If you are interested in travel to The Out Islands of The Bahamas, please check out my updated blog at bahamaslove.weebly.com
The Bahamas is a country made up of hundreds of islands and cays (pronounced “keys”) in the Bermuda Triangle region of the Atlantic Ocean, east of Florida and north of Cuba. The center of population is on two main islands, New Providence, with the capital city of Nassau, and Grand Bahama Island. The rest are referred to as the “Out Islands” or “Family Islands.”
What many of us love about the Out Islands is the slower pace, and the quiet, natural beauty. There are not a lot of people, and it does not feel touristy. Booking flights to the Out Islands explains part of the reason there are not a lot of tourists. It can take some work to get there, but trust me, the payoff is huge.
Tickets to Paradise:
- Once you’ve settled on your island of choice, research what airports are available. Keep in mind, some may be private or closed. A couple of links that may be helpful are THIS from wikipedia, showing airports by island, and THIS from Skyscanner, showing Bahamas airports with direct flights from the U.S. If lucky, you’ll find a great deal on a flight directly to your destination. If not, no worries, go to step 2. For Eleuthera, you’ve got three airport options: North Eleuthera, Governor’s Harbor, and Rock Sound. For Long Island, you have two: Deadman’s Cay, and Stella Maris.
- Get a flight to Nassau. These are surprisingly plentiful, and good deals can be found. Our first Bahamas trip happened while looking for cheap flights to Las Vegas so we could see the Grand Canyon. Flights for Nassau kept popping up at a cost well below tickets to Las Vegas. We’ve been going to Eleuthera ever since.
- From Nassau, look for connecting flights to the Out Islands. The carriers will vary by island, and you can post questions on the Trip Advisor Out Island Forum,if you’re having trouble finding carriers. Make sure to leave a couple of hours between arriving in Nassau and departing on the domestic flight so you can clear customs and get to the domestic terminal. THIS video is very helpful if you are going straight on to your Out Islands flight from the international terminal.
4. Stay a night in Nassau, if necessary. This is not uncommon, as it’s not always possible to match incoming flights to Nassau to outgoing flights to the Out Islands. Nassau is very easy to get around and there are many options for one night’s lodging. Our favorite is Orange Hill, because it’s off the beaten path, but near a nice beach. This spring, we’re excited to try Baha Sea Backpackers.
I will never forget the very first time driving into Tarpum Bay. We were coming from Gregory Town, on our way through to visit Spider Caves and Ocean Hole in Rock Sound. As we approached, glimpses of pure turquoise water glowed from between the trees, giving hints of the beautiful water at the roadside beach, just around the bend.
Arrival into Tarpum Bay, with its bright yellow school on the right, and beautiful clear, cyan water behind, catches my breath every time. The whimsical homes, worn with age and sea air, give this settlement a mysterious sense of history that makes me wonder about the stories of people who live here. Some are little cottages, while others reveal their colonial influences with full length balconies, dormer windows and weathered shutters. All are a temporary safe haven to their inhabitants as each slowly concedes a return to nature.
Nearly all of my photos from several different trips, not curated in any way:
The very first time we drove through Tarpum Bay, we had to stop for pictures.
Dock end view of Tarpum Bay.
Tarpum Bay Dock Team Norms
Kervin and Brenda’s special homecoming dinner.
Leftover conch shells from the first night of homecoming.
Sign maker and small appliance repair.
Since I have a hard time hiding my obsession for Eleuthera, I am asked often about how to set up a similar vacation in this island paradise. I have to admit, this is tricky because I don’t want anyone to be disappointed. My husband and I love, love, love it there. However, at the risk of offending, it is not the best vacation destination for everyone.
If you love:
- Improvising (For example, water and electricity are not 100% reliable, stores are not like in the U.S.)
- Nature watching over people watching
- Driving to explore
- Taking a rough, unmarked two track for a mile that may lead to the most beautiful beach, or be turned around at a sand pit, or locked gate
- Spending hours at a time with no other people around
- Stopping for food at a place that looks like a person’s house with a handmade restaurant sign out front, who’s posted hours and menu may, or may not hold true
- Not seeing a single recognizable brand named commercial establishment
- Understanding that “being on time” or a “sense of urgency” is not everyone’s thing
- That doing nothing is doing something
Then Eleuthera might be for you.
