STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Jam-packed Colombian island preserves quiet way of life

From a distance, it's hard at first to determine what Santa Cruz del Islote actually is. Rising from the sea...

Posted: Aug 28, 2018 5:13 PM
Updated: Aug 28, 2018 5:13 PM

From a distance, it's hard at first to determine what Santa Cruz del Islote actually is. Rising from the sea, the island -- one of the most densely populated in the world -- appears to be floating.

In fact, Santa Cruz -- located in Colombia's San Bernardo Archipelago in the Gulf of Morrosquillo -- sits on a combination of raised sea bed and coral. It's one of 10 islands in the archipelago.

Environment and natural resources

Islands and reefs

Landforms and ecosystems

Colombia

Continents and regions

Latin America

South America

The Americas

Colombia travel guide

Legend has it that fishermen from the nearby islands spent the night on Santa Cruz and decided to stay there permanently when they realized there were no mosquitoes. Locals attribute the mosquito-free environment to the absence of mangroves and beaches.

Santa Cruz isn't a traditional island retreat. There's nowhere for visitors to stay. Tourists often spend the night at the neighboring Punta Faro hotel on Múcura Island, and travel to Santa Cruz by speed boat to explore for a few hours.

It's like stepping into a Gabriel García Márquez novel. Santa Cruz features a dreamlike, innocent way of life (there are no police on the island), and the colorful houses are passed down through generations, so there are no non-native residents.

Some estimates put about 1,200 inhabitants on the tiny island that's about the size of two soccer fields. But some say the community is smaller.

Juve Nal, a sexagenarian who has lived on Santa Cruz his whole life, says it is more like 900.

"We get annoyed because the media always say the island is more crowded than it is," grumbles Nal, who seems to act as community leader, tour guide and spokesperson all rolled into one.

Close quarters

Whatever the population (which is unknown as no census has been carried out for decades), Santa Cruz is a tight squeeze.

About 115 houses are crammed higgledy-piggledy on top of one another, while elderly men with kind eyes and weathered faces sit out on their chairs sipping beer, teenage boys line the streets nodding their heads and swaying to champeta beats and young mothers chatter away at corner shops.

Nal dips and dives in and out of the winding alleys, ducking under washing lines and pointing out the various amenities of the island -- a church here, a school there -- and waxes lyrical about the peaceful, relaxed way of life.

"There is no crime here," he says, beaming proudly. "We have no police and we do not need them either."

He stops by a small square, marked by a large white cross. It's a good place for a photo op, he explains, as this cross gives the island its name.

A recent partnership with Hotel Punta Faro has resulted in the establishment of a small conservation aquarium on Santa Cruz.

Previously locals treated turtles the same way they would a chicken, killing them for meat. Now, they carefully untangle the turtles caught in their fishing nets, and look after them until the hotel's conservation team comes to collect them.

Tourists can pay a small fee to enter the aquarium, which also houses small sharks, stingrays and fish.

Otherwise, Santa Cruz is crowded with houses. Islanders have had to start building upwards, as space has run out for more houses on the ground.

"It is a concern for the future," admits Nal. "We are running out of land, and I do not know what the answer is. We cannot keep building up and up."

But the islanders of Santa Cruz do not want your pity.

"We are happy," Nal says. "Where else in the world is there no need for police, where else can you have an island for just your little community?

"Every day I get to wake up to the sound and the view of the sea. I would not want to live anywhere else."

Visiting Santa Cruz

Visitors are asked to pay 3,000 pesos ($1) upon arrival on the island. In recent years, Nal says, more backpackers have come to visit, taking pictures of islanders as if they were visiting a zoo.

"It was very disrespectful," he says. "Now we charge something, and we give them a tour, so the tourists realize we are not just here to be looked at, but instead they can learn about our culture."

The money from the tours goes toward helping conservation efforts and toward the day-to-day running of the island -- such as buying drinking water, which a boat drops off from the mainland once every few weeks.

There are concerns the island will fall victim to rising sea levels. Alejandro Alzate, the general manager and co-owner of Punta Faro, says Santa Cruz experiences flooding regularly, and may some day disappear under the rising tide.

"The locals don't want to know this, though," he sighs. "They won't listen as it means eventually they will have to move. And life on Santa Cruz is not something you could find elsewhere.

"People are proud to live there. It's more than just a community, it's a culture, a way of life. They don't want to be any place else."

Life on the island may seem shaky, but it's an organized chaos, and for the islanders, it works a treat.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 8931

Reported Deaths: 208
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Multnomah223969
Marion153947
Washington137920
Clackamas75124
Umatilla5334
Union3421
Lincoln3242
Deschutes1830
Lane1653
Linn1519
Polk14912
Yamhill1268
Malheur1241
Klamath1230
Jefferson1180
Jackson1170
Hood River880
Benton845
Wasco731
Morrow641
Clatsop490
Douglas420
Coos410
Josephine331
Columbia300
Lake190
Tillamook110
Crook100
Wallowa100
Curry70
Baker40
Grant10
Harney10
Sherman10
Gilliam00
Unassigned00
Wheeler00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 238681

Reported Deaths: 6169
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles1056653405
Riverside18041463
San Diego14623370
Orange14413345
San Bernardino12746258
Imperial652397
Alameda6156136
Fresno528975
Kern476876
Santa Clara4572158
Tulare4323128
San Joaquin391454
San Francisco364850
Sacramento339768
San Mateo3311108
Contra Costa324877
Ventura309646
Santa Barbara289629
Kings250434
Marin239419
Stanislaus231044
Monterey169115
Solano140225
Sonoma11857
Merced113111
Placer72411
San Luis Obispo6422
Yolo55524
Madera5415
Santa Cruz3993
Napa3334
San Benito2392
Lassen2330
El Dorado1980
Sutter1973
Butte1892
Humboldt1334
Shasta1294
Nevada1171
Glenn1150
Yuba941
Mendocino850
Tehama821
Lake790
Colusa590
Del Norte511
Mono421
Calaveras400
Inyo321
Siskiyou310
Tuolumne300
Mariposa271
Amador240
Plumas100
Alpine20
Trinity20
Sierra10
Unassigned00
Medford
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 81°
Brookings
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 78°
Crater Lake
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 74°
Grants Pass
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 81°
Klamath Falls
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 74°
Cool nights and warm days this week
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events

Latest Video

Image

Pet of the Week: Buttons, Beanies and Boots

Image

Thursday, July 2 afternoon weather

Image

Thursday, July 2 morning weather

Image

Wednesday, July 1st Evening Weather

Image

Klamath County marks first death linked to COVID-19

Image

Fireworks rules for Medford

Image

Wednesday, July 1 morning weather

Image

Tuesday, June 30th Evening Weather

Image

OSHA describes enforcement of statewide mask requirements

Image

Oregon OSHA charged with enforcing statewide mask mandate