ORVIS GUIDE TO ADVENTURE
10 Places not to miss when you visit the Bahamas
The gorgeous beaches and gentle trade winds of this idyllic island chain are a powerful siren song. Any trip to the Bahamas could easily be spent relaxing on the beach between dives into crystal clear surf, and visits to the closest food shack for conch fritters and a Goombay Smash . There are certainly worse things. But the varied islands of the Bahamas beckon for hopping and offer endless treasures. Here are ten beautiful and distinctly Bahamian locations it would be a shame to leave undiscovered.
EXPLORE GRAND BAHAMAS ISLAND
1. Lucayan National Park – This 4o-acre park offers beautiful beaches, pathways through a lush mangrove swamp, and one of the world’s largest underwater limestone cave systems. While idyllic beaches abound in the Bahamas, it is especially peaceful to enjoy the natural surroundings free from the bustling energy you find closer to a resort. Here, one gets a hint of what the islands were like prior to colonization. The extensive cave system was used by the Lucayan people, the island’s earliest residents, as a source of fresh water, shelter, and a burial site. Two of the caves are open to the public, but swimming is prohibited. Divers require a special permit and a guide to dive in the caves. Stroll along the picture-perfect wooden boardwalks to varied nature areas, including a secluded stretch of beach. Picnic tables are available so you can enjoy a meal in this paradise found. A kayak tour is an exceptional way to explore the inland waterways of the park.
2. High Rock – Named for its location atop a rocky promontory, this lightly-touristed, relaxed village will give you a true islander experience. Here you’ll find a charming, small faux lighthouse that was never an aid to navigation but built by a minister a short distance from his chapel. There are miles of beautiful white sand beaches and several food shacks that offer simple island cuisine enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. The most popular activities include kayaking, snorkeling, and guided fly-fishing along the stretches of unspoiled flats, which are uniquely peaceful away from the crowds.
EXPLORE THE ABACOS
3. Elbow Reef Lighthouse at Hope Town – This picturesque, red-and-white striped lighthouse went into service in 1863 to help ships navigate clear of the coral reefs long causing wrecks off the Bahamas. Local residents who raided shipwrecks for materials and goods opposed the lighthouse when it was built by the British Imperial Lighthouse Service. Today locals work to maintain the lighthouse, one of the few still operated by a lighthouse keeper. The lighthouse, featured on the Bahamian $10 bill, is 89 feet tall, with 101 steps leading to its antiquated kerosene-fueled beacon. A visit to the lighthouse offers beautiful panoramic views of Elbow Cay. With its charming pastel homes and neat, car-free lanes, Hope Town and its lighthouse make for a beautiful day spent walking and enjoying Bahamian culture and history.
4. Abaco National Park – This 20,500-acre park on Abaco Island is one of the last remaining habitats of the endangered Abaco Parrot. At the time Christopher Columbus made landfall in the New World, the parrots were so abundant the explorer wrote in his log that their flocks darkened the sun. Mostly green, the Abaco Parrot has white head feathers, red chin feathers and stunning turquoise wing feathers that make a dramatic appearance when the bird is in flight. In addition to these beautiful denizens, the park is filled with towering pine forests, protected beaches and mangrove swamps. For anglers, there are exceptional spots for bonefish fly fishing within the park. Fly fishing is allowed only in designated areas, such as the Marls, and a guide is required. If time allows, find your way to the park’s Hole in the Wall Lighthouse built by the British Imperial Lighthouse Service in 1836. The lighthouse stands isolated upon a lovely and dramatic section of the island.
EXPLORE THE ANDROS ISLANDS
5. Andros Barrier Reef – Only half a mile to the east of Andros Island is the world’s third largest barrier reef. More than 170 miles long and teeming with marine life, the Andros Barrier Reef is a breathtaking and relatively uncrowded destination for snorkelers and divers. Not far from shore, the reef plunges 6,000 feet into the Tongue of the Ocean, a massive trench in the ocean floor. Here divers will encounter reef sharks, marlins, tarpons, sailfish, and tunas, among other fish. Andros is one of the least developed of the islands and is an oasis for divers visiting the reef and for anglers fly fishing in the waters around the island that are rich with big-game fish, particularly bonefish.
