We arrived at Stella Maris, Long Island Bahamas airport to clear skies and warm temperatures. The cold front that was stationed over Nassau dispersed as soon as we flew over the Southern Exumas heading South. We made reservations at a private apartment rental in the Stella Maris area and used this as our home base for island excursions.
We toured the South island stopping at "Long Island Breeze" which sits on the Caribbean side of the island just as you enter the settlement of Salt Pond from the North. Long Island Breeze is a 3 year old small boutique resort / yacht club that caters to the boaters anchored in Thompson's Bay and Salt Pond. They have an ocean front pool, a large outside deck with bar and gazebo, and great 180 degree views of the bay from the second story restaurant patio and upper bar. There are 4 deluxe cottage rooms and 2 ocean front bungalows, all very nicely appointed with modern amenities and air conditioning. An artificial beach has been built in front of the bungalows complete with coconut palms and swaying hammocks. The dining room gets lively for dinner when the boaters come in from the bay on their dinghys and tie up for dinner. This is another very quiet place and centrally located if you are planning to attend the annual regatta or as a home base for island exploration.
Further to the South we visited Clarence Town and the beautiful beach at Galloway's. This is a classic Southern Bahamas powder white sand beach where you can lose yourself walking the deserted 3 miles of shoreline. This is one of the best swimming beaches on the island.
Some of the other great stops heading back to the North are Dean's Blue hole, Deadman's Cay airport Bar (spontaneous dance parties occur here while waiting for flights), Max's Conch Bar for the self acclaimed "Best Conch Salad" in the Bahamas, Chez Pierre Restaurant and beach front cottages. The Chef serves a gourmet dinner menu that is a mix of native dishes and French cuisine that is all made to order, Beach Bungalow Bar and Grill in Deals settlement for great rum punches and the "Fisherman's Platter" that is a combination of cracked conch, lobster, and grouper (enough for 4), and finally the landmark Stella Maris resort in Stella Maris. Stella Maris is a full service resort offering diving and snorkeling excursions daily, beach trips, bone fishing trips, you name it. They have 4 beach front villas that have anywhere from 2-3 bedrooms, and some with ocean front pools. They also have 1-2 bedroom cottages and "hotel rooms" which are single rooms in the large main building. The recently built Moonshine Beach Bar serves great food, great drinks, and great music on a large deck overlooking the Atlantic. Thursday is the weekly rum punch party at the resort upper bar complete with endless rum punch and a rake n scrape band – this is not to be missed!
Take a dive in the pool right on the beach at the Stella Maris Resort
Heading to the Northern end of Long Island we visited the Adderley plantation just outside Stella Maris. This was a very large plantation and many of the foundations are still standing. It's a hot 10-15 minute walk through some of the dried bone fishing flats, then up a hill into the bush but well worth it once you reach the top of the hill and experience the panoramic view and great breeze. Pushing further North we reached the beautiful Cape Santa Maria beach. This beach has been identified by Conde Nast as one of the 10 Best Beaches in the World! The water is mind blowing, tranquil and refreshing, and The Beach House Restaurant and Bar serves great food and even better tropical drinks.
The Cape Santa Maria Beach Front Villas are exquisite with amazing views of the beach and the bay, and every modern convenience you could ask for. They are steps from the powder white sand, and villa guests are provided with a private beach gazebo complete with lounge chairs and a fresh water shower.
Abaco, Bahamas: April 11th -15th, 2012
The weather was beautiful as we landed to the South at Marsh Harbour. The first thing we noticed as we unloaded the aircraft was the massive new international terminal under construction. Scheduled to open in 2013, this will certainly be a high end complex with modern facilities and a huge area for parking. We caught a cab and rode the short 10 minute ride to the "Lofty Fig" just across the street from the harbor on Bay street. "The Fig" was our base station for Abaco exploration and Sid could not have been more welcoming. The grounds are quaint, 8 cottages surrounding a central fresh water pool – you can't beat the location!
The Lofty Fig grounds
We began our journeys with a walk across the street and a stop at Dive Abaco to meet Captain Keith. Keith has been diving these islands since 1978 and no one knows the reefs and local marine life better than he. His dive shop has a wide array of equipment, books, and gifts. We scheduled for the morning 2 tank run out to the Fowl Cay Reef Preserve that lies between Man of War Cay and Scotland Cay just inside the outer barrier reef. It's a quick 30 minute boat ride and the conditions were phenomenal with the winds calm, calm clear water, and a small but lively group of divers and snorkelers from Denmark who were anxious to get in as soon as we arrived. Captain Keith provided a great briefing of the location, the marine life, the route we would take through the reefs, and what we can expect, which included two swim-through caverns, gorgeous coral overhangs and abundant fish. The diving was spectacular with visibility around 100 ft. This marine preserve is a must see and fortunately we caught a beautiful day with perfect diving conditions. Dive Abaco and Captain Keith provide a great trip with personalized service and quick access to some spectacular diving. If you find Captain Keith's boat sold out, there is another dive outfit "Above and Below Abaco" that is right next to "The Fig."
