The JUAN FERNÁNDEZ ARCHIPELAGO is made up of three islands and numerous rocky islets. The archipelago is named after João Fernandes, the Portuguese sailor who discovered it on November 22, 1574, while straying out to sea to avoid coastal winds and currents in an attempt to shorten the journey between Lima and Valparaíso. The more easterly of the two main islands was originally called Más a Tierra (“Nearer Land”), while the other, 187km further west, was known as Más Afuera (“Farther Out”).
João Fernandes made a brief attempt to colonize the three uninhabited islands, introducing vegetables and goats, which multiplied in great numbers (the third, smallest, island was later known as Goat Island, officially as Isla Santa Clara). These were still flourishing when British buccaneers started making occasional calls here to stock up on water and fresh meat between their raids on the mainland.
Following Alexander Selkirk’s much-publicized rescue buccaneers began calling at the islands more frequently, prompting the Spanish Crown to take official possession of the archipelago in 1742, building a series of forts around Más a Tierra. The island was then used as a penal colony for many years, and it wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that a mixture of Chilean and European colonizers formed a permanent settlement. In 1966, with an eye on the islands’ potential as a tourist destination, the Chilean government changed Más a Tierra’s name to Isla Robinson Crusoe, while Más Afuera became Isla Alejandro Selkirk, seasonal home to lobster fishermen and very difficult to reach.
Today, only a few hundred tourists make it out here each year, arriving mainly between October and March, when the climate is warm and mostly dry, and the sea is perfect for swimming.