The Con Dao islands are fringed with reefs, mangroves and some stunning cove beaches. You'll need to organise a boat trip to visit the outer isles.
For more information on treks and boat trips around the Con Dao Islands drop by the National Park Headquarters, just west of Con Son town. It costs 20,000d to enter the park by day or 40,000d by night.
Note that some dive schools in Con Dao were recommending that travellers do not join turtle tours in protest at what they see as the inaction of national park staff in protecting nesting turtles, and their eggs, from poachers. If you do decide to go, overnight turtle-watching tours cost around 1,300,000d per person (based on two people), less if there are more of you, which includes an English-speaking guide, but not the hire of a boat. A 50% discount is offered if turtles are not spotted. Bookings can only be made via the national park office. Nesting turtles are very rarely seen outside the main season (late June to early September).
Diving & Snorkelling
Experienced divers who know the waters of Vietnam have long talked up Con Dao as the most pristine marine environment in the country. The waters around the islands are officially protected, and there's abundant healthy coral (table, staghorn and brain are all in evidence). Marine life includes green and hawksbill turtles, rays, triggerfish and parrotfish, groupers, cuttlefish and the odd shark.
That said, things could be even better, as official protection is weak. Some skippers still anchor directly on the reef, and illegal fishing affects fish numbers. Every day dive schools clear discarded nets and garbage from reefs.
Diving is possible year-round, but for ideal conditions and good visibility, January to June is considered the best time, while November and December can see big storms. Rates (around US$150 for two dives including all equipment) are generally more expensive than at mainland destinations, but also more rewarding.
Wrecks, including a 65m freighter resting in 30m to 40m with abundant sealife, offer huge potential for more experienced divers.
Cheapo snorkelling excursions are offered by some hotels but we've heard reports of illegal spearfishing on some of these trips. Dive schools' excursions do cost more, but are environmentally sound.
There are lots of treks around Con Son Island, as much of the interior remains heavily forested. A permit is necessary (acquire one at the National Park Headquarters) to enter the national park. On some of the longer hikes a guide (200,000 to 300,000d) is mandatory as well.
Accommodation options have greatly improved in Con Dao over the last few years and there are now around 30 guesthouses and mini-hotels in Con Son town. Options elsewhere on Con Son Island are extremely limited; none of the others islands have places to stay.
Con Dao is pricey: rates are roughly double what you'd expect to pay on the mainland.
Most restaurants in Con Son are geared to local tastes with Vietnamese classics and seafood, but there are also a couple of Western places. Six Senses Con Dao is the destination for a sumptuous treat.
If your budget is tight, the small night market around the intersection of Ð Tran Huy Lieu and Ð Nguyen An Ninh has cheap eats.