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British Indian Ocean Territory

Travel Guide Africa British Indian Ocean Territory

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Introduction

The British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), also called the Chagos Islands, is a British overseas territory. It is not known as a destination for travellers. In fact, it is very hard to get to at all, as the main atoll, Diego Garcia, is also a joint military facility of the USA and the UK. Although the total land area is only about 60 square kilometres, the area including territorial waters is around 15,000 square kilometres. The total population is estimated at about 3,500 inhabitants, mainly civilian contractors and both US and UK military personnel.

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Brief History

Maldivian mariners knew the Chagos Islands well. In Maldivian lore, they are known as Fōlhavahi or Hollhavai (the latter name in the closer Southern Maldives). According to Southern Maldivian oral tradition, traders and fishermen were occasionally lost at sea and got stranded on one of the islands of the Chagos. Eventually they were rescued and brought back home. However, these islands were judged to be too far away from the Maldives to be settled permanently by them. Thus, for many centuries the Chagos were ignored by their northern neighbours.

The islands of Chagos Archipelago were charted by Vasco da Gama in the early sixteenth century, then claimed in the eighteenth century by France as a possession of Mauritius. They were first settled in the 18th century by African slaves and Indian contractors brought by Franco-Mauritians to found coconut plantations. In 1810, Mauritius was captured by the United Kingdom, and France ceded the territory in the Treaty of Paris.

In 1965, the United Kingdom split the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius and the islands of Aldabra, Farquhar and Desroches (Des Roches) from the Seychelles to form the British Indian Ocean Territory. The purpose was to allow the construction of military facilities for the mutual benefit of the United Kingdom and the United States. The islands were formally established as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom on 8 November 1965. On 23 June 1976, Aldabra, Farquhar and Desroches were returned to Seychelles as a result of its attaining independence. Subsequently, BIOT has consisted only of the six main island groups comprising the Chagos Archipelago.

In 1990, the first BIOT flag was unfurled. This flag, as well as containing the flag of the United Kingdom, has depictions of the Indian Ocean, where the islands are located, in the form of white and blue wavy lines and also a palm tree rising above the British crown.

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Geography

The islands are located south of the Maldives and about halfway between East Africa and Southeast Asia. The territory nowadays only contains the six main island groups comprising the Chagos Archipelago with dozens of atolls and islands in total. The largest island (and officially the capital) is Diego Garcia. The terrain is mostly flat and low, maximum 2 metres above sea level.

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Regions

  • Diego Garcia - the largest island, atoll and functioning as the capital.

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Sights and Activities

  • The clear blue water on the lagoon side of Diego Garcia (except after stormy weather) is a great sight on its own.
  • Catalina Beach (near The Plantation) - The beach with a wrecked aircraft.
  • The Plantation - A former coconut plantation on the eastern end of Diego Garcia, out of use since 1970. The buildings have been restored.
  • Turtle Cove (south of the island).

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Events and Festivals

The regular UK holidays apply here too.

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Weather

The islands have a tropical climate, meaning generally hot and humid weather, although the constant breeze keeps thing relatively cool. Temperatures average around 30 °C during the day and rarely drop below 18 °C at night. The wet season is roughly between October and February, with cyclones being a risk throughout this period as well. During the rest of the year, rain is possible still but mainly mean some late afternoon showers.

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Getting There

Although technically, it is possible to go to the British Indian Ocean Territory, you need a special permit, which usually is not available for travellers.

By Plane

Diego Garcia, the main atoll, has a runway.

By Boat

Most boats going here go to Diego Garcia.

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Getting Around

With the exception of one two-lane motorway, most of the islands in the territory have no roads of any sort. Diego Garcia has a short stretch of paved road between the port and airfield; otherwise transport is mostly by bicycle. There is also a marina bus service along the main road of the Island of Diego Garcia.

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Red Tape

Entry to Diego Garcia is extremely limited due to the large American and British military presence on the island. The British Indian Ocean Territory is not a tourist destination. Access is restricted and a permit is required in advance of travel. There are no commercial flights and permits are only issued to yachts in safe passage. Access to Diego Garcia is only permitted to those with connections to the military facility.

A valid entry permit can be obtained from the British Indian Ocean Territory Administration, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; although proof of adequate travel insurance and yacht insurance is required before permit issue, and any permit issued would only be valid for the outer islands.

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Money

See also: Money Matters

Oddly enough, the US Dollar, or "greenback", is officially the national currency of the British Indian Ocean Territory. One dollar consists of 100 cents. Frequently used coins are the penny (1¢), nickel (5¢), dime (10¢) and quarter (25¢). 50¢ and $1 coins also exist, but are rarely used. Frequently used banknotes are the $1, $5, $10 and $20 notes. $2, $50 and $100 notes can also be found, but are rarely used.

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Language

English is the main language.

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Health

See also Travel Health

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet and wifi is available.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The island's international telephone code is 246.

Separate telephone facilities for military and public needs are available, providing all standard commercial telephone services, including connection to the Internet. International telephone service is carried via satellite.

Services offered include international telephone, broadband internet and WiFi, GSM mobile, paging services and TV rebroadcast services. Telephone and internet services are also offered to maritime customers as well as an extensive portfolio of services to business and Government customers.

Post

Postage stamps have been issued for British Indian Ocean Territory since 17 January 1968. As the territory was originally part of the Seychelles, these stamps were denominated in rupees until 1992. However, after that date they were issued in denominations of British Pounds, the official currency of the territory.

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British Indian Ocean Territory Travel Helpers

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This is version 9. Last edited at 11:26 on Nov 5, 15 by Utrecht. 6 articles link to this page.

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