Chacachacare, Trinidad

Photo: F.B. Lucas via Wikimedia Commons

From the water, it looks like a normal island. A jetty juts into a turquoise bay. Houses climb the hillside above a golden-sand beach. Plus the view from a white, cylindrical-shaped lighthouse extends over the gulf onto a neighboring country.

This isn’t a regular island, though. You start to notice this as your boat glides closer and closer to the shore. First, the jetty looks unsteady. It could collapse at any moment. The structure behind it is gutted; part of its roof is missing. Hillside buildings seem to be in similar shape with trees and vines growing through the holes that once held windows. Birds, iguanas, and red squirrels appear to be squatting in them. The only thing that doesn’t seem to be falling apart is the lighthouse. It emits one white flash—visible over the Gulf of Paria and out toward Venezuela—every 10 seconds.

Chacachacare is one of Trinidad’s Bocas Islands. The 900-acre island lies five miles off the northwest coast. Venezuela’s Paria Peninsula is just seven miles away. Christopher Columbus first spotted Chacachacare in 1498. It was used as a Venezuelan revolutionary base, a cotton plantation, a whaling station, and a leper colony in the centuries that followed. The latter’s buildings are what you see as you approach the island. The decaying structure along Sanders Bay was the doctor’s office. The nun’s quarters stand above a rocky peninsula. Corbeaux (black vultures) now nest in the old hospital. While rusted tracks lead to the spot where whales used to be processed.

The island feels like it’s been abandoned for years. The last patients departed in 1984. The Trinidad & Tobago Coast Guard, which took over barracks that were built in the 1940s by the United States Marines, left in the 1990s. Even the lighthouse, which is now automated, looks like it was hastily deserted about a decade ago. The only thing that still seems to be in regular use is a Hindu temple.

Daytrippers now arrive by boat to explore the overgrown island. They find wild orchids, personal artifacts, and gorgeous views. Some stay to camp. The overnight visitors are surrounded by dark silence once the sun goes down. What about you? Do you dare spend the night on this mysterious island?

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