Robinson Crusoe Island

Last updated

Robinson Crusoe Island
Native name:
Isla Robinson Crusoe
Robinson Crusoe Island.jpeg
Satellite image of Robinson Crusoe Island
Chile location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Robinson Crusoe Island
Coordinates 33°38′29″S78°50′28″W / 33.64139°S 78.84111°W / -33.64139; -78.84111 Coordinates: 33°38′29″S78°50′28″W / 33.64139°S 78.84111°W / -33.64139; -78.84111
Type Shield Volcanoes (last eruption in 1835)
Archipelago Juan Fernández Islands
Adjacent to Pacific Ocean
Area47.94 km2 (18.51 sq mi) [1]
Highest elevation915 m (3002 ft) [1]
Highest pointEl Yunque
Region Valparaíso
Province Valparaíso Province
Commune Juan Fernández Islands
Population843 [2] (2012)

Robinson Crusoe Island (Spanish : Isla Róbinson Crusoe, pronounced  [ˈizla ˈroβinson kɾuˈso] ), formerly known as Más a Tierra (lit.'Closer to Land'), [3] is the second largest of the Juan Fernández Islands, situated 670 km (362 nmi; 416 mi) west of San Antonio, Chile, in the South Pacific Ocean. It is the more populous of the inhabited islands in the archipelago (the other being Alejandro Selkirk Island), with most of that in the town of San Juan Bautista at Cumberland Bay on the island's north coast. [2]


From 1704 to 1709, the island was home to the marooned sailor Alexander Selkirk, who at least partially inspired novelist Daniel Defoe's fictional Robinson Crusoe in his 1719 novel, although the novel is explicitly set in the Caribbean. [4] This was just one of several survival stories from the period of which Defoe would have been aware. [5] To reflect the literary lore associated with the island and attract tourists, the Chilean government renamed the place Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966. [3]


April 2005 view of the town of San Juan Bautista, on the north coast at Cumberland Bay Isla Juan Fernandez (vista hacia Robinson Crusoe desde Montana).jpg
April 2005 view of the town of San Juan Bautista, on the north coast at Cumberland Bay

Robinson Crusoe Island has a mountainous and undulating terrain, formed by ancient lava flows which have built up from numerous volcanic episodes. The highest point on the island is 915 m (3,002 ft) above sea level at El Yunque. Intense erosion has resulted in the formation of steep valleys and ridges. A narrow peninsula is formed in the southwestern part of the island called Cordón Escarpado. The island of Santa Clara is located just off the southwest coast. [1]

Robinson Crusoe Island lies to the west of the boundary between the Nazca Plate and the South American Plate, and rose from the ocean 3.8 – 4.2 million years ago. A volcanic eruption on the island was reported in 1743 from El Yunque, but this event is uncertain. On 20 February 1835, a day-long eruption began from a submarine vent 1.6 kilometres (1.0 mi) north of Punta Bacalao. The event was quite minor—only a Volcanic Explosivity Index 1 eruption—but it produced explosions and flames that lit up the island, along with tsunamis. [1] [ citation needed ]


Robinson Crusoe has a subtropical climate, moderated by the cold Humboldt Current, which flows to the east of the island, and the southeast trade winds. Temperatures range from 3 °C (37 °F) to 34 °C (93 °F), with an annual mean of 15.4 °C (60 °F). Higher elevations are generally cooler, with occasional frosts. Rainfall is greater in the winter months, and varies with elevation and exposure; elevations above 500 m (1,640 ft) experience almost daily rainfall, while the western, leeward side of the island is lower and drier. [6]

Climate data for San Juan Bautista, Chile
Average high °C (°F)22
Average low °C (°F)15
Average rainfall mm (inches)22
Average rainy days (≥ 0.1 mm)111013152123211916141010183
Average relative humidity (%)73737377787879777776747376
Mean monthly sunshine hours 248.0209.0158.1123.0108.599.093.0105.4147.0204.6249.0260.42,005
Source: Climate & Temperature [7]