The next morning we loaded our backpacks with masks, snorkels, fins, towels, and snacks and headed out to the Crossing Beach public dock to catch the morning Albury Ferry to Elbow Cay and the famous Hope Town. The ride is quick 20 minutes across the bay into Hope Town. The vibe of Hope Town can be felt the moment you step off the boat. Golf carts preside, shallow one way streets lined with quaint colorful cottages and bungalows, dingy boats puttering to and fro through the vast armada of sailboats moored in this protected harbor. It is a sharp contrast to the hustle and bustle of Marsh Harbour and everyone here seems to know everyone here. This a very laid back island where bicycles are as numerous as golf carts and a smile and wave are expected when passing on the narrow streets. The famous red and white Hope Town Light House is visible from almost everywhere, and the most photographed place in the Out Islands.
We rented some bikes from a local gift shop – $15 for the entire day – and it was a great way to get around the island and get some exercise at the same time. First stop was the Hope Town Harbour Lodge just about 5 minutes down Front Street, which is the only street other than Back Street that runs in and out of the village of Hope Town proper. The lodge sits high on the hillside and has impressive views of both the harbor and the Atlantic Ocean. The grounds are thick with tropical foliage, inviting wicker patio furniture, and a large pool and outdoor bar that has a panoramic view of the Atlantic. This place was so inviting that we asked if there were any vacancies for the night, thinking we should take advantage of a stay in Hope Town. As expected they were sold out, but definitely on our list for next time!
Poolside at the Hope Town Harbour Lodge
We continued on with our beach cruiser tour to the South hitting some of the local restaurants and bars here and there for a cold Kalik. "On the Beach Bar and Grill" is a no shoes, no shirt, no problem hideaway off the main road as you head South. The beach view was amazing and the Kaliks were ice cold. Further on we hit the Abaco Inn "Tan Your Toes in the Abacos" and had a great time visiting the grounds and trying their special rum punch. This is another great hide away with secluded beachside cottages, a fresh water pool that overlooks the Atlantic and a great bar with views of both sides of the island. The signs for Hope Town Hideaways are everywhere and it seems that just about every vacation house on Elbow Cay to the South can be rented through this company. We made it to the Southern tip and the famed Tahiti Beach, which gains its name from the Polynesian type coco palms that stretch from the sand long and thin reaching towards the waters edge instead of straight up. There is great snorkeling, shelling, and overall mind meditation that occurs here as the contrast of water colors are mesmerizing. There is a small cut in the cays where the fresh Atlantic comes rushing in and washes across the shallow banks of the beach finally to fizzle out on one of the numerous sand bars that can stretch 500 ft out into the bay. This place was well worth the ride and a great place to spend the day swimming and sunning.
We caught a final rum punch at Captain Jack's while waiting for one of the last ferries back to Marsh Harbour. It was 5 o'clock and definitely quitting time on Elbow Cay as Captain Jacks is hit with a surge of fisherman, tourists, and other travelers who know that this is the spot to be for fish stories, ship stories, and drinking stories. The scene at Captain Jack's was wild and fun and a great send off spot for us to close out the day. We ended the night watching the sunset on the docks in Marsh Harbour. The traditional blowing of the conch shell by the cruisers and sailors filled the air just as the last trace of sunset glow disappeared on the horizon.
We woke to another beautiful day of clear skies and light winds. Today we only had to walk across the street to catch the Albury ferry to Great Guana Cay and a visit to Nippers Beach Bar and Grill. There are some newer establishments that have taken advantage of the Guana Cay infamy. "Grabbers Bed Bar and Grill" on Sunset beach has a fantastic beach facing the sheltered bay, hammocks between coconut trees, a fresh water pool complete with inflatable duck, and a great bar with good food right off the beach. The "Guana Grabber" is their specialty drink – you only need one! If you want to skip the crowds at Nippers this is a great alternative and unlike Nippers, you won't miss the return ferry because you can see the ferry dock from the bar.
Hammocks at Grabbers Bed Bar & Grill
Guana Cay runs at a very slow pace and the folks that live here are a great example of how to relax and unwind your mind. We met the "breakfast club" sitting at a palapa table just off the beach. This was 6 or 7 locals who just seemed to be sitting there staring at the ocean – because it is there. They all greeted us with smiles and nodes and then went back to watching the sea. It is a short lazy walk passed Milo's gift stand, past the Pirate Cove Tiki Bar, around the corner past the Fig tree, and up the hill to Nippers Beach Bar and Grill. So basically you pass 3 beach bars before you get to Nippers and you pass 3 bars on the way back to the ferry dock. Needless to say on a trip to Guana Cay, you need to leave your pretentions at the dock and commit to eating, drinking, and being merry . . . and not much else. We splashed in the Nippers pool, enjoyed a stroll on the beautiful beach, had an overwhelming large Bahamian lunch, and pretty much integrated with all the other Nipper-ees that were there for the same thing – eat, drink, and be merry!
We had an amazing trip across two islands and multiple cays. There is one thing that always comes to mind when the day to depart finally arrives. Of all the places in the world, for some reason, these out islands always deliver exactly what we are looking for on our vacation – white sand beaches, beautiful warm water, exceptionally friendly people, culture, fantastic diving, great tropical weather, and if you so chose to seek it out . . . isolation from the world you left behind.