Twenty-two kilometres long, and 7km at its widest point, ISLA ROBINSON CRUSOE is the archipelago’s only permanently inhabited island. Most of the islanders – some of them descendants of the Swiss Baron de Rodt and his compatriots who settled the island at the end of the nineteenth century – live in the little village of San Juan Bautista, on the sheltered Bahía Cumberland. The main economic activity is trapping lobsters, and one of the highlights of a stay here is accompanying a fisherman out to haul in his catch (and later sample it).
Lobsters aside, the island’s two principal attractions are the sites associated with Alexander Selkirk and the richness of its flora and fauna. Of the 146 plant species that grow here, 101 are endemic or unique to the island (the second highest proportion in the world after Hawaii), which is both a national park and a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Most prolific, and stunning, is the luxuriant rainforest that covers the island’s higher slopes.
The local fauna also comprises numerous endemic species, such as the Juan Fernández fur seal, which is making a comeback after being hunted to near-extinction in the eighteenth century, and the Firecrown hummingbird, as well as sea birds, such as the giant petrel. Meanwhile, diving at various sites around Isla Robinson Crusoe is an excellent way to appreciate the wealth and diversity of its abundant underwater life. Mosquitoes abound, so be sure to bring plenty of repellent.