This article was written in collaboration with Azedo.com - Your Vacation Starts Here.
The Abacos … Where do I even begin to tell you about this kind of bliss? If you have never spent time in the Caribbean, you are in for a real Bahamian treat here. If you have been here before, you are still in for an everyday sort of fun. The people that have been here once, tend to go back multiple times throughout their life. From the days of piracy to the modern-day explorations both under and over the water, there is so much to take in. While here, you will sink into a time zone of indescribable serenity.
The Abaco Cays are actually pronounced ‘keys’. It is really no wonder that the unknown harbors and uninhabited cays of the Abacos were quested by pirates back in the 18th century. It is truly a place of Mother Nature’s fortune.
It has always been my dream to go here. Beaches in the Bahamas are our universal love and the one thing we never get enough of. To say the least, there is something lavish about never having to change out of your bathing suit when on vacation.
How to get there? When to go? Currency?
One flight a day, 20 passenger plane, and a pretty rough landing. Oh! And delays are pretty standard. No matter where you are coming from in the world, the best route is to fly into South Florida and take a small plane into Marsh Harbor or Treasure Cay. If you are staying in the outer lying islands, your final destination may require a boat to get to. But don’t fret, there are ways to get there and kind people to help.
My plane touched down after a fifty-minute flight from Fort Lauderdale into Treasure Cay. The view out the window was one of the best I had ever seen. All I could see was small patches of green land and endless shades of Caribbean blue ocean. The airport is one building that holds no more than 50 people and one man checking people through customs with the biggest and most welcoming smile on his face. To say the least, it is the best greeting into a country you will ever receive. Your bags are taken off of the plane and put onto a dolly. They are rolled outside onto the side walk and it is a free for all to grab your bag.
Right outside of the airport, which really looks like a small house, there are taxi mini vans that can take you to your next destination on the mainland. Whether you are staying in Marsh Harbor, Little Harbor, Treasure Cay, or Green Turtle Cay the locals know all the best ways for you to get there. Tip: Make sure you always agree on your taxi fare before as there are no meters.
The currency in the Bahamas is the Bahamian dollar however they also accept U.S. dollars at no extra cost. Both currencies are equal so it is common that you will receive both currencies in return. And, ATMs are tough to come by. To say the least, you will be lucky if they are even working.
We visited in the off-season, but locals told us that even during the height of tourist season you can find abandoned beaches to enjoy all the solitude to yourself. Sleepy as the Abacos are, there’s plenty to do. With direct flights from Florida in just 50 minutes, I cannot think of any reason why you would not want to visit the Abacos.
The Mix of Towns and Every Day Bahamian Voyages
Where to stay? Where to go? Oh my, this is one of the toughest decisions when deciding to go to the Abacos. You cannot go wrong no matter which way you choose. Each island and Cay has their own taste of pristine beauty. The best part about the Abacos is that when you wake up in the morning, no matter what you decide to do that day, your options are minimal and you will sink into fulfillment the moment you step outside.
My first time going, I stayed in Treasure Cay at Bahama Beach Resort. Treasure Cay is known to be the resort area on the Abacos mainland and is easily accessible once you land as it does not require a boat or ferry to get to. Whether you are with a group of people, honeymooning, or with kids, there is most definitely time to be well spent for all. Your options of where to stay are endless. Whether you prefer a townhouse in the marina, renting a full home, a small shack, or the commercialized beach resort, you will be able to find that in Treasure Cay. There are very few restaurants and each night of the week you will have something different to look forward to. However, do not get your hopes up when it comes to food. Unfortunately, your food options are limited here. I suggest conch fritters, especially if you have never had them, and fish sandwiches are the way to go. If eating out for dinner, your options are, again, limited for each night of the week. Monday nights in Treasure Cay are typically Taco Night with live Music at the Bahama Beach Club; all are welcome. Tuesday nights are sushi night at Treasure Sands which is a very nice restaurant on the water as you enter Treasure Cay. Treasure Sands is also a great day spot as they have a pool with loud music along with the restaurant and bar. I would compare this to Nikki Beach during the day – it is quite the party spot. Wednesday night is Italian night at Bahamas Beach Club. Thursday night is Pizza night at Tipsy’s and this is surely a night for the books. Thursday nights at Tipsy’s is a fair combination of locals and visitors strictly getting funky. What happens on Thursday nights at Tipsy’s, stays there. I will leave it at that. Friday night is steak night at Bahamas Beach club.
