The Bahamas Out Islands - Information on Abaco, Andros, Eleuthera, Exuma, Bimini, Berry Islands
Off the beaten path Out Islands in The Bahamas. Dozens of beautiful Bahamas Out islands and cays to explore. Information & Fact Files on Abaco, Andros, Eleuthera, Exuma, Bimini, Berry Islands, Long Island, Cat island, San Salvador
WELCOME BAHAMAS NASSAU - 2005 EDITION
The Islands of The Bahamas are as distinct and unique as the people who inhabit them. Only about 20 of the islands have measurable populations (ie more than 300 people). Yet each has its own personality. Even the weather and geography differ, as the islands cover 100,000 square miles of the Atlantic – an area almost twice the size of New York State. It stretches from 50 miles east of South Florida to just north of Cuba and Haiti.
The two main cities, Nassau on the island of New Providence and Freeport on Grand Bahama, are home to the majority of the population. Nassau, the country’s capital city, has a long and interesting history that includes stories of piracy, royalty, murder and intrigue. Historical sites and buildings are interesting to tour and explore. Freeport, the country’s second-largest city, is sprawling and flat, with good roads and modern infrastructure. You won’t find historical sites here, as the city was not developed until the 1950s. But you will find long, wide beaches, modern hotels and marinas, and a thriving port.
Beyond these busy cities lies a collection of tropical gems known as the Out Islands, or Family Islands. Each has its own character, culture and charm.
Savour the fishing delights of Bimini and the Berry Islands. Cat Island, separating the Atlantic Ocean from Exuma Sound, features rake ’n scrape music and Mount Alvernia, at 206 feet the highest point in The Bahamas. The Abacos and Exumas offer history and superb yachting. Andros has the tastiest land cabs in the islands and excellent scuba diving along its barrier reef. Eleuthera has rolling hills and the finest pineapples on the globe. San Salvador, Christopher Columbus’ landfall, boasts a spectacular Club Med resort. Further south, Acklins and Crooked Island, Ragged Island, Mayaguana and Great and Little Inagua exude laid-back charm, simple beauty and above all, serenity.
The most striking thing about Eleuthera is nature – the Atlantic pounding into the high cliffs that fringe the eastern side of the island, and its verdant rolling hills. At 100 miles long and barely two miles at its widest, it’s hard to get far from Eleuthera’s pink- and white-sand beaches. Along with Harbour Island and Spanish Wells, Eleuthera is dotted with quaint friendly fishing and colonial villages and, at one time, vast pineapple plantations.
A group of dissident English Puritans known as the Eleutherian Adventurers, arrived on the island of Cigatoo in 1648 seeking religious freedom. They renamed the island Eleutheria, the Greek word for freedom.
More than a century later, American colonists still loyal to the British flag left the newly independent nation and arrived in Eleuthera. These loyalists brought their slaves, colonial building skills, as well as their agricultural and shipbuilding expertise, all of which became major influences in Eleutheran life.
To guard against marauding Spanish troops, another settlement was then established on the nearby and more easily defended Harbour Island. To solidify their independence, in 1783 the former loyalists, assisted by the South Carolina militia, took up arms and forced the retreat of Spanish forces from the entire region.
Off the north end of Eleuthera, a short ferry ride away, are two island gems. Spanish Wells is a prosperous crawfishing and fishing community. There is a small museum where the seafaring residents’ rich heritage and culture is showcased. Harbour Island is best known for its three-mile pink sand beach. The Harbour Island settlement of Dunmore Town dates back to the 18th century. It was once the summer home of the Royal Governor, Earl of Dunmore, and was second only to Nassau in importance.
Heading south from North Eleuthera are a trio of tiny communities, Upper and Lower Bogue and Current. The Glass Window Bridge, which joins North Eleuthera to the rest of the island, is flanked by the often-turbulent Atlantic Ocean and the serene Great Bahama Bank.
Gregory Town is a world-class attraction for surfers. Windermere Island, off the Atlantic shore, used to be popular with the rich and royalty. Governor’s Harbour is the island’s largest and busiest town. Tarpum Bay is home to the creative, artsy crowd, and Rock Sound offers comfortable facilities for visitors and, at one time, a first-class golf course at Cotton Bay.
