When heading to the Bahamas, its so hard to decide where to go. Its a case of so many islands, so little time. “Do I want a non-stop party or to just chill on the beach?” you may ask yourself. “Do I want to spend my time on or in the water, or do I want to play golf?”
With Sandals, there’s no need to choose, because they take island hopping to a whole new level in the Bahamas, with all-inclusive resorts on two islands. Nassau, known for its glittering casinos, Junkanoo festival, duty-free shopping, and exotic adventures, is a high-energy haven that’s drawn glitterati and royalty alike.
It’s where you’ll find Sandals Royal Bahamian, formerly The Balmoral Club, where The Beatles (who filmed their movie “Help” on the island) and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor once stayed. It’s the perfect place to stay, with 10 restaurants, a Red Lane® Spa, and the added adventure of Sandals very own offshore island, with all the luxurious amenities you’d expect from Sandals—a pool with a swim-up bar, beach cabanas and nightly beach parties. Guests in select suites even enjoy the services of a private butler, and Rolls-Royce or Mercedes Benz transfers for top-tier suites— something only Sandals offers.
Life is more unspoiled in the Exumas, which is why it’s such a draw for the international A-list, many of whom flock to Sandals Emerald Bay. Home to immaculate beaches, untouched natural wonders, and some of the calmest waters in the world, the resort draws those seeking privacy, tranquility, and the pursuit of all things aquatic.
“With Sandals Resorts, guests don’t need to choose which island to explore with the new Island Hopping program”
The calm waters of the Exumas invite sailing, paddle boarding, snorkeling, scuba diving, and sports fishing. You can even swim with pigs there. But landlubbers aren’t left out of the game. The Greg Norman- designed championship golf course, hugs a scenic peninsula allowing for both challenging play and spectacular views.
Pristine beaches are made for relaxing, seven restaurants are perfect for gourmet dining, and an award-winning spa is designed to pamper the mind, body and spirit.
Vacations are no longer about loading the kids in the car and heading to the nearest beach. Today’s families are looking to stretch their imaginations, sharing their passion for travel with their loved ones. Find the right getaway for your crew, no matter who’s tagging along for the ride.
Chances are, you’ve already been to Nassau. Take the road less traveled: With 700-plus islands and more than 2,000 cays, the Out Islands offer the whole brood a chance to experience the real Bahamian way of life.
DO: Forgot fancy duds and pack extra swimsuits for Abaco’s endless water activities, including boating, snorkeling and swimming in the clear, shallow waters. Island-hopping is a must: Green Turtle Cay offers plenty of shelling and a bit of history at the colonial settlement of New Plymouth, while the Sunday afternoon pig roast at Nipper’s Beach Bar & Grill in Guana Cay is a tradition — kids can build sandcastles and splash in the calm blue water while you wait.
STAY: Abaco Beach Resort’s “Bahama Buddies” program (for ages 3-12) introduces younger visitors to local children and invites them to spend the day together, learning how to catch and cook fish, make island crafts and crack coconuts. There’s a variety of accommodations for all family sizes: oceanfront rooms with two beds start at $297, one bedroom suites with a pullout sofa from $585. abacobeachresort.com.
DO: Filled with reefs and blue holes (underwater caves), Andros is the least developed of the Out Islands. Days here are full of fi shing excursions, hikes through pine forests and diving at the third largest barrier reef in the world. Crab catching is an island pastime; in June, don’t miss the All Andros Crab Fest, with land crabs cooked 101 ways.
STAY: White-sand beaches run the length of the 96-acre Kamalame Cay resort. If your kids aren’t smitten with the place from the moment they hop of the private ferry from Andros, the fresh homemade cookies laid out each afternoon should do the trick.
Villas are pricey, from $1,485 per night, but a good choice for multigenerational stays; kamalame.com. The all-inclusive Small Hope Bay Lodge on Andros has 21 beachfront cottages from $295 per person per day ($125 for ages 2-12); smallhope.com.
Eleuthera and Harbour Island
DO: With their quiet sophistication, these two islands are the Nantuckets of the Bahamas. Explore the local history with a trip to Governor’s Harbour, or rent a bicycle and pedal around Harbour Island. Shelling in the morning and stargazing at night are markers of a great day. The more adventurous can try horseback riding on the beach (ages 12 and up, or pony rides, ages 5-11) at Oceanview Farm.
