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Our welcoming family isles

Far, far from the madding crowd

Our welcoming family isles
Far, far from the madding crowd

To the east of Florida and north of Cuba, sprinkled across hundreds of miles of warm turquoise waters, lie the islands of The Bahamas. These island jewels number in the thousands, dotting the subtropical Atlantic with emerald green.

The islands vary greatly in size, from lush Andros, the largest at more than 2,300 sq miles, to rocks that barely rise above the tide. About 700 of these Family Islands are big enough to be called cays and of them about 30 are permanently settled.

The islands are all one Bahamas, but they each have a unique personality with variations in culture, traditions and geography.

Worlds away from the hustle-bustle of Nassau, the laid back ambience of the tranquil Family Islands is a soothing tonic for the soul of any traveller.

Abaco comprises Great and Little Abaco and many surrounding cays spread out over 120 miles.

The end of the American Revolutionary War marked the beginning of Abaco’s history as 2,500 American Loyalists and their 4,000
slaves moved to The Bahamas in hopes of remaining subject to, and protected by, the British crown.

Today, with its picturesque beauty it’s no surprise that Abaco is home to six environmentally protected areas. Chief among them is Abaco National Park where populations of endangered Bahama Parrots remain. The Tilloo Cay Reserve provides nesting sites for tropicbirds and other seabirds.

The Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park contains beautiful undersea caves and extensive coral reefs. The Walker’s Cay National Park is a 3,840-acre underwater paradise that is a Mecca for divers. The Black Sound Cay Reserve protects a two-acre dense stand of mangrove. There’s also the Abaco Wild Horse Preserve.

Nature aside, Abaco has been dubbed “the sailing capital of the world” and is fast becoming one of the hottest bonefishing destinations in the world as well.

Ferry services connect Great Abaco with the outer cays, where resorts, rental homes and beautiful beaches await visitors on islands such as Elbow Cay, Great Guana Cay and Green Turtle Cay.

Acklins & Crooked Island
Acklins is “bonefish country,” according to Fishing International, a company that schedules fishing travel and vacation packages for anglers to destinations all over the world.

Acklins is long, narrow and hilly. In comparison, Crooked Island features a number of tidal flats and creeks. The two are separated by the Bight of Acklins, containing large bonefish-flats. The silvery bonefish usually reside in water only one to three ft deep. Pound for pound, bonefish are the toughest fighting fish anywhere.

Castle Island, off the southwest tip of Acklins has its own lighthouse. It was built in 1867 on a site that was once used as a lookout by pirates who attacked ships in the nearby passage.

Things to see on Crooked Island include the ruins of Great Hope House, once the centerpiece of a 19th century plantation. Marine Farm is the remains of a British fort that once guarded the north entrance of the Crooked Island Passage.

If Acklins is bonefish country, then Andros must be the “bonefishing capital of The Bahamas,” according to Fly Fisherman magazine. At 2,300 sq miles, Andros is the largest and least-explored island in The Bahamas, the fifth largest island in the Caribbean and the island with the highest concentration of blue holes (underwater cave systems) in the world, according to the Bahamas National Trust, an organization that conserves and protects the natural and historic resources of The Bahamas.

Andros’ turquoise waters are well known to scuba divers and snorkellers as it is home to the world’s third largest barrier reef measuring more than 170 miles long.

It’s not only Andros’ reputation as a natural wonder that makes it a favourite ecotourism destination. The island’s tourist board is working to improve and enhance its attractions for visitors.

Visitors can explore settlements like Morgan’s Bluff which is named after the infamous 17th century pirate, Sir Henry Morgan, and the cemetery in Congo Town with tombstones dating back to the early 1800s. The Bluff, another settlement is a famous boat-building centre.

Berry Islands
Just 19 miles east of Bimini and 30 miles from New Providence is a cluster of 30 islands and many more little cays known collectively as the Berry Islands.

The largest of these is Great Harbour Cay, which is seven miles long and one and a half miles wide. It has the Berry Islands’ largest port. At the southern end of the chain is Chub Cay–the second largest island in the chain –which boasts a semi-private resort.