However, if you are looking for:
- A place where you can easily find anything you forgot to pack available at a store (innovation is a plus)
- Shopping and/or nightlife
- Detail on what to do, how to find things, and support in the event your plans fall through
- Restaurants with very specific types and preparations of food
- All inclusive experiences
- Having someone look out for you
- Everything being planned and running on a set time frame
Then, Eleuthera may not be your cup of tea. Each person’s idea of relaxation is different and it’s important to do some research ahead of time by reading blogs and looking into places such as Trip Advisor’s Travel Forum to get an idea of what to expect.
In case you think Eleuthera might be a great place to check out, here’s how I do it:
- Vacation Rental. We have been doing family vacations for about six years, all of them staying in rental homes. We find it so much more relaxing since there is more privacy. Having a kitchen not only saves money, but keeps eating at restaurants a special treat. Since these go fast and define the trip, I always start with booking the rental first. I check VRBO, Trip Advisor, and Airbnb. There are other ones out there, like flipkey to check out, too. Eleuthera does have some hotels and a few resorts, but most lodging options are through house rentals. There are all types available, depending on your budget. Things to consider are if you want to enjoy sunrises (Atlantic side), or sunsets (Caribbean side), if you want to be near a sandy beach or coral beach, and if you want to stay near a settlement or in the country. Check the Trip Advisor Forum link above if you are seeking specific amenities such as a child friendly beach, or surfing. We have paid everywhere from $111 a night to $250 a night for three bedroom homes, usually with use of a couple of kayaks and close proximity to the Caribbean side.
- Flight to Nassau. Next, I book flights. We live in West Michigan, so I always book an early flight out of Chicago’s Midway Airport on Southwest. We are Southwest members and use their credit card for points. With the companion pass and saved points, there are four of us and we don’t end up spending more than $500 total for this part of the trip. We typically fly out of Midway very early in the morning, to Ft. Lauderdale, then get a second flight to Nassau, arriving in the early afternoon. Be Aware: before booking the flight to Nassau, I check the inter-island flights to Eleuthera to make sure there are a few compatible options.
- Flight from Nassau to Eleuthera. It is important to understand that Eleuthera has three airports: North Eleuthera, Governor’s Harbor and Rock Sound. I worry more about flight times that match coming in and out of Nassau than I do where our rental house is. However, do keep in mind that the speed limit is 45 m.p.h. and driving at night is not ideal. The airlines to consider from Nassau are Southern Air, Bahamas Air and Pineapple Air
Rock Sound Airport Lobby
4 Car Rental. I always check with the homeowner about recommendations first. Eleuthera is very reliant on the tourist dollar and small businesses need our help. Prices run $60-$80 per day and will probably have a delivery fee added. The word “Jeep” is synonymous with “S.U.V.” Someone will meet you at the airport, you will sign a receipt and drive away – on the LEFT. Except for renting from Big Daddy, there is little comparison to renting a car in the United States and is in fact, one of the first indications that things are more mellow on the island. This is so much so that I made an entire blog post about it, which you might want to read here. By the way, you must be 21 to rent a car and I would not recommend using a car as part of a home rental because you will not be insured in the event of an accident.
5.Packing. You will not need as much as you think. Pack shorts/skirts, some short sleeve shirts, a long sleeve (for sun protection), a hat, swimsuit(s), and importantly a pair of shoes for rough coral rocks. Some beaches are nothing but soft pink, or white sand for miles, but if you do any amount of exploring, an old pair of tennis shoes or my favorite, Chacos, are a must. There are some fancy restaurants, but most everything is very casual, but modest. We bring our own snorkel equipment and still pack everything into a carry on.
Money. Although we’ve seen a change in the few years we’ve been visiting, Eleuthera is mostly a cash economy. U.S. dollars are completely interchangeable with Bahamian dollars. We typically take about $150 for each day, spending most at the beginning on groceries and supplies. Although finding a cash machine is not impossible, they can be unreliable. We’ve had luck in Governor’s Harbour and Rock Sound, with a very low fee for use.
Waiting outside the North Eleuthera airport during an unexpected flight delay of several hours. Thank goodness, we had leftover pizza from Nate and Jenny’s and cheap Kaliks available across the street. We did miss our connection in Nassau, and then again in Chicago, but everything worked out in the end. Don’t worry, things will always work out!
