The Out Islands consist of all the Bahamas except the major islands of Grand Bahama, New Providence and Paradise Island. The Out Islands are comprised of a few large islands (like Andros and Eleuthera) and hundreds of cays (small islands; pronounced "key"). Some of the cays are inhabited, but many are uninhabited and others are privately owned. Most of the Out Islands are barely developed, making them ideal for those wishing to experience an untouched tropical paradise. The Abacos
The Abacos are a cluster of over 100 cays, most of which are uninhabited, in the northeastern region of the Bahamas. Known for crystal clear waters and favorable winds, the Abacos have earned a reputation as the sailing capital of the Bahamas. The two main islands, Great and Little Abaco, both offer pristine lagoons and inlets that promote a sense of seclusion and peace that is unrivaled even in other parts of the Caribbean.
Great Abaco Island, the largest of the Abacos, is home to the third largest city in the Bahamas, Marsh Harbour. One of the most civilized spots in the Out Islands, Marsh Harbour boasts banks, a gas station, some restaurants and, those true rarities of the Out Islands, traffic lights. Shops retailing an assortment of goods including hand made jewelry and Bahamian native crafts line the center of town.
Just off Marsh Harbour's coast, on Elbow Cay, lies the quaint village of
For another excellent day trip, take a ride 30 miles south from Marsh Harbour to the artists' colony of Little Harbour. Here you will find Pete Johnston's Foundry where master artisan Johnston uses an old wax method to strike intricate and impressive bronzes. After perusing through the local art scene, stop for a relaxing drink at Pete's Pub.
A trip 10 miles south of Little Harbour will take you to the
Andros, the largest and least explored island of all the Bahamas, attracts visitors looking to experience an untouched, tropical environment. Its densely packed pine forests are filled with exotic botanical specimens, and lush wooded areas provide a natural breeding ground for a diverse array of birds. The 140 mile long Andros Barrier Reef, coveted by scuba divers and snorkelers for its spectacular aquatic life, runs along the Eastern shore.
Whether a culinary journey, underwater exploration, or fishing strikes your fancy, a great place to start is at Fresh Creek, Andros Town. Stop by the
As for diving, beginners might be more apt to snorkel the shallow reefs such as the Three Sisters, while diving experts tackle the "Over the Wall" dive. This excursion takes you 185 feet down to an underwater pre-Ice Age beach. All along the reef are natural phenomena known as Blue Holes, underwater channels of coral that emanate a light blue aura that can be seen from the surface. The Berry Islands
Over two-dozen cays make up the Berry Islands, known for exceptional beaches. Located north of the Andros, some of these cays are privately owned while others have no human inhabitants. Bullocks Harbour, located on Great Harbour Cay, is the main settlement and has a few restaurants and stores. These islands, like most of the other outer islands, have superb diving as well as a thriving fishing charter business. The Biminis
The Biminis, only 50 miles east of Miami, are the closest islands to the mainland United States and a popular destination for sailors. While the Eastern side of the Biminis is full of boat slips and marinas, the western side is one continuous stretch of pristine beach. Most visitors and inhabitants are situated along the northern part of the islands. The two main roads of the Biminis, the Kings and Queens highways, run parallel to each other and can take you anywhere along the islands. However, everything on North Bimini is extremely close together so a car is not needed.
It is said that Juan Ponce de Leon searched for the mythical Fountain of Youth on South Bimini. Tourists are still lured in by locals for a quick tour of what is called the Healing Hole—rumoured to cure rheumatism and gout. The main community in northern regions of the Biminis is Alice Town. In the waters north of Alice Town lies a strange underwater rock formation, which is called Atlantis. Only 20 feet deep, it is an ideal spot for snorkelers and scuba divers. It is estimated to be between 5,000-10,000 years old. Cat Island
Cat Island is an extremely thin, 80-mile-long stretch of land that is characterized by towering cliffs, dense vegetation, and untouched beaches. Most visitors to Cat Island stay at the settlement of New Bight. The Cailing Club is one of the more popular resorts known for its bar-restaurant that specializes in native cuisine. Those looking to do some shelling should check out the beaches of Devil's point. Alternatively, someone interested in Africana history might want to take a stroll through the Richman-Newfield Plantation to see the ruins of slave quarters.
