Diego Garcia, Chagos Archipelago

Photo: Jgrimmer at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Jgrimmer at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
The list of why wars need to stop is endless. But on a personal note, they’re affecting your travel plans. Recently up-and-coming Ukraine is now a no-fly zone. The Middle East is once again a mess. And gorgeous little islands, whose names you’ve probably never heard, have been commandeered to support military operations.

Diego Garcia is one of those islands. Not ringing a bell? The coral atoll is part of the Chagos Archipelago in the British Indian Ocean Territory. Still nothing? It’s south of the Equator and India, and east of Tanzania. The islands were uninhabited, save for an occasional lost fisherman, until the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century. The French, and then the British, followed. In the late 1960s, the small population was unhappily relocated to Mauritius and the Seychelles, so a British and American military base could be established on Diego Garcia. All travel to the island was recently banned.

The footprint-shaped island sits over tectonic plates that are constantly shifting. Small, but frequent, earthquakes are common. It was once full of coconut plantations, a church, a blacksmith, and even a small railroad. The falling-apart buildings, the old cemetery at Pointe Marianne, and the freed burros can still be seen. Diego Garcia is now wild and overgrown. Fish, birds, and reptiles thrive here. And since it’s in the middle of the Indian Ocean, it’s gorgeous.

Photo: Jgrimmer at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Jgrimmer at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Most of the island is comprised of protected wetlands. Tropical hardwoods, ironwoods, Fish Poisons, and Alexandrian laurels fill the interior. Warrior crabs rule the jungle at night, while huge coconut crabs patrol the white-sand beaches. Geckos—house and mourning—plus garden lizards bask in the sun. Brown noodies, red-footed boobies, and bridled terns nest peacefully. Hawksbill and green sea turtles lay their eggs on empty beaches. While the lagoon is full of barracudas, wahoos, marlins, and enormous rays.

Those lucky enough to have visited the island explored the old plantations and the Catalina, a patrol bomber that crashed on the island. They went snorkeling in Turtle Cove, kayaked through Barton Pass and Rambler Bay, and sailed out to Middle Island. They swam in the calm, turquoise lagoon. And they followed the Cannon Point Trail to the northwestern tip of the island to see rusted cannons and a perfect sunset.

Diego Garcia sounds like paradise. It could be, again, if the evacuees were allowed to return home, the island was open to tourists, and the military base was closed. Hopefully one day the island will no longer be needed.

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