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Authentic, off-the-beaten-path destinations

With COVID-19 raging globally, and Florida, a favored spot for Bahamians to “vacation”, a new coronavirus hot spot, this means there isn’t a better time than now to enjoy a “staycation” and explore the Out Islands, taking in the sights and sounds that tourists the world over flock to this country for.

During this unprecedented era in which Bahamian residents are encouraged to stay safe at home, but still want to enjoy a travel experience, they are being encouraged to take the option to explore all the Out Islands have to offer and experience a vacation off the beaten path – a paradise full of authentic destinations with lots to do. And considering the global pandemic, there’s no better time than now to become a domestic tourist.

“I think when God made the Out Islands, he made it with a pandemic in mind, because naturally we offer a lot of elbow room, because everything is spaced out,” Kerry Fountain, executive director, Bahama Out Islands Promotion Board, told The Nassau Guardian. “There are no crowds at the beaches, there are no crowds at restaurants, there are no crowds at the attractions, and in this COVID-19 world, that’s why the Out Islands are so ideal to get away – and they offer so much to so many different people.”

It’s a given that every Out Island boasts beautiful blue waters; sugary soft powder sands (some even have pink sand) that call to you to sink your toes into it; and amazing fishing, snorkeling and diving opportunities, but each island also has its own uniqueness that makes it worth exploring.

In the Abacos, you can explore fascinating caves and cays; visit settlements like Hope Town on Elbow Cay and New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay that have the look of a New England fishing town, complete with picket fences and gingerbread trim; and visit the famous candy-striped lighthouse in Hope Town, a favorite photo opportunity.

There’s a saying that “good things come in small packages” – this adage is said to embody Acklins, where there’s plenty to do. The island’s exotic rock formations and scenic plant and animal life, make the island a nature lover’s dream.

Andros, described as The Bahamas’ natural wonder, is “king” when it comes to natural experiences – after all, the earth’s third-largest barrier reef (after Australia’s Great Barrier and Central America’s Belize Barrier Reef) lies adjacent to its shores. When visitors take a break from adventuring, there’s plenty of other things to do – whether it’s picnicking at Morgan’s Bluff, Love Hill beach or Somerset beach; doing a rum shop crawl; or shopping for locally produced Androsian fabrics in Fresh Creek or baskets and wood carvings in Red Bay.

Bimini, which was the haunt of Ernest Hemingway – the American journalist, novelist, short-story writer and sportsman – provides a quiet and historic escape known for sailing, diving and fishing.

While the Berry Islands, a cluster of 30 cays, is famed for its billfish and is often referred to as “The Fish Bowl of The Bahamas”.

Cat Island is a rustic, laid-back oasis, with much to be discovered. Its landmarks include Mt. Alvernia, the highest point in the islands, and eight-mile Fire Beach.

Crooked Island provides memorable fishing and snorkeling, and is nicknamed the “fragrant island” as the air is scented with native herbs and flowers.

Eleuthera is described as a vacation playground, from the pink sand beaches of North Eleuthera to the renaissance of the Cape in South Eleuthera, and points between. It is said you can spend weeks on this island and not see all of the natural beauty there is to explore.

And then there’s ‘Briland, famous for its three-mile long pink beach.

Great Exuma, Little Exuma and the cays offer an amazing variety of vacation possibilities – with beautiful blue water everywhere. And of course, the Exumas are home to the wildly popular swimming pigs.

On Long Island you can discover history and dive magnificent blue holes, the most famous of which is Dean’s Blue Hole, the deepest recorded blue hole in The Bahamas at more than 600 feet. And there is the towering spine of ancient reef which gives the island two faces – dramatic cliffs and caves of the east coast and the soft, sandy-edged lee side.

On San Salvador, you can take a step back in time as you come face-to-face with archeological evidence of the indigenous Lucayan Indians; in the north of Rum Cay, is a cave containing Lucayan Indian drawings and carvings and various artifacts from the Arawak Indian period.