Flora and fauna

The Fernandezian Region is a floristic region which includes the Juan Fernández Islands archipelago. It is in the Antarctic Floristic Kingdom, but often also included within the Neotropical Kingdom. As World Biosphere Reserves since 1977, these islands have been considered of maximum scientific importance because of the endemic plant families, genera, and species of flora and fauna. Out of 211 native plant species, 132 (63%) are endemic, as well as more than 230 species of insects. [8]

Robinson Crusoe Island has one endemic plant family, Lactoridaceae. The Magellanic penguin is also found there. [9] The Juan Fernández firecrown is an endemic and critically endangered red hummingbird, which is best known for its needle-fine black beak and silken feather coverage. The Masatierra petrel is named after the island's former name. [8] The island (along with neighbouring Santa Clara) has been recognised as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International because it supports populations of Masatierra petrels, pink-footed shearwaters, Juan Fernandez firecrowns and Juan Fernandez tit-tyrants. [10]

Panorama view of Robinson Crusoe Island - Chile.jpg
Robinson Crusoe Island, seen from CS Responder during work on a nuclear test ban hydroacoustic monitoring station in 2014 [11]


The island was first named Juan Fernandez Island after Juan Fernández, a Spanish sea captain and explorer who was the first to land there in 1574. It was also known as Más a Tierra. [3] There is no evidence of an earlier discovery either by Polynesians, despite the proximity to Easter Island, or by Native Americans. [12]

From 1681 to 1684, a Miskito man known as Will was marooned on the island. Twenty years later, in 1704, the sailor Alexander Selkirk was also marooned there, living in solitude for four years and four months. Selkirk had been gravely concerned about the seaworthiness of his ship, Cinque Ports (which ended up sinking very shortly after), and declared his wish to be left on the island during a mid-voyage restocking stop. His captain, Thomas Stradling, a colleague on the voyage of privateer and explorer William Dampier, was tired of his dissent and obliged. All Selkirk had left with him was a musket, gunpowder, carpenter's tools, a knife, a Bible, and some clothing. [13] The story of Selkirk's rescue is included in the 1712 book A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World by Edward Cooke.

In an 1840 narrative, Two Years Before the Mast , Richard Henry Dana, Jr. described the port of Juan Fernandez as a young prison colony. [14] The penal institution was soon abandoned and the island again uninhabited [15] before a permanent colony was eventually established in the latter part of the 19th century. Joshua Slocum visited the island between 26 April and 5 May 1896, during his solo global circumnavigation on the sloop Spray. The island and its 45 inhabitants are referred to in detail in Slocum's memoir, Sailing Alone Around the World . [16]

World War I

SMS Dresden, just prior to its scuttling in Cumberland Bay SMS Dresden before scuttling.jpg
SMS Dresden, just prior to its scuttling in Cumberland Bay

During World War I, Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee's German East Asia Squadron stopped and re-coaled at the island 26–28 October 1914, four days before the Battle of Coronel. While at the island, the admiral was unexpectedly rejoined by the armed merchant cruiser Prinz Eitel Friedrich , which he had earlier detached to attack Allied shipping in Australian waters. On 9 March 1915 SMS Dresden, the last surviving cruiser of von Spee's squadron after his death at the Battle of the Falklands, returned to the island's Cumberland Bay, hoping to be interned by the Chilean authorities. Caught and fired upon by a British squadron at the Battle of Más a Tierra on 14 March, the ship was scuttled by its crew. [17]

2010 tsunami

On 27 February 2010 Robinson Crusoe Island was hit by a tsunami following a magnitude 8.8 earthquake. The tsunami was about 3 m (10 ft) high when it reached the island. [18] Sixteen people lost their lives, and most of the coastal village of San Juan Bautista was washed away. [19] The only warning the islanders had came from a 12-year-old girl, [20] who noticed the sudden drawback of the sea that forewarns of the arrival of a tsunami wave and saved many of her neighbours from harm. [19]


