advertisement

Diving

Rainbow Divers (tel. 09/0557-7671; www.divevietnam.com), with an office on the main street right next to the Con Dao Museum, is a franchise of the same popular dive operator in Nha Trang and Phu Quoc. The friendly expat owners and staff are very helpful with arranging great diving and snorkeling trips, as well as tours to other parts of the island and any other advice or assistance you might need. Con Dao Rainbow Divers is pretty much the tourist information center on the island, and their cozy veranda is a good place to meet up with other travelers. Note: Diving is allowed only from February to October; there's poor visibility in winter months.

Rainbow here in Can Dao is a well-run, PADI-certified operation, offering anything from open-water certification to dive master courses. They're relatively new to the island, and along with some well-scouted dives, they'll take folks out to unexplored areas of this picturesque little archipelago. (In fact, the day that I was there, a dive team freed a small reef shark from a net and named it the "Lucky Shark Reef.") Underwater are some nice reefs, and sights comparable to popular Nha Trang. A number of decompression chambers are accessible to Con Dao, thanks to nearby Vung Tau's large offshore oil operations and many professional divers, quite unique for such a remote diving destination. A 3-day open-water course costs $350; a discover scuba dive costs just $60; and three dives in a 1-day trip will cost you $125.

For just $20, you can tag along with the dive crew for a day of snorkeling and island cruising on their large, shaded dive boat. Dive sights are many, and more are found each year. You can also swim from the dive boat to deserted islands where solitary park rangers keep watch over bird-breeding sights. The elusive Dugong, a large sea mammal something like a manatee, is said to swim these waters, but few are seen and only in the early mornings. You might spot giant sea turtles, which come to breed on the Con Dao archipelago, mostly on Hon Bay Canh just offshore and on a secluded beach away from the main island of Con Son.

Trekking

Trekking in Con Dao National Park provides good glimpses of jungle and a few remote bays and beaches. For information on arranging your day in the mountain, start at the Con Dao National Park Office, which is just a few kilometers inland from the port area at 29 Vo Thi Sau St. (tel. 064/383-0669). The park administrator, Mr. Hung, can explain day-trip options and issue the requisite free permits for entrance to protected areas of the preserve. The office is open during normal island business hours, from 8 to 11:30am and 1 to 5pm.

The park office features a small museum, funded by the World Wildlife Fund. Peruse natural artifacts and information on the park's wildlife, including the breeding patterns of the protected island turtles, which come to breed on the archipelago's beaches from May to October. Park rangers stand vigil on islands to protect the turtle eggs (and the bird eggs) from the many sea poachers.

Good short hikes start just up the road from the park entrance (go by motorbike) and carry you down to a small bay just across from Ba Island. The downward track is well marked and even has Vietnamese signs urging guests to behave properly (translated into English, they say something like "Don't take anything besides pictures, don't leave anything beside footprints"). Other funny little signs point out the obvious, like, "Hey, stop here and see how many birds you can hear!" or "Stop! Look down. How many ants can you count?"

A longer trek explores the knoll and remote beaches near the airport, best attempted with a guide hired at the park entrance. Other trips include day boat trips to outlying islands, particularly to Bay Canh just off the west coast, where you can trek to the old French lighthouse.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.