Fountain says the appeal of the Out Islands for vacation for residents really depends on where they are in their life. He says it will allow them an opportunity to reconnect, to re-energize and to rejuvenate.

“If you’re a married couple, both working, you have kids, you have no time to really reconnect [because] you get home from work, have to help with homework, have to cook food and then have to prepare [to do it all over the next day]. The Out Islands for a couple, offers them the opportunity to reconnect…walk on the beach, hold hands and talk.”

And if you’re vacationing with the children, he says, the Out Islands vacation experience can still be enjoyable, but the visit might hinge on how active they want to be.

“You’re not going to find any artificial attractions. In the Out Islands, it’s genuine and it’s authentic. For example, you might drive over to Paradise Island to the Atlantis – and as beautiful as that aquarium is, you’re separated. Between you and the aquarium is glass. In the Out Islands, it’s not like that. If you want to see sharks, if you want to see stingrays, if you want to go conching, there is no glass in between, there is no aquarium.”

An Out Island vacation, he says, also affords parents the opportunity to show children their heritage – where grandma and grandpa lived, how they made ice cream or baked bread on the Out Islands. Which he said also gives children the opportunity to reconnect with their history.

Fountain, who is a parent, said he knows children will only enjoy so much of the experience, but he says in his experience, parents don’t have to worry too much about them.

“All you have to do is give kids something to eat – breakfast, lunch and dinner, take them out on the beach and they can play all day.”

To continue to keep them entertained, he says, parents can look to add a learn to snorkel experience to their time, or even teach them how to swim. For older kids that know how to swim, Fountain says parents can have them engage in more adventurous sports like diving. He said parents and children can enjoy a fishing trip, learn how to clean their fish and fry their catch.

“COVID-19 has opened a whole new world for Bahamians,” said Fountain. “And the beauty of it is it starts to plant the seed [in children] at a very young age, that The Bahamas is not just Nassau/Paradise Island where I live, which accounts for just two percent of the land mass – The Bahamas is all of this. So, when I’m growing up, and if you’re introducing me to this at a very young age, I’m going to be telling you, ‘Well mommy, we been to Long Island last year, let’s go to Cat Island. Someone told me about The Hermitage and Mount Alvernia and we read about that in textbook in the classroom, can we go there and see that this time?’ Or, ‘Mommy can we go to Bimini and can we look at where the Fountain of Youth is or where Ernest Hemingway used to write his books, because we’re learning about that in school now?’”

Fountain says vacationing in the Out Islands allows Bahamians to actually live their history, as well as it introduces them to island life.

“For somebody like me, I’m in a social business, and used to having to talk, [so] for me, going to the Out Islands, I don’t know anybody, but I enjoy just dropping in on a little conch shack and bar and listening to the local people talk their little ‘sip sip’. They don’t know me, I don’t know them, I don’t care what they talkin’ ‘bout, but it’s just interesting to listen to stories, and I love doing that. Have my fresh conch salad or grilled conch, and a Guinness Stout, and I’m just in la-la land for an hour or two.”

Fountain says he also loves driving from settlement to settlement and seeing what each has to offer.

“I love asking someone who lives there how to get to Columbus Point Landing and driving up to Columbus Point Landing in Long Island, just in awe of the beauty that surrounds it, and the beauty that God has bestowed on our country. Driving to Dean’s Blue Hole and just being fascinated and wanting to jump. And I’m not even talking about visiting the different attractions – go down south to Acklins, Long Island, Inagua and going to national parks where you have the opportunity to see wild flamingos. In Nassau, if you want to see flamingos you go to the Ardastra Gardens (which is currently closed due to COVID-19); in the Out Islands, you’re seeing them in their natural environment and then you’re seeing them in one of our national parks.”

He said one of the things he and most people enjoy about the Out Islands is after exploring all day, having the ability to walk to the beach and take in the stars without the glare of big city lights.

