The Con Dao archipelago is situated off the south eastern tip of Vietnam, 230 kilometers south of Ho Chi Minh city, between 106°54 East and 8°34 and 8°49 North and consists of 16 islands that have a total area of 76.78 square kilometers. Con Dao is considered to be one of the most important areas in Vietnam for the preservation and maintenance of coastal and marine biodiversity.
The following section is an overview of the 16 islands that make up the Con Dao Island archipelago.
In the following section we discuss some of the more popular Con Dao islands in more detail. The larger islands are listed first as the are of prime importance to travel and tourism in the area.
Con Son Island (dao Côn Sơn) is the largest island in the Con Dao archipelago and has a total area of 51.52 square kilometers. The French referred to it as “Grande-Condor”, Marco Polo called it “Sondur and Condur”, the English called it “Pulo Condore”, and everyone in Southeast Asia referred to it as “Devil's Island” as it was once hell on earth for many people especially when it was used as a penal colony during the French colonial period and the Vietnam-American war. It is here on Con Son Island where you will find most of the hotels, resorts, restaurants, airport, ferry port, ATM's and banks, beaches, and the Con Dao prison complex. There is a well paved single coastal road wraps that wraps the southern part of the island to the north, stretching from Ben Dam Port to the Con Dao Airport.
Con Son Island has a population of just under 7,000 people as of 2016. The population is concentrated in three main areas: Co Ong, Con Son town and Ben Dam. Con Dao town is located in a semicircular valley with an average altitude of 3m above sea level and it is the economic and social center of Con Dao district.
The two highest mountains in the Con Dao archipelago are also found on Con Son Island: The Chua Mountain, which is 515 meters and An Hai Mountain is 575 meter high. Con Son also has a small hospital, located at the corner of Pham Van Dong and Le Hong Phong St, a basic pharmacy, and a post office which is located on 48 Nguyen Hue Street.
Bay Canh Island (hòn Bảy Cạnh) is the second largest island (5.50 square kilometers) in the Con Dao archipelago. Bay Canh island is famous for its green turtle nesting ground and research center, its lush old growth tropical forest which has a lot of rare plants and animals, coastal mangrove forests, and being surrounded by coral. Bay Canh Island is the most popular island for scuba diving and snorkeling tours. The reef located on the northern part of the island is about 5m to 20m in depth and inundated with giant coral heads.
There is also a lighthouse (226m in height) that can be found at Bay Canh, which was built by the French in 1884, and you can either trek to this lighthouse or be taken there directly via boat.
Camping opportunities exist on the island but must be approved by the Con Dao National Park office and its rangers.
Ba Island (Hòn Bà), just south of Con Son Island across from Ben Dam port, is the 3rd largest island (5.45 square kilometers) in the Con Dao archipelago.
Ba Island is famous for its 321m high mountain referred to as “loving mountain” (Đỉnh Tình Yêu) as it symbolizes a woman waiting for husband. This can best be seen at Nhat Beach on Con Son Island. There are a few beaches and reefs that are also found in and around Ba Island and you can visit this island via a tour or by going to Ben Dam port and asking a local fishermen to ferry you across the bay.
Cau Island (Hon Cau) is the fourth largest island in the Con Son archipelago having an area of 1.80 square kilometers.
Located east of Bay Canh Island, Cau Island is the only island that has a fresh water supply year round. Most of Cau Island consists of tropical forests and there are 2 good beaches here – Cu Van Beach (reef nearby) and Truoc Beach (nesting turtles). Cau Island is best known for its coral reefs and having the best snorkeling and scuba diving sites in Con Dao.
Tre Nho (Hon Tre Nho or Small Bamboo Island) is a small island west of Con Son and north of Tre Lon Island. It is a popular island for those interested in bird watching. On Tre Lon island you can easily spot the following birds: Mangrove Whistler, pied imperial pigeons, emerald doves, white rumped shamas, and a small colony of bridled terns on the rocky cliffs. Tre Nho Island also has corals which can be seen via snorkeling or scuba diving.
Tre Lon Island (Hon Tre Lớn or Big Bamboo Island) is a small island located west of Con Son Island.
You can get here by either joining a tour or asking a ranger stationed at Ong Dung Beach to take you there via raft. Tre Long Island is known for its turtle nesting grounds, coral reefs for snorkeling and scuba diving, white sandy beaches, and for bird watching.
Trung Island (Hon Trung) is the furthest and barest island in the Con Dao archipelago.
The island is basically a giant boulder jutting out from the sea which provides a habitat for hundreds of rare and endangered sea birds. There are nine species of birds, amongst its popular inhabitants are bridled terns, great crested terns, roseate terns, white-Bellied Sea Eagles, brown boobies, and masked boobies. Each year there are thousands of migrant birds species that come here to nest and lay eggs.
The Con Son islands are mainly constituted by intrusive eruptive formations of various ages. Microgranite, diorites and rhyolite are the main formations in Con Son island. Except for diorite, the same rocks are recorded in other islands: microgranite in Hon Bay Canh, Hon Cau, rhyolite in the others. Cretaceous quartz diorite, grano-diorite and granite are the formations constituting Hon Bay Canh, Hon Cau and Hon Bong Lan islands. The same rocks (but later Mesozoic – early Cenozoic in age) are the main formations in the northern part of Con Son island. In the southern part of Con Son and Hon Ba islands, porphyric granite and microgranite are widely distributed. The age of them is unknown.
The Con Dao islands are located near the monsoon belt. The Northeast monsoon dominates from November to April and have a mean wind velocities from 4 to 5m/s. The Southeast monsoon dominates one from June to September and has a mean wind velocity of 4 to 4.5m/s with a mean rainfall of 2,100mm. Intermediate wind prevails in May and October with the velocity ranging from 2-3m/s and the direction is variable. The wettest month in terms of rainfall is October (355mm of rain).
The annual mean temperature on Con Dao is 26.9 degrees Celsius. The highest monthly mean air temperature occurs in May (30.9C), mean for April and May ranging from 28-28.3C. The annual mean humidity is 80%, this value ranging from 80-84% in rainy season. The average evaporation ability is 1,033.7 mm.
Seawater temperature varies in the range 25.67-29.21C. Highest values encountered in May and June (26.42 – 30.22C), lowest one in January and February (25.25-28.7C).
Con Dao has 882 plant species belonging to 562 genus and 161 families including 44 species found nowhere else in Vietnam. Total area covered by forests in Con Dao is approximate 6000ha. There are 144 vertebrate species including 28 mammals, 69 birds, 39 reptiles and 8 amphibians. More than 1300 species of marine flora and fauna are recorded in Con Dao coastal area. Con Dao has many rare and precious animal and plant species including 44 species recorded in the Vietnam Red Data Book (2 algae, 2 mangroves, 3 corals, 12 mollusks, 1 crustacean, 4 echinoderms, 7 fish species, 7 reptiles, 5 birds and 1 mammal).