San Juan Bautista, Chile

Photo: Crusoe Island Lodge
Photo: Crusoe Island Lodge

For the last few hours, there’s been nothing but dark gray water below you. Occasionally, a cresting wave breaks the monotony, though for the most part, the view remains the same. You try to nap, but you feel every little bit of turbulence on the seven-seat airplane. So you think your eyes are playing tricks on you when you start to see what looks like rocks ahead. They’re not a joke. As you fly closer, those rocks turn into mountains and islands. The plane circles one of the islands and begins its steep descent toward a narrow airstrip. As crosswinds jostle the small aircraft, you dig your nails into the armrest of your seat. You’ve finally reached the middle of nowhere.

The middle of nowhere is the Juan Fernández Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. The small archipelago is situated 400 miles west of Chile. The islands were first discovered in the 16th century by a Spanish explorer. Only pirates used them for the next couple hundred years. After a sailor was marooned on Más a Tierra, the second-largest island, for four years in the early 18th century, Daniel Defoe turned his story into the now-classic Robinson Crusoe. The island was later renamed Robinson Crusoe Island to lure tourists to the remote island.

It worked. You read the book years ago, and then became enchanted once you learned more about the actual island. Jagged peaks and narrow valleys, created by volcanic eruptions, fill the interior. Steep cliffs and windswept beaches line the coast. Colonies of Juan Fernández fur seals and Magellanic penguins—plus fewer than 1,000 people—call the island home. While sunken ships and spiny lobsters lie just underneath the surrounding dark water.

Photo: Crusoe Island Lodge
Photo: Crusoe Island Lodge

You see all of these things, save for the ships and the lobsters, on a speedboat that whisks you away from the airport and up the island’s west coast. Your destination, San Juan Bautista, the main town, sits on the north shore. It’s surrounded by more dramatic peaks—Cerro Damajuana and Cerro Portezuelo—and Cumberland Bay. The next bay over, Punta Pangal, is home to the little lodge where you’re staying.

The Crusoe Island Lodge is everything you expected on an island called Robinson Crusoe Island. The main room is lined with stones, firewood, and canvas chairs. A fire is already crackling in the fireplace when you arrive. The simple rooms are made of recycled materials. Their terraces—as well as the decks, the spring-fed pool, the firewood-heated hot tub, and La Breca (the restaurant)—overlook waves crashing in the bay and rock formations just offshore. You happily accept a murtilla sour, made with murtilla berries, and slip into a hanging pod chair on the deck. There’s a lot to do on the island, but right now, you’re just happy to be on solid ground and enjoying the gorgeous view.

Your eventual itinerary includes trekking to find stunning viewpoints, horseback riding across the arid terrain, and searching for Juan Fernández firecrowns (critically endangered red hummingbirds). You’ll go snorkeling among shoals of blue pampanitos, scuba diving along the Dresden wreck (a German light cruiser from World War I), and watch seal pups learn how to swim. You might go fishing for huge yellowtail amberjack on another boat called the Dresden. You’ll probably sit in the eucalyptus-scented hot tub and sip pisco sours more than a few times. While three-course dinners at the end of each day will feature golden crab, spiny lobster, and, hopefully, some of that yellowtail amberjack. Being stuck in the middle of nowhere isn’t so bad after all.


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