Pink Beaches, friendly locals, and panoramic landscapes characterize the Eleutheran landscape. The developed yet sparsely populated Hatchet Bay has the only marina on the entire island. If you are looking for some real adventure, head north past the mythical Sweeting's Pond to what is known as "The Cave", an underground passage which leads one mile to the sea. Gregory Town, just north of Hatchet Bay, is on a very small strip of land known as the Glass Window, where you can see both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. However, Gregory Town is known more for its beach culture than its views—two miles south is the surfing hot spot known as Surfer's Beach.
Harbour Island, just off the northern tip of Eleuthera, is one of the islands' more affluent areas, with unique and charming white picket fences and thin streets. The historic Dunmore Town is filled with interesting sights, many of which can be seen on a 20-minute walk. There are numerous churches as well as the Loyalist Cottage, the home of an original settler. Visit the
After the American Revolutionary War, British settlers brought over the first cottonseeds and established massive plantations on the Exumas. Wild cotton still grows here on the two main islands: Little Exuma and Great Exuma. George Town is the nexus of island, and the straw market here is always brimming with activity. Scuba divers should be sure to visit Stocking Island about a mile from George Town, as the reef and coral formations are remarkable. The Mystery Cave grants divers access to the Blue Holes, depressions in the ocean floor produced by glacial drips eons ago.
On the northern end of the Exumas, right above Staniel Cay, is the 176 square mile Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. Not easily accessible by road, visitors must charter a boat in order to explore the many hiking trails, powdery beaches, and natural whirlpools in this protected area. Inagua
Inagua is best known for its large population of birds. If you are lucky, you can glimpse a flock of pink flamingos within the island's national park, part of the Bahamas National Trust. In Matthew Town, the largest settlement, there are only four places for lodging and even those are limited to the bare necessities. If you are looking for a beach, do not look towards Inagua; there are very few swimming spots. The island is dominated mainly by the Morton Salt Company, which encompasses more than 34,000 acres. There are tours of the salt making process. Long Island
Long Island is extremely thin, never stretching more than 4 miles wide, and its main claim to fame is that Christopher Columbus made a stop on the northern end of the island. There is a monument just north of the
Just south lies the town of Stella Maris, or Star of the Sea. This small town is home to some shops, a marina, a bank, a post office, a 19th Century plantation and has a daring shark dive where you can watch a dive master feed sharks. Most of the population on the southern part of the island lives in the nearby town of Deadman's Cay. If you are looking for some excitement out of the water, venture east to Cartwright's Cave where you can discover carvings from the ancient Lucuyans.
San Salvador is the Bahamas' most historically significant island as it was the first place Christopher Columbus arrived at the end of his journey across the Atlantic in 1492. The exact location of the landing is believed to be at
If you are interested in the historical aspect of the island and also enjoy hiking, head out to Crab Cay. There is another Columbus monument here; the catch is that there is no road leading there—only an unkempt path.
Although the Out Islands are primarily known as a haven for naturalists and sports enthusiasts, a day trip to Hope Town on Elbow Cay or Harbour Island in northern Eleuthera can be highly enjoyable and foster great appreciation of the Bahamian way of life and the British influence upon it. Many of the churches, colonial homes, and other structures, manmade and natural, have withstood the dual tests of time and the elements. History buffs and sightseers alike can enjoy the 300 year-old legacy of these quaint settlements.
Tour One: Hope Town
After a 40-minute ferry ride from Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco, the best place to start your exploration of this tiny settlement dating back to 1785 is Bay Street. Unofficially known as "Down Along", the avenue runs parallel to Hope Town Harbour. Lining the street are clapboard cottages over 200 years old that are reminiscent of a Massachusetts hamlet.
After strolling east five blocks down Bay Street, make a left on Cary Lane and proceed 200 meters across Back Street to Cemetery Lane and the Cholera Cemetery. The crumbling headstones of victims of the 1850 epidemic as well as many of the original Loyalist settlers are entombed here.
