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gorgona island alcatraz of colombia

Isla Gorgona: Beautiful National Park with a Dark Past

Isla Gorgona is a national park where a limited number of people per day can enjoy the beautiful nature. Completely secluded from the rest of the world, Isla Gorgona is a home to a number of rare snakes, lizards, frogs and caimans. You might be even able to encounter the resident troop of capuchin monkeys during your treks.

But Isla Gorgona is known not only for its beauty of the island, but also for the fact that it once had the most famous prison in Colombia. In the gray concrete walls fully covered with layers of moss, you see the old prison buildings which have no pane glass windows on the frames. The iron gate at the entrance has rusted completely and discolored itself to brown orange. The roots and branches of the tropical trees are fiercely covering the whole prison buildings as if the plants have its own mind to swallow it up. This is Isla Gorgona, the tropical island fifty kilometers off the coast of Colombia in the Pacific Ocean.

isla gorgona prison sleeping halls
The former sleeping dormitories of the prisoners

Alcatraz Island of Colombia

Since 1985, Isla Gorgona has been a national park and only a maximum of eighty visitors a day can visit the island. So apparently you will never have a problem there with too many tourists.
The island of nine kilometers long and two kilometers wide was once the most closely guarded prison in Colombia until the mid-eighties. It became to be known as Columbia’s Alcatraz island. It was the remoteness that made Isla Gorgona a dreaded place. Even the prisoners ever really wished so, it was impossible to escape from the island.

As if a fifty-kilometer-wide strait on its own isn’t good enough, large groups of sharks constantly swim around the island. Also potential prisoners of escape should first reach the sea, but to do so first they needed to go through forest. That was not easy with its eighteen different species of extremely poisonous snakes without the proper shoes and clothes. Francisco Pizzarro, who was a Spanish Conquistador who led the Spanish Conquest of the Inca Empire, also arrived in the Gorgona island in 1527 and remained there for seven months. He lost many of his men to bites from the great number of the poisonous snakes.

Anyone who wants to take a walk through the jungle, it is highly recommended to wear boots.

gorgona island prison
A tree is growing on top of the prison building

Diving and beaches

As horrible as it must have been then on Isla Gorgona in history, now it turned into a beautiful national park. The names of the beaches such as in Playa Blanca(White beach) and Playa Palmeras(Palm beach) say enough of the beauty of the island. The gently waving palm trees on a tropical island that you dream of are actually there. You can snorkel and dive off the coast with experienced and professional dive masters and you can enjoy having pretty much all the coral reefs to yourself. Sometimes giant turtles might come around once in a while to see how you are doing.

Heavy rains

The only drawback of Isla Gorgona is that it rains a lot. It rains the most in September and October. And in fact, not only during the raining season, weather could be oppressive and stuffy on the tropical island all year round. However, this does not mean that the sun never comes out. You most likely have thunderstorms only at the end of the day. You have plenty of time to sunbathe the rest of the day.

What to do in Gorgona Island?

  • Take a walk through the jungle of Isla Gorgona with a pair of proper boots or shoes. The island is known for its rare animals and also for poisonous snakes.
  • Visit the sleeping cells and the dining area of the old prison. Until 1984, Isla Gorgona was one of the most strictly guarded prisons in Colombia. You will find more information at the museum on the island.
  • Visit the beautiful beaches on the island. Gently waving palm trees await you at Playa Blanca and Playa Palmeras.
  • Off the coast, you can snorkel surrounded by the coral reefs. You see giant turtles walking slowly on the sand and dolphins swimming playfully in the water.
  • Cruise around the island with a boat. If you’re lucky, you might see the tail or back of a swimming whale.

If you are interested in exploring Colombia and Panama by train check out our Trains & Coffee in Colombia & Panama small group tour!

 

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