“It’s just peaceful, tranquil…and just to be able to walk out to the beach, again with your kids, or with your loved one, and just to look at the stars. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, you see a shooting star, and then you start to count and you’re like, ‘I saw one, did you see that?’, and then you start to identify the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, which kids don’t even know about today. And quite frankly, where can you do that if you’re a resident of Nassau, unless you live on your own private beach?” he said.

“When we get away, usually we’re going to South Florida, Miami or Fort Lauderdale…sometimes Orlando, and it’s usually for a rush trip. We call it vacation, but we’re going to Miami or Fort Lauderdale to do a bunch of shopping – running around from one mall or Wal-Mart to the next, stuck on I-95. And if we’re going on vacation, we go to Orlando to Disney World or Universal and get stuck on one line trying to get on one ride after the next – and then we come back and wonder why we’re so tired.”

With the push for Bahamians to vacation at home and explore the Out Islands, a special Two Fly Free promotion affords locals the opportunity to get two free flights with a four-night stay or one free flight with a two-night stay, which Fountain says makes it more affordable for residents to indulge in the Out Island vacation experience, and eliminates the excuse that they can’t afford it.

Fountain guarantees people would want to stay more than two nights when they vacation on the Out Island of their choice. Once they’ve experienced an Out Island, he says, he knows they will return.

Residents have a number of ways they can take advantage of the promotion – go to Bahamago.com and book online and redeem the credit instantly, or call Majestic Holidays and redeem the credit instantly, or book directly with the hotel, which would deduct the cost of the ticket from the final checkout bill.

BAHAMAS OUT ISLAND PROMOTION BOARD BUCKET LIST BY ISLAND

ABACO

Climb up the Elbow Cay Lighthouse in Hope Town.

Have lunch at Pete’s Pub in Little Harbour and be sure to browse through the Art Gallery.

Rent a golf cart and tour historic Green Turtle Cay.

Stroll down the longest dock in The Bahamas in beautiful Cherokee Sound.

ACKLINS

Visit Atwood Harbour or Datum Bay and dive for your own conch, go shelling or go snorkeling.

Take a day trip by ferry to Crooked Island.

Treat yourself to the tasty delights at Lerlean’s Bakery in Snug Corner.

Visit the bat cave on the way to Atwood Harbour.

Swim in the blue hole near Mason’s Bay.

Look for flamingoes and other birds at Atwood Harbour.

ANDROS

North Andros:

Visit Red Bay Village and learn about the art of weaving baskets and of the village’s black Seminoles of Florida heritage.

Take the trek to Charlie’s Blue Hole.

Feast on fresh seafood at F & H Take-Away Conch Stand.

Central Andros:

Take a batik lesson at the Androsia Batik Factory.

Scuba dive or snorkel at the third largest barrier reef in the world.

Take the plunge and jump 15 feet into Captain Bill’s Blue Hole.

South Andros:

Fly fish in some of the world’s largest salt water flats.

Dive into the Great Crack through the Star Gate Blue Hole and savor a National Geographic experience.

Try the mouth-watering cracked conch at Greene’s Café (Shine’s) in Little Harbour.

Tour the uninhabited west side of Andros from Driggs Hill and see giant turtles, iguanas and the tarpon “roll” if you’re lucky.

BIMINI

Learn about sharks at the Shark Lab (South Bimini).

Tour Bimini and its mangroves with Ansil Saunders.

Stop by Charlie’s and enjoy some good down-home Bimini bread.

Hear the local “sip sip” at Stuart’s Conch Stand (North Bimini).

Snorkel at the Sapona, a concrete cargo ship commissioned in World War I.

Visit Dolphin House Museum (North Bimini).

BERRY ISLANDS

Explore the Sugar Beach Caves on Great Harbour Cay.

Visit Little Harbour Cay and dine at Flo’s Conch Bar.

Take a hike on Hoffman’s Cay and jump into a hidden blue hole.