Another great part about staying in Treasure Cay is that there is a decent sized grocery store and liquor store. Also, it is easily accessible to take the ferry to Guana Cay and Green Turtle Cay or hop on your boat and shoot across. Depending on the ocean, the crossing will vary to about 30 to 45 minutes.
It has been known that Treasure Cay beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, according to National Geographic. One visit here will make you develop an extreme bias for all beaches just as every local or visitor has. There is some sort of magical balanced formula to Treasure Cay’s natural beauty. The feeling of the sand between your toes is silky soft and perfectly egg white colored. The beach has room to breathe and the depth for all to have their own open space. It stretches for over three secluded miles and is wide enough for a fun pick-up game of beach football or volleyball. The seas tend to be calmer due to the protection of the crescent shaped coastline that creates a bay. Are you booking your flight yet? All of this is true for this specific beach, and yes, basically every other beach in the Abaco Islands as well. But, especially here.
After visiting many of the Abaconian Islands during this trip, I am torn as to which one is my favorite. It is generally just a hop, skip, and a jump between the waterfront havens in the Abacos. So, you can typically find what suits your mood to stay or do for the day. Personally, I absolutely loved Hope Town, Guana Cay, Little Harbor and Green Turtle Cay. However, there are an immeasurable amount of uninhabited surrounding islands where you will find only a few other visitors. There is enough solitude for everyone here in the Abacos and there are plenty of picturesque towns to stop to grab a bite or a have a drink. I think that one of my favorites had to be the beach below Nippers on Guana Cay. The streets are packed with friendly Bahamian folk locals and people who have beach houses there. You will also meet many people that have arrived on their sailboat and are sailing to each of the different islands.
Green Turtle and The Original Goombay Smash
Green Turtle was another one of my favorites (I know, there are a lot). It is the northern most developed Cay in the Abacos and quite a magical place. Just like the other Cays, miles of beautiful beaches and gorgeous turquoise water awaits you at every turn. New Plymouth is home to restaurants, shops and a local museum with bright colored painted buildings. You will also see everyone commuting by golf cart like many of the other islands. Here you can find rental cottages, residential vacation homes, and the perfect place to anchor your boat and stay for some time.
While visiting Green Turtle, do not forget to make a pit stop by Miss Emily’s for a world famous Goombay Smash rum punch. This is a must, my friends. For those of you that have never had a Goombay Smash, they are absolutely delicious. The Goombay Smash is a common tourist cocktail that you can order at any tropical bar. Though, the notable exception is in Green Turtle Cay at Miss Emily's Blue Bee Bar. Don't mind what others may say, this is where the Goombay Smash originated with the famous potion of Miss Emily. And, you can even buy it by the gallon. A ferry ride from Treasure Cay takes you to Green Turtle Cay and within walking distance is the Blue Bee Bar, home of the original Goombay Smash. When you enjoy a Goombay Smash at the Blue Bee Bar, it is not just a drink it is surely an experience of storytelling.
Another little secret to Green Turtle Cay is to make a pit stop by Lowe’s Food Store for some homemade ice cream. It comes in about 5 different local flavors and you can find it in the back of the store buried in the deep freeze.