STAY: For a chic boutique vibe, book at the Cove, with onsite activities including boating and paddle boarding. Two-bedroom suites run about $1,369 per night; thecoveeleuthera.com. The centrally located Pineapple Fields Resort features self-catering condos that offer conveniences like laundry machines. One bedrooms from $185 per night; pineapplefields.com.
After landing at the single-building airport I’m greeted by a friendly taxi driver who takes me on the “highway” – which is essentially one extra-large lane for traffic in both directions. With only about 12,000 inhabitants the island is still very undeveloped, allowing me views of the wilderness and palm tree forests before crossing over the Glass Window Bridge with the bright aqua Caribbean on my right and the darker Atlantic Ocean on my left.
Soon I arrive at my destination: The Cove, a little paradise tucked away between the forests and the sea. At the gate I’m handed a luggage tag and offered the option of a Bahama Mama or lemon water. Inside the grounds, the winding road slices through the jungle until reaching the stunning hilltop lobby. Eschewing the hubbub typical of most resort reception areas, The Cove’s exclusivity means personal service above all else. At the top of the quiet hill I breathe in the salt air from the nearby sea and take in the simple beauty of the property.
Next I hop aboard a golf cart that whisks me through the peaceful plantation-like grounds of white cottages and hammocks surrounded by endless green. Further still I arrive at my own private villa right on the sand. The front porch sits mere steps from the water and, while blissfully isolated, the bungalow still has every modern amenity one could ever need.
The sliding glass doors are wide open, allowing the ocean breeze to ripple the white curtains as I enter the villa. Immediately I feel the aura of a cozy beachfront home with a plush and modern platform bed, vaulted ceilings, bright white decor and an ultra-sleek bathroom with the option of a walk-in shower, egg-shaped bathtub, or private outdoor shower – how will I ever choose?
After changing into a bathing suit I roam the grounds, passing by other guests every now and then… but for the most part it feels as though I’m on my own private island. With an intimate 57 rooms ranging from cozy suites and romantic cottages to a three-bedroom villa (with a private lap pool and butler service), this seaside utopia provides for the ultimate escape.
I walk along the secluded beach hugged by cliffs on each side, creating a beautifully calm bay. Overlooking it all sits the Gregory Town Grill and Freedom Restaurant, adjacent to a heated infinity pool. There aren’t any rentals here, simply kayaks and paddleboards ready for you to take as you wish. So I just grab a paddleboard and glide right out into the pristine clear waters of the cove. The water is flat as can be – a perfect day for paddle boarding, and while my feet shake at first I steady myself and soon float across the sea. From out in the bay I take in the sight of the entire property, 40 acres in all, surrounded by forests and a rolling hillside.
In old times a rumrunners’ refuge, Walker’s Cay today is a small, world-class sport fishing center that gives Bimini a run for its money. Despite a panoply of diving and water activities, the Shark Rodeo is undoubtedly the headliner.
At least 100 (and probably twice as many) Caribbean reef, bull, blacktip, and nurse sharks gather to feed from a frozen “chumsicle” of fish carcasses that your boatman lowers into clear, 35-foot-deep waters.
Divers wait nearby, and, if they choose, can take a confident swim among these magnificent creatures— having never been hand-fed, the sharks do not associate their daily hors d’oeuvres with the divers, and so are completely uninterested in their presence.
Safely swimming eye-to-eye with the big guys is a surreal experience, but only one of the many available in the famous waters and reef structures of the Abacos Islands. Walker’s Cay Hotel and Marina is the site of the Annual Billfish Tournament every April, and is one of the world’s best deep-sea fishing resorts for marlin, wahoo, and tuna.
Its full-service, seventy-five-slip marina is the best in the Bahamas and boasts more International Game Fish Association records than any other resort. Sooner or later you’ll find everyone in the Lobster Trap lounge, swapping tales.
As the Bahamas’ first capital, before Nassau, Harbour Island is rich in history, but today it is best known for the 3-mile-long cover of pale pink sand. It’s a private fantasy beach with water as clear as a swimming pool, rimmed by the classic seashell-pink-and- white Bahamian cottages of the Pink Sands Hotel.
Spread out over 16 green acres, the Pink Sands, once a venerable and slightly stodgy favorite of old-money families, has been transformed into a glamorous destination for a younger, more international, and decidedly cooler crowd. The elegant informality of the place is deliberately, deceptively unassuming, in keeping with the personality of Harbour Island, an offshore cay of Eleuthera.
