There aren’t any 2,317 room resorts in paradise…
Just saying “The Bahamas” brings great feelings. It’s a place esteemed for being perfectly not on time, where everything is easy, smiles are contagious and beaches are heavenly. The key lime pie sure ain’t bad either, nor are the conch fritters with a potent rum punch. There’s just one problem with the Bahamas – the easiest places to reach aren’t the ones you really seek or desire. If you want the true Bahamian experience, you need to ditch the big plane, and ideally, planes entirely. You need to go here, not there…
If you find Atlantis to be your paradise, that’s absolutely fine, but it’s about as Bahamian as Las Vegas, where it really belongs. Anywhere with more than four stories or multiple all you can eat buffets is not the Bahamian dream and the waters around them will never be as see through as you hoped. For that matter, nor is nearby Lyford Cay, home of James Bond villains and the “one-up” jet set crowd. Lush yes, but relaxing it is not.
If you want casinos, night clubs and people at every turn, stay there. It’s better for everyone. If you don’t, and prefer sand without footprints, immaculately dressed locals waving hello in their Sunday’s best or drinks made out of actual coconuts, you’ll need at least one more flight and ideally another bumpy boat ride or two, too. You need to go to the Abacos. There are hardly any great secrets left in travel, but it kind of feels like one.
Stepping off the inevitably small commuter plane in Marsh Harbor is a distinct pleasure, in part because luggage is usually delivered using a wheelbarrow. Gates are non existent and even though you haven’t fully escaped the crowds yet, you’re already a long way from the big wide body jets of Nassau. To get here, you would’ve needed to pick up a small regional flight, likely on Bahamas Air from a nearby regional city in Florida or perhaps Nassau.
Though this is the biggest island of the Abacos it’s a world away from mass tourism. On the Eastern Shores, you’d never care if you saw another soul. This is not the land of see and be seen, it’s the place where seeing no one is precisely the idea, unless you’re hopping out for a strong drink cloaked in an amusing pink umbrella. You can catch your own fish dinner, and if you rent a house, you can probably barbecue it too.
This is the beginning of Bahamian territory where life is more home rental or sweet inn, rather than massive queue at check in. Much like celebrity haven Harbour Island, the Abacos are where life is best served slowly, simply and with the turquoise water you see in pictures, but never seem to find in real life. You will definitely find it here.
This is where locals don their very finest clothes on Sunday, when nothing will be open no matter how much you want it to be. This is where there may be three things on the menu, all of which are perfect and this is where community is real, not just a show put on for incoming cruise ships. There are none, by the way.
Where To Stay
The Abacos are a group of islands which manage to thin tourists out with each stop. At the first likely point of arrival in Marsh Harbour, many set up shop along the island’s pristine Eastern Shores, where house rentals are exceptionally good value. If hotels are your thing, go for The Abaco Beach Resort, the islands only real hotel.
Just because you’re shedding tourists, it doesn’t mean you’re shedding tropical brilliance. Fewer people means less pollution; which means clearer waters, healthier reefs and more abundant animal life above and below the sea. The diving scene is immaculate and snorkeling is easy, even if you only wade in from the shore. And fishing, wow. There’s everything, including some of the best spots for elusive bonefish!
But if you soldier on to the Albury Ferry you’ll be rewarded. By ferry by the way, we mean a boat that holds about 20 people, with a captain wearing sandals, likely without slacks or a pressed shirt either. They may not look the part, but they damn sure know where they’re going and even if there’s a bit of chop, the journey is always worth it. This age old family ferry business will shuttle you to Hope Town, Great Guana, Elbow or Green Turtle Cay, each of which will make you feel a lot more than one step closer to true paradise.
With its iconic lighthouse, Hope Town in Elbow Cay is an instant hit. It’s laid back, bohemian luxury allows anyone seeking tranquility to enjoy it without attitude. As a true barrier island, its White Sound beach is truly outstanding, and the small inns which line its shores are easily worth a night.
Further afield, Green Turtle is where you’ll find a distinctly affluent flow of travelers from all around the world. It’s more of the James Bond side of low key, but well worth a visit. As one might expect from its namesake, it’s a great spot for swimming turtles and also in extremely close proximity to No Name Cay, home to the famous swimming pigs you may have seen gracing covers around the world.
Unlike many parts of the world, low key doesn’t mean suffering palates. There are no celebrity chefs to be found, but this is not a place to order spaghetti bolognese anyway.
These spots are the home of grouper burgers, conch fritters, fresh snapper and devilish cocktails. Bakeries the size of your pantry whip up fresh key lime pie, meringue and coconut cream as those in the know plot their days around bake schedules. Everything feels like life simplified, and in a way it is. You can catch your dinner, you can ride your bike and you can rent a boat to explore on your own terms. Time goes by in a perfectly imprecise and imperfect manor.
If you want to escape it all however, Man O War, Scotland or Great Guana are two more options which couldn’t feel more remote in the best of ways. These are places where you *may* be able to find an Airbnb listing or two, but may also need to ask someone to ask someone. That’s kind of the charm, isn’t it? The world is about discovery and if you go here, you’l be so glad you didn’t go there…