A fisherman with two spiny lobsters off Robinson Crusoe Island Isla Juan Fernandez- Langostas (Lobsters).jpg
A fisherman with two spiny lobsters off Robinson Crusoe Island

Robinson Crusoe had an estimated population of 843 in 2012. Most of the island's inhabitants live in the village of San Juan Bautista on the north coast at Cumberland Bay. [2] Although the community maintains a rustic serenity dependent on the spiny lobster trade, residents employ a few vehicles, a satellite Internet connection and televisions. The main airstrip, Robinson Crusoe Airfield, is located near the tip of the island's southwestern peninsula. The flight from Santiago de Chile is just under three hours. A ferry runs from the airstrip to San Juan Bautista. [21]

Tourists number in the hundreds per year. One activity gaining popularity is scuba diving, [21] particularly on the wreck of the German light cruiser Dresden, which was scuttled in Cumberland Bay during World War I. [17]

Maya statue hypothesis

A History Channel documentary was filmed on Robinson Crusoe Island. It aired on 3 January 2010 and showed two rock formations that Canadian explorer Jim Turner claimed were badly degraded Mayan statues. [22] With no other sign of any pre-Columbian human presence on the island, [12] however, the program has been criticized as lacking in scientific credibility. [23]

Robinson Crusoe Island bayside view of the town of San Juan Bautista Robinson Crusoe Island bayside view of the town of San Juan Bautista.jpg
Robinson Crusoe Island bayside view of the town of San Juan Bautista
Robinson Crusoe Island statue of Robinson Crusoe in the town of San Juan Bautista Robinson Crusoe Island statue of Robinson Crusoe in the town of San Juan Bautista.jpg
Robinson Crusoe Island statue of Robinson Crusoe in the town of San Juan Bautista
Robinson Crusoe Island Dendroseris litoralis - Juan Fernandez cabbage tree Robinson Crusoe Island Dendroseris litoralis - Juan Fernandez Cabbage Tree.jpg
Robinson Crusoe Island Dendroseris litoralis – Juan Fernández cabbage tree

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alexander Selkirk</span> 18th-century Scottish sailor and castaway

Alexander Selkirk was a Scottish privateer and Royal Navy officer who spent four years and four months as a castaway (1704–1709) after being marooned by his captain, initially at his request, on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific Ocean. He survived that ordeal, but died from tropical illness years later while serving as a Lieutenant aboard HMS Weymouth off West Africa.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Juan Fernández Islands</span> Special Territory and Commune in Valparaíso, Chile

The Juan Fernández Islands are a sparsely inhabited series of islands in the South Pacific Ocean reliant on tourism and fishing. Situated 670 km off the coast of Chile, they are composed of three main volcanic islands: Robinson Crusoe, Alejandro Selkirk and Santa Clara. The group is part of Insular Chile.

<i>Robinson Crusoe</i> 1719 novel by Daniel Defoe

Robinson Crusoe is a novel by Daniel Defoe, first published on 25 April 1719. The first edition credited the work's protagonist Robinson Crusoe as its author, leading many readers to believe he was a real person and the book a travelogue of true incidents.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Desventuradas Islands</span> Archipelago of Chile

The Desventuradas Islands is a group of four small oceanic islands located 850 kilometres (530 mi) off the coast of Chile, northwest of Santiago in the Pacific Ocean. They are considered part of Insular Chile.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marooning</span> Intentional act of abandoning a sailor

Marooning is the intentional act of abandoning someone in an uninhabited area, such as a desert island, or more generally to be marooned is to be in a place from which one cannot escape. The word is attested in 1699, and is derived from the term maroon, a word for a fugitive slave, which could be a corruption of Spanish cimarrón, meaning a household animal who has "run wild".