From there, head back on Cemetery Lane to the west and make a right on Back Street to find the Dolphin and Whale Museum. The unattended exhibits chronicle the numerous species that have been documented in the Elbow Cay vicinity.
Head east on Back Street for about 1200 meters to the Wyannie Malone Historical Museum. Displays here examine Hope Town's past with relics from the days of the thriving shipbuilding business. Also on hand are a variety of tools the "wreckers" of the 18th and 19th centuries would use to send false signals to passing vessels, hoping to crash them into the reefs and collect the riches within. Hope Town Beach, about 200 meters behind the museum, is ideal for relaxing in the sun or snorkeling.
Then, retrace your path on Back Street and make a left on Bay Street to head for the public docks. Here you can hail a water taxi to ferry you to Elbow Cay's most popular attraction — the lighthouse. The 118-foot beacon, built in 1838, was not operational until 1863 as many island residents attempted to impede its construction and thus protect their profitable shipwrecking business. At the top of the lighthouse, you can observe the hand-turned kerosene lantern as well as panoramic views of the turquoise waters and tropical landscape below.
Tour Two: Dunmore Town
Settled by British Loyalists that fled during the American Revolutionary War, Dunmore Town on Harbour Island is one of the most well-preserved villages in the Bahamas. Start at the Government Docks (where the ferry will drop you off when coming from Eleuthera) at the intersection of Church and Bay Streets. Here you can check out the Higgs Sugar Mill that remained in use into the late 1800s. The Higgs Sugar Mill is also home to the local tourism board, so you can pick up maps and other useful information there.
Then head three blocks north on Bay Street to Princess Street that leads into a charming residential area highlighted by the Loyalist Cottage. Built in 1797, the home is considered to be one of the oldest and is an example of late 18th Century architecture. The building is not open to the public, but is certainly worth a look-see even if only from the outside.
Continuing north along Bay Street up to Grant Street, you will hit Girl's Beach on your left. This picturesque stretch of sand is littered with curious driftwood and seashells. Be sure to pick up a free souvenir.
Then get back to Grant Street and go east one block to Dunmore Street where you'll find Angela's Starfish Restaurant. The simple eatery has gained a well-deserved reputation for authentic Bahamian cuisine—try the curried chicken or the conch fritters.
After appeasing your appetite with an island delight, go south on Dunmore Street about 1000 meters to Chapel Street and the Wesley Methodist Church. Built in 1837, this pale-yellow house of worship is accented by a distinctive maritime flare to pay homage to its island parishioners. Three more blocks south at Goal Lane is St. John's Anglican Church. Dating back to 1768, this structure is purportedly the oldest of its kind in the Bahamas.
Make a left on Goal Lane and head east until you run out of land and find Pink Sands Beach. This is the prototypical tropical coastline. The powdery sands extend across the entire eastern coast of Harbour Island. Sunbathe, snorkel, or just enjoy a fruity cocktail as the sun changes into vibrant colors and retreats for the day.
The Bahamas are a much larger island chain than most people realize; 700 hundred islands and a couple thousand cays (small islands; pronounced "key") make up the country. The geography may be sailor's dream, but for vacationers trying to plan a satisfactory trip, it can be a bit of a nightmare. Questions like "Which island should I stay on?" and "How will I get there?" can become quite daunting. Not to worry, though; most of the hotels are concentrated in a few areas. The remaining ones cater to adventurers, sport fishermen, yacht owners and other people who specifically seek out undeveloped areas.
Anyone looking for a busy nightlife scene or a sophisticated cultural center will want to stay in the capital city of Nassau. The Out Islands are known for their natural beauty, marine life and authentic island charm, not for their entertainment or shopping. People visit these islands to relax on pink sand beaches, to snorkel in underwater caves, to fish for giants of the sea and to enjoy the pristine ecosystems.
Hotels and guesthouses do their utmost to facilitate such activities. They also try to provide something in the way of dining and entertainment, especially on smaller or less inhabited islands, where there may be nothing outside of the hotel grounds. Whether you're looking for five-star luxury or a bare-bones retreat, there's a place on at least one of the 700 islands that will suit.
