Gorgona: Colombia

Gorgona: Colombia

Welcome to the Jungle

It hasn’t taken long for nature to regain complete control of Gorgona island. From the 1950s to the 1980s, this 26 sq. km (10-sq.-mile) landmass in the Pacific was a maximum security prison—Colombia’s Alcatraz—but since the facility was closed and Gorgona declared a Parque Nacional Natural (Natural National Park) in 1985, the jail buildings are now evocatively overgrown with dense vegetation, complete with monkeys swinging from vine to vine.

Like its more remote cousin to the west, the shark-diving destination Malpelo (see ), Gorgona is one of those places where the natural environment is almost comically inhospitable to humans. Poisonous snakes slither along the floor of the rainforest here, and menacing sharks patrol the waters just offshore. (No doubt, this state of affairs helped with inmate detainment during the island’s prison years.) Visitors who come ashore at Gorgona today are strictly supervised, limited to groups of 80 at a time, and forbidden from wandering too far away from the coastline, for fear of encountering those deadly critters. Nature is nothing if not fierce on Gorgona.

As with so many ecosystems that have been isolated from the mainland for thousands of years, Gorgona shelters a wealth of endemic plant and animal species in its rainforests, including the small (and endangered) blue lizard of Gorgona. It’s said that a permanent cloud hangs over the top of Gorgona, as its mountain peaks are perpetually shrouded in mist. Of course, this moisture acts as a sort of steroid for the already aggressive tropical flora here.

There is only one place to spend the night on Gorgona, and only one place to eat: The handsome lodge and dining room are both run by the park service and look like something out of Swiss Family Robinson. With the interior of the island mostly off-limits to visitors, tours of the island are limited to its perimeter, which has plenty of well-marked nature trails (though going with a guide is highly recommended); there it’s possible to get a good look at the unique marine birds, reptiles, and plant life that have grown up and evolved here. Snorkeling and diving among the coral reefs in the emerald waters off Gorgona are excellent (as long as sharks don’t make you flinch), and humpback whales even pass by the island from August to October with their calves. Gorgona also has some of the finest sandy beaches in Colombia, backed by palm trees and a thick curtain of green, letting you know that the creepy-crawly jungle is never far away on this island.

Tour: Aviatur ( 57/1/382-1616; www.concesionesparquesnaturales.com).
Charter flights from Guapi, 30 min.
Cargo ship (8–10 hr.) or chartered speedboat (4–6 hr.) from Buenaventura.
Book through park service ( 57/1/382-1616) or tour agency.

Horseback Riding on Native Land: Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, U.S.A. Piranha Fishing: Los Llanos, Venezuela