Juan Fernández Islands 

The islands made famous by Robinson Crusoe, but interesting for their biological endemics...

Personal experience

I finally got to land here with Silversea in March 2023. Endemic Hummingbird was ticked off the list, and fairly quickly!



Mas a Tierra was renamed ‘Robinson Crusoe Island’ (after the fictional character) in the 1960's, to attract more tourism. The other main island in the group is called Alexander Selkirk, named after the real life person that mostly inspired Robinson Crusoe, but he would not see this island from where he was stranded...



Robinson Crusoe was a fictional character inspired mostly by a real life person, Alexander Selkirk. 

Alexander Selkirk was a feisty Scottish sailor. He worked as a ‘Buccaneer’ (a sanctioned pirate). He worked on Cinque Ports under Captain Stradling (initially associated with another infamous buccaneer William Dampier). After a battle, they arrived on Mas a Tierra (Robinson Crusoe Island) which was, at that time, uninhabited. Selkirk thought the ship unseaworthy, argued with the captain, claiming he’d rather stay on the island than keep sailing.

The captain took him up on his offer.

Selkirk regretted saying these things. But captain wouldn’t let him back on. (that ship did sink later on). The crew left Alexander Selkirk with: musket, hatchet, knife, cooking pot, some clothes, some bedding. And a bible

He was stranded for four years and four months.

He stayed on the coast initially, where he survived on the Lobsters that still feed the locals today. The breeding Juan Fernandez seals made his life hell in their breeding season.

He moved inland were life was better. There were plants to eat to keep him healthy. He reported rats nibbling at him at night, but he slept near feral cats he had domesticated. Most of all, he shot goats to survive. He soon ran out of ammunition, and shoes. Without weapons and barefoot, he caught goats bare-handed and bare-footed. One time trying to catch goats, he fell off cliff (and landed on the goat), but couldn’t move for a day

The ships Duke & Duchess arrived (William Dampier entered his life again). Selkirk was recorded to be initially 'incoherent with joy'. He managed to catch several goats a day for the crew, and he was taken off the island. He later wrote a book about his amazing misadventures, and inspired stories such as Robinson Crusoe and Castaway.

endemics to find!

One of the main reasons to come to the island is to find some endemic plants and animals. The good news is that the two most famous endemics are now in good numbers.

The Juan Fernandez Fur Seal Arctocephalus philippii is one of the rarest mammals in the world. A cruise around the Bahia Padre bay (south-west of Robinson Crusoe) in the warmer months should produce good views of many individuals.

Juan Fernandez Fur Seals, image by Damon Ramseya slop of seals
seal-juan-fernandez-pupJuan Fernandez Fur Seal, image by Damon Ramsey

The Juan Fernandez Firecrown Hummingbird is pretty stunning. The males are brick orange colour, with a iridescent cap. When I was there, they were best seen around the fig trees at the 'botanica' seedlings centre a few hundred metres up the hill from the town.  

Juan Fernandez Hummingbird photograph by Damon RamseyJuan Fernandez Firecrown Hummingbird


The Juan Fernandez islands are remote and hard to get to! Every so often an expedition ship pops in. There are domestic flights within Chile.

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