The Con Dao islands form a tropical archipelago located to the south of Vietnam's mainland. The islands offer an idyllic natural paradise, with swathes of sandy beaches, rich coral reefs and rolling hills covered by dense forest. So far, the islands are relatively untouched by mass tourism, and so offer a wonderful escape and opportunity to unwind amongst beautiful natural scenery.
The Con Dao archipelago has 15 islands, only one of which is occupied, making this a fantastic location for a spot of island hopping and adventures to secluded bays. Most of the land forms the Con Dao National Park, a protected area created due to the islands' importance as a nesting site for sea turtles. Beneath the waves there are coral reefs teeming with marine life, making this arguably the best place in Vietnam for diving and snorkelling. As well as colourful reef fish, there are small sharks, turtles, rays and giant barracuda, and extremely lucky visitors may even catch a glimpse of the elusive dugong (sea cow). On land there is also a diverse range of wildlife, including rare species and even endemic subspecies such as the Con Dao Long Tailed Macaque and Con Dao Giant Black Squirrel.
The largest of Con Dao’s islands and islets is Con Son, and this is the location of the airport, towns and hotels. In contrast to the current tranquil environment, the island has a somewhat dark past. This was once the site of many prisons, where thousands of people were detained, only ceasing operations as recently as 1975. During a stay on Con Son it is possible to visit an old prison and learn about the history, and many Vietnamese people still come to the island as a pilgrimage to pay their respects to those who perished here.
However, the main reason to visit Con Dao is to enjoy the rich wildlife both on land and offshore, and to soak up the sun on the islands' fabulous beaches. Given Con Son's rugged coastline, there are perhaps fewer proper beaches here than might be expected, however the beaches that can be found are wonderful, with a number boasting long stretches of white sand.