The Pineapple Festival in June recalls the era when Eleuthera exported the world’s juiciest pineapples. The pineapple still symbolizes hospitality, and although production has faded in recent years the festival is celebrated each year.
Facts file - Eleuthera Island in The Bahamas
Size: 200 square miles
Location: 60 miles east of Nassau
Population: 11,165 (including Harbour Island and Spanish Wells)
Getting there from Nassau: Fly with Bahamasair, Abaco Air, Southern Air or charter. Bahamas Ferries provides high-speed ferry service to Spanish Wells, Harbour Island, Governor’s Harbour and Current. Mailboat costs $25 one way and takes five hours.
Abaco, The Bahamas
Abaco is the most northerly island group of The Bahamas, fringing the northern lip of the Little Bahama Bank. Walker’s Cay is the site of the northernmost resort. Apart from the main island of Great Abaco, there are some 80 offshore cays and about 200 rocks and outcroppings, including uninhabited Jump Off Rocks, a mile north of Walker’s Cay.
British mainland Loyalists, who fled the newly independent United States after 1776, started cotton farming in Abaco and set up plantations similar to those of pre-War of Independence America. The first settlement was at Carleton, near what is now Treasure Cay.
The economy boomed and the population grew from about 600 to more than 2,000. But soil depletion, a devastating boll weevil infestation and the end of slavery in the British Empire ended cotton farming, and the Loyalists turned to the sea. They engaged in boat building, sail making, wrecking, salvaging and fishing.
By about 1800 some 200 white loyalists and the same number of former slaves remained. The ratio of whites and blacks remains the same today.
Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island is the third largest "town" in The Bahamas, after Nassau and Freeport. It is a bustling business hub with a single stoplight. Despite the commercial activity, it still retains the laid-back style of the Out Islands.
The sparsely inhabited cays east of Great Abaco form the protected cruising grounds of the Sea of Abaco, dubbed "the sailing capital of the world." The Sea of Abaco is the site of summer fishing tournaments and regattas that see local and visiting yachtsmen competing in ocean racing and fishing derbies. Tourism in the Abacos, unlike most of the rest of The Bahamas, is at its peak during summer yachting months.
Loyalist settlements include Hope Town, with its picture postcard candy-striped lighthouse; Man O War Cay, famed for boat building, sail making and the Wyannie Malone Museum; Guana Cay, with excellent fishing; and Green Turtle Cay, with New England-style architecture and a 150-year-old residence housing the Albert Lowe Museum.
Castaway Cay, formerly Gorda Cay, seven miles off the tip of Sandy Point, is Disney Cruise Lines’ private enclave where the 2,400-passenger Disney Magic, visits twice weekly.
Treasure Cay, 25 miles north of Marsh Harbour, boasts a world-class 31⁄2-mile crescent beach and an 18-hole golf course designed by the late Dick Wilson.
English entrepreneur Peter de Savary’s Abaco Club at Winding Bay, near Cherokee Sound, is an exclusive 600-acre sporting preserve and residential complex. It has The Bahamas’ only tropical links-style golf course and a 21⁄2-mile crescent beach. Large beachfront and waterfront lots in this pristine island setting are selling for an average of $1 million an acre.
Despite damage from 2004 hurricanes Frances and Jeanne, the Abacos remain upbeat and vibrant. Most facilities are back on track and visitors are enjoying excellent boating, deep sea fishing, bonefishing, snorkelling and scuba diving.
Fact file - The Abacos in The Bahamas
Size: 649 square miles
Location: 106 miles northeast of Nassau
Getting there from Nassau: Abaco Air, Bahamasair, Cat Island Air, Southern Air or charter. Bahamas Ferries provides high-speed ferry service to Sandy Point. Mailboat costs $40 one way and takes seven hours.
The Exumas sweep down the middle of The Bahamas forming the western rim of the incredibly deep Exuma Sound. The necklace of some 365 cays stretches nearly 100 miles from Beacon Cay, about 35 miles east of Nassau, to Little Exuma near the northern tip of Long Island.
