Santa Cruz del Islote: The Most Densely Populated Island On Earth

Colombia counts many surprising destinations among its more famous traveler hotspots: How many people came here expecting to find deserts, whale-watching, and a river that runs red, blue, and green

I’ll wager not too many.

Yet perhaps the most surprising place you can visit in Colombia is a tiny little island in the Caribbean called Santa Cruz del Islote.

Colombia has lots of Caribbean islands, I hear you cry; what’s so special about this one?

Santa Cruz del Islote
Santa Cruz del Islote

Santa Cruz del Islote is, in fact, the world’s most densely populated island (disclaimer: there are some who contend that by now it isn’t, but it’s at least top 3). A tiny artificial island populated by fishermen and their families, Santa Cruz del Islote is just 0.012 square kilometers and has a population of around 1,200 people – which is really pretty crazy if you think about it!

It lies next to Tintipan and Mucura Islands in the Corales de San Bernando y Rosales National Park, and is accessible from Tolu and (a bit further) Cartagena.

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The island was built (yes, built) in the 19th Century by Afro-Colombian fishermen who came to the San Bernando Island to fish. They established a small artificial settlement next to Tintipan to allow them to stay out and fish for longer periods of time, and gradually, over 200 years this settlement grew (not that much, admittedly) into the Santa Cruz del Islote of today.

Colourful Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is awash with color

Santa Cruz del Islote is like something straight out of a Garcia Marquez novel: some 400 children running around, playing and shouting, crossing through people’s living rooms to get to the next street, bright colors, and Caribbean breezes. 

There is a lot of poverty on the island; the government is notable for its absence, and one resident who works in the school told me that he has received little to no funding over the past few years. There is little electricity, and freshwater is delivered by the Colombian Navy. Many locals find work in tourism on the nearby Isla Mucura.

However, every single person I spoke to told me that they wouldn’t want to live anywhere else: as one man (42 years old, born on the island) told me: “Here I know everyone and everyone knows me. We have no crime here, and people get along.”

Meeting time
Lunch meeting…

Whilst I wouldn’t call the island a ‘destination’ in the typical sense, it is a fascinating place to visit, not only for its record-breaking dimensions, but also to experience how its people live and spend time with them.

Walking around the little island, tailed by impossible numbers of incredibly cute children, you really got a sense of community, of how people are working to improve their lives and the lives of those around them. Yet, above all, there is a sense of happiness in spite of hardship: people are resolutely focused on what they have rather than what they don’t have. As another jovial local told me: “At least I’ll never get hit by a car!” We could probably all benefit from that attitude.

I’ll leave you with some more pictures of the island; words don’t really do it justice…

Boys Fishing Colombia
Fishing is the major source of income here
Houses on Santa Cruz
Houses on Santa Cruz
Cute child Colombia
Meeting one of the aforementioned “impossibly cute children”

Should you visit Santa Cruz del Islote nowadays?

Santa Cruz del Islote
Santa Cruz del Islote in the magic hour

Article section Added by Thomas Espeute.

There are pros and cons.

On the one hand, I have to admit that it’s a unique lifestyle that’s worth discovering.

What’s more, the money you pay for the right to set foot on Santa Cruz del Islote goes to the community. Big pro.

On the other hand, it has to be said that this island has become famous thanks to the publications of CNN, National Geographic, and others. You won’t learn much, and you won’t have much opportunity to chat with the inhabitants during the brief 30-minute tour offered by the locals.

Another negative point is that the locals have built an aquarium where you can swim with fish and sharks. There’s no respect for animals. It’s a big NO.

My advice?

If this is a place you really want to discover, choose to spend a night in one of the island’s few hotels to share the daily life of the inhabitants of Santa Cruz del Islote.

But if you’re not prepared to live in the same conditions as they do, then skip it and enjoy Isla Tintipan and Isla Mucura.

How to get to Santa Cruz del Islote?

There are day trips to the San Bernardo Islands departing from Tolu and Rincon del Mar. On this trip, you can visit Isla Tintipan, Múcura, and the famous San Cruz del Islote island.

Or you can stay overnight on Isla Mucura or Isla Tintipan and organize this experience from there (a short 10-minute ride by boat).

Author’s note: This article was originally published by Chris on the site It has now been edited by Thomas Espeute, following the acquisition of by Tomplanmytrip.

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Tomplanmytrip’s sections

I have been traveling around Colombia and Mexico since 2015 to discover new experiences and help travelers make the right choices.

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