Hiking the Con Dao Islands

Hiking the Con Dao Islands

First published September 2022 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

Tom, Vietnam Coracle

Tom Divers is the founder and creator of Vietnam Coracle. He’s lived, travelled and worked in Vietnam since 2005. Born in London, he travelled from an early age, visiting over 40 countries (he first visited Vietnam in 1999). Now, whenever he has the opportunity to make a trip, he rarely looks beyond Vietnam’s borders and his trusty motorbike, Stavros. Read more about Tom on the About Page, Vietnam Times and ASE Podcast.


The Côn Đảo Archipelago is probably the most pristine natural environment in Vietnam accessible to independent travellers. Nowhere else are the jungles so green, the sea so blue, the air so clear and the litter so absent. Several well-maintained, easy-to-follow hiking trails traverse the main island of Côn Sơn as well as a couple of the archipelago’s outlying islets, all of which are part of the Côn Đảo National Park. These trails can be hiked independently, without the need for a guide or any special equipment. Not only are the hikes beautiful – offering wildlife spotting, empty beaches, old-growth forest and sensational views – they’re also a low-impact way of exploring the Côn Đảo Archipelago. Hiking the islands is good exercise, invigorating, inexpensive and, most of all, a wonderful way to see and experience this unique destination.

Hiking the Con Dao Islands

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Selected Resources What’s this? Motorcycle Odyssey e-book

HIKING THE CON DAO ISLANDS


Independent Hiking in a Pristine Natural Environment

In this guide, I’ve outlined all the trails currently open to independent hikers on the Côn Đảo Islands. I’ve included a fully annotated map and a Need to Know section with information about tickets, getting to the trailheads, food, drink, weather and safety. For each of the hiking trails, I’ve written a description including at-a-glance details, such as duration, difficulty and scenery. (Note that other hiking trails exist, but were not open to foreign travellers at the time of research.) Click below for details:

CONTENTS:

Map

Need to Know

Trail 1: Plantation Lookout

Trail 2: Love Peak

Trail 3: Bamboo Lagoon

Trail 4: Bang Beach

Trail 5: God Mountain

Other Walks

Related Guides


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Hiking on the Con Dao Islands
Hiking the Con Dao independently is a great way to experience the islands

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MAP:

Hiking Trails on Côn Đảo Islands

View LARGER MAP

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Need to Know:

MAP: My hiking map shows all the trailheads, sights, national park offices and routes. However, the markers and trail lines are only an approximate indication. Nevertheless, my map and the rest of the information in this guide should be more than enough for anyone to follow the trails independently, without the need for a guide. An official map is available at the national park offices, but it’s pretty useless. Hopefully, it won’t be long before Côn Đảo starts producing a high-quality, annually updated tourist map like the one for Phú Quốc Island.

TICKETS & INFORMATION: Technically, hikers must buy a ticket (60,000vnđ) each time they enter the national park. These can be purchased at any of the national park offices and ranger stations marked on my map. But, in reality, tickets are rarely checked. The National Park HQ and the main office in town both have quite helpful staff, but I get the impression that the staff themselves haven’t actually undertaken the hikes. Therefore, information is a bit vague.

GETTING TO THE TRAILHEADS: Three of the hiking routes in this guide start/end at the National Park HQ just 2-3km north of Côn Sơn town, where most of the island’s accommodation is, which means you can start the hikes from your hotel if you want. Alternatively, take a motorbike, bicycle, taxi or electric buggy to the trailhead and back.

FITNESS, FOOD, FOOTWEAR & SAFETY: All hikes, even the shorter ones, require a moderate level of fitness, partly because the heat and humidity can be punishing, and partly because some of the climbs are pretty steep, requiring a reasonable amount of balance and coordination to avoid slipping on the damp pathways and stones. You must wear decent footwear: trainers (sneakers) are fine; flipflops are not. The paths can be extremely slippery and treacherous, especially when going downhill. Due to the humidity, you need to stay hydrated. Make sure to bring at least one big bottle of water and some snacks for a picnic. I’ve marked several places to buy drinks and snacks in Côn Sơn town on my map. All time estimates in this guide include resting, taking in the views, swimming and general sightseeing.

LITTER, WILDLIFE & ENVIRONMENT: Very few travellers use these hiking trails, yet they are well-marked and maintained. Yes, the concrete trails are a bit incongruous in the otherwise natural environment. But, in general, this is one of the most unspoiled destinations in Vietnam. Unlike every other tourist destination in the country, trash is under control here. Obviously, you should do your best to keep it that way. You will almost certainly encounter wildlife, including large bands of macaques. The national park asks visitors not to feed them. Unfortunately, this request is regularly ignored by tourists. Snakes and mosquitoes are common on these hikes. Bring bug spray and be careful.

