This is definitely a late post. Sorry, life happens sometimes. How’s the #TravelFOMO during the pandemic? As we grapple with continued airport closures, and find bittersweet solace in potentially being able to visit those countries that are accepting tourists - 14 day mandatory quarantine or not - there is still a long way to go before international travel returns to normal.
Whatever the hell “normal” is going to mean now.
Since international travel is going to be slow to open, my advice to Bahamians: We need to travel our islands as often as we can. Everyone else does? Why shouldn’t we? I can’t stress this enough - DOMESTIC WILL BE THE NEW TOURISM TREND.
I get it though, domestic travel can be expensive. It doesn’t have to be. If you’re a newbie to island hopping this is probably more for your benefit. If you’re practically a pirate, you might be able to revisit some places and try some different shit.
So how do you manage costs?
I enjoy traveling with bae as much as anyone else does but that comes with its fair share of expense and usually this is a limitation on how far you can travel if you’re someone with a relatively modest budget. This needn’t sound like a disincentive; I just like to be realistic about the cost of island travel. If you don’t mind making a few sacrifices in name of saving on island travel, then here are a few suggestions for how to make a 3 day 2 night weekend Family Island vacation affordable:
The group trip is the key. You’re looking for a bargain and our local Bahamian hotels are looking to fill rooms, but you’re not as likely to find a good deal one 1, or 2 rooms at a hotel. If you can round up a squad big enough to occupy a full 5 bedroom house (yes, they exist...go and peep Squire Estates in Eleuthera for example) then you shave the cost per night to almost 1/5th. The sacrifice: You lose a little privacy and group trips can sometimes get invasive (not with my squad though, our vibe is legendary). If you can get over that, then it won’t spoil your trip at all.
Opt for estate homes, lodges and air bnb’s over hotels since the owners are more flexible on group rates and will often accept direct inquiries as long as you’re serious and not just calling for shits and giggles. A place like Fountain Bay, in Cat Island (visited there in 2017) has lovely seaside villas and if you call ahead and can book all the villas at once, you might get a good deal. They offer a competitive local price.
Planning food ahead of time is clutch. This isn’t an indictment against Family Island restaurants. It is testament to one of the “challenges” of island living. One of the main issues faced by the Family Islands is scarcity. They simply don’t have the demand for certain things because of their moderate populations or modest tastes and so do not keep a supply of anything other than the bare necessities. Yes, you can find tuna and corned beef but I like a good steak and you can’t buy a Ballpark steak in Long Island. If you buy your meat and other food products and then send them up the day before on the mail-boat or BahamasAir, you’ll not have to think about spending that paper when you get there which leaves room in the budget for other things.
As far as dining out though, the Family Islands have New Providence beaten. I promise I don’t have a bias toward Long Island but the mutton and the conch down there just taste…different…better. The freshness of the seafood is unparalleled and it seems that the flavors get better the further south you go #pause in your travels. Andros people, don’t take offence I’m just saying them Long Islanders giving ya’ll some serious culinary competition.
While BahamasAir and Western Air and all the other Bahamas based airlines provide a terrific inter island service, my personal preference is flying private. There are a number of local charter companies, however I highly recommend Bonded Excursions if your group size is up to 7 people. They are a reliable, safe and timely carrier and cover the ENTIRE BAHAMAS from Chub Cay to Inagua. You’ll spend a few dollars less on the charter flight per person, with the added benefit of your own schedule. No pressure to wake up for 7:00am when you can fly at 10. Just know, Captain Butler and Captain Kelly are men of time and on time so if you say 10, and get there at 11 they might make you wash the plane.
I’m kidding; they are both good reliable pilots, two of the best in The Bahamas. You can find Bonded Excursions on Instagram.
So, those three things will bring the cost of your trip down a bit, and add convenience to your excursion
So, once you’re there - what do you do?
We have this tendency now to gravitate towards the destinations and attractions that “popular” people make popular instead of appreciating that there are SO MANY places that are yet undiscovered that you can be the person to reveal. This has never been more-true than in our archipelago. Also, there are swimming pigs in Abaco, Spanish Wells and Rose Island now so it’s obviously more of a commercial gimmick. We should all get over the pigs (for example) and let them go and enjoy their private island(s). You remember that viral video of the pig biting that tourist in the ass? I think that proves they are fed up of us too.
Going to see the pigs does highlight the most critical and alluring feature of our striking tropical landscape though. The water; unmistakable and consistent, a colorist may be able to identify new shades of blue from Bahamian waters. The astronauts also really seem to love it.
So you want to get out on the water? That is the BEST way to see our country. There are some Captains I’d recommend that I have travelled with, and are personal friends of mine that can take you on, or organize and excursion for you through any of our islands. If you’ve not done so before, get your gang-gang together and hail Captain Troy for a thrilling ride on the Midnight Express “Lamborghini”; Born Free Charters and Hidden Beaches Tours also run group and private excursions, and affordable rates for group trips if you don’t want an entire boat to yourself and want to meet some new faces on your journey. Captain Nick (no, I’m not referring to myself in the third person) at Born Free will take good care of you. Hidden Beaches, Born Free and Captain Troy are all on instagram if you want to check them out.
