Once you’ve stepped ashore on any of the Con Dao Islands you’d be hard pushed to imagine that this stunning, secluded island paradise could have once been hell on earth. Yet, long before in-the-know tourists started visiting this remote tropical paradise for its sparkling-white sand beaches, stunning bays and sapphire-blue sea; tens of thousands of political prisoners were detained in the penal colony of the French Colonials between 1862 and 1975 under hellish conditions. Mistreatment, malnourishment and hard labor led to the suffering and death of thousands of these prisoners. Their remains are buried at Hang Duong Cemetry on Con Son island.
Nowadays the fifteen Cong Dao islands are better known for their supreme natural beauty. Con Son is the largest of the islands and the most popular to visit thanks to its bounty of beautiful beaches, lagoons, coves, coral reefs, rugged mountain and thick forest. The remoteness of the island has ensured that it has been kept in prime condition and has nurtured some wonderfully exotic and endemic wildlife including the rare bow-fingered gecko and the black giant squirrel. The clear calm sea is home to Dugongs (Sea Elephants) and Sea Turtles lay their eggs on the beaches from March to August. In addition to wildlife watching opportunities Con Son’s deserted beaches, coral reefs and blissfully quiet coastal roads are wonderful for exploration in the form of hiking, snorkeling/diving and cycling.
Worth a visit is the lively Con Dao Market (Chợ Côn Đảo), a clean and well-organized market where fresh fish, fruit and vegetables are sold along with noodles, soups, rice, coffees, fruit juice and desserts.