Santa Cruz del Islote – The World’s Most Densely Populated Island
Santa Cruz del Islote, a Caribbean island, is not known for its pristine beaches or lush landscapes but for being the world’s most densely populated island! This tiny island is located off the coast of Bolívar Department in Colombia. But the life of these islanders comes with so many challenges. So, how did so many end up packed onto such a little island? What’s it like to live day-to-day there? Let us take a look.
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The Tiny Island, Measuring the Size of Two Football Fields, Was Unoccupied Until About 150 Years Ago
Santa Cruz del Islote was a small, uninhabited island that spanned less than a hectare and floated in the middle of the Caribbean Sea hundreds of years ago. Fishermen from a port city named Cartagena and a town named Tolú would frequent the island to take breaks during their fishing expeditions and seek refuge from storms.
Since the island, which is just two meters above sea level, is situated in an area rich with ocean coral, it became an attractive location for fishing. Families eventually started to settle. They built homes in close proximity, creating a community as generations expanded. The first inhabitants, the ancestors of today’s residents, gathered materials from the land and sea, using items like sea shells, coconut shells, tree trunks, sand, and even garbage to build and expand the island.
The population increased as more families arrived for employment and fishing. The origin of the island’s name is also interesting. Locals say that one day, a tide carried in a cement cross, called “Cruz” in Spanish. The early settlers placed it in the center of the island. Since, back then, the island had no name, they named the island “Santa Cruz del Islote,” which means “Santa Cruz of the Islet” or “Holy Cross of the Islet” in English.
Currently, at its highest point, the island’s population has reached 1,200. Other estimates suggest a lower number, around 500. Regardless, it remains the most densely populated island in the world!
Although Home to Nearly 50 Families, the World’s Most Densely Populated Island Lacks Many Essential Amenities.
Despite hosting 97 houses, life on the world’s most densely populated island is a constant struggle. Although seafood is plentiful, other food or groceries must be shipped by boat. Similarly, the islanders lack the means to produce their own drinking water, so the Colombian Navy must bring in the drinking water.
However, the Navy’s service is often unreliable, leaving the residents to rely on rain barrels to collect water. The lack of a sewage system and toilets further complicates life on the island, forcing residents to resort to the sea for nature’s call. As far as education, there is one school that offers schooling up to the 10th grade. If the residents want to study further, they must leave the island altogether.
There are very few basic medical facilities. There is just one health center with one nurse and a few outdated pieces of equipment. A visiting physician comes every two weeks. But in case of serious illnesses or emergencies, islanders pool their resources to pay for a boat ride to the mainland. However, this approach is dependent on boat availability and weather conditions.
Locals say life on the island is so cramped that everyone shares the same dream. The limited space even extends to burials, with corpses laid to rest on neighboring islands. Electricity is in short supply, and they rely on diesel generators and solar panels. Surprisingly, despite nearly a hundred houses, the crime rates are so low that they don’t even have any police!
The Economy Is Driven by a Combination of Fishing and Tourism.
Residents rely on small-scale fishing and tourism for their livelihood. They do various jobs for fancy hotels on nearby islands, like cleaning, and cooking, and they also serve as guides.
Although fishing was the primary source of income for the locals, as the numbers of fish have been decreasing, the men are forced to seek alternative employment. So, tourism contributes significantly to their economy these days.
The nearby island called Múcura has a luxurious resort and provides tourists with activities such as fishing, snorkeling, and diving, and is where many Santa Cruz people currently work. You can also visit the world’s most crowded island at a very nominal price. One of the island’s primary attractions is the aquarium, where visitors can pay a small fee to observe small sharks, stingrays, and fish. You can walk around the island’s alleys and have conversations with friendly residents. You can even play a match with the locals if you are a football fan. This money helps with conservation and keeps the island running smoothly, covering operational expenses.
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