docking on Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic
Caribbean, Dominican Republic

A Day on Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic

Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic, is basically PARADISE. The surrounding water is crystal clear and filled with tropical fish, and the island itself is filled with palm trees and white sand. The island is also home to a private beach owned by Costa Cruises, which is how we were lucky enough to be spending one amazing day there. 

We docked in the water just offshore off of Isla Catalina one day in April, not long before we were due to start our crossing back across the Atlantic to Europe. Just like 90% of all our other days in the history of our three months in the Caribbean, the sun was already gloriously shining when we got into the tender boat in the morning. Off we sped to the sandy land of this mysterious place. The wind was in our hair and the sea was so clear and shallow that we could look overboard and instantly spy brightly coloured fish darting about underneath us. What a time to be alive!!

a yellow house on the beach

Where is Catalina Island? And what is it?

Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic (not to be confused with its Californian or Mexican counterparts), is located just over a mile off the coast of La Romana. In my initial opinion it was one of the stranger stops on our final route. And pals, I say strange because there’s not really anything there.

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As far as I know nobody lives on Isla Catalina, and you’re only officially allowed to visit with an organised boat trip. Its a literal deserted island; however, the interesting factor in the island’s set up is that what it does have is a private beach, owned by Costa Cruises. So every now and again, one of Costa’s many ships (Costa also owns several different cruise lines in addition to its own-name brand), perches itself in the water next to Isla Catalina just like ours did. And out pours a thousand or so passengers onto the tranquil white sand to enjoy everything the beach has to offer. Before merrily sailing back to the ship in the evening.

A cruise ship near Isla Catalina in Dominican Republic

What is there to do on Catalina Island?

I won’t beat around the bush here; to me the whole concept of this sounded a bit boring. And having spent several months visiting a fair few beautiful beaches- whilst simultaneously attempting to avoid seeing too many passengers- I wasn’t expecting anything particularly amazing.

Well oh my ears and whiskers, how very wrong I was you guys!

Almost our entire ship had relocated to Catalina Island, it’s true. But this had created some kind of happy carnivalesque atmosphere that pretty much made everyone start to infectiously grin from ear to ear.

The hospital team sat in the shade of a first aid tent, with one nurse sunbathing outside in a white bikini that seemed almost to be part of the uniform; it matched the white outfits of her on-duty colleagues so well. The galley had moved from the windowless metal depths of the ship to underneath a massive shelter with palm-leaves on the roof. Obviously this is the normal set-up for every cruise ship to arrive at Isla Catalina. Barbecues were a-blaze and food of all sorts was laid out for everyone to help themselves to. The spa team were offering massages in another spot, and nearby even the gym trainers were attempting to tempt people into trying out a TRX secured to a palm tree.

(It’s a big fat no from me, I don’t do gyms soz).

colourful huts on Catalina Island in the Dominican Republicon a private island in the Dominican Republiccolourful beach huts on Isla Catalina

We found our spot in a secluded patch of palm trees a bit further away from where most of the passengers were gathering (no offence to passengers, it’s just that sometimes you just need to relax and not feel like you have to be smiling and making conversation, ya know?), and set up a small camp of singers, dancers and stage technicians in the shade. Beaut music was on and as many refreshing ice cold beverages as we could carry were settled next to us.

For the first time in ages, despite the fact that our ship was still in full view of us, I felt properly, 100% relaxed.

The water in the Dominican Republic is so clear and warm that after we’d eaten our barbecued food we spent forever playing all the games in the sea. (But also attempting to dodge the odd curious fish that swam in too close to check out what on Earth was going on.) My main concern  was that I’d step on one, but in hindsight I’m pretty sure fish have enough wits about them to not get trodden on by a dumb human. Silly old me.

A Dominican Republic diving spot, and the tale of a stolen ship

Probs worse than stepping on a fish would be stepping on a broken bit of old boat. Back in the seventeenth century an old Scottish lad named Captain Kidd captured an Indian ship called the Quedagh Merchant. He left it moored in a lagoon on the island (in those days known as Santa Catalina), intending to come back and collect it after he’d travelled to New York and back to share his plundered treasure.

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Well bad times for him, as word got around that Kidd was a thieving piratey scoundrel and was subsequently arrested and executed for piracy and murder. To make it doubly awkward, Captain Kidd took the location of the stolen vessel to the grave with him.

It wasn’t until 2007 that the Quedagh Merchant was finally discovered three metres deep in the sea, right next to Catalina Island. Which is pretty astonishing when you think about it. The water is so crystal clear and so shallow that it’s a wonder nobody discovered the ship sooner. Several centuries seems like a very generous amount of time for discovering an important wreck, doesn’t it? Marine life galore has built up on the ship over time, and nowadays it’s officially a ‘Living Museum in the Sea,’ protected to preserve the historical significance of the whole shebang as well as the subsequent biological one. What a brilliant idea.

beautiful islands in the Caribbean

One day in paradise

We went for casual walks along the beach, checking out as much of the area as we could, and then spent a great deal of time just chilling out maxing relaxing back in our spot. A few locals were selling coconuts from wheelbarrows or the usual souvenirs from pastel coloured huts along the beach. And every now and again a bar had been set up overlooking the white strip of sand below.

The day wore on and as the shadows began to get longer we clung on to every last second we possibly could before, getting on to the tender boat to take us back to our giant floating house.  We did hatch a grand scheme to hide out and live on Catalina Island forever, but we decided maybe we did have to go back to work after all. Alas.

deck chairs on the beach at Catalina Island in the Dominican Republicpals on the beach in Dominican Republicsailing away from Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic

Despite the fact that I was so sceptical about a day spent on the island, mainly due to the artificial feeling of dumping a load of tourists in a location where they didn’t have to mix with anyone other than each other. This actually turned out to be one of the happiest days of my whole entire contract in the Caribbean. Sunshine makes everyone happier, and relaxation is good for the soul!

Isla Catalina, Dominican Republic, I love ya.

LOGISTICAL STATISTICALS

  • The beach we went to was Costa’s private beach- so literally only the passengers of our ship were allowed there, and it’s offered as a stop on a whole load of Caribbean cruise ship itineraries.
  • Nearby resorts and hotels in La Romana also offer boat rides to Isla Catalina, or you can hire a boat from a friendly local if you’ve got enough of you to make it worth the price.
  • Many hotels and private tour companies also offer catamaran tours to Isla Catalina.
  • Be prepared; this place is beaut and I ended up loving it but it definitely is not an isolated paradise far away from civilisation. Don’t come expecting an empty beach as you’ll potentially be mildly disappointed, pals!

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