WEATHER: Any time of year is fine, but the best months are March-September when the seas are calm and clear, the jungles vibrant and the breezes cool. Rain is always a possibility and will make the hikes much more difficult and treacherous.

Hiking on the Con Dao Islands
The trails can be slippery: don’t wear flip-flops (left); wear sneakers (right)

Hiking on the Con Dao Islands
You’re guaranteed to see wildlife: the National Park requests visitors not to feed the monkeys

Hiking on the Con Dao Islands
To get to the trailheads, you can rent a motorbike, bicycle, taxi, electric buggy, or walk

Hiking on the Con Dao Islands
The National Park HQ & other ranger stations sell entrance tickets, maps and free information

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Trail 1: Plantation Lookout

HIKE DETAILS:

  • Route: Sở Rẫy plantation→Ông Đụng beachNational Park HQ→Ma Thiên Lãnh bridge
  • Map: red line on my map [MAP]
  • Location: centre-west, Côn Sơn Island
  • Scenery: jungle, wildlife, island views, rocky beach, streams, colonial vestiges
  • Duration: 3-4 hours one-way
  • Difficulty: moderate

There several reasons why this route, usually referred to as the Sở Rẫy hike, is the most popular on the Côn Đảo Islands. Firstly, the views from the plantation lookout are an excellent reward for the physical effort of getting there; secondly, the hike has a good variety of sights, including sea views, mountains, jungles, streams, wildlife and colonial-era relics.

There are two trailheads to Sở Rẫy plantation lookout: one ascends from the south, on Huỳnh Thúc Kháng street, the other from the north, on the west coast road. Both trailheads are clearly signposted from the road. From either direction, the ascent is steep, lush, and humid under a thick canopy of tropical trees shimmering with birds and other wildlife, such as macaques and black squirrels. The pathway is paved and easy to follow, but if the trail is damp it gets very slippery: be extremely careful on the descent when it is much easier to slip and fall. At the top, the land levels out and there are a couple of overgrown structures which are remnants of two plantations: the first, dating from the French colonial period; the second, from the early 21st century, after Typhoon Linda destroyed much of the forest in this part of the national park in 1997. A pathway leads away from the buildings to two lookout towers. Climb the steps to the top for fabulous views due south and east over Côn Sơn town, bay and headlands.

If you want, you can finish the hike after completing the route up to Sở Rẫy and down the other side. However, if you’d like to extend the hike, you can do so by continuing from the northern trailhead along the west coast road all the way up to the National Park HQ and Ma Thiên Lãnh bridge (see map). The bridge was built by prisoners under French colonial rule, during which many died from the forced labour. The bridge is now a shrine and memorial. (There’s also an optional detour down to Ông Đụng beach, a rocky bay with decent swimming and coral. However, at the time of research, the bay and trail were under renovation and it’s unclear whether it will open again to the public or be developed by a private resort.)

IMAGES: Plantation Lookout Hike

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
View from the Sở Rẫy plantation lookout at the top of the hike

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
Steep stone stairs ascend/descend from the northern trailhead

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
From one of the lookout towers at the top of the hike

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
Old-growth tropical tree beside the pathway

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
Next to one of the lookouts at the top of the hike

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Trail 2: Love Peak

HIKE DETAILS:

  • Route: Bến Đầm port→Hòn Bà island→Đỉnh Tình Yêu peak→Đầm Quốc beach
  • Map: purple line on my map [MAP]
  • Location: Hòn Bà Island, southern archipelago
  • Scenery: beaches, jungles, peaks, island views, bays, swimming
  • Duration: 2-4 hours round-trip, including boat crossing
  • Difficulty: moderate

For sensational views, the Love Peak hike offers the greatest effort to reward ratio of all the Côn Đảo trails. The hike is short and steep, but the vistas are spectacular. The trailhead is on Hòn Bà, a rugged and green island in the south of the Côn Đảo archipelago. Getting to Hòn Bà requires a short, scenic boat crossing from Bến Đàm port. Little green boats cluster at the start of the port’s pier. You’ll be approached by boat drivers. Ask for Hòn Bà and bargain the price. Although I’m sure you can get much cheaper, I paid 200,000vnđ ($8) for the return crossing. This includes waiting time: either arrange a time in advance to be picked up on the island or take the driver’s phone number and call when you’re ready. The crossing is beautiful, although sadly trash is starting to taint this blue bay.

