Colombia’s prison turned paradise
"Welcome to Colombia; welcome to my country", the island's head of tourism said when I arrived. "And welcome to Gorgona; this place belongs to everyone."
Unfortunately, a trip to Gorgona comes with a hefty price tag, making a visit an unattainable dream for many Colombians, especially the poverty-stricken residents of Guapi, to whom the island politically belongs.
Until recently, visitors could make day trips to Gorgona from Guapi or spend a night there for as little as $12. But the government’s 2009 decision to give a private company sole control over all tourism on the island has meant exponential price hikes. A park permit, night in a basic bungalow in the remodelled prison-guard quarters, three meals and a return boat ride from Guapi costs about 460,000 Colombian pesos, and additional nights are 250,000 pesos. All activities — whale watching, snorkelling, even walking around the island — are extra. Book through the sole tourism company that services the island, Aviatur.
The only benefit of a difficult, costly visit is that relatively few people ever make it to Gorgona, which helps maintain its flourishing ecosystem and leaves you blissfully alone in incredibly wild surroundings.
Leaving the island, torrential rain battered the boat and the rough sea had no desire to give us a smooth journey back to Guapi, typical for this perpetually hot, wet climate. I saw no sign of life — no whales, no monkeys no lizards or snakes. But they were surely there, hiding from the storm. This island, after all, belongs to them.