6. Blue Holes National Park – This 33,000-acre park features a vast collection of freshwater reservoirs and inland blue holes–caves with deep, vertical limestone walls filled with rain and seawater. The park includes the famed Captain Bill’s Blue Hole which is 440 feet in diameter and among the largest in the park. The park also features miles of trails through Caribbean pine trees and coppice woodlands. Bring a picnic to this peaceful landscape and be sure to wear a swimsuit under your hiking clothes so you don’t have to resist the urge to jump into Captain Bill’s Blue Hole.
ELSEWHERE IN THE BAHAMAS
7. Pink Sand Beaches – The Bahamas features some of the most beautiful pink sand beaches in the world, and seeking one out is worth your while. Harbour Island’s Pink Sand Beach is probably the most famous, stretching more than three miles. Eleuthera Island’s Lighthouse Beach is a more secluded option, offering wonderful snorkeling just a short wade into the ocean, and an excellent spot for a picnic lunch or a walk at sunset. The pink tinge to the sand is created by single-cell, shelled organisms called foraminifera that live in the shady sections of coral reefs, rocks, and within ocean caves. The species of foraminifera abundant off the coasts of the Bahamas have a red shell. When these microscopic sea creatures die, the waves break them down along with coral and they mix with the sand of the beaches to create their signature rosy hue.
8. Thunderball Grotto – This striking underwater cave system had a starring role in two James Bond films, Thunderball, for which it was subsequently named, as well as Never Say Never Again. The grotto is in The Exumas among the Out Islands of the Bahamas. The caves are filled with a stunning variety of colorful coral reefs, fish, and other marine life. The grotto’s cave walls and ceilings are dotted with Swiss cheese-like holes throughout, making it easy to snorkel in low tide, when it only takes a few seconds underwater to reach the next hole. Diving equipment is necessary to explore the grotto at high tide. Whether you snorkel or dive, you will experience a dramatic underwater hideaway illuminated by stunning shafts of sunlight.
9. Wreck Dives – The Bahamas’ long maritime history includes many shipwrecks off its coastlines, some of which are still intact enough to be explored today. Not all of the ships wound up at the bottom of the ocean accidentally, however, as several were sunk to create artificial reefs. Still others were sunk for movie shoots, including the films Thunderball and Never Say Never Again, deepening the Bahamas’ bond to 007. These ships have a ghostly beauty and teem with sea life that changes depending upon their depth and location. Divers and snorkelers can spot fish, Loggerhead Turtles, and sharks swimming around and through their sunken hulls. The Sugar Wreck off Grand Bahama Island is a grounded sailing ship that is only 20 feet deep and perfect for snorkelers. For the deeper wreck dives off the Abacos, you’ll need to scuba dive. Here you can explore the coral-covered steel parts of the San Jacinto, America’s first steamship which sank in 1865, among other wrecks.
10. Glass Window Bridge – A palette of beautiful blues swirl together at this narrow nature- and man-made expanse, with the shallow turquoise waters of Exuma Sound on one side and the deeper blue of the Atlantic Ocean on the other. This bridge connecting north and south Eleuthera Island was once formed by rocks until it was breached by a series of storms in the 1940s and replaced by a man-made span. Sailors gave the site its name because they could see through the original rock arch as though looking through a window. The beautiful landscape was the subject of an 1885 painting by American artist Winslow Homer. Constantly battered by wind and sea, repair crews are common and visitors are advised to travel with a guide who knows the ideal times to visit.
The wonder of the Bahamas is its welcoming spirit combined with year-round seasons for any and all adventures the islands have to offer. If you prefer staying on dry land you can pay a visit to the historic hamlets and lighthouses or go birdwatching in a lush nature preserve. If you only have eyes for the sea, you can scuba or snorkel the myriad coral reefs or fly fish the expansive flats . Your options for exploration in the Bahamas are truly fathomless.
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