Outstanding views from the Hope Town Lighthouse
You will find one of the most incredible views in the Bahamas from the top of this hidden spot in Hope Town. The red and white candy cane stripped Elbow Reef Lighthouse is probably the most recognizable landmark in the Abacos. Getting to the top of the Hope Town Lighthouse requires climbing 101 tightly spiraled steps but I promise that it is worth it. When you make it to the upper balcony you will have a coast-to-coast view of Elbow Cay that will leave you absolutely breathless. There is nowhere else in the Abaco Islands that will allow you to see a view like this. Side note: it is free. At most times, the harbor in Hope town if filled with sailboats and catamarans. If you do not have a boat, there is a ferry that shuttles people back and forth. During your time in Hope Town, you will see many luxury homes along the water and also tucked away in the tropical trees overlooking the ocean. No matter where you go on the island, just like the others, you can smell the salty breeze.
This lighthouse is one of the last manual lighthouses that is still operational in all the world so make sure to soak in every bit of this view. It was built in 1863 and during that time there was a lighthouse keeper to wind it up by hand every couple of hours so that ships could see the beacon from up to 17 miles away. This was probably one of my favorite and most memorable moments from the Abacos – I had never seen anything like it.
Great Guana Cay – Nippers
This is where all your fish tales will truly come to life. Especially on a sunny Sunday at Nippers. You will wash away all your worries with what the locals like to refer to as rum therapy. I had always thought of the Bahamas with many colorful buildings and lots smiles. Well, Great Guana Cay is the true place of this existence. Life on Great Guana is rather laid back majority of the days though I would say that Sundays are quite an exception because of the festivities at Nippers. Well, I was a newbie to the Nippers experience until just a short time ago. Nippers is a three-story beach and pool bar on the ocean side of Great Guana and hosts the largest party on Sundays. It is full of locals and tourists and has been on on-going Sunday tradition for many years now. I would suggest getting there around 11 for world-famous Nippers BBQ. In order to get here, like many places in the Abacos, it requires a boat. Around Great Guana, you will find some world-renowned reefs where people come from all over the world to dive at.
Little Harbour: The Perfect Safe Haven
This perfect little spot sits at the southern end of the Sea of Abaco and offers the perfect slice of life. It is a very small but protected harbor with a narrow entrance to get in and there are many locals living on sailboats. This harbor is completely off grid and some of the ingenuity behind this place is worth seeing for yourself. Pete’s Pub is a family owned restaurant offering dockage for smaller boats and just over a short walking bridge is endless ocean. Just imagine it, a very small stretch of land with a calm harbor on one side and ocean waves crashing into the shore line on the other – it is the perfect combination of sea breeze. Next to Pete’s Pub is Pete’s gallery where it is all handmade local art, majority being made out of bronze right there in Little Harbor. There is a deep history behind how to the bronze sculpture making came about and it all traces back through this family. The sculptures all focus on local marine life and are not very cheap. This is definitely something worth seeing! Also, pretty cool to see is that in order to take advantage of the wind and flush out the dead heat, they use large sails to circulate the wind through the restaurant. I had never seen this on land in my life!
Tip: Pete’s Pub is full of T-Shirts of visitors and people who have been there so bring an extra T-Shirt and sign your name. It will stay there for as long as the Pub lives.
Kickin’ It In Piggyville
This is something that I have always dreamt of. In the Abacos, especially. The excitement was real for me. We made sure to bring with us raw vegetables, bread, and really any food we could find to feed these cute little guys. Well, when I say little I don’t actually mean little because there are some big piggies there. And be careful! They sure do bite! Piggyville is in a place called No Name Cay where they can swim freely on their own and live in the treasure of the beautiful turquoise waters. How did they get here? Well, I do not know the exact details but a local folklore declares that the pigs swam to shore after a shipwreck way back when and have been living there ever since. Due to the great community of the Bahamians and tourists, I must say that the pigs seem to have a pretty great life with a overflowing source of fresh water, fruits, and vegetables to outlive some humans.
