All photos by Christian Berg
Flip flops, summer dresses and the islanders’ laid back attitude will tip you off. The weather here is warm all year round, and the locals take advantage of the sunshine at the many beaches scattered around the island. Spend a day at Đầm Trầu Beach, surrounded by a pine forest with easy access to the water and gentle waves. Closer to town is Lò Vôi Bay. The low tide in the morning and early afternoon is perfect for taking a walk. There you’ll see fishermen out on their basket boats and children foraging for shells in the sand.
Diving and snorkelling in Côn Đảo is among the best in the country. Save a day to join a boat tour to the coral reefs at Hòn Tài, Bảy Cạnh or Câu islands, where you can spot stingrays, barracuda, turtles, moray eels, batfish, clownfish and cuttlefish. Apart from boat tours, you’ll have plenty of offshore snorkelling opportunities as well. Đầm Tre Lagoon is one of Côn Sơn’s best snorkelling spots, reached via an adventurous two-hour hike. On one end of Parkplatz Vong beach you’ll find the national park trail leading to the lagoon. Don’t forget to bring your snorkelling gear to see the many clams that inhabit the waters of Đầm Tre.
Most of Côn Sơn is covered in trees, much to nature lovers’ delight. Hikers can access trails from many different parts of the island, but one of the best hiking routes starts right at the park’s entrance. The paved trail to Ông Đụng rock beach is easily managed, and on your way, you’ll find interesting information about the jungle’s unique ecosystem. For a full-day activity, take one of the many trails that split off at Ông Đụng beach.
TIP: Some of Côn Sơn’s amazing trails –– such as the hike to Thánh Giá, the highest point on the island –– aren’t well marked. It’s a good idea to hire a guide if you want a safe and more insightful experience.
In Côn Sơn, driving a scooter is a local pastime. The island’s main road, connecting the North to the South, runs along the coast. Here, motorcyclists drive at a leisurely pace to take in the panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. There are many tempting viewpoints along the drive, but the most breathtaking view is at Chim Chim Cape. Walk out on the tip of the peninsula to observe the waves crashing into the island’s steep cliffs. Even locals gather here to watch the sunset, or to stargaze at night.
Bảy Cạnh, one of the islands in the archipelago, is where many marine turtles arrive from the Philippines to hatch their eggs. If you’re interested in this natural phenomenon, you can join the small organised tours that run daily from April to October during the hatching season. The guides, who are also conservationists, will tell you all about the behaviour of the turtles and the threats they face. In the early hours of the morning, you might get lucky and see hundreds of baby turtles rushing to the ocean.
You’ll quickly become acquainted with Côn Sơn, a small town with a smattering of colonial-era buildings plus several newer shops, hotels and restaurants. A bicycle ride is the best way to situate yourself. Small cafes such as Infinity provide a nice spot to cool down with a cà phê sữa đá. You may want to visit the Phú Hải Prison for a glimpse into the island’s history as a former penal colony. Of course, Côn Sơn is bursting with seafood joints –– pick one with a live catch on display for a fresh seafood dinner. If you’re in the mood for Vietnamese food, try Quán ăn Nguyen An, or the delicious handmade noodles at Gia Minh.
TIP: Finish your night with a cocktail at the lively 200 Bar, known for its classic rock playlist.
The most talked-about accommodation on Côn Đảo is Six Senses. Six Senses specialises in immersive wellness retreats, and creates the ideal atmosphere to de-stress in its bamboo beachfront villas. The resort’s long private beach, eco-friendly design and celebrity guest list all contribute to its reputation. There are, however, other lovely places to stay in Côn Sơn. Villa Maison is a boutique hotel in the heart of the town with cosy, stylish rooms and a fantastic restaurant. Budget travellers can try Mai’s Homestay, run by a local island girl and her partner who built their homestay with sustainability in mind.