Life On the World’s Most Crowded Island

When we think of island life, what our minds conjure up is pictures of bare feet, cocktails, palm trees and turquoise waters. The tiny island of Santa Cruz del Islote — a 2-hour boat ride off the coast of Colombia — is anything but that. It’s located in the Caribbean Sea, but that’s where the dream of island life stops. In fact, it’s the most densely-populated island on earth, with more than 1,200 people crammed together on a land mass the size of two soccer fields. That means it’s four times more densely populated than Manhattan. The island was uninhabited until 150 years ago, when the fishermen who used it for shelter during storms began building houses there and having families. Their descendants still live there, occupying 97 houses. There are no roads, but the island does have a school that teaches students up to the 10th grade, along with two shops and a restaurant. There’s plenty of seafood for the inhabitants to eat, but just one generator that runs 1-4 hours a day. Rainwater is the only source of water on the island. There are no police, but then there’s also no crime. Residents pass the time with dominoes, dancing, music, swimming and soccer, with most of daily life taking place in the alleys between the tightly packed houses. People only leave the island when they die, since there’s no space for a cemetery. Now, however, the future is uncertain because the island’s young people are beginning to see a world beyond its boundaries.