The two guards don’t look too happy to see you. They’re watching you anchor just offshore from the edge of the white-sand beach. Each has a hand on the weapon at their side. They consult with another, unofficial-looking man and point toward one of the little boats bobbing in the shallow water. Soon, all three are climbing into the painted boat and heading your way. Your heart is racing by the time they arrive.
Thankfully, their gruff demeanor quickly diminishes when they see the paperwork from your previous landings along the Dominican Republic’s coast. It turns out that the two naval officers—the other man is a fisherman—were just surprised with the appearance of unexpected, non-local visitors. The national park in which they’re stationed, much less their little island off its coast, doesn’t receive many visitors. That’s why Isla Beata (Beata Island) appealed to you in the first place.
Beata Island is part of Jaragua National Park, the largest protected area in the Caribbean. The remote national park, home to many species not found anywhere else in the world, lies along the Dominican Republic’s southwestern coast near the Haitian border. Beata Island sits four miles offshore in the Caribbean Sea. Christopher Columbus sighted the 10-square-mile island during his second voyage to the Americas in 1494. It later became a strategic military base, farmland, and eventually a prison.
Today, the limestone island is basically uninhabited. The Navy controls a few concrete buildings and guards the island. Local fishermen set up small huts, made of wood and corrugated metal, for when they come from the mainland to fish. But most of the island is wild and undeveloped. A thick forest and cenotes fill the interior. Feral pigs roam the land. Mangrove swamps line the northern shore. While gorgeous beaches, lots of palm trees, and rhinoceros iguanas baking in the sun sit along the shore against which translucent water laps. As the guards quickly realized, you’re certainly not a threat to this peaceful spot.