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inside the bahamas out islands

Beyond well-visited Nassau and Grand Bahama Island, the Bahamas offer a host of secluded gems great for romance and adventure.
By Sheree Nielsen

Experience the relaxed pace of Caribbean life on Great Guana Cay, Elbow Cay, Eleuthera, and Harbour Island, four charming Bahamian Out Islands that lie a short distance off southern Florida’s coast. You’ll find romance, history, and a plethora of sports on these secluded gems, and leave your island getaway feeling refreshed.

church

Above: The legendary St. James Methodist Church in Hope Town on Elbow Cay. Sheree Nielsen photo

Below: You can’t travel far on Eleuthera without finding stunning views of the ocean. The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism photo

ocean view

A little bit of romance

Longest cay in The Abacos, Great Guana stretches seven miles from end to end–including its unspoiled coral sand beach–one of the Bahamas’ best. The sparsely populated island is home to fewer than 100 year-round locals, most of them descendants of Loyalists–settlers who left New England and the southeast United States during its struggle for independence from Britain.

Dolphin Beach Resort is a romantic retreat. Stay in the lodge’s Starview Room, which offers soothing blue walls and white wicker furniture. By day, share a hammock and experience gentle ocean breezes. At dusk, watch resident herons sipping from the freshwater pool. The night sky is spectacular; stargazers may see meteor showers.

Another lodging option at the resort is renting a dune-sheltered, brightly colored cottage with ocean vistas.

Oceanside, stroll along the white sand beach or visit the three beaches bayside. Rent a golf cart or bicycle and tour streets lined with delicate pink and red bougainvillea or hardy sea grape trees. Binoculars might come in handy to study white crown pigeons, herons, doves, or hummingbirds.

While there is no restaurant at the resort, there are various dining options for every couple’s tastes on the island. Savor fresh seafood in the quiet ambiance of Orchid Bay while enjoying a dreamsicle sunset. With a stretch of beach as their backdrop, Nippers Bar and Grill hosts Sunday afternoon pig roasts. Take a dip in the warm turquoise sea, then order a frozen concoction and toast your soulmate.

If you still haven’t had your fill of romance, visit Dive Guana at Fisher’s Bay. Husband and wife team, Troy and Maria Albury, can arrange sightseeing or island-hopping tours.

“We offer trips to small picturesque settlements with quaint houses and beautiful harbors, and (to) Fowl Cay Marine Preserve,” he says.

Historical Hope Town

Even before you set foot on The Abacos’ Elbow Cay, you’ll notice the majestic red-and-white striped lighthouse set amid shorter pink buildings visible from the ferry dock. Dating to the 1860s, the 89-foot structure is an icon to the settlement of Hope Town. The kerosene-burning lighthouse is hand-wound every few hours to make the light rotate. While climbing the spiraling 101 steps to the top, hold onto the brass handrails. Its deck holds spectacular views of the harbor bustling with boat traffic.

Pedestrian-only traffic in town lures visitors along a walking tour of Hope Town. Discover this tropical paradise dotted with gingerbread-style homes painted in pastels and vibrant ocean hues.

According to Michelle Mikula, spokesperson for the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, Colonial best describes the architectural style on Elbow Cay, but the Loyalist influence also is seen.

Tour the Wyannie Malone Museum and see artifacts, such as photographs, manuscripts, antique furniture, pottery, and ships’ china recovered by salvagers from the 1780s to present day.

Other churches stood on the site where St. James Methodist Church stands today. According to legend, a 19th-century preacher, who noticed a nearby shipwreck during service, asked his congregation to bow their heads for a dismissal prayer. During the reverent moment, he snuck out to access first and exclusive rights to the treasure.

Learn more about Bahamian history during Heritage Day, usually held in March, which includes speakers, local food, museum tours, local art and cultural dances.

Dining options here include Reef Bar and Grill at Hope Town Harbour Lodge; sample the homemade conch fritters. For a historical overnight experience, the Butterfly House is a 100-year-old Loyalist-style clapboard cottage on the lodge grounds.

A destination for sports enthusiasts

Eleuthera boasts stunning vegetation, sleepy settlements, powdery beaches, and aquamarine waters. Its length (110 miles) is a sharp contrast to its width (two miles). The southern and northern tips of this slim island are popular destinations for sports enthusiasts.

At the southern end, you’ll find fun for the entire family. Try fishing, diving, snorkeling, beachcombing, and island excursions for a good time.

Stephen Kappeler, general manager of the Cape Eleuthera Resort and Yacht Club, said the area is embraced by glassy blue waters of the Exuma and Rock sounds. Fishing and diving opportunities at the resort are plentiful.

Leon Gibson, who bears a resemblance to actor Morgan Freeman, runs the deep-sea and reef fishing charters, while Neal Watson manages the resort’s dive shop. Jump in to discover Ike’s Reef and the sea creatures found there, such as arrow crabs and banded coral shrimp.

Guests also can stroll along Sunrise Beach for unforgettable sunrises or charter a boat and visit picturesque Bamboo Point for snorkeling. Rent an SUV and plan a day at Lighthouse Beach.

Traveling north, Casuarina pines frame Queen’s Highway. Stop at the township of Governor’s Harbour for fishing and boating charters. For breathtaking views, visit the shallow natural tide pools at Queen’s Bath or walk across Eleuthera’s thinnest stretch, a mere 30 feet, at the Glass Window Bridge.

Nearby, nestled in the hillside, lies an alluring resort with captivating vistas. The Cove Eleuthera has a cool island vibe, and its Bahamian hospitality is sure to please. Luxurious, comfortable beds and delicious cuisine also lure guests.

Surrender to the gentle rhythm of peaceful waters. Snorkel the two coves where French Angelfish dart in and out of lavender seafans, oversized starfish are abundant, and stingrays glide in the shallows. Managing Director Kirk Aulin can arrange bonefishing trips with a local guide.

At Rebecca’s Beach Shop in Gregory Town, chat with local legend “Surfer Pete,” residing on Eleuthera since 1972. He can teach you how to “hang 10” at nearby Surfer’s Beach.

In the town of Current, dive, snorkel, or swim the Current Cut, which is a narrow channel with fast-moving water.

“For the best ride, catch the current two hours before high tide,” Surfer Pete said.

Take a water taxi from North Eleuthera to neighboring Harbour Island, a popular Bahamian getaway. Rent a golf cart dockside and navigate the charming streets of Dunmore Town that’s lined with boutique hotels, upscale restaurants, and shops selling local goods and artwork. At Lil’ Shan’s Watersports, Willard Johnson can arrange snorkel trips, jetski or boat rentals.

Sink your toes into the soft Pink Sands Beach, its color originating from foraminifera, the most common species of marine plankton. Swim or boogie board in the translucent Caribbean waters. If you still have energy, stay for Harbour Island’s nightlife.

Whether a traveler seeks romance, history, or sport activity–or any combination therein–these Out Islands in the Bahamas will make an unforgettable vacation.

Sheree Nielsen is a new contributor from Wentzville, Mo.

Jul/Aug 2012 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, contact the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism at (800) BAHAMAS (224-2627) or visit online at www.bahamas.com.

Your AAA Travel agent can help you arrange an island getaway to the Bahamas. Pleasant Holidays, a preferred AAA Travel partner, offers packages to Providence Island, Paradise Island, and The Exumas. Carnival, Disney and Royal Caribbean are among the international cruise lines that offer cruises to the Bahamas.

For more information, see your AAA Travel agent, call (888) 366-4222 or click here.


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