Con Dao Islands: Everything you need to know

Con Dao is a collection of sixteen islands off the southern coast of Vietnam, also commonly known as Con Dao National Park. Con Dao is a tourist hotspot teaming with dive sites, hiking trails and endless coastal roads.

Obviously, it offers a great weekend break for the expats and locals living in the nearby cities.

Con Dao gets sandy beaches, coral reefs and abundant marine life. Besides, these islands come with a very interesting history which is dark in parts.

History of Con Dao Islands

Archaeological evidence dates the Con Dao Islands back to over 2,500 years ago when original settlers first descended on the area. However, Con Dao is more famously known for being the site of many French Prisons for Vietnamese people who were involved in the independence movement.

In 1861, French colonists moved the inhabitants from Con Dao’s main island, Con Son, to the mainland and built several prisons. For 113 years, Con Dao was a ‘hell on Earth’, a tortuous prison camp that the Vietnamese feared. Finally, in 1876, the dark times stopped and Con Dao became a popular tourist spot. The prison ruins still remain. People visit to learn of its history and to pay their respects to the estimated 20,000 people that were executed here during the 113 years it was in operation.

The best time to go to Con Dao

Con Dao is relatively cool and pleasant all year round. But it does fall victim to South Vietnam’s rainy season from May to November. The best time to visit Con Dao is between November and February. Rainfall is low, temperatures are comfortable, and the visibility is best for swimming, snorkeling and diving.

Don’t miss Hon Bay Canh Island where you will see its turtle breeding grounds. So if you visit between July and September, you’ll be almost guaranteed to catch the turtles laying their eggs on the beach. If you’re a diver, traveling from February to July will result in the best visibility and diving conditions.

Turtles arriving to the beach on Con Dao Island, Vietnam

How to get to Con Dao Islands

Due to the islands’ National Park status, consult with the National Park Headquarters in order to explore the sixteen secluded islets.

Fly to Con Dao

Vietnam Airlines’ subsidiary, VASCO, is the only airline that runs regular flights to Con Dao. A flight from Ho Chi Minh City will take an hour and the average cost is $210 for a return ticket. You can find even cheaper flights to Con Dao Islands here. The airport is just 15 kilometers from Con Son Town, where you can find the majority of resorts, hotels, and restaurants.

Is there another way to get to Con Dao Islands?

The short answer is yes.

However, the ferry crossing is notoriously known among travelers and even locals as a horrendous journey. It’s hard to get tickets as priority is always given to locals. But those brave travelers that manage to will pay around 100,000-200,000 VND. The ferry departs from Vung Tau on the mainland.

Getting around Con Dao

Foot: Con Son Town is very flat and well laid out, making it easy to get from place to place on foot or by bicycle.
Motorbike: If you want to explore the island a little more, most guest houses and hotels will rent motorbikes out for as little as 100,000 VND a day.
Taxi: Con Son Town has its own taxi service. Don’t use them if you are venturing out of the town as the coastal roads become increasingly steep.
Helicopter: An unique experience, Vietnam Helicopter Company launched their Con Dao route on April 26th, 2019

Ton Duc Thang seaside street in Con Dao Island, Vietnam

Things to do on Con Dao

Con Son is the only inhabited island of the Con Dao Islands. There is still plenty of things to do both on this island and in the waters of the surrounding islands. Here’s a list of the top things to do on Con Dao.

Beach hop

Beautiful turquoise water in Bai Nhat beach, Con Dao Islands, Vietnam
Not far from the main town on Con Son is Bai An Hai beach. You’ll find there long sandy beaches and pristine water. The area is also home to many fishing villages and beachfront resorts.

If you’re looking for something with a little more privacy, hire a motorbike and head to the south coast to Mui Ca Map. It means “Shark Cape” in Vietnamese. There, you’ll find crystal clear water endless ocean views.

Island hop, snorkel and dive

Fisher boats with Con Dao Island on background, Vietnam
As Con Dao is a national park, you’ll need to arrange your boat trip through the Con Dao National Park Headquarters (29 Vo Thi Sau, Con Dao District, Ba Ria – Vung Tau Province).

There are a wide variety of trips on offer. You can visit the secluded islets, snorkel the stunning waters, or even get friendly with the fish underwater on a dive trip. Con Dao Islands boast a stunning marine life where you may be lucky enough to spot barracuda, stingrays, eels, turtles and many others.

Visit the Phu Hai Prison

Old Con Dao Prison on Con Son Island, Vietnam
Phu Hai is one of the largest of the 11 jails on the island dating back to 1862. Thousands of prisoners were held during the 113 years that these prisons were in use. As many as 200 people were crammed into the cells in horrendous conditions. You can see what it was like for the prisoners with life-like mannequins recreating the scenes. For many travelers, this is one of the top things to do on Con Dao.

Visit Van Son Temple

Sitting among a large temple complex on a hilltop, Van Son Temple boasts beautiful views over Con Son town and the ocean horizon. After climbing the steep 100 steps to the top, you’ll find beautiful pagodas which decorated roofs and wooden columns.

Con Son Market

In the heart of the main town, you’ll find this market. It is popular among locals and visitors for its fresh fruit, delicious street food, and very reasonable prices.

Are you ready to visit Con Dao? Let us know in the comments when you’ll be heading there.