Lost Islands: Diego Garcia – British Indian Ocean Territory


CIA-DG-BIOTDiego Garcia is a beautiful “foot-shaped” looking atoll south of the equator, central in the Indian Ocean considered a part of the British Indian Territory. The island is about 1,970 miles of beautiful beaches and sunsets. The atoll is about 1,970 nautical miles east of the coast of Africa, 967 nautical miles south-southwest of the southern tip of India and 2,550 nautical miles west-northwest of the west coast of Australia. This island is better known as the host to some important visitors, sometimes more wild than the native animals themselves, the US and British Military, Merchant Marines and Contractors. Diego Garcia is considered very restricted and secluded due to its military nature, it is open to a wide range of events and activities as well as a small variety of restaurants and other facilities for its visitors. The only way you’re going to get there as a visitor is going to be by boat in cases of emergency. However; there does seem to be special permits for those working in the wildlife preservation and research.*

plantationBIGThere have been numerous efforts by the British to preserve the original plantations colonies… and they have. Diego Garcia was a coconut oil processing colony at the turn of the century and it has been preserved beautifully.

The area also hosts some of the best fishing in the world. “Tuna, wahoo, snapper, ‘sweet lips’, marlin, barracuda are all the catch of the day”. The area is also home to the  legendary “Turtle Cove” a safe haven given to the turtle population in the Chagos Archipelago region. Those who have been to the island say that snorkeling and diving are a must and “The sharks swim past you and ignore you completely… if you get offended by that you probably shouldn’t get in the water.” The sailing is good, the air is clean and the rentals are cheap. There are a few night clubs around the island- but there seems to be no pictures of what those places look like have surfaced (hint hint: What happens in Diego Garcia really STAYS in Diego Garcia)

IMG_1569History suggests that the island took its name from the Spanish navigator Diego GarcĂ­a de Moguer, who discovered the island in the 1500s. Garcia was the explorer who sailed to the RĂ­o de la Plata in 1526, and possibly with Hernando de Soto’s voyage (First europeans to have cross the mississippi river). Diego Garcia and the rest of the Chagos islands were uninhabited until the late 18th century. In the late 1700s (1778 to be exact) the French Governor of Mauritius (island off of Madagascar) granted Monsieur Dupuit de la Faye (some French guy) the island of Diego Garcia, and there is evidence of temporary French visits to collect coconuts and fish. Several Frenchmen living in “a dozen huts” abandoned Diego Garcia when the British East India Company attempted to establish a settlement there in April 1786.

diego plantation

The supplies given to the 275 settlers were overwhelmed by 250 survivors of the wreck of the British East Indian Ship ATLAS in May 1786, and the colony failed in October. Following the departure of the British, the French colony of Mauritius began marooning lepers on Diego Garcia (how nice of them) and in 1793 the French established a coconut plantation using slaves which also exported cordage made from coconut fiber, and sea cucumbers, known as a delicacy in the orient. In December 1966, the United States and the UK came to an agreement that permitted the United States to use the BIOT for defense purposes for 50 years (through December 2016), followed by a 20-year optional extension (to 2036) to which both parties must agree by December 2014.

Today the place is simply the home of British and US Navy Forces, with beautiful beaches, a historic plantation, a turtle reserve, and a history that the land was one of the tallest mountains a few millions years ago. What’s not to love? (except the fact that unless your serving the countries of England or the USA- you’ll probably will never see the shores of Diego Garcia)

*An earlier version of this post suggested that tourists could apply for a visa- but it seems only military personel or researchers can apply

More Pics of Diego Garcia:

diego-garcia4 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdgaerialfromsouthDigital Camera
Have pictures of Diego Garcia? Send them in! Tabitha@cruisingoutpost.com

Know another “unknown” gem of the ocean? Comment below!


  1. I spent a year there courtesy of Uncle Sam. Beautiful place. Although when I was there, it was a bit more primitive than what is described in the article. Non-military associated ships/boats/yachts weren't allowed to land unless for an emergency and then only for as long as needed. Swimming with the sharks is ONLY advised inside the lagoon. For some reason, there weren't any shark attacks reported at all. On the ocean side, though, is another story. At low tide you could walk out to the edge of the coral (taking lobster at night was a favorite activity). Some of the contract laborers, usually Filipinos, would string gill nets to catch fish when the tide came in. It was an almost weekly event where one of them would end up being eaten by sharks. Outside the reef, you could watch sharks in feeding frenzies. Fascinating, but really dangerous! Great weather, no storms, constant breezes, steady temps. If only we had had women, it truly would've been a paradise! It sounds like things have gotten much better. I'm sure it would make a welcome break to someone transiting the Indian Ocean.

    • Capt. Pat Island was a great sight. I was there 1974-1975. went back by ship 1989 and saw Playboy Island. I was totally out of my mind to see a military base like that. Whish I had a professional camera crew with me.

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