Comprised of Great Abaco, Little Abaco and a few inhabited cays, the Abacos are one of the more popular vacation destinations in the Bahamas, with several hotel choices and a number of guesthouses. Among the more expensive options are the Abaco Beach Resort & Boat Harbor, located in Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco, the lovely Green Turtle Club & Marina, located (no surprise here) on Green Turtle Cay, and the Banyan Beach Club, proudly located on what is arguably one of the world's top ten beaches. For something a little out of the ordinary, stay at Nettie's Different of Abaco, a New Age retreat, or Walker's Cay Hotel & Marina, a popular spot for world class sport fishermen. All of these hotels have restaurants and recreation facilities onsite.
Moderately priced accommodations on the Abacos are not easy to find, but a few standbys include Conch Inn Marina & Hotel and Club Soleil Resort. Both of these places have air conditioning and television—not always a given on these islands.
The largest island in the Bahamas, Andros is also one of the least explored and most mysterious places in the hemisphere. The island is rich in mythical and natural wonders, but the population is sparse, sticking to the eastern coast. Andros is one of the top diving spots in the world, thanks to the barrier reef and blue holes located offshore. Most people come here for the diving, while some hardy adventurers are drawn to the island because of its comparatively low prices and undeveloped tourist industry. The accommodation choices here are limited, and most of them offer just the basics, nothing else.
The priciest digs are the Andros Lighthouse Yacht & Marina, which has its own marina and dive center, and the new Point of View Villas, which boasts expert onsite fishing guides. Small Hope Bay Lodge is a famous all-inclusive resort, located beachfront in Fresh Creek. There are a number of inexpensive places to stay, ranging from the simple Chickcarnies Hotel to the pleasantly suburban Mangrove Cay Inn. Interestingly, while all of these places have air conditioning and onsite restaurants, only the Point of View Villas offers television. It seems that guests are expected to amuse themselves outside during the daytime and go to sleep early. Various private guesthouses and B&Bs, among them the Green Windows Inn and Charlie's Haven, are available, but they don't all choose to register with the Tourism Board, and many of them open and close without much warning.
Berry Islands and Bimini
These islands are known for one thing: fishing. The tourist industry revolves around fishing, as does the entertainment scene. The hotels are primarily sporting lodges, catering to sportfishing enthusiasts. People come to the various islands throughout the year for some of the most famous fishing tournaments in the world, including the Bacardi Rum Billfish Festival and the Big Five Fishing Tournament. The Bimini Big Game Fishing Club & Hotel, located in Alice Town, is the nicest of the Bimini hotels. The Berry Islands boast a few upscale resorts, most notably Great Harbour Cay Yacht Club.
Eleuthera & Harbour Island
The most developed and expensive of the Out Islands, these two are the most common daytrip destinations from Nassau. Harbour Island is the more upmarket of the two; several luxury hotels are located along its famed pink sand beaches. Several of the Eleuthera hotels were damaged by the 1998 hurricane, but the majority of them were restored to even better shape than ever.
For sheer luxury and exclusivity, the Pink Sands Hotel and the Dunmore Beach Club are equals, unmatched by any other hotel on Harbour Island. They offer world-class accommodations, a stunning range of activities, and most importantly to some people, the sort of privacy that can't be found on more accessible tropical islands such as Hawaii or even nearby Nassau. The Runaway Hill Club is less expensive but still offers the pink sand beach location.
There really aren't any budget lodgings on Harbour Island. For that one must stay on adjoining Eleuthera, where budget inns and modest guesthouses dominate the hotel industry. Hilton's Haven and the Unique Village are two popular hotels in the $100 per night range; the Village even offers its own pink sand beach to guests. For anyone who's determined to stay on Harbour Island at the lowest possible price, the best bet is Valentine's Resort, famous for its sunsets, its aquatic facilities and its reasonable prices.
This chain of islands and cays is another popular excursion destination. There are innumerable cays in the island chain, a few of them boasting resorts, most remaining undeveloped and only enjoyed by daytrippers from nearby islands.