The most northerly populated island in the chain is Highborne Cay. It was once used by the British to re-settle slaves taken from illegal slavers between 1807 and 1838. Just north of Highborne are Allan’s and Leaf Cays, where indigenous iguanas live.
Further south is Norman’s Cay, once the home of the infamous drug baron, Carlos Lehder, and his henchmen. A small plane lies partly submerged within swimming distance of the beach.
The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, established by the Bahamas National Trust, the world’s first land and sea area to be designated a national park, runs from Wax Cay Cut in the north to Conch Cut, 22 miles south. It is illegal to fish or remove any plant life, coral, sea fans, gorgonians, animals, bird or marine life or eggs.
In the central Exumas, popular stops include Sampson Cay and Staniel Cay where you can snorkel into the spectacular Thunderball Grotto, site of much of the underwater action in the 1965 James Bond thriller, Thunderball.
Further south are some smaller islands with high-end upscale developments. They include Cave Cay, Musha Cay, Darby Island, with its mysterious castle, and Little Darby Island. Other exclusive developments include Latitude Exuma on Rolle Cay and Crab Cay, both in Elizabeth Harbour, just minutes from George Town.
Towards the south end of the Exumas are Great Exuma and Little Exuma, the chain’s two largest islands. George Town is the capital and major settlement on Great Exuma and has been home to the annual Out Island Regatta for more than half a century. This week-long event features races among Bahamian-built sloops from many of the islands. Elizabeth Harbour and George Town throb during this late April event.
The Club Peace and Plenty in George Town was named after the ship that brought the slaves of Lord John Rolle to Exuma in 1783. The British Crown granted Lord Rolle a large tract of land as compensation for land he had lost in Florida in the American Revolution. Most slaves took the last name of their masters after emancipation – hence communities named Rolleville and Rolle Town.
South of George Town is Little Exuma, where you can visit William’s Town, the 200-year-old Cotton House and the ancient salt ponds that once supported a thriving salt farming industry.
North of George Town at Farmer’s Hill is the 470-acre $70-million Four Seasons Emerald Bay Resort with its mile-long crescent beach and 18-hole Greg Norman-designed golf course. The resort’s 200-room hotel is to be complemented by 120 condos, 100 residential lots, a 150-slip marina and eventually a casino.
Fact file - The Exumas in The Bahamas
Size: Great and Little Exuma, 72 square miles, Exuma Cays, 40 square miles
Location: 35 miles southeast of Nassau
Getting there from Nassau: Fly with Bahamasair, Sky Unlimited or charter. Bahamas Ferries provides high-speed ferry service to George Town. Mailboat costs $40 one way to George Town and takes 14 hours.
Andros, The Bahamas
Andros is about the size of Delaware and, at 2,300 square miles, is the largest Bahamian island. It consists of a jigsaw of inlets, creeks, bays and bights, mangroves and a farming heartland. There are large forests of soft and hard woods, including stands of lignum vitae, mahogany and horseflesh trees. The three major bights separating the island are North, Middle and South Bight, all barely navigable at a few feet deep.
Andros is a centre for diving and bonefishing activity. Along the eastern shore is the mile-deep Tongue of the Ocean and the Western Hemisphere’s second-largest barrier reef. This is the site of the US base for testing submarines at the Atlantic Underwater Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC) at Fresh Creek.
The waters surrounding Andros are littered with blue holes that link the ocean to the freshwater creeks inland. Spectacular stalactites and stalagmites adorn the underwater caves.
Two legendary creatures spook the island. The Lusca supposedly drowns the unwary who explore blue holes. The Chickcharnie is a three-toed, red-eyed, bird-bodied creature that brings woe to anyone disturbing its pine tree nest.
An Androsian legend says that before he became British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain chopped down trees said to house a nest of Chickcharnies. His sisal plantation subsequently failed financially. Chamberlain went on to become prime minister, met with Adolf Hitler in the interests of peace and got World War II instead.
The first recorded "discovery" of Andros – or "La Isla del Espiritu Santo" (The Island of the Holy Spirit) as the Spanish named it – was in 1550 while they were searching for slave labour.
However, by 1782 the island was called San Andreas, possibly named after inhabitants of St Andreas Island off the Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua, who came to inhabit the island. Seventy men of British origin were given huge tracts of land after being evacuated from St Andreas.
