from Bahia Cumberland is located another of the "musts" for divers of Juan Fernandez, El Cernicalo, an underwater seascape of large rock formations, with average depths of 25-45 meters.  Also, a great place to dive is Salsipuedes, where there is a volcanic formation full of anemones. The place name Salsipuedes (get-out-if-you-can) does not specifically refer to these marine depths but to the coastal area with very thick vegetation, where there is a zigzag-shaped path and steep slopes. South of the town of San Juan Bautista, from the area of "El Palillo" to "El Adriatico" is located the only underwater section of "El Sendero de Chile" (Chilean National Trail), a 500 meters stretch in which you can see the beauty and wealth of this part of the seabed, of high visibility and approximate depth of 20 meters, with temperatures ranging between 14°C in winter and 21°C in summer. "El Sendero de Chile" is a set of trails and routes along the territory from North to South that are enabled for the practice of hiking. There are several Tour Operators, Diving Centers and Eco Lodges at Robinson Crusoe you can contact offering tours and services to these and many other points of interest on the islands.

Juan Fernandez National Park

Isla Robinson Crusoe, Chile.
Created on January 16, 1935, Parque Nacional Archipielago Juan Fernandez is a protected natural area of 9571 hectares corresponding to Alejandro Selkirk Island, Santa Clara and much of Robinson Crusoe. In 1977 the Park was declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, due to the approximately 130 native species, although currently many of them are endangered because of the introduction of new species. The administration of Juan Fernandez National Park is located at 130, Vicente Gonzalez Street, San Juan Bautista, Robinson Crusoe Island. 

The Park has shelters, picnic areas and lookouts, also with tourist routes and signage that allow the displacement of visitors in guided or self-guided tours, visiting the most beautiful places on the island and the various panoramic it has to offer. The views of Juan Fernandez Islands are diverse, since they range from landscapes with dense vegetation or as sublime as Bahia Cumberland to the wild geography of its cliffs or very arid, almost desert corners. Currently, this World Biosphere Reserve has species considered endangered so it has been launched a joint campaign between the Government of Valparaiso, the Ministry of Agriculture and local Authorities, whose objective is to raise awareness among visitors so that they do not import species or products, either by air or sea, that could jeopardize the territory's unique ecosystem.

With regard to fauna, there are unique species such as the Colibri de Juan Fernandez (Juan Fernandez Hummingbird), which originated and evolved on the islands, a small bird but with the remarkable ability to fly in all directions, even backwards. Today, the Juan Fernandez Hummingbird is considered in a state of extinction because their number is estimated at just over 1,000 specimens so their capture, hunting or transportation are prohibited. Typical of the archipelago is also the Lobo Fino de Juan Fernandez (Juan Fernandez Fur Seal), whose population is estimated at about 5,000 specimens after having been considered extinct in the mid-twentieth century. Another typical animal is the Cabra de Juan Fernandez (Juan Fernandez Islands' Goat), introduced by the Spanish Captain shortly after discovering the island. In those days it was customary to release some of these animals in remote places to ensure the survival of explorers who would arrive later. These Goats would descend from a pair of these animals brought from the Pyrenees to the islands, but after centuries of living in the wild, their appearance has changed to make them animals
with their own characteristics.


Fuerte Santa Barbara    

Town of San Juan Bautista, Robinson Crusoe Island.
Partial view of the village of San Juan Bautista
Image: El Mercurio                                                       
  A must which will also be rewarded with an excellent view of Cumberland Bay and the coastal area of the town of San Juan Bautista. 

It is a partial reconstruction of an ancient stronghold with its original cannons which in the past constituted the main defense of the island of Mas a Tierra (today Robinson Crusoe). It was built by the Spanish Crown in 1749 as a protection against pirates and privateers, its walls were made of stone, complemented with 16 cannons belonging to 6 batteries of heavy artillery of the time. The reconstruction dates back to 1974, conducted by a multidisciplinary team from the University of Chile and declared a Historical Monument in 1979.

Plazoleta and Cerro El Yunque

Plazoleta El Yunque is a quiet forest clearing, with picnic area, water and bathrooms, located at the foot of Mount El Yunque, the island's highest peak, where you can find ruins of the house of Hugo Weber, a crew member of the German battleship "Dresden", sunk here during the First World War. Weber asked for the concession of this place and lived here for more than twelve years, being later known as "The German Robinson". El Yunque (The Anvil) is one of the places of greatest endemic (native) vegetation near the town, accessible through a trekking path, marked and self-guided, which introduces visitors to the endemic forest, where a great diversity of flora can be seen. 