Swimming with Sharks and Sting Rays in Manjack Cay
I almost think that this is still a secret of the Abacos. Manjack Cay is a privately owned and completely undeveloped island in the Abacos. The beaches are unspoiled and perfect for swimming, shelling, and picnicking. Keep in mind that the only way to get here is by boat. Here you can feed the stingrays squid but make sure all your fingers are in or else they will suck your fingers right up! There are also many nurse sharks and reef sharks here so make sure to bring enough squid and also cut up Ballyhoo. The best places to buy bait is to stop at the marina in Green Turtle to buy it and cut it all up. You will also spot many friendly turtles that will swim up to your boat as you enter the cay. I never thought I would be able to swim with sharks however they were actually very friendly creatures, especially if you are feeding them. This part of the Abacos is deserted and most of the people that come here come do so for the solitude and beauty of mother nature.
The Rich History of the Out Islands of The Bahamas: A Pirate's Paradise
This is not just history for books. What makes the Bahamas particularly inimitable is the diverse history of pioneers to the islands. These special days of piracy are still felt here and over time it has shaped the way the Bahamian people live. This is exemplified in their everyday routines, how they work, and especially how they celebrate. There are many things here that remind you that you are truly in a sacred and special place. From the inhabiting of when Christopher Columbus landed in the Bahamas in 1492 to the secret tales of rum runners and piracy, the chronicles of the Bahamas Out Islands are very much still living. Like travelers on the hunt for a different kind of vacation experience, many of the people who have chosen to live in the Abacos were seeking that different kind of life as well. Inspiring them to stay and create a life there unlike any other.
Starting with the Lucayan tribe searching for a peaceful haven on the islands to the English Puritans who sought a reliable sort of freedom and the skilled craftsman and boat makers on the chase to make a living from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean pursuit - no matter who it was or where you were coming from, they all came here in search of a better life. Although this history is a beautiful thing that is still felt in the everyday lifestyle, there is some history that is not as pleasant. Many of the population that currently resides in the islands are descendants of slaves who arrived in the islands from West Africa. Even through the sparsely populated, widely underdeveloped and the extended natural wonders of the Bahamas, much of the history lives on today through celebrations, food, and dance.
During the time of discovering this remote and uncharted land of the Bahamas, the reefs made the navigation troubling and tricky. This was a place and still is a place made for people who enjoy experiencing unspoiled ecosystems and world-class fishing, diving, sailing, and pristine coastal shorelines. Pirates found this land treasure because they would park their 'galleons' near the shallow water and wait for a slow-moving ship to pass through before they raided. The remote enclaves provided cover for pirates to fix their boats and ensure that they were the speediest craft on the water. The uncharted caves provided protected hideaways that were highly lust after spots to hoard their looted plunder.
Although the days of piracy have now long passed, the Abaco Islands are alive with modern-day gems and we can enjoy it with many of the same advantages that pirates did long ago. Whether it be digging your toes in the exquisite soft sand beaches or heading out for explorations on and under the water - there are many Caribbean secrets to uncover in the Abacos and miles of natural treasure to discover.
All is well.
Just envision yourself sipping on a cocktail underneath a soaring palm tree with the breeze soothingly whispering to you through the fronds. In the Abacos, you will truly learn to live like a real Bahamian and realize why Pirates conquered this area claiming it as treasure. It really, really is treasure in every way. Whether you are a diver looking for some of the world’s best reefs, or looking to sail around in the most beautiful turquoise waters, or a vacationer looking for the best golf resort in the Caribbean – The Abacos are the place for you.
Life just simply moves at a very relaxed pace; what many like to refer to as ‘island time’. Take a look around – the miles of glistening blue salty waters and sugar sand beaches will fill your body up with tranquility at every breath. Now, pack your towel, a good book, camera, your favorite suit, and get ready to dig your feet in the sand in search of your perfect spot to chill for the day. Soak it all up and put your worries aside because, as the locals would say, ‘everything will be well’. This is the Bahamas. This is Paradise.