On Hòn Bà, the boat moors at a wooden pier on a sandy beach. Walk to the western end of the beach and you’ll see the trailhead leading up to a national park ranger station. There are two trails: both are clearly signposted. Bear left behind the ranger station to start the ascent to Đỉnh Tình Yêu (Love Peak). The trail is paved and stepped and easy to follow. The climb is steep and very humid beneath the thick jungle canopy. However, it only takes between 45-60 minutes to reach the lookout tower at the top. The views down over the bay, across the entire archipelago are breathtaking. It’s very peaceful. Everything is vivid green and blue. A breeze cools the air. Given the option, I’d happily camp up here.

Coming down can be tricky because the gradient is steep and the steps are always damp as the sunlight doesn’t penetrate to the forest floor. Walk carefully. Back at the bottom, take the path on the other side of the ranger station, signposted to Đầm Quốc. This leads along level ground through big trees and along the edges of an inlet before rising sharply and then descending to a rocky bay with a couple of buildings. Bathing here is OK, but it’s probably better to save your swim for the sandy beach back at the wooden pier where the boat dropped you.

IMAGES: Love Peak Hike

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
View from the lookout tower at the top of ‘Love Peak’

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
The lookout at the top of the hike

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
The pier & beach on Hòn Bà Island, where the trailhead begins

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
From the top of Love Peak looking back over Bến Đầm port

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
Trees grown by the pathway through the jungle

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Trail 3: Bamboo Lagoon

HIKE DETAILS:

  • Route: Bãi Vông beach→Airport→Đầm Tre Lagoon
  • Map: green line on my map [MAP]
  • Location: north-west, Côn Sơn Island
  • Scenery: beaches, jungle, streams, wildlife, bays, lagoons, swimming, snorkeling, SUP
  • Duration: 4-6 hours round-trip
  • Difficulty: moderate

At the remote, wind-swept and wave-lashed northern tip of Côn Sơn Island, a slab of rugged land arches east into the sea, creating a protected circular lagoon of turquoise water where coral and fish flourish and visitors rarely venture. Mangroves rim the bay and the hills around it are covered in bamboo, hence the name Đầm Tre – Bamboo Lagoon. This part of the island has remained undeveloped and in its glorious natural state precisely because it’s hard to get to. The hike starts on the long, wide, empty sands of Bãi Vông beach. You can access the beach wherever you like, but the easiest way is to take the path off the main road at the southern end of the beach, or continue on the road to about halfway along the bay and you’ll see a pathway signposted to the beach to the east. The walk along the beach is deceptively long. At the northern end, if the tide is in, you’ll need to walk along the wall at the end of the island’s airport runway.

When reaching the northern end of the beach, the trailhead begins across a small stream and heads up into the jungle and hills via a steep, paved pathway. The hike is surprisingly tiring because the atmosphere is incredibly close beneath all the foliage. Streams rush over boulders by the pathway, inviting you to cool off. Eventually, the foliage thins and the path meets a national park ranger station on the edge of Đầm Tre Bay. It’s a wonderful spot. The rangers can arrange boat rides around the lagoon, including snorkeling in the middle of the bay where there’s some excellent coral. SUP boards are available to rent. The swimming is great. Directly across the lagoon from the ranger station pier is ‘Secret Beach‘, a spit of sand backed by jungle with an Instagram-ready wooden swing poking out of the shallows. The beach is only accessible by boat or, if you’re confident, swimming. There are showers at the ranger station, but what’s the point when you still have the humid return walk ahead of you! Allow at least half a day for the round-trip hike and activities at the lagoon. (See Patrick’s Dam Tre Bay Guide for more information.)

IMAGES: Bamboo Lagoon Hike

Hiking on the Con Dao Islands
Stepping into the water at Secret Beach at the end of the hike

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
The long, empty sands of Bãi Vông beach at the beginning of the hike

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
Steps leading up into the jungle at the trailhead for Đầm Tre

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
Twisting roots, branches & trunks in the jungles along the trail

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
Unwinding at Secret Beach after a long, humid hike

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Trail 4: Bang Beach

HIKE DETAILS:

  • Route: National Park HQ→Đức Mẹ grotto→Bãi Bàng beach→Đất Thắm beach
  • Map: blue line on my map [MAP]
  • Location: centre-west, Côn Sơn Island
  • Scenery: jungle, grottoes, rocky beaches, waterfalls, streams, wildlife, swimming
  • Duration: 3-4 hours round-trip
  • Difficulty: moderate

Starting from the well-signposted trailhead just north of the National Park HQ, the trail to Bàng beach is peaceful, easy to follow and passes through the dense jungle of Côn Sơn Island’s remote western flank. Early in the hike there’s an optional detour to Đức Mẹ grotto, a Catholic shrine to the Virgin Mary in a small but atmospheric jungle cave. The pathway to Bàng beach is pleasant and green. Although the canopy is too dense to see out of, you can hear the sea through the trees and even smell its salty scent in the humid air. The jungle is impressively gnarled and twisted. Many of the trees are giant and old with thick, buttressed trunks. A couple of streams and pools provide welcome opportunities to wash and cool down.

