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10 swashbucklin' islands in South America

Avaste ye fellow travelers! It be International Talk Like a Pirate Day! And shiver me timbers -- it be the 10th anniversary of this pirate-y great, grand day. Thar be bountiful isles in South America, just waitin’ foar a swashbucklin' matey like yer self to step ashore.  I've taken a notion into me old numskull to sharrrrrr 10 o’ these ship-shape isles fit for landlubbers and buccaneers alike. Heave ho!

Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. This fun lingo-lavished holiday was randomly invented by two pirate-talking buddies in Oregon. The day got a big push and well-received publicity when syndicated humor columnist Dave Berry mentioned it in a column. In honor of the 10th Annual Talk Like a Pirate Day, the swashbucklin’ team at SA Expeditions decided to share 10 of South America’s most pirate-friendly islands.

1. Robinson Crusoe Island (Chile)

In 1704, a British privateer found himself stranded on an island over 400 miles west of mainland Chile (whether he requested to be left behind or was forced is disputed). He survived alone on the island four years before a passing ship picked him up. His experienced is believed to have been the inspiration for the classic novel Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719. The island is also renowned for sheltering pirates; in 2005 treasure hunters claimed to have found 600 barrels of gold coins and Inca jewels. The permanent population of the island is roughly 850 people concentrated in the sole village, San Juan Bautista.

2. Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)

The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of 13 main islands, 6 islets, and numerous small rock outcroppings.  Bishop Fray Tomas de Berlanga accidently discovered the islands in 1535 when sailing from Panama to Peru, where he was to settle disputes involving land and title distribution among conquistador Francisco Pizarro and his men following the conquest of the Inca Empire. From there, the Galapagos Islands had an interesting history: In the early 1800s pirates used the islands as a hideaway, Ecuador annexed them in 1832, and the now famous Charles Darwin visited a few years later. Today, the islands are of course famous for their unique wildlife.

Photo - Anne & David

3. Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego (Patagonia)

Tierra del Fuego refers to the bottom part of Patagonia, the extensive southern tip of South America shared between Chile and Argentina. The region is actually an archipelago separated from the mainland by the Straits of Magellan. The dominate island, Isla Grande, is the largest island in South American and contains the city of Ushuaia, commonly considered to be the southernmost city in the world. For a land of cool grasslands and icy mountains, the name Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) at first seems a bit odd, but roughly 500 years ago the region’s only inhabitants were Yahgan Indians. They maintained numerous fires that, when first spotted by European explorers from afar, made the land look like it was burning.

4. San Andres (Colombia) 

The island of San Andres is one of three clustered islands (along with Providencia and Santa Catalina) belonging to Colombia but located nearly 500 miles north of the mainland (though they are only 140 miles east of Nicaragua). The islands were used as a base for English pirate operations against Spanish ships in the 1500s, and it’s said Henry Morgan’s treasure is hidden in a cave on one of the islands. The islands are surrounded by multi-hued blue waters great for scuba diving.

5. Rosarios Islands (Colombia)

The Caribbean colonial city of Cartagena is surrounded by a wall originally built to protect it from pirates. In the 1500s, several of the attacks were led by the infamous Sir Francis Drake himself. Just an hour offshore is the Rosarios archipelago of about 30 small islands. White sand beaches surrounded by turquoise waters make the islands a favorite day-trip for Cartagena locals. Though people live on the islands, the area is also Colombia’s only marine reserve, protecting 120,000 hectares.

6. Chiloé (Chile)

Misty and mysterious, Chiloe is the largest island of its archipelago and is covered with lush hills and wild temperate rain forests. It’s the second largest island in South America and distinguished by locals who’ve adapted to the island’s isolated and rough environment. Farming villages with stilt houses, miles of untouched beaches and dunes, and UNESCO-recognized churches characterize this insular island.

Photo - Francesco Paroni Sterbini

The only island on this list not surrounded by salt water is Isla Amantani, one of several islands located on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. The island is home to fewer than 4,000 indigenous inhabitants who speak Quechua and survive by farming, traditional textile work, and hosting visitors. Also on Lake Titicaca are the floating man-made Uros Islands. Although proper pirates never sailed Lake Titicaca, aggressive neighboring civilizations forced the Uros people to flee to the water and create their floating homes for safety.

8. Easter Island (Chile) 

Easter Island is the most isolated island that contains a permanent human population. Located 2,300 miles from mainland Chile and nearly 1,300 miles from the nearest inhabited island, Easter Island is truly off the beaten path.  Massive stone statues called moai, left behind by the island’s original Polynesian society, dot the windswept island. Though the history is disputed, the original society eventually collapsed, aided in part by slave raiders who kidnapped a large portion of the island’s population and left behind smallpox for the rest.

Photo - Mayumi Ishikawa

9. Fernando de Noronha (Brazil) 

The archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, consisting of 1 island and 20 islets located 220 miles from northern Brazil’s mainland is largely unknown outside of the Brazil. Touted as an exclusive eco-destination with some of the best beaches and marine life in the world, the area is a UNESCO World Heritage site and 70% is protected as a marine national park. Like many islands, Fernando de Noronha was once used as a penal colony.

10. Isla Grande (Brazil) 

This pristine island sits about 15 miles off Brazil’s mainland and about 100 miles south of Rio de Janeiro. The entire island is a protected reserve containing over 100 miles of hiking trails that crisscross through the island’s interior mountains. Although today Isla Grande is an eco-destination for beach lovers and hikers, the island once welcomed pirates, housed a hospital, and contained two prisons.

Isla Grande, Brazil

 Interested in setting sail to one of these South American island destinations? Contact one of our Destination Experts  about crafting the bespoke vacation of your dreams.

Thanks to David Brossard for the title image of this blog.


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