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Celebrity isles in the sun

Ultimate indulgence for well-heeled escapists

Celebrity isles in the sun
Ultimate indulgence for well-heeled escapists

Want to buy an island? You’ve come to the right place. There are literally thousands of cays here, and many are for sale. Knowledgeable realtors advise buyers to bring lots of patience and determination –not to mention money–if they want to create an island retreat in the beautiful Bahamas.

Prices range from hundreds of thousands for a small, undeveloped island, into many millions for a large built-up one. “When it comes to private islands there is no ceiling to what people are willing to pay,” says Mario Carey, president and CEO of Mario Carey Realty. “Prices are crazy.”

George Damianos, president of Sotheby’s International Realty in The Bahamas, explains: “We talk in terms of ‘per-acre value.’ You can buy a private island in The Bahamas for as little as $12,000 per acre, all the way up to $300,000 per acre.”

There are beautiful islands throughout The Bahamas’ but the most sought-after lie within the Exuma Cays–a 130 mi (209km) string of more than 300 islands running south from New Providence. They’re a short hop from Nassau by seaplane.

The entire chain is a yachter’s paradise, with isolated beaches, protected harbours and The Bahamas’ famously clear waters. The Tropic of Cancer runs through a beach near the main town, George Town (pop 1,000), on Great Exuma.

According to John Christie, vice president of marketing at H G Christie, this is the place to be. “The Exumas have some of the highest prices in the market,” he says. “If you want to be where everyone is–the billionaires and the celebrities–you buy there.”

Peter Dupuch, president of ERA Dupuch Real Estate, agrees. He knows an island owner who “has his seaplane pick him up in the morning, fly him to Nassau where he’d take his jet up to New York for a meeting, and late that same afternoon he’s back on his island in the Exuma Cays.”

Dupuch adds that, despite real estate problems in the US, “the private island market is doing very well” in The Bahamas.

“I do not think there will be a downturn in the market. Money is not an issue for the type of person who buys a private island,” says Carey.

Illusions and reality
When you buy a private island you’re taking responsibility for its development and upkeep.

Islands, by their nature, are isolated. Owners have to provide their own transportation, power and water. All building materials have to be barged in. Then there’s staff to look after the place, especially when the owner is away. Transforming a raw island into a self-sufficient retreat can take years, as well as lots of cash. “Sometimes the cheapest part of the whole thing is buying the island,” says one realtor.

And it’s a lot of work, adds Damianos. An island is a long-term investment, something wealthy people want to keep in the family. It’s not usually bought to trade.

Still, “A private island is a great investment,” says Christie. Even when the market is slow, “there is still a decent appreciation.”

While buying an island isn’t a painless path to paradise, it certainly has its rewards. The appeal is obvious. With a year-round semi-tropical climate, dazzling beaches and colourful waters, a private island is something extra special–the ultimate indulgence.

“You have your private plane, your yacht and then you get your own island,” says Christie.


Gallery of the rich and famous

Bahamian islands are a magnet for the rich and famous. Celebrity owners include the following:

Actor Johnny Depp fell in love with The Bahamas while filming the Pirates of the Caribbean series in the islands and, in 2004, bought a 45-acre island in the Exuma Cays to recreate his own castaway experience. Depp uses the $3.6 million property as a family home and getaway from the paparazzi. He intends to run the island on solar power.

The Aga Khan, Prince Karim, Aga Khan IV, ran into controversy with his private estate–Bell Island in the Exumas–which falls within the boundaries of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. The spiritual leader of 15 million Ismaili Muslims bought the island in 2009 and began dredging a marina in 2011, despite protests from environmentalists. The $100 million island was, and probably still is, the most expensive in The Bahamas.

Entertainer David Copperfield became an island owner in 2006 when he purchased Musha Cay for more than $50 million. The exclusive 150-acre island has a staff of 30 and is now rented out. Prices start at $37,500 a day (or $262,500 per week) for up to 24 people. It’s advertised as “the most private island resort in the world.”

For his 40th birthday in 2009, movie director Tyler Perry (I Can Do Bad All By Myself, House of Payne and Laugh to Keep from Crying) treated himself to a unique present–his own island. Actually, White Bay Cay in the Exumas is Perry’s second island. He also bought a seven acre islet in the same area.

Beloved country singers Tim McGraw and Faith Hill own 17-acre Goat Cay and are said to be building a four-bedroom mansion for themselves and their three daughters. The estate also includes staff quarters and lookout towers.



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