Have you ever wanted to be nowhere? 2,800km west of Cape Town, in the South Atlantic, you pretty much can be. The place? Tristan da Cunha. The most remote inhabited archipelago on the face of the Earth. The first recorded sighting of its eponymous main island was by Portuguese explorer Tristao da Cunha in 1506, and he named it after himself, of course. Its first recorded landing took place in 1643, by the Dutch, and it was surveyed formally by the French in 1767.
Thanks to all of this fine work by the Portuguese, Dutch, and French, it is now a British overseas territory.
The first three men to settle “Tristan,” as its now colloquially called, came in December of 1810. Jonathan Lambert, an American, renamed the area “Island of Refreshment.” All three drowned in 1812. After a few cruises around by both American and British ships during the War of 1812, the British ultimately decided that the island was an easy spot for the French to base a jailbreak operation for Napoleon Bonaparte in “nearby” Saint Helena, and annexed it as a territory.
From there, it was written, and in 2018 it’s estimated that the bustling metropolis has about 250 inhabitants. If that’s the kind of crowd you’re looking for, you’re in luck. No visa is required to enter the island’s borders, but it will take a bit of work. You need to hit up the town tourism coordinator and let her know you’d like to come, she’ll run it by the council, and voila, your trip begins!
From there, you’re off to see the friendly, welcoming faces in this little slice of solace left in the big, busy world.
This is the hard part. I would love to tell you all about their airport, but there simply isn’t one. To get onto the main island, Tristan, and explore the outlying islands via local craft, you first need to find a research, fishing, or cargo vessel willing to take you to the area. That is, unless you have your own.
For those who don’t there are options for the six-day journey from Cape Town to Tristan. The most popular and comfortable is the research vessel SA Agulhas, which runs $1,300USD for a return-trip. While that may sound steep, keep in mind that the price is your room-and-board for twelve days worth of travel. A cheaper, yet still pleasant option would be to find a spot on the fishing vessels Edinburgh or Baltic Trader, where the same journey will run you $800USD.
Once on the island it’s easy to navigate by foot if you’re staying in town, and if you’re looking to make an excursion you can catch a bus on the M1, a small road from the settlement to the potato patches. The only other option would be hitching a ride. But no worries, it’s the only road in town, so you won’t get lost.
If you’re looking out for yourself you can find a room as low as $25USD a night, but for an upgrade at $50 you’ll find yourself getting three meals and laundry service. Full, up-to-date accommodation rates can be found here.
You’re Stuck, Now What?
Find solace, find the town pub, find a sevengill shark.
Tristan da Cunha has actually only recently wisened up to the fact that it’s a pristine location for outside divers, and includes quite a few rare creatures along the way. The remote nature of the island provides peace for human and fauna alike, as it’s nearly undisturbed.
Just as pleasant as spotting the sevengill, you can also hang out with the native group of rockhopper penguins.
As mentioned before, you can also check out the potato fields of the island. Nearly everyone on the island is somehow affiliated with a farm, and you’re free to explore as long as they’ll let you take a walk around. Basically, mind yourself and you’re fine. Make like the livestock, who also wander wherever they want on the island.
The volcanic park is also a popular destination for tourists.
The one pub on the island, The Albatross Bar, is a good place to settle in during any night of the week or on a Sunday afternoon. Locals gather here for island drinks and food, including their famous stuffed lamb dish, and occasionally team up with pubs in the UK for crossover brew nights.
In town, there’s also Cafe da Cunha, great for midday snacks and local banter. If neither the pub or cafe are open, the town shop is your best bet.
But mostly, Tristan da Cunha is going to be what you make of it. It’s a true adventurer’s destination, plugged into the minds of those who are looking for somewhere quiet to spend a few days. Not steeped in mystery like a deep jungle, yet not as familiar as your average island resort. Sitting calmly in the middle, the archipelago rests as a reminder that we can live a simple life, with ancient tradition meeting modern standards, even in the most stressful of times.
– Todd Allen Williams, Senior Editor