The Bahamas you never knew existed
When I share stories of the Bahamas with friends, they generally all assume I am talking about Paradise Island or Nassau. While most experience an "ah ha" moment when I remind them that the Bahamas is a collection of over 700 different islands and cays, they recall the 90's ad campaign which noted, "It's better in the Bahamas." The campaign was designed to remind travellers of the vast diversity of the islands from the Northern capital of Freeport to the Southernmost outpost of Iguana Island, population 913 people and 80,000 flamingos!
The Bahamas chain of islands actually stretches from abeam Palm Beach Florida to the Northern waters of the Turks and Caicos islands. Many of the islands are uninhabited, some have one occupant, and still, others are home to the rich and famous. The most famous and populous island is Nassau. With its sister archipelago, Paradise Island, if you consider the person-made bridges a link, Nassau is a bustling place peppered with resorts, all-inclusive spots and what many Bahamians consider an overpopulation problem. In my experience, Paradise Island is reminiscent of what PR Firms have dubbed the Mayan Riviera.
Likely the most well known Caribbean destination continues to be the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island. Very near the cruise port the resort is massive and offers a multitude of hospitality options from the high end, adult only, The Cove, to the more well-known, The Royal. With casinos and dining choices of all kinds, Atlantis is a great place to visit, along with the many other resorts on Nassau, all of whom host 3.5 million visitors each year.
Grand Bahama the northernmost island and the nation's capital. Also a well-travelled and more modern destination they host approximately 700 thousand visitors per year. The close proximity to Florida's coastline makes it a comfortable journey for many travellers.
But for me, the real beauty and charm of the Bahamas are the out islands which comprise the remainder of the inhabited Bahamian Islands. All combine hosts to only 1.9 million visitors per year. That is fewer people than travel through Toronto's Pearson Airport in a week, and that is what I think makes the Bahamas such a boutique travel experience.
The out islands of the Bahamas make up 84% of the total land mass comprised of separate islands and cays. Each is beautiful and remote, a far different experience than the high rise hustle and bustle of Nassau and Grand Bahama. Each is genuinely boutique travel experiences. These lesser known islands do not possess casinos or duty-free shopping plazas. They do not often have Michelin star dining opportunities, for the most part, these diamonds in the rough are undeveloped pieces of paradise.
For those boutique travellers among you, who genuinely want to disconnect from civilization, avoid the name brand hotels. For those of you who are not travelling on points or prefer the buffet... I guarantee you these Bahamas islands will tickle you pink, and so too the sand.
These are our top picks of the outer islands where we found endless expanses of deserted beaches, undeveloped beauty, crystal turquoise waters, and unique wildlife. The most beautiful part of it all, the out islands stock vacations where you move at your own pace, get to mingle with the locals and experience the real Bahamas.
Abaco: A long chain of islands located in the northern part of the Bahamas. The main islands are Great Abaco and Little Abaco. They have a population of 17 000 and form approximately 22 square miles of undisturbed land. You can choose from over 40 different hotels, and take your time exploring the deserted beaches while dining at local restaurants and living in the moment surrounded by nature.
Cat Island: Strewed with the ruins of 17th-century cotton plantations. The 192 square mile sanctuary offers a great home base for diving and snorkelling adventures. Travellers can swim with wild dolphins, dive with sharks, or spend time on land hiking the nature trails and wandering the pink sand beaches.
Long Island: We happened upon this gem while flying a small plane around the Bahamas. My companion had long dreamed of landing his aircraft at Deadman's Cay because he thought it sounded cool, so we did. What we found was an unexplored paradise with a rocky coastline to the Atlantic side and sandy white beaches to the Caribbean. Long Island has caves, and the famous blue sinkhole, the 2nd largest in the world. The population of the expansive long skinny island is just over 3000. Without exception, this is a place to escape the crowds. Long Island has limited lodging options, but Cape Santa Maria fit the bill for our stay. For more about Long Island, click here.
Eleuthra: Only 2 miles wide, this island offers one of the most untaught spaces in the Bahamas. There are countless stretches of white and pink sand beaches to leave your footprints on. Picturesque high cliffs flank the eastern side of the island where the Atlantic Ocean crashes into the rocks. At the narrowest part of the island, the bridge gives you the most breathtaking contrasting views of both the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea. If you have travelled the Caribbean, every island claims to have the best or only spot where you can see these two bodies of water meet; do not be fooled, however; Eluthra, hands down, has the best view of this geological wonder. On one side you see the deep blue, rough Atlantic water contrasting against the calm Caribbean turquoise on the other side of the bridge, just a few inches below your feet. Awe-inspiring!
There are blue holes, and caves to explore, along with two very different island communities just a channel apart. See my post on Harbour Island and Spanish wells. There were times during our stay here where we lost cell service, and we didn't care a bit. While that might be a deal breaker for some if you can allow yourself to disconnect from the world, check into one of these islands upscale resorts and enjoy your time away from it all.
Exumas: The Exumas are a 120-mile chain of some of the most exotic and pristine cays in the Bahamas. Flying over them, you get to experience one of the most amazing sights imaginable. Sapphire blue waters filled with flowing sandbars are mesmerizing, and every shade of turquoise in the spectrum can be seen as you skim 1000 feet above the sea.
Many of the cays in the Exumas are privately owned by celebrities including David Copperfield, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, and Johnny Depp to name just a few. Others are exclusive private island resorts which can be rented for thousands of dollars per night. Intermingled among these islands of the rich and famous, however, are some gorgeous and affordable utopias to enjoy on a more modest budget.
Great Exuma, the largest land mass of the Exuma chain, offers various hotel and condominium rental options including a few 5-star resorts. The island's food offerings are not as abundant but all good Bahamian food choices. Fresh and tasty recipes which can best be described as just like Momma used to make. This Island also has an international airport so you can get here directly from the US and Canada.
The smaller cays such as Compass Cay, and Staniel Cay, tend to be waypoints for boaters and yachters. You can get there from Exuma by boat or small plane. The Cays offer waterside restaurants, and various activities, including swimming with sharks, snorkelling the cave from the James bond movie Thunder ball, and of course the famous swimming pigs.
If you choose to stay on Exuma, daily trips to these popular attractions are offered from various tour operators. While on Exuma do make sure you venture out into Georgetown and try some of the island's local Bahamian dishes and unmatched hospitality.
Check out my other posts to read more about the Bahamas:
10 Things you must to in Exuma Bahamas
Where to stay on Staniel Cay, Exuma
Long Island and Cape Santa Maria Resort
Bahamian Conch Salad