The Abacos heroes

By | Category: Travel destinations

a swimming pig on No Name Cay

Although most people start their visit to the islands of the Bahamas in the capital Nassau, the Out Islands have a wealth of experiences above and below the water.  The 120-mile–long chain of The Abacos has ideal conditions for boating and sailing, fabulous bird and marine life as well as some larger than life personalities and a fascinating history.

Cays to success – Rays pigs and turtles

At Green Turtle Cay in The Abacos most of the activity is on or under the water. These calm, peaceful waters attract sailors from all over the world who come to navigate the pretty coves and inlets, bays and marinas. Mariners can rent a boat by the day from Wade Cash whose family run the Sunset Marine Boat Rentals. Or book an adventure with local dive master Brendal whose centre offers a range of adventures all accompanied by his own unique patter and sometimes hilarious tall stories.

Brendals Dive Center – you can’t visit the Bahamas without exploring the seas around the islands

Brendal can arrange snorkelling, diving and can even turn his hand to cooking a lobster barbeque on a deserted beach where he stops the boat for lunch. But we are not the only ones dining, it transpires.  Huge sting rays float up to the beach and stop to nibble bits of fish which tourists place between their toes. We stroke them as they eat: the graceful creatures have skin that feels like the finest suede.

Face-to-face with a ray. Image © Bahamas Tourist Office

Later we stop at No Name Cay where a group of pigs are waiting expectantly on the beach. The swimming pigs of The Exumas have become famous, but there are pigs in The Abacos too. For a slice of bread they will splash towards the boat and even swim alongside tourists despite not having so much as a pair of Speedos between them. And the show does not stop there – on the way back to shore we spot turtles and parrots.

Step back in time

Above the water, we find there is a colourful history on land here best experienced by walking around colonial Hope Town, with its red and white candy-striped lighthouse, or New Plymouth with its colourful wooden houses. The islands were settled in the 1700s by loyalists escaping the American Revolution and New Plymouth, a short drive from Green Turtle Cay, feels like a sleepy eighteenth century English town.

the candy-striped lighthouse

There is the ramshackle Albert Lowe Museum here  (a restored heritage home and one of the odest buildings in the islands) and a lovely Loyalist Memorial Sculpture Garden both the dreams of an islander – Alton Lowe. Stop by the old jail and the characterful coffee and ice cream shops. You may notice that the same names crop up on shopfronts, plaques and gravestones – McIntosh, Pinder and Roberts to name just a few.

Green Turtle Cay is just one of the enchanting islands in The Abacos which manage to combine an old-world charm with fascinating activities on the beautiful turquoise Bahamian waters.

Getting here

Getting here is a bit of an adventure in itself. The Abacos are located 186 miles east of West Palm Beach, Florida and just to the northwest of Eleuthera. We flew to Treasure Cay International Airport from Miami as part of a two-centre break, then took a five-minute taxi ride to the Treasure Cay ferry dock from where the ferry drops visitors right at their hotel or in the town of New Plymouth.

Conch fritters – my favourite!

Nassau

Over in the Bahamian capital, Nassau, excitement is mounting as a major new development, Baha Mar, is nearing completion, with the imminent opening of the Rosewood, the last of the three hotels to open. Baha Mar offers thousands of rooms across three hotels and the biggest casino in the Caribbean region. But travellers can still enjoy a quiet walk around the historic streets and soak up colonial history as well as some interesting experiences. Nassau institution Graycliff Hotel has some sophisticated events  including Bahama Barrels where guests blend their own bespoke bottle of wine in what was the oldest church in the Bahamas. Or head to the imposing Government House where, on the last Friday of the month, the Bahamian People-to-People programme offers complimentary afternoon tea with a fashion show, live music and shuttle transfer to your hotel. Foodies will enjoy a wave of new restaurant openings in the capital including Lukka Kairi which serves Bahamian food with an international twist.  And after a visit to The Pirate Museum a beer at the Pirate Republic Brewing Company is a must. But my favourite snack in Nassau is a plate of fresh conch fritters consumed on the beach at Arawak Cay with some local music in the background and the sunset right ahead.

A people-to-people tea party

The Bahamas are composed of a chain of 16 main islands plus hundreds of uninhabited cays and sandbanks covering 14,000 square kilometres of land. North of the Greater Antilles and southeast of Florida, technically the Bahamas are in the Atlantic Ocean, not the Caribbean.  But as they lie at the top of the Caribbean and enjoy the same tropical climate, culture and history, they are often referred to as being part of the Caribbean region.

British Airways flies direct from London Heathrow to the Bahamian capital Nassau four times a week, and from there short flights or ferries take you to the smaller islands, making island hopping a delightful holiday option.

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