Located on the edge of the Tongue of the Ocean, the Berry Islands’ unspoiled beauty is enjoyed by divers, anglers and yachtsmen.

Besides sportfishing, the surrounding waters of the Berry Islands offer dozens of uninhabited cays, miles of secluded beaches, and invigorating dive sites.
About 50 miles east of Miami, nestled on the border between the Gulf Stream and the Great Bahama Bank, in sparkling, clear waters lies North and South Bimini and their many cays and tiny islands.

Bimini brings new meaning to the words “colourful past” with pirates, rum-runners, ship-wreckers, outlaws and drug lords, all woven into the island’s history.

Bimini was also a favourite getaway for the novelist Ernest Hemingway, civil rights activist Martin Luther King and singer songwriter Jimmy Buffett.

Among Bimini’s attractions are its pristine beauty, marine life, mangrove fringed lagoons, quiet beaches and breathtaking sunsets.

Fishermen travel to Bimini for unsurpassed big-game fishing with the prize catch being blue marlin, The Bahamas’ national fish.

Cat Island
Cat Island is 48 miles long, four miles wide, flanked by Exuma Sound on one side and by the Atlantic Ocean on the other.

This natural beauty features 60 miles of beaches with white powder sands on the west coast and long pink swathes of beaches on the eastern side. There are rolling hills, thick woodlands and isolated beaches.

Dotting the island’s landscape are the remains of dozens of great houses (like the Deveaux and Armbrister plantations), slaves barracks, churches and graveyards–remnants of an era that flourished in the late 1700s.

Cat Island has the highest point of land in The Bahamas, Mount Alvernia, where visitors can explore the hand-built hermitage built in the mid 1900s by Father Jerome–an Englishman cleric who converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism.

If you’re wondering as to the origin of the island’s name, one school of thought suggests it comes from Arthur Catt, a man who consorted with pirates like the infamous Henry Morgan and Blackbeard, Edward Teach.

Another theory has it that the island was named after the feral cats left behind by Spanish settlers who abandoned the island in 1580.

Originally named San Salvador, the island was renamed in 1926 and the “San Sal” name handed down to the smaller island 45 miles to the southeast.

In 1648, a group of English religious dissidents left Bermuda which was then under the rule of the Anglican Church. These Eleutherian Adventurers represented the first British effort to colonize The Bahamas.

William Sayle led a small group of settlers who hoped to establish a new colony where they could practice their faith freely. These adventurers would erect the first European settlement in The Bahamas on the island of Cigatoo, later renamed Eleutheria–the Greek word for freedom–which later became Eleuthera.

Next door to Eleuthera–whose mainland is divided into a north and south–sits Spanish Wells and Harbour Island.

World renowned for its beaches and boutique hotels, Harbour Island is a place where visitors zip around on golf carts. It’s home to many fine restaurants and celebrity homes. The island’s famous pink sand beach is a celebrated attraction.

Some interesting new cultural events are being planned for Harbour Island. “We are considering sponsoring an art festival along Bay St for the spring season, and a music festival for summer,” says Betty Bethel, general manager for Harbour and North Eleuthera islands for the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation.

Eleuthera is also famous for its Pineapple Festival, held every June on the Bahamian Labour Day weekend.

Two main islands, Great Exuma and Little Exuma, and a collection of 365 cays make up this chain that stretches for over 120 miles. With
its hidden coves, bays, and harbours, Exuma draws hoards of yachters and sportfishermen.

“The spectacular qualities of our water, its colors and hues, make the Exumas unique in all the world,” says Charity Armbrister, director of central and southern Bahamas for the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation.

Exuma is also home to the first marine fishery reserve established in the Caribbean region, according to the Bahamas National Trust. The 176 sq mile Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is famous for its pristine beauty, outstanding anchorages and breathtaking marine environment.