Lacy gingerbread houses and white picket fences remind some visitors of Nantucket, but don’t think stuffy: There’s fun and whimsy in Pink Sands’ strong pastels and chic decor, and the restaurant’s Caribbean-Asian cuisine is one of the most exciting in the far-flung Out Islands.
There’s a magical place northeast of Grand Bahama Island where a pod of wild spotted dolphins congregates regularly—without the enticement of food or reward—to play and swim and interact with people, apparently more charmed by their human playmates than fearful.
There’s no way to predict exactly when or where they’ll show up, so you’ll have to team up with a reputable operator who’s familiar with the dolphins, their habitat, and their habits. Captain Scott of Dream Team is the most experienced, having photographed, identified, and named more than a hundred dolphins.
They’re not sideshow performers or pets, yet Scott seems to have an uncanny intuition for finding them, and treats them like old friends. His 65-foot live-aboard, the Dream Too, scores an 85 percent success rate, sometimes with several encounters a day, lasting from a few emotional moments to a couple of adrenaline-packed hours.
The water over the Little Bahama Banks—shallow, calm, and with excellent visibility—is perfect for nondiving snorkelers and swimmers, who can enjoy themselves here even after the dolphins get bored and disappear.
Ponce de Leon discovered Bimini in 1513, but Papa Hemingway put it on the map, immortalizing Alice Town in Islands in the Stream. The author lived in the Compleat Angler hotel in the 1930s before building the Blue Marlin Cottage next door (now a private home).
His spirit still lives on in yellowed photos, memorabilia, and a bar made from Prohibition-era rum kegs, where visitors young and old gather nightly to toss back Goombay Smashers and Bahama Mamas while discussing what’s on everybody’s mind: blue marlin, swordfish, wahoo, tuna, and barracuda.
Bimini’s sportfishing is still the best in the world (Hemingway’s best catch was a 785-pound mako shark), and the island is suffused with the legendary sportsman’s mystique. The Compleat Angler has thirteen guest rooms upstairs— including one where Hemingway penned parts of To Have and Have Not in 1937—but you’re not likely to get any shut-eye before the calypso band downstairs packs up for the night.
The kaleidoscopic, Crayola colors of Compass Point’s trendy cabanas and clapboard cottages evoke Junkanoo, the Afro-Bahamian carnival, and lend a playful theme-park-for-adults spirit to an island known more for Nassau’s casinos, mammoth resorts, and cruise-ship travelers.
Compass Point’s cottages offer hints of Nassau’s bustle, but have more of an outer islands vibe, with their own sandy cove offering privacy and access to justly famous Love Beach, located just steps away.
For one of the island’s best eating experiences, guests need merely brush off the sand and amble to the hotel’s alfresco restaurant, one of the few in Nassau with an ocean view. Compass Point’s visually lively, upbeat spirit is evident in its Bahamian-Californian cuisine as well, a cutting-edge fusion that produces winners like maki rolls (made with queen conch, mango, and cucumber) or roast lobster tail seasoned with Thai herbs. It’s the in spot for diners to watch the sun’s nightly performance, and each other.
Much of Andros, the Bahamas’ largest island, is uninhabited, connected by a series of shallow canals and cays called “bights”—Andros is, in fact, mostly water. Aside from the occasional tourist, most visitors here are divers or fishermen.
At 142 miles, Andros’s barrier reef is the third longest in the world after those in Australia and Belize, with a wall that begins around 70 feet from shore and plunges 6,000 feet to a narrow underwater canyon known as the Tongue of the Ocean (TOTO).
A unique system of more than fifty blue holes, as these watery caves are called (first made famous by Jacques Cousteau), offers endless opportunities to explore in tunnels filled with shipwrecks and sea life.
All this is just 1 mile offshore from the Bahamas’ oldest dive resort, the comfortable, family-run Small Hope Bay Hotel. If you don’t know how to dive or snorkel, they’ll teach you at your own pace and at no extra cost, but non diving guests are just as happy flopping into the inviting hammocks positioned here and there among the tall coconut palms.
No one puts on airs at this easygoing beachfront colony—no one even puts on shoes very often, except perhaps at dinner, a hearty, convivial affair that might include fresh conch fritters and chowder, lobster, and hot home-baked johnny bread.
If you’d rather catch your own seafood, Andros’s gin-clear waters are the bonefishing capital of the world, with large numbers of trophy-size bonefish (often topping 12 pounds) providing some of the most exciting light-tackle fishing there is. It’s not hard to find a specialist to help you perfect your saltwater angling technique and to guide you to the vast flats in and around the bights, where you’ll often be the only one in sight.