Instead of going to the attractions, find a distraction. They are abundant and diverse; trekking through the pine-barrens in Andros to hunt for wild hogs, hiking the path to Hole in the Wall Lighthouse in Abaco #AbacoStrong - one of the most beautiful places to see with your own eyes. Swim in the tunnel, or climb the exterior rock formation and plunge through the porthole into Thunderball Grotto in Exuma and then take a short boat ride and visit The Washing Machine - a naturally occurring big ass whirlpool tub basically - and watch baby black tip sharks swim skittishly by. It’s truly amazing. No, you needn’t be afraid of sharks.
Choosing an island to visit can also be tough because you just don’t know what to expect most of the time. The Out Islands Promotion Board is doing a fantastic job in giving people as much information about our islands as possible, and they even offer deals on hotel stays and flights with their Two-Fly-Free program. They don’t dip too much into off the beaten path activities though, or so I find.
If you asked me, I would say there are three islands I would recommend to a newbie island hopper:
Eleuthera is an island where freedom is in the air, the water, and the food. I’m not encouraging anyone to break the law, however there’s no harm in a quick skinny dip on a secluded beach. My GF (who will probably kill me for writing this) and I did it in [redacted] one time and it was liberating #NoTanLines.
You’ve got to drive to fully explore Eleuthera so renting a car is a must, preferably something that can go off-road. There’s a gentleman named Arthur Turnquest who is very charming and personable who will sort you out if he’s got availability. He is in Governor’s Harbour. Ordinarily vehicles start at $50 a day and increase from there. There are lots of local rental companies, and it’s as easy as asking someone outside the airport when you land. “Cigatoo” as it was known by the Arawaks, is a long and narrow island. The north and south have different treasures. You can go and take in the sights at The Glass Window Bridge, as you drive all the way up to North Eleuthera. You can then take a ferry over to Harbor Island and engage in a life of island opulence and perpetual serenity. My favorite thing to do is drive to the sheltered beaches in Rock Sound settlement. Any of the pathways on the left if you’re traveling South will take you to a secluded beach and you can (safely of course) have a small bonfire and relax, or...ya know...go for a dip. I’d say 3 days 2 nights, with a vehicle will probably run you $750 per person (including refundable rental car deposit) if you’re traveling as a couple, but comes down neatly to seeping $500 per person if you go as a group.
Then there’s Long Island. Bey, listen. The mutton souse and steamed mutton is on different level of delicious in Long Island. This sparsely populated island has one of the Seven Wonders of The Bahamas, Dean’s Blue Hole - go see it, swim in it, jump off the cliff into it, and then keep driving and go to Cape Santa Maria. Few beaches have ever made me say “Muddasick, this is beautiful” in the way that the beach at the Cape did when I saw it. I don’t recommend staying there unless you’re looking for a more upscale vacation weekend. Stay in Cartwright’s Settlement. Greenwich Creek Lodge is a good venue; clean and open air with a pool and modern amenities.
Long Island isn’t quite the island for sight-seeing, it’s more an island for relaxing since in terms of activities there isn’t much to do. It’s probably the only island I would recommend visiting during a regatta first, and then visiting when the island is quiet. You get a better sense of the island vibe and surrounded by all those people, you always find something hype to do the next day if you can survive the drinking from the night before. Long Islanders will drink you under the table. You’ve been warned.
Exuma is a gem. It’s an archipelago within an archipelago and its waters are truly a sight to behold. The best way to go there is by boat if you have the budget (or the group size) so that you can do what I like to call “The Cay Run”. Stop off in Norman’s Cay, Compass Cay, Staniel Cay or my favorite activity – find a cay, and just stop there. There are loads of small islets all around the Exumas and if you want a private beach experience to make you feel like a millionaire then anchor just offshore and go for it.
Mainland Exuma has a different charm from the cays. Exuma people don’t rush for anyone. They epitomize the chill of island life and trying to hasten anyone is a task. This adds to the serenity of these islands because you realize that no one is rushing, because there’s no need to. Their local Fish Fry is a few minutes’ drive outside of Georgetown, and is a good spot to stop for the local bites. Again, a vehicle is necessary; a drive to Barraterre is scenic and displays the topography of the island in full panorama once you start this mission of a drive.
You can easily rent a boat in Exuma (self-captained even) and venture about and do some fishing and diving. Exuma has some of the best fishing in The Bahamas and the water is so clear you can practically dive without a mask.
Even if nothing I have said moves you to want to explore our islands more, if you do some independent research you will find a reason.
As for me, I hope to get to Acklins and Crooked Island this year. Specifically, one of the sights I am really hoping to get to when all of this Covid-19 travel ban bullshit is over and done with is “Crawfish Canyon” in Acklins. I’ve heard stories about this ridge that is littered with crawfish if you are a skilled enough diver unafraid of a few feet (30 feet) of water and skilled with a spear.
It has also been said by the ubiquitous “they” that at low tide you can walk between the tips of the two islands. Even if this isn’t entirely true, I have to find out for myself. If my next blog post seems to sound a little like Tom-Hanks-in-Castaway then you can assume I have been swept away by the tide and am on a remote island charging my phone with solar power and screaming at my only friend, a crab.
Go check out the islands. You don’t need to go to Europe, the USA or anywhere else but your own back yard for all the adventure that you need.
Peace, Love, and a Covid-19 free holiday weekend guys!