In the early hours of February 27, 2010, a tsunami triggered by the 8.8 magnitude earthquake on mainland Chile struck the Juan Fernández Archipelago. A wave of around 20m in height swept 300m into Isla Robinson Crusoe, destroying much of San Juan Bautista and killing sixteen people. A mix-up between the Chilean Navy and the tsunami alert services meant that the islanders received no official warning, and the death toll would have been much higher but for a 12-year-old girl: awake at night, Martina Maturana spotted the fishing boats bobbing violently in the harbour, and ran from her home to ring the emergency bell in the town square to warn the island’s six hundred or so inhabitants.

Following the disaster, the island’s population fell by about a third, as many people left for the mainland. Islanders, angry at the lack of official warning, launched a court case against the government. Meanwhile, rebuilding attempts – the tsunami destroyed the island’s library, town hall, civil registry office, museum, cultural centre, naval offices, post office, school and every single shop, as well as many homes and hotels – are ongoing.

To compound matters, on September 2, 2011, 21 passengers were killed after an air force plane crashed into the sea after twice failing to land in windy conditions on the island. Among those killed was TV presenter Felipe Camiroaga, who had been making a film on the reconstruction efforts.

Although the island is still getting back on its feet, it is possible to visit – and the money you spend will certainly help the rebuilding efforts. Most hotels remained closed at the time of research, but many plan to reopen – check the latest situation ahead of your visit.

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