The Juan Fernández Islands are an archipelago made up of 3 volcanic Islands: Robinson Crusoe, Alejandro Selkirk and Santa Clara. They are located in the Pacific Ocean about 650 kilometres off Chile’s western coast, much closer than the isolated Easter Island which lies over 3,500 km from the mainland.
The islands are named after their discoverer, Juan Fernández, who came across them in 1574 while trying to find a new course for navigating between Chile and Peru. He originally named the Alejandro Selkirk and Robinson Crusoe islands “Mas Afuera” and “Mas a Tierra”, meaning “further from land” and “closer to land”. The volcanic islands formed over the submarine ridge of the same name. In the past, the islands were a center for pirate activity, as the island spent its first few centuries uncolonized. Now there are a series of myths and legends surrounding the islands about the mysteries and treasures hidden there. There is a long history of people searching the islands for booty (=treasure:) – from the Spanish colonial era. In 2005, there were rumors of a great discovery on Robinson Crusoe Island where a group of adventurers claimed to have uncovered 600 odd barrels filled with famous lost Incan jewels and gold coins, said to have been buried on the island by an English pirate 300 years ago. Read more about the discovery here: 600 barrels of loot found on Crusoe Island. The islands are now sparsely inhabited and rely on fishing and tourism to support their economy.
Robinson Crusoe Island is the biggest in the cluster of 3, at just under 50km², and the most populated, although it only has around 900 residents. As you may recognize by its name, the island is the most famous among the 3 for inspiring the well known novel, Robinson Crusoe, by Dany Defoe. In the early 18th century a Scottish sailor, Alexander Selkirk, became shipwrecked on the island and astonishingly spent over 4 years there as a castaway. He became an expert in using the uninhabited island’s natural resources to aid his survival, in hunting for food and other skills. The accounts of his endeavor published after his rescue are thought to be what inspired Defoe’s famous character.
In the modern day, this island has many great opportunities for tourists. Not only are there excursions to learn thrilling tales about the islands history and the adventures of the famous shipwrecked sailor, but it has stunning natural surroundings to be experienced. The island has a dramatic terrain formed from a build up of lava flows from volcanic activity, and steep valleys and sharp ridges resulting from powerful erosion. Its sparse population means there are beautiful untouched forests, ravines and beaches to be discovered on a trek. One of the best things it has to offer, however, is scuba diving.
The diving around the Juan Fernández islands is excellent if not epic, with hundreds of dive sites to explore, warm waters and consistent clarity for maximum visibility, and a vibrant aquatic ecosystem. Diving beneath the waters of Robinson Crusoe is an exciting experience, with caves, volcanic rock formations and deep sea valleys to traverse, and diverse sea life. You’ll get to swim among bright corals and a plethora of different marine species, including moray eels, lobster, dogfish and even penguins and seals, to name a few. The islands have been named a national park to protect their biodiversity and endemic species.
If you’re a fan of fishing, check out this 5 day Robinsoe Crusoe Island fly fishing tour here.
A trip to these wonderful islands is highly recommended!
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