Since being declared a no-take marine area in 1986, the park has been documented to support significantly higher populations of marine life, especially commercially important species like the grouper. In some instances, grouper tagged in the park have been found in southern Long Island, more than a hundred miles away.

“Henagua” meaning “water is to be found there,” was this island’s Lucayan name when the first settlers arrived. It encompasses Great and Little Inagua, Sheep and Roller Cays and Sail Rock.

Inagua’s national park is internationally renowned as the site of the world’s largest breeding colony of Caribbean flamingos. The flock, once facing extinction, is now flourishing. The Bahama parrot, hummingbirds, egrets, and pelicans also abound in the park and wild donkeys have found a home there.

Great Inagua is the third largest island in The Bahamas with about 10 per cent of the nation’s total land. The island produces between 1.2 million and 1.4 million tons of salt a year.

For tourists, Great Inagua offers outstanding deep-sea fishing, bonefishing, snorkelling, scuba diving, swimming and boating.

Long Island
Here, soft beaches greet the water on the west coast while rocky cliffs rise from the shore on the east. With an uninterrupted 80-mile stretch of contrasting coastlines, it’s no mystery how the island got its name.

Things to see here include Cartwright’s Cave, Dean’s Blue Hole, the Columbus Memorial, historical church architecture and Cape Santa Maria Bay and Beach, unquestionably one of the most beautiful beaches in the world with its powdery sand, stretching for three miles.

A major upgrade to the airport is planned this year for Deadman’s Cay, one of two airports serving the island. “We hope to eventually entice airlines into offering direct international flights,” says Salena Burrows, tourism executive, of the Long Island Tourist Office.

Located at the southeastern edge of The Bahamas archipelago, Mayaguana is one of the most pristine and underdeveloped Family Islands.

The jewel-hued Atlantic waters surrounding Mayaguana are home to miles of dazzling coral reef, and abundant tropical fish, conch and sea turtles.

Mayaguana boasts stunning scenery and a peaceful island atmosphere, barely an hour’s flight from Miami. It’s the ideal getaway for travellers seeking deserted beaches, reef diving and sportfishing.

Ragged Island
Ragged Island is part of a chain of islands 110 miles long, stretching from the southern tip of Long Island and extending almost to Cuba.

The 2000 Census had only 72 persons living in Ragged Island, most of them residing in Duncan Town.

In the 1930s there was a prosperous salt industry on the island, with brisk trade between Cuba and Haiti. In the 1950s the island fell victim to Hurricane Donna, which caused extensive damage.

Today the island provides a quiet refuge not often visited by tourists. The surrounding ocean is teeming with fish.

Rum Cay
Previously known as “Mamana” by the Lucayans, this tiny jewel was renamed Santa Maria de la Concepción by Christopher Columbus, who made a stop here on his second voyage to the New World.

The modern name, Rum Cay, is said to be in memory of a West Indian ship that was wrecked with a cargo of rum, just off the coral reefs that surround the island.

Rum Cay is known for historical ruins, rolling hills, stunning coral reefs, miles of pure sandy beaches, crystal-clear turquoise waters, exhilarating surf on the north coast and abundant marine life.

San Salvador
Christopher Columbus made his first landfall in the New World here on October 12, 1492, and named it San Salvador, Spanish for Holy Savior. It was known by the Lucayans as Guanahani. Long after Columbus, it became home to the buccaneer George Watling, and it carried his name until 1925 when The Bahamas reinstated San Salvador.

One site not to be missed is Landfall Park, a 10-acre site rich in archaeological artefacts. The Columbus monument–a white cross– was erected in 1956. Three other monuments mark varying opinions of the spot where Columbus actually made his landfall.

Worth seeing are the Watling’s Castle plantation ruins, which include storage buildings, a main house, a cookhouse and slave quarters. Other sites include the Dixon Hill Lighthouse, constructed in 1887, and The Chicago Herald Monument to Columbus–a sphere hewn from native limestone.

Accommodations on this island include Club Med’s Columbus Isle and Riding Rock Inn Resort and Marina.



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