Bring your fishing gear and tour the Berry Islands with Captain Percy.

CAT ISLAND

Climb up Mt. Alvernia (Como Hill) – the tallest point in The Bahamas (206’) – and visit The Hermitage.

Treat yourself to tasty treats at Olive’s Bakery in New Bight.

Visit Cat Island’s bat caves, Deveaux Plantation and the Armbrister Plantation Ruins.

Take in a Bush Medicine Tour with resident tour expert Danny King.

A stop at the Cat Island Fish Fry (New Bight), Yardie’s Conch Stand or Da Smoke House Restaurant (Bennett’s Harbour) is a must.

Sink your feet in the pink sand beach at Greenwood Beach Resort.

CROOKED ISLAND

Venture over to Bird Rock Lighthouse off Pitts Town Point.

Explore the bat caves at Gun Bluff or Macki Bluff.

Treat yourself at Marcia’s Homemade Bread Bakery.

Post a selfie from the ruins of the first Post Office in The Bahamas near Pitts Town.

Go shelling at the Crooked Island Swimming Beach – the world’s largest “swimming pool”.

Sample the seafood delights at Casuarina Villas Restaurant.

Visit the ancient plantation ruin – Hope House – at Landrail Point.

ELEUTHERA

North Eleuthera/Harbour Island:

Take in the breathtaking views of the Glass Window Bridge and the Queen’s Baths.

Explore Preacher’s Cave.

Experience the awesome “big surf” waves at Surfers Beach.

Browse at Pam’s Island Made Gift Shop in Gregory Town.

Central Eleuthera:

Brush up on your bush medicine knowledge at the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve.

Treat yourself at the Governor’s Harbour Bakery.

Browse through the Island Farm (Farmers’ Market) at Palmetto Point.

Enjoy the vibe over lunch or dinner at Tippy’s Restaurant.

South Eleuthera:

Visit Lighthouse Beach – one of the most stunning beaches in The Bahamas.

Feed the fish at Ocean Hole.

A must stop – The Island School at Cape Eleuthera (by appointment).

Treat yourself to a fresh conch salad at Geno’s Roadside Conch Stand (Rock Sound) or mouth-watering crack conch at Sheryl’s Inn (Deep Creek).

Satisfy your sweet tooth with some of “Mammy’s Guava Duff” at Ship to Shore in Wemyss Bight.

EXUMA

Feed the swimming pigs at Big Major Cay or White Bay Cay and explore the Exuma National Sea Park.

Hang out at Chat-N-Chill on Stocking Island.

Visit Tropic of Cancer Beach on Little Exuma.

Sample local delicacies at Santana’s or Tropic Breeze restaurants on Little Exuma.

Dig for sand dollars on Coco Plum Beach.

For history buffs, visit the Rolle Town tombs and the statue of Pompey in Steventon.

HARBOUR ISLAND

Rent a golf cart and tour picturesque Harbour Island and its famous Pink Sand Beach.

Sample the fresh seafood delights at Queen Conch Shack.

Browse through the different boutique stores and art galleries in Dunmore Town, original capital of The Bahamas.

LONG ISLAND

Take the plunge at Dean’s Blue Hole.

Stop for some grilled conch and a cold Kalik at Max’s Café.

Take in the breathtaking views of northern Long Island at Columbus Monument.

Visit Hamilton’s Cave System – one of the largest such systems in The Bahamas!

Check out the natural ocean pool at Stella Maris.

A visit to Cape Santa Maria Beach is a must.

SAN SALVADOR

Land Fall Park – believed to be the landing spot of our first tourist in 1492, Christopher Columbus – and Long Bay Beach at Land Fall Park are must stops.

View the entire island at 163’ Dixon Hill Lighthouse, built in 1887.

Treat yourself at Ruthie’s Restaurant or Paradis Restaurant.

Call Bridgette Johnson (452-0101) at Lagoon Tours for a not-to-be-missed Pigeon Creek tour.

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