This place has a special feature, its exclusive relationship with the Colibrí de Juan Fernandez (Juan Fernandez Red Hummingbird). This is the most characteristic species of the archipelago, it is a native hummingbird so called due to red plumage of the male, while the female is green. Its current population is estimated at just over 1,000 specimens, which is considered endangered. The place has a trekking trail, full of surprises and beautiful views. This trail leads to the foot of the highest peak of the island, Cerro El Yunque with a height of 915 m. This is the most wooded area of the island since here there is a native forest of Pangue, Canelos and Naranjillos. Few people have had the opportunity to climb to the summit of Cerro El Yunque and this is because this hill, World Biosphere Reserve, has a unique ecosystem in the World and requires maximum protection, therefore only authorized by the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF) activities are allowed.

Punta de Isla

The longest trek that can be performed throughout the island is to Punta de Isla, on the West end of Robinson Crusoe, approximately 11 miles starting from the town of San Juan Bautista, with stunning panoramic views of the town and bay. Another way to make the trip is to embark to Bahia El Padre and then start the hike back to town. 

This route is one of the stretches of "El Sendero de Chile" (Chile's National Trail) in Juan Fernandez Islands. The trek normally starts from the village to "El Mirador de Selkirk" (Selkirk's Lookout), then go down to the area of Villagra where there is a refuge of CONAF (National Forest Corporation), equipped for camping.  

Bahia del Padre

If you choose to travel by sea, Bahia del Padre will be your arrival point to the island as this is the place where the local pier is located. It is a very closed bay, formed by an underwater crater surrounded by cliffs, yellowish ground with little or no vegetation. The view from above of its semicircular shape is spectacular. When the visitors arrive airway to the local airfield, very near, and once the plane has landed, they must also go to this bay to board the barge that will take them to the town of San Juan Bautista, the navigation takes about one and a half hours.

Puerto Ingles and Puerto Frances

Puerto Ingles is an area close to San Juan Bautista, about fifteen minutes by boat from Cumberland Bay, made up of a plain at the bottom of a ravine surrounded by hills, with the Cerro Alto, of 600 mts. to the left. In this place which is accessible by sea, there is a series of features that make it a tourist attraction. In Puerto Ingles have been excavations in search of the great treasure of Robinson Crusoe, supposedly buried here. One of the projects is conducted by the American historian and entrepreneur Bernard Kaiser, which since 1999 has unsuccesfully tried to find the treasure, of which it is said to be composed of 846 barrels of ingots and pieces of Inca gold, worth around 10,000 millions of dollars. Also in this place it is located the so-called Cave of Robinson Crusoe, which corresponds to a rock grotto, where is supposed the sailor Alexander Selkirk established his place of operations during his stay on the island.

From Bahia Cumberland and to the opposite side of Puerto Ingles, is situated Puerto Frances, where once French pirates landed on the island. There are two ways to make this tour, the first one is by boat, a 20 minutes voyage sailing from the village to Puerto Frances, from there you have to climb on foot or horseback to the base of Cerro La Piña (La Piña Mount) to fully appreciate the stunning views. The alternative is to make the entire trek on foot or horseback from San Juan Bautista. This land route runs along the coast, over mountains with steep cliffs down to the sea, crossing Cerro Centinela (Centinela Mount) and passing through red and orange color lands. After four hours you reach Puerto Frances. From there you visit "El Rebaje de la Piña", lookout with a spectacular view of the highest cliffs of Robinson Crusoe, overlooking in the distance the island of Santa Clara and the South coast of Robinson Crusoe.

How to get to Robinson Crusoe

To reach the island, you have two options: by air or by sea. The first option is the fastest and most comfortable, since it will only take you about 2.5 hours of flight from Santiago. There are regular flights departing from the Tobalaba or Cerrillos airports, which will take you to the Robinson Crusoe airfield, located in the La Punta area.

The second option, by sea, is the cheapest, but also the most time-consuming and weather-dependent.  

There are 2 airlines operating flights throughout the year to Archipelago Juan Fernandez, ATA and Lassa, Aerocardal offers high season air travels. These flights depend on weather conditions, when adverse climatic conditions are present, these are cancelled for safety.  
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Mobile Phone: (56-9) 96803113

By sea, from the port of Valparaiso the voyage takes about 40 hours, usually performed in the last week of each month with M/V Antonio belonging to Transmarko Co.
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