Several plantation systems were tried but the island did not really prosper until Greek spongers arrived in the early 1900s. An area on the west coast of Andros, known as The Mud, produced 25 per cent of the world’s sponges until 1939, when a microscopic fungus destroyed the industry.
Andros is the largest supplier of fresh water in The Bahamas, and ships some three million gallons to Nassau daily. It is also a major producer of vegetables. The village of Red Bays, first settled by refugee Seminole Indians fleeing slavery in Florida, still engages in the age-old art of basket weaving. Hand-batiked fabric known as Androsia has been produced by Androsians at Small Hope Bay since 1973.
Bonefishing lodges are sprouting up throughout the island and the fishing is spectacular in the bights that permeate the island and the Joulter Cays off the north end. There are about a dozen lodges dedicated to fishing and bonefishing.
Fact file - Andros Island in The Bahamas
Size: 2,300 square miles
Location: 20 miles west of Nassau
Getting there from Nassau: Fly with Bahamasair or charter. Bahamas Ferries provides high-speed ferry service to Morgan’s Bluff and Fresh Creek. Mailboat costs $30 or $35 one way and takes five, six or seven hours, depending on the destination in Andros.
Bimini consists of a group of tiny islands – North and South Bimini, Gun Cay, Cat Cay and some other islets – about 50 miles east of Miami. These islands define the northwestern fringe of the Great Bahama Bank, and lie along the eastern side of the fish-rich Gulf Stream. The shallow waters of the bank, protected by North and South Bimini, spawn mammoth schools of bonefish. The deep waters of the stream produce trophy tuna, wahoo and billfish.
Bimini has earned its colourful reputation. Spain’s Juan Ponce de Leon sought the Fountain of Youth there in the early 1500s. Then he found Florida.
Bimini was home to rumrunners and wreckers who plundered the ships that ran aground on nearby reefs. During American prohibition in the 1920s, Bimini was a wide-open speakeasy and the focal point of shipments of liquor to the US. Writers Zane Grey and Ernest Hemingway enjoyed and promoted Bimini’s reputation as a world-class game fishing locale.
Despite its proximity to Florida Bimini has retained much of its ambience, reminiscent of the 1950s. During fishing tournaments Alice Town jumps but the rest of year the aroma of baked bread and the squawking of sea gulls provide much of the excitement.
Among popular dive destinations is the battered concrete hull of the Sapona. It had served as a floating nightclub, liquor warehouse, bombing practice target and today rests on a shallow bank. Another interesting dive site is the stone formation known as the "Bimini Road," which some say is evidence of the lost continent of Atlantis, as envisioned by US psychic Edgar Cayce.
Two major projects could change Bimini’s character. The Bimini Bay Resort development at the north end of North Bimini is a $70-million multi-faceted housing and resort project. The Bimini Big Game Fishing Club is undergoing a major redevelopment. And government is committed to re-dredging the harbour and rebuilding the South Bimini airport to FAA standards.
Fact file - Bimini in The Bahamas
Size: Nine square miles
Location: 120 miles northwest of Nassau; 50 miles east of Miami
Getting there from Nassau: Fly with Bahamasair, Sky Unlimited or charter. Mailboat costs $50 one way and takes 12 hours
The Berry Islands, The Bahamas
With only 12 square miles of land spread among some 380 square miles of ocean along the northeastern rim of the Great Bahama Bank, the Berry Islands offer great fishing, yachting and diving opportunities. At the northern end of the chain, which includes about 30 large cays and plenty of tiny ones, is the 1863 Great Stirrup Cay Lighthouse, believed by some to house a ghost.
Some of the cays have small settlements. Most are privately owned, but welcome visiting yachtsmen.
Great Harbour Cay is the largest island, with Bullock’s Harbour the chain’s largest settlement. The island has a 4,000-foot airstrip, modern full-service marina, grocery store, gift shop, clinic, police station and
a few restaurants.
A little to the south, the heavily forested 700-acre Bonds Cay is one of the largest undeveloped islands in The Bahamas. It has white, red and black soil. There is sufficient shore depth for boats of up to five feet draft.
