We docked in the water just offshore of the tiny island 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 that would take us 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!!
Located about one and a half miles off the mainland of the Dominican Republic, in La Romana province, Isla Catalina was in my initial opinion one of the stranger stops on our final route. And pals, I say strange because there’s not really anything there. As far as I know nobody lives there, 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), will perch itself in the water next to Isla Catalina just like ours did, and heave out 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.
I won’t beat around the bush here; to me the whole concept of this sounded vaguely nightmarish, and having spent several months visiting a fair few beautiful beaches whilst simultaneously attempting to avoid seeing too many passengers in the process, I wasn’t expecting anything particularly amazing. Well oh my ears and whiskers, how misguided I was you guys!
Almost our entire ship had relocated to the 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 as 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 the normal set-up for every cruise ship that lands here. 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 secures to a palm tree. (It’s a big fat no from me, I don’t do gyms soz).
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 on and as many refreshing ice cold beverages as we could carry 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 around these parts is so clear and warm that after we’d eaten our barbecued food we spent forever playing all the games in the sea, and 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 if I’m honest 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.
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 and left it moored in a lagoon on the island (in those days known as Santa Cantalina), intending to come back and collect it after he’d travelled to New York and back to share his plundered treasure. Well bad times for him, as word got around that Kidd was a thieving piratey scoundrel and he was subsequently arrested and executed for piracy and murder, taking to the grave with him the location of the stolen vessel. It wasn’t until 2007 that it was finally discovered three metres deep in the sea, right next to the island, which is pretty astonishing when you think about it. The water is so crystal clear and so shallow that several centuries seems like a very generous amount of time for discovering an important wreck. 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.
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 making 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 having to get back on the tender boat to take us back to our giant floating house, even hatching a grand scheme to hide out and live there forever, but although it involved a great deal of intricate details and master planning, we decided maybe we did have to go back to work after all. Alas.
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, I love ya.
- 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 also offer boat rides to the island, or you can hire a boat from a friendly local if you’ve got enough of you to make it worth the price.
- 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!