Utterly peaceful Chacachacare (shak-a-shak-are-eee) is the largest island of the Bocas and, at an hour’s boat ride from the mainland, also the farthest-flung. It has none of the well-to-do holiday homes found on the other islands, and the mountainous interior is covered in dense forest. There is just one useable road, leading from the jetty to the lighthouse; the others, which serviced the now-abandoned leper colony, have long been overgrown, and only tracks remain.
Chacachacare’s name may derive from chac-chac, the Amerindian word for cotton, which grows profusely here, or might also have something to do with the chattering of the monkeys once found in droves on the island. According to discovered remains dated from around 100–400 AD, Chacachacare was once inhabited by Amerindians. Under Spanish rule it became a cotton plantation, and subsequently a whaling station was established. It developed into a popular health and holiday resort with Trinis from the mainland until, to their consternation, a leper colony was established in 1887. The Dominican nuns ran the colony like a prison, and conditions provoked strikes among the patients to gain such rights as male–female fraternization. The last thirty patients left in 1984, and all that remains are the decaying wooden houses, the infirmary, the nuns’ quarters and the chapel, all poking through the foliage to the right as you approach the island from the mainland.