The biggest name in hotels here is Peace and Plenty. Named after the sailing ship of an eminent English colonist and trader, the hotel group takes pride in offering a friendly, warm atmosphere and an overall feeling of bounty not found anywhere else in the world. Sun worshipers, honeymooners and snorkelers will want to stay at Club Peace & Plenty or Peace & Plenty Beach Inn, while serious fishermen choose to stay at the simple Peace & Plenty Bonefish Lodge. Other hotel choices range from the secluded Staniel Cay Yacht Club to the Two Turtles Inn, a charming modern property located in the center of Georgetown. All of the hotels in the Exumas fall within the same price bracket: between USD 90 and USD 130 for a double-occupancy unit. The exception is all-inclusive resort Hotel Higgins, located on Stocking Cay.
Cat Island, Crooked Island, Great Inagua, Long Island, San Salvador
Rugged, remote and beautiful, the Southern Bahamas are barely touched by commercialization or development. Resorts cater to the solitary, adventurous folk that make their way to these islands. Offering beach access or fishing guides instead of modern amenities such as cable television or room service, they promote a simpler way of life. Yacht owners are the ones to visit most of these islands. While landbound visitors may find transportation to be a problem, the sailing wanderers are hindered by no such restriction, and yacht owners are the most common visitors to these islands. When the limited resources of one island begin to pale, they simply sail away to the next one.
The most easily accessible island in this group, Cat Island, is also one of the most developed ones. It has a few hotels that are almost luxurious, most notably Hawk's Nest Resort & Marina and Fernandez Bay Village. Fernandez Bay is situated on a breathtaking strip of beach, the sand of which actually appears turquoise in some lights. Inexpensive lodgings can be found at Greenwood Beach Resort or Pigeon Cay Beach Club.
Crooked Island is a tiny outpost located more than 200 miles southeast of New Providence. Lodging choices are few; most people stay at Pittstown Point Landing, while a few opt for the tiny, inexpensive Crooked Island Beach Inn. Even further south is Great Inagua, known for its pink flamingos, of all things. Lodging choices include Crystal View Beach Hotel and Main House, a small inn owned by the island's prominent Morton's Salt factory. While Long Island in the north has only two hotels, both of them are upscale operations, boasting a full complement of activities and amenities. Stella Maris Resort Club caters to the scuba divers and sportfishermen who find Long Island a most desirable destination. Cape Santa Maria is more for the sun-worshipper, 'yachtie' and windsurfing crowds. Tiny San Salvador's tourist trade was revitalized by the arrival of Club Med several years ago. This isn't just any Club Med either; it's one of the chain's most luxurious resorts. The smaller (but still luxurious by Bahamian standards) hotel is Riding Rock Inn. Both of these places cater to scuba divers.
While these are the main resorts and tourist destinations in the Bahamas, many smaller ones go unmentioned. A good phone number to have when planning your trip is the Bahama Out Islands Promotion Board (+1 954 359 8099). They usually have the most up-to-date information, even on small hotels, hunting lodges or guesthomes.
The Out Islands, a loose grouping of the Bahamian islands other than Grand Bahama, New Providence and Paradise Island, remain today as they have most of their remarkable history—sparsely populated, largely undeveloped and naturally wondrous. Because of the Bahamas' proximity to vital New World shipping routes, all of the islands became a commercial crossroads, while smugglers, bootleggers, and pirates used the obscure cays and lagoons of the Out Islands as a base for a more disreputable trade. Not only were many of the Out Islands remote and uncharted, the deadly native reefs made the navigation treacherous, often resulting in the loss of lives and property. The difficult geography protected much of the Out Islands from commercial development, making them ideal for contemporary travelers looking to experience unspoiled ecosystems and world-class fishing, diving and sailing.
Before European influences firmly took hold in the early 16th Century, an Arawak people, known as the Lucayans, populated the islands. A migratory tribe who traversed the Caribbean from South America around the 9th Century AD, most of the Lucayans established villages on Grand Bahama Island and New Providence Island. However, archaeologists have discovered numerous relics on Abacos, Andros, as well as the other Out or "Family" Islands.
Lucayan dominance of the islands ended on October 12, 1492 with Christopher Columbus's landing at Rum's Bay on the island of San Salvador. His historic arrival changed the course of world history, opening the Americas to the era of exploration and conquest. Like so many other native tribes, a combination of slavery, disease, religious persecution and violence soon obliterated the Lucayan civilization.