SMS <i>Dresden</i> (1907) Light cruiser of the German Imperial Navy

SMS Dresden was a German light cruiser built for the Kaiserliche Marine. The lead ship of her class, she was laid down at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg in 1906, launched in October 1907, and completed in November 1908. Her entrance into service was delayed by accidents during sea trials, including a collision with another vessel which necessitated major repairs. Like the preceding Königsberg-class cruisers upon which her design was based, Dresden was armed with ten 10.5 cm (4.1 in) SK L/40 guns and two torpedo tubes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alejandro Selkirk Island</span> Island of Chile

Alejandro Selkirk Island, previously known as Más Afuera and renamed after the marooned sailor Alexander Selkirk, is the largest and most westerly island in the Juan Fernández Archipelago of the Valparaíso Region of Chile. It is situated 180 km west of Robinson Crusoe Island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Green-backed firecrown</span> Species of hummingbird

The green-backed firecrown is a hummingbird in the "coquettes", tribe Lesbiini of subfamily Lesbiinae. It is found in Argentina, mainland Chile, and the Juan Fernández Islands.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Juan Fernández firecrown</span> Species of hummingbird

The Juan Fernández firecrown is a Critically Endangered hummingbird in the "coquettes", tribe Lesbiini of subfamily Lesbiinae. It is endemic to Isla Róbinson Crusoe, one of the three-island Juan Fernández archipelago belonging to Chile.

Cinque Ports was an English ship whose sailing master was Alexander Selkirk, generally accepted as a model for the fictional Robinson Crusoe. The ship was part of a 1703 expedition commanded by William Dampier, who captained the accompanying ship, the 26-gun St George with a complement of 120 men.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Archipiélago de Juan Fernández National Park</span>

Archipiélago de Juan Fernández National Park is a national park located in the Pacific Ocean 665 kilometres west of Chile's mainland port of San Antonio, in the Juan Fernández Archipelago. The park covers 96 square kilometres and comprises the Santa Clara, Alejandro Selkirk and the most part of the Robinson Crusoe Island islands.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Masatierra petrel</span> Species of bird

Masatierra petrel or De Filippi's petrel, is a species of seabird in the family Procellariidae. It is endemic to Chile where it nests in the Juan Fernández Islands and Desventuradas Islands. Its natural habitats are open seas and rocky shores.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Firecrown</span> Genus of birds

The firecrowns are the genus Sephanoides of the hummingbirds. There are two species.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tirpitz (pig)</span> WWI naval mascot

Tirpitz was a pig captured from the Imperial German Navy after a naval skirmish following the Battle of the Falkland Islands in 1914. She became the mascot of the cruiser HMS Glasgow.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">San Juan Bautista, Chile</span> Town in Valparaíso, Chile

San Juan Bautista is the main town in the Juan Fernández Islands of Chile. Some sources say it was founded in 1877, while others give an earlier date of 1750. It is located on Cumberland Bay on the center of the northeast coast of Robinson Crusoe Island.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Geology of Chile</span>

The geology of Chile is a characterized by processes linked to subduction such as volcanism, earthquakes and orogeny. The buildings blocks of Chile's geology assembled during the Paleozoic Era. Chile was by then the southwestern margin of the supercontinent Gondwana. In the Jurassic Gondwana began to split and the ongoing period of crustal deformation and mountain building known as the Andean orogeny began. In the Late Cenozoic Chile definitely separated from Antarctica, the Andes experienced a great rise accomplained by a cooling climate and the onset of glaciations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Más a Tierra</span>

The Battle of Más a Tierra was a World War I sea battle fought on 14 March 1915, near the Chilean island of Más a Tierra, between a British squadron and a German light cruiser. The battle saw the last remnant of the German East Asia Squadron destroyed, when SMS Dresden was cornered and scuttled in Cumberland Bay.

Wieblitz Ernst (1883–1973) was a German naval officer during World War I. He was navigation officer on the SMS Dresden on the day of the scuttling.

The following lists events that happened during 1966 in Chile.