At the southern end of the chain, Chub Cay, a world-class fishing resort, is a port of entry with full-service marina, airstrip, restaurant and visitor accommodations.
Fact file - The Berry Islands in The Bahamas
Size: 12 square miles
Location: 35 miles northwest Nassau
Getting there from Nassau: Fly with Bahamasair or charter. Mailboat costs $50 one way and takes 4 hours.
Long Island, Bahamas
In the 1790s, loyalists migrated to Long Island from the US and prospered with their plantation societies. Dunmore House, in Clarence Town, was erected by the Earl of Dunmore before the abolition of slavery ended the plantation system.
Clarence Town, the largest settlement on Long Island, has two fine churches. St Paul’s Anglican Church was built by expatriate architect-priest Father Jerome. He converted to Roman Catholicism and then built St Peter’s Catholic Church.
North of Clarence Town, at Deadman’s Cay, is a network of caves featuring stalagmites, stalactites and archaeological evidence of Arawak Indians.
Tourism in Long Island revolves around two major resorts, Stella Maris and Cape Santa Maria.
Fact file - Long Island in The Bahamas
Size: 173 square miles
Location: 160 miles southeast of Nassau
Getting there from Nassau: Fly with Bahamasair or charter. Mailboat costs $45 or $50 one way and takes 10 hours or 18 hours, depending on the destination in Long Island.
Cat Island, Bahamas
Until 1926, this was the island believed to have been the landfall of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Many Cat Islanders still claim Columbus landed there first and named it San Salvador.
They do have a legitimate claim in having the country’s highest elevation, Mount Alvernia, at 206 feet above sea level. The hill served as the hermitage of Father Jerome. (See also Long Island.) He settled here in 1939 to live out his final days as a recluse. He built a miniature monastery and hand-carved steps out of solid rock, representing the Stations of the Cross.
Most Cat Islanders derive a living from the traditional farming method of slash-and-burn. They also gather cascarilla bark and ship it to Italy where it becomes a main ingredient in the aperitif Campari.
Cotton plantation ruins are scattered around the island. The remains of slave huts dating back to the 1700s and Arawak Indian caves can be explored.
The island also prides itself on producing The Bahamas’ finest rake ’n scrape music and holds an annual festival dedicated to it.
Fact file - Cat Island in The Bahamas
Size: 150 square miles
Location: 120 miles southeast of Nassau
Getting there from Nassau: Fly with Bahamasair, Cat Island Air, Southern Air or charter. Mailboats cost $50 one way and take 12 or 14 hours, depending on destination.
San Salvador, Bahamas
San Salvador was the first landfall of Christopher Columbus on his initial voyage in 1492. Four widely separated monuments mark the exact spot Columbus came ashore, but it is believed that he landed at Long Bay where a big stone cross now stands. Called Guanahani by the native Lucayans, Columbus renamed it San Salvador or "Holy Saviour."
However, the island subsequently became the headquarters of the buccaneer George Watling and was called Watling’s Island until 1925. Watling’s Castle at Sandy Point includes the ruins of a main house, cookhouse and slave quarters.
The island has miles of pristine and secluded beaches, and underwater visibility of up to 150 feet. The island is dotted with monuments, ruins, and other interesting places, including Farquharson Plantation, Dixon Hill Lighthouse, built in 1887, New World Museum, Palmetto Grove and the Gerace Research Center, where research is conducted in archaeology, biology, geology and marine sciences.
San Salvador boasts the country’s only remaining Club Med resort.
Fact file - San Salvador island in The Bahamas
Size: 63 square miles
Location: 160 miles southeast of Nassau
Getting there from Nassau: Fly with Bahamasair or charter. Mailboats cost $50 one way and take 12 or 18 hours, depending on destination.
Rum Cay, Bahamas
Rum Cay, a small, sparsely populated island, is mainly flat but has a few rolling hills rising to about 130 feet. Christopher Columbus named the island Santa Maria De La Conception.
The only settlement is Port Nelson, a picturesque village on the south coast. A new 5000-foot runway was opened in early 2004.
The wreck of the 101-gun man-of-war HMS Conqueror, built in Devon in 1855, which served in the Crimean War, lies in 30 feet of water off Rum Cay where it sank in 1861. It is the property of The Bahamas government, and none of the contents of the ship may be removed.