By 1520 the Spanish began to mine silver and establish sugar plantations on Hispanola and Cuba, causing labor shortages. About 20,000 Lucayans were transported and forced into backbreaking, menial labor, leaving the Out Islands virtually uninhabited. Because of lethal reefs and difficult navigational conditions, the European powers hesitated in colonizing the area. Much to the delight of latter-day treasure hunters, a Spanish treasure fleet of 17 galleons was wrecked off the Abacos in 1595.
Despite the trying maritime conditions, in the early 17th Century the British attempted to undermine the Spanish foothold in the Caribbean by establishing settlements in Eleuthera, Grand Bahama, and Nassau. The Bahamas were even granted a constitution making them part of the Carolinas in 1629. Alas, the towns were soon considered a failure, as settlers would often be wrecked on the reefs attempting to get to them. As the small villages struggled to survive, fortune hunters and pirates took advantage of the natural defenses to form bases of operations. The English Crown even offered some these privateers, such as Sir Henry Morgan, land and title to commit piracy against the Spanish.
For the next few hundred years, the Bahamas and the Out Islands, in particular, stayed a haven for buccaneers. The entrepreneurs used the islands' natural cover to launch surprise attacks on fat Spanish galleons bringing spoils back to Europe. The pirates used small, shallow draft sloops to negotiate the reefs and encircle their bulkier foes to broadside them to pieces. Though the settlers of the islands were very poor at this time, the rampant privateering created trade throughout the Bahamas. Taverns and merchants began to cater to the buccaneers and their prized booty. However, the governments of Europe eventually began to wipe out the pirates, including the feared Blackbeard. By the early 18th Century came peace but a drought of prosperity.
Soon, the economy and survival of the Bahamas became completely dependent upon activities in North America. When nations were at war, the cays and small islands would be transformed into supply bases, bringing commerce to the impoverished nation. Conflicts like the French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution would bring prosperity, only to see it fade away until the next fray.
Native residents, consisting by this time mostly of escaped and freed slaves, would live off wrecks, seafood, and the few indigenous fruits. In fact the Hope Town Lighthouse on Elbow Cay, off the Abacos, took years to build due to vandalism by locals. Residents feared that their profitable wrecking business would be ruined if ships could find their way at night. Until the lighthouse's completion in 1835, Abacoans even went so far as to intentionally cause shipwrecks by sending false signals to passing vessels. Artifacts and relics of the "Wrecker's Days" can be seen at Wyannie Malone Historical Museum in Hope Town.
The Out Islands saw their economy strengthen once again when the American Civil War broke out from 1861-1865. Confederate blockade-runners would tuck away their ships in the nooks and crannies along the coasts of the Abacos and Andros to evade the Union navy. Bahamian merchants, already benefiting from increased commerce, would additionally profit by letting the smugglers use their facilities as supply bases. The end of the war brought a deep recession to the Bahamas and wrecking returned as one of the primary industries.
When the United States enacted Prohibition in 1919, the Bahamas would again become the port-of-call for the nefarious. Bahamian Rum became the export of choice to the mainland, where liquors were now illegal. Bootleggers set up camp among the Biminis, only 50 miles from Miami, as well as smaller operations throughout the islands. Inns and taverns sprung up to gain patronage from the criminal element. After prohibition ended in 1933 and the United States fell into a depression, the Bahamas returned to a life of subsistence agriculture and fishing.
As America began to recover after the Great Depression and World War II, much of the population soon possessed enough extra income to afford vacations. This would mark the beginning of the first stable industry in the Bahamas—tourism. Resorts, restaurants, and shops sprung up to welcome the influx of visitors in the 1950s and 1960s. Though much of the development took place in Nassau and Freeport, the Out Islands also got their share of the bounty. They quickly gained a reputation for excellent sport fishing and natural splendor.
On July 10, 1973, the Bahamas gained its independence from Britain. Though the government got off to a shaky start, with leaders being accused of involvement in narcotics smuggling, the nation soon began to thrive and continued to develop its tourism economy.