Juan Fernández Islands is a small island archipelago 670 km off the coast of Central Chile. They are remote islands, home to about 900 people who survive on lobster fishing and several hundred tourists who make the obscure islands a vacation destination each year. The rugged, mountainous islands are quite attractive, but you won't find white sand beaches, and the water is much colder than the weather might indicate, owing to the northerly Humboldt Current.
The islands consist of Robinson Crusoe Island, Alejandro Selkirk Island and Santa Clara Island, with the entirety of their small population residing on Robinson Crusoe Island.
The islands are in the same time zone as mainland Chile.
The archipelago was discovered on 22 November 1574, by the Spanish sailor Juan Fernández. He called the islands Más Afuera, Más a Tierra, and Santa Clara.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the islands were used as a hideout for pirates, were the site of Alexander Selkirk's four-year marooning, and provided a location for a penal colony.
In Lord George Anson's book 'Voyage Around the World in the Years 1740 - 1744, J.M.Dent and Sons Ltd, it is described how having lost 600 of his 950 seamen to scurvy, what remained of his squadron recuperated on the Island of Juan Fernandes for some months. The book has interesting and detailed descriptions of the island as it was at that time.
During the maritime fur trade era of the early 19th century, the islands were a source of fur seal skins, and the Juan Fernández fur seal was nearly driven to extinction. In his book, Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana, Jr. described the islands as he found them around 1834. At this time the main island was being used as a penal colony.
Late in 1914 the islands were the rendezvous for Admiral Maximilian von Spee's East Asiatic Squadron as he gathered his ships together before defeating the British under Admiral Christopher Cradock at the Battle of Coronel. Following the Royal Navy's victory at the Battle of the Falkland Islands a month later, the only surviving German cruiser, SMS Dresden, was hunted down and cornered at Más a Tierra early in 1915, where it was scuttled after a brief battle with British cruisers.
In 1966 the Chilean government renamed Más Afuera as Alejandro Selkirk Island and Más a Tierra as Robinson Crusoe Island, in order to promote tourism. Selkirk never set foot on Más Afuera, only on Más a Tierra.
On 27 February 2010, a tsunami following the 8.8 magnitude earthquake off Maule, Chile struck the islands causing at least 8 deaths. Eleven people were reported as missing. The tsunami wave was 3 m (10 ft) high. Most of the town of San Juan Bautista on Robinson Crusoe Island was destroyed.
The islands have a subtropical Mediterranean climate, moderated by the cold Humboldt Current, which flows northward to the east of the islands, and the southeast trade winds. Temperatures range from 3 °C (37 °F) to 34 °C (93 °F), with an annual mean of 15.4 °C (60 °F). Higher elevations are generally cooler, with occasional frosts on Robinson Crusoe.
Average annual precipitation is 1,081 mm (42.6 in), varying from 318 mm (12.5 in) to 1,698 mm (66.9 in) year to year. Much of the variability in rainfall depends on the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. Rainfall is higher in the winter months, and varies with elevation and exposure; elevations above 500 m (1,640 ft) experience almost daily rainfall, while the western, leeward side of Robinson Crusoe and Santa Clara are quite dry.
Fly from Eulogio Sanchez Airport, also known as Tobalaba Airport, in eastern Santiago. 1½ hr. There are flights to Robinson Crusoe twice a week. Contact Aerolineas ATA[dead link]. ATA offers flight and lodging packages for 4 days, 3 nights for 685,000-1,045,000 pesos per person (May 2021), with accommodation at the Crusoe Island Lodge.
- Antonio, ☏ , email@example.com. A 40-hr journey. From Valparaíso, the Antonio ship of the Transmarko company leaves twice a month, it supplies the island and also has capacity for passengers. On each trip there are 6 places for tourists. The transfer includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. Advance reservations required.
- San Juan de Bautista town. This is where almost all of the archipelago’s inhabitants live. It was built roughly where the shipwrecked sailor Alexander Selkirk spent his enforced leisure time. It has a few unpaved streets, a small museum-library, and a soccer field.
- Cliff north of San Juan de Bautista (follow the path running north from the town). Here you can see gun shells embedded in the cliff side. These shells were fired by the British warships Glasgow and Kent at the German cruiser Dresden when it sought shelter here to undertake repairs in 1915, during World War I. The captain blew up the ship rather than surrender.
- El Mirador de Selkirk and the Cuevas de los Patriotas. This hike from San Juan de Bautista follows Selkirk’s path to El Mirador de Selkirk, where everyday he scanned the horizon on both sides of the island. Start early, at about 08:00, to arrive before the mists roll in. The path runs through crops of introduced eucalyptus into higher forests of indigenous trees. It passes the remains of the Fuerte Santa Bárbara, a Spanish fort built in the 18th century to ward off pirates, and a turning leading to a rock with carvings on it from 1866 – sailor’s graffiti showing a ship and giant fish. The trail becomes a corridor through rainforest before revealing a knife-shaped peak. The saddle of the mountain is the only place from which to view both sides of the island: the green San Juan Bautista side to the east, and the dry brown terrain and jagged peaks on the northern side of the mountain. A plaque commemorating Selkirk’s ordeal was erected here by the crew of a British warship in the 19th century. There is a small memorial built by one of the mariner’s descendants from Largo in Scotland. On the return journey, call in at the Cuevas de los Patriotas (Caves of the Patriots), where 300 pro-Spanish soldiers fled in 1814 after Chile’s declaration of independence. Unlike Selkirk, they couldn’t stand the wind and rain in their huge but damp caves, so gave themselves up. Back on the shore, a number of other caves vie for the title of Selkirk’s home – although for most of the time the mariner lived in his own handmade huts.
Flora and fauna
The Juan Fernández islands are home to a high percentage of rare and endemic plants and animals, and are recognized as a distinct ecoregion. The volcanic origin and remote location of the islands meant that the islands' flora and fauna had to reach the archipelago from far across the sea; as a result, the island is home to relatively few plant species and very few animal species. The closest relatives of the archipelago's plants and animals are found in the Temperate broadleaf and mixed forests ecoregions of southern South America, including the Valdivian temperate rain forests, Magellanic subpolar forests, and Desventuradas Islands.
- Horseback riding
- Sport fishing
Eat and drink
There are a few restaurants and bars in San Juan de Bautista town.
- Crusoe Island Lodge, Robinson Crusoe Island, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. A comfortable 15-room resort hotel on Robinson Crusoe island, overlooking Pangal Bay. There is an outdoor swimming pool, hot tubs and a spa, a restaurant (lobster and crab are specialities of the island) and bar. The hotel is ringed by rugged scenery and wild coastline and offers a range of activities including trekking, riding, snorkelling, kayaking and fishing. Book 1 month in advance at least. US$370–470 for a Standard Room.