Fact file - Rum Cay in The Bahamas
Size: 30 square miles
Location: 20 miles east of Cape Santa Maria, Long Island, and about 20 miles southwest of San Salvador
Getting there from Nassau: Fly with Bahamasair or charter. Mailboat costs $50 one way and takes 12 hours or
18 hours, depending on destination.
Acklins Island is long, narrow and hilly, with numerous caves and bays along its western shores. A ferry links Acklins to Crooked Island. The islands enclose a shallow lagoon known as the Bight of Acklins, a popular cruising ground for shallow-draft vessels. The atoll also includes Long Cay, southwest of Crooked Island and Castle Island off the southern tip of Acklins.
Columbus is believed to have sailed down the leeward side of the islands through the narrow Crooked Island Passage, now an important trade route for ships moving between Europe and Central and South America.
The bight of Acklins is more than 1,000 square miles of shallow water. This is one of the largest bonefish flats in The Bahamas. Exploring this system of flats, creeks, channels and mangrove marls could take a lifetime.
Colonel Hill, on the northeastern end of the island, is said to be where the first post office in The Bahamas was located.
The hamlets of Acklins Island carry descriptive names such as Rocky Point, Binnacle Hill, Salina Point, Delectable Bay, Golden Grove, Goodwill, Hard Hill, Snug Corner and Lovely Bay. Some Crooked Island sites have more ominous names, such as Gun Point and Cripple Hill.
Fact file - Acklins Island in The Bahamas
Size: 150 square miles
Location: 240 miles southeast of Nassau
Getting there from Nassau: Fly with Bahamasair or charter. Mailboat costs $60 one way and takes 36 hours.
Ragged Island, Bahamas
Ragged Island is part of a 110-mile arc of islands that includes the Jumentos Cays stretching from the southern tip of Long Island down towards Cuba. Duncan Town, the only village on the island, has a population of about 80.
A thriving salt industry operated in the 1930s trading between Cuba and Haiti. In the 1950s the island fell victim to Hurricane Donna, which caused extensive damage. Then, 10 years later when Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba, the little trading which existed at the time came to a halt.
Fact file - Ragged Island in The Bahamas
Size: Nine square miles
Location: South of Exuma, 220 miles south-southeast of Nassau
Getting there from Nassau: Fly with Bahamasair or charter. Mailboat costs $60 one way and takes 14 hours.
Great Inagua is the southernmost and the third-largest island of The Bahamas. Lake Windsor occupies almost one-quarter of the interior. Inagua National Park is the 287-square-mile home of the world’s largest colony of West Indian flamingos. Almost extinct some years ago, they now number about 80,000. Nearby, the Morton Salt Company exports more than a million tons of crude salt per year. Despite Inagua’s large size, the only settlement is Matthew Town and the population is less than 1,000.
Little Inagua lies five miles to the north. It is inhabited only by herds of wild donkeys, goats and bird life.
Fact file - Inagua Island in The Bahamas
Size: Great Inagua, 596 square miles, Little Inagua, 49 square miles
Location: 320 miles southeast of Nassau
Getting there from Nassau: Fly with Bahamasair or charter. Mailboat costs $90 one way and takes 24 hours.
The least developed and visited, Mayaguana is the eastern-most island of The Bahamas. Mostly farmers, fishermen, children and seniors, all noted for their friendliness, populate the main settlements of Betsy Bay, Pirates Well and Abraham’s Bay.
The deep Atlantic waters surrounding Mayaguana are rich in conch, fish and shipwrecks.
Mayaguana’s lone airstrip is part of the former US missile tracking station. Some of the base buildings have been renovated for storage use by ERGB, the acronym for Environmental Research Group Bahamas, Ltd. This company has built a Euro-style villa north of Abraham’s Bay and has plans for a 60-room hotel to introduce Mayaguana to tourism.
Fact file - Mayaguana Island in The Bahamas
Size: 110 square miles
Location: 350 miles south of Nassau
Getting there from Nassau: Fly with Bahamasair or charter. Mailboat costs $90 one way and takes 24 hours.
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