<i>A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World</i>

A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World is a 1712 book by Edward Cooke, about a real-life trip around the world in two ships, under the command of Woodes Rogers. It is notable for including a firsthand account of castaway Alexander Selkirk, whose tale appears to have helped inspire Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe a few years later.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Torres Santibáñez, Hernán; Torres Cerda, Marcela (2004). Los parques nacionales de Chile: una guía para el visitante (in Spanish). Editorial Universitaria. p. 49. ISBN   978-956-11-1701-3.
  2. 1 2 3 "Censos de poblacion y vivienda". Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas (2012). Retrieved 2 January 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 Severin, Tim (2002). In Search of Robinson Crusoe. New York: Basic Books. pp.  23–24. ISBN   978-046-50-7698-7.
  4. Severin, Tim (2002). In Search of Robinson Crusoe. New York: Basic Books. pp.  17–19. ISBN   978-046-50-7698-7.
  5. Little, Becky (28 September 2016). "Debunking the Myth of the 'Real' Robinson Crusoe". National Geographic. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  6. "Parque Nacional Archipiélago de Juan Fernández" Corporacion Nacional Forestal de Chile (2010). Retrieved 27 May 2010. Archived 23 August 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  7. "San Juan Bautista Climate Guide to the Average Weather & Temperatures with Graphs Elucidating Sunshine and Rainfall Data & Information about Wind Speeds & Humidity". Climate & Temperature. Retrieved 6 March 2010.
  8. 1 2 "Forest on Robinson Crusoe Island". Wondermondo (2012). Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  9. Hogan, C. Michael (2008). Magellanic Penguin Archived 7 June 2012 at the Wayback Machine . GlobalTwitcher. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  10. "Islas Robinson Crusoe and Santa Clara". BirdLife Data Zone. BirdLife International. 2021. Retrieved 22 January 2021.
  11. "Welcome Back HA03—Robinson Crusoe Island", Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (2014). Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  12. 1 2 Anderson, Atholl; Haberle, Simon; Rojas, Gloria; Seelenfreund, Andrea; Smith, Ian & Worthy, Trevor (2002). An Archeological Exploration of Robinson Crusoe Island, Juan Fernandez Archipelago, Chile Archived 12 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine . New Zealand Archaeological Association.
  13. Rogers, Woodes (1712). A Cruising Voyage Round the World: First to the South-seas, Thence to the East-Indies, and Homewards by the Cape of Good Hope. London: A. Bell and B. Lintot. pp. 125–126.
  14. Dana, Richard Henry (1840). Two Years Before the Mast: A Personal Narrative of Life at Sea. New York: Harper & Brothers. pp. 28–32.
  15. Coulter, John (1845). Adventures in the Pacific: With Observations on the Natural Productions, Manners and Customs of the Natives of the Various Islands. London: Longmans, Brown & Co. pp. 32–33.
  16. Slocum, Joshua (2012). Sailing Alone Around the World. Oxford: Beaufoy Publishing. pp. 77–82. ISBN   978-190-67-8034-0.
  17. 1 2 Delgado, James P. (2004). Adventures of a Sea Hunter: In Search of Famous Shipwrecks. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre. pp. 168–174. ISBN   978-1-926685-60-1.
  18. Ricketts, Colin (17 August 2011). "Tsunami warning came too late for Robinson Crusoe Island". Earth Times. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  19. 1 2 Bodenham, Patrick (9 December 2010). "Adrift on Robinson Crusoe Island, the forgotten few". The Independent. Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  20. Harrell, Eben (2 March 2010). "Chile's president: Why did tsunami warnings fail?". Time Magazine. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
  21. 1 2 Gordon, Nick (14 December 2004). "Chile: The real Crusoe had it easy". The Telegraph. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  22. "Armageddon: Apocalypse Island". A&E Television Networks (2009). Retrieved 18 October 2012. Archived 13 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  23. Lowry, Brian (26 June 2010). "Wackadoodle Demo Widens". Variety. Retrieved 9 February 2014.

Further reading