After quite a sweaty hike, the pathway splits at a signposted junction. Take the western branch and descend steeply to Bãi Bàng (Bang beach), a rocky and secluded coastline that’s fairly unremarkable except for a dramatic waterfall crashing down a wall of vertical rock straight onto the beach at the southern end. Back up at the junction, take the eastern branch to continue through the jungle to Đất Thắm beach, a pretty, crescent bay of sand and pebbles between two jungle-clad headlands. There’s a national park ranger station here, but nothing else. If the tide is in, the swimming and snorkeling are good.

IMAGES: Bang Beach Hike

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
The crescent of Bãi Đất Thắm beach at the end of the hike

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
The jungle arching over the pathway

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
Washing in a waterfall near the National Park HQ at the end of the hike

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
Isolated Bãi Bàng beach

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
Impressive trees in the jungle

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Trail 5: God Mountain

HIKE DETAILS:

  • Route: National Park HQ→Núi Chúa mountain→Hoàng Tử shrine→Đầm Trầu beach
  • Map: orange line on my map [MAP]
  • Location: central Côn Sơn Island
  • Scenery: jungle, streams, mountains, beaches, wildlife, shrines
  • Duration: 3-5 hours one-way
  • Difficulty: moderate-difficult

The longest one-way hike on the island, there are two trailheads for the Núi Chúa (God Mountain) route: one at the northern end not far from Đầm Trầu beach, which is well signposted, and the other at the southern end near the National Park HQ, which isn’t. You could hike from either direction, but perhaps it makes most sense to go from south to north, beginning at the National Park HQ and ending at Đầm Trầu, so that you can enjoy a swim and refreshments at the beach after the long and sweaty hike. The trailhead is on the opposite side of the road from Ma Thiên Lãnh bridge, accessed by walking behind the public toilets, up into the brush until it opens to an intersection of pathways: try to stay as straight and to your right as you can and eventually you’ll find your way onto a well-paved pathway.

This hike features a long ascent and descent, both of which can be quite difficult, because the pathway has been blocked in many places by fallen trees and undergrowth, and because the steps can become very slippery as they’re covered in damp moss. The route takes you along the spine of Côn Sơn Island, high up into the jungles and hills in the middle of the island. Although it’s an atmospheric trek beneath the trees, there aren’t any excellent viewpoints. After descending to the northern trailhead, continue on to Đầm Trầu beach by turning right onto the road, then immediately left onto Cỏ Ống street and left again at the signpost for the beach. On the road to Đầm Trầu there’s a shrine to Hoàng Tử Cải, a boy prince who’s part of Côn Đảo’s history and mythology. Finally, at the beach get some refreshments from the beach shacks and stroll to the western end of the sand to take a small path through the trees and over to the next bay – Suối Nóng – which is an even nicer beach than Đầm Trầu.

IMAGES: God Mountain Hike

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
Dense jungle covers most of the God Mountain trail

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
The climbs are steep, hot & humid

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
The trail is mostly well-marked, but sometimes overgrown or blocked by fallen trees

Dam Trau Beach, Con Son Island, Con Dao, Vietnam
The hike ends at Đầm Trầu beach

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
Take a small pathway south of Đầm Trầu to reach Suối Nóng beach

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Other Walks:

As well as the established hiking trails, Côn Sơn Island is a very walkable destination in general. The quiet, tree-lined back-streets of Côn Sơn town are ideal for strolling. But it’s the long, elegant seafront road (Tôn Đức Thắng street) that steals the show. Shaded by century-old tropical almond trees, the road sweeps along the seafront from the national park office to Lò Vôi beach. You can swim at any point along the road; the views over the bay are fabulous; and several French-era villas crumble beneath the trees.

In fact, you could hike the island’s coast road in its entirely: from the airport in the north to Bến Đầm port in the south. However, the quietest section of road is the newly laid west coast route, running from the National Park HQ south to Bến Đầm port. There’s hardly any traffic, the jungle is broken only by the road itself, there are countless opportunities to crawl down the rocks to find a good swimming spot, monkeys often play in the road, and the sunsets are terrific.

IMAGES: Other walks on Côn Sơn Island

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
The island’s roads are so quiet & pretty that you could use them are hiking trails

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
The newly opened west coast road is very quiet & great for sunsets

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
Côn Sơn town’s seafront road (Tôn Đức Thắng street) is magical for promenading

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
Why not walk the entirely of the island’s coastal roads?

Hiking on Con Dao Islands
Hike the Côn Đảo Islands and let it charm you to pieces

*Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like these hikes and I want my readers to know about them. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements and my About Page

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