Renting a car for our first trip to Eleuthera was the first indication that island life is different. The vacation rental owner gave us the name and email of a car rental guy, Stanton Cooper. I promptly emailed Mr. Cooper with the dates we needed and he responded a few days later with a simple “ok.”
Clearly, this was not Avis. With a few more emails, I learned that our rental would be $60 a day, we could pay with credit, and that all we needed to do was ask for “Stanton Cooper” when we walked out of the door of the airport.
Sure enough, we found Mr. Cooper very quickly. He walked us out the the parking lot where he had a random collection of cars, eyed us, then chose a burgundy Impala as our ride for the week. He filled out a carbon copy sales receipt with our credit card number and name, then instructed us to put the copy in the glove compartment. We dutifully placed ours on top of a pile of receipts, filled with names and credit card numbers from people all over the world.
Our Impala was a well-loved beauty. Multiple warning lights flashed unheeded reminders from the dash, the empty c.d. player refused to turn off, and there were no working seat belts. We loved this car. With the windows rolled down and scratchy tunes from the A.M. radio, we had found instant summer, circa 1980.
The week that followed was unbridled, family-island adventure. Stanton Cooper’s Impala took us past the most beautiful turquoise water in the world. I wonder if the island-wide 45 mph speed limit is imposed knowing that drivers are distracted with the stark beauty of this place.
That Impala took us to the most amazing, and nearly empty white sand beaches.
Of course, those beaches are the reward after taking some back roads better suited for SUVs. Nonetheless, our Impala persevered. To prevent very bad things from happening to the transmission, we did get out every now and then to provide a bit more clearance. In all our adventures, she only lost a bit of side mirror.
It’s true that the residents of Eleuthera are as beautiful as the water. In fact, headed back home, we dropped the car off with Stanton Cooper in the airport parking lot. We were settling down to wait for our flight when I realized I had left our passports back in the vacation rental, 20 miles away. Holy crap.
I ran back out to Stanton, who was busy with a bucket and rags, washing returned rental cars. I was panicked and told him what happened. He’s a robust man, with a kind face and so genuinely replied, “Well, you’d better get back in that car and get them.”
Nevermind the 45 mph speed limit. I flew. Smartly, I counted the James Cistern speed bumps on the route north so I could maximize my speed on my return. In a mad panic, I arrived, passports in hand, to the airport parking lot. I could see the plane, still parked (it was the only jet that morning) and exclaimed to Stanton that I was so relieved that it hadn’t yet left. His reply? “Honey, they weren’t going to leave without you!” Actually, there’s a chance that’s true. Island life really is different and we love it.
In the Governor’s Harbor Airport, mere seconds before panic ensued.
It’s true, we made a pretty dramatic change. For most people. including close friends, family, and underwriters at the bank, it was hard to understand. Honestly, from an outsider’s perspective, I totally see the confusion. We had achieved the American dream. We had two children, a beautiful home, wooded acreage, were close to the Lake Michigan shore, and our jobs. It was truly wonderful.
Kitchen Before: Kitchen After:
A big house and property is an investment in more than just money. For me, the housekeeping, alone, was daunting, and then came the annual West Michigan snowfall. Maintenance of an especially long (but beautiful) driveway, and roof that needed regular raking and shoveling of snow, left us feeling hardy, but exhausted.
Winter, 2014 (from the roof): Winter, 2015:
Although we were SO lucky, I had to continually remind myself how lucky we were to have such a beautiful place. We had raised our kids in a wonderful, wooded play land. However, time spent enjoying that place had been taken over with busy lives, leaving us feeling like bees continually leaving the hive, returning to the hive, leaving the hive… never around long enough to enjoy it.
When the kids were younger, we were home all the time.
This was all on my mind when, three things happened: First, I went on a home tour of second floor apartments over the adorable and vibrant downtown, in nearby Holland, Michigan. The apartments were small, but close to cool stuff like restaurants and micro breweries that we love. There were no yards to mow, or roofs to rake. By living in town, we could walk to meet friends and enjoy all these fun places.
Second, we took a much needed family vacation to the beautiful island of Eleuthera. It was the catalyst to the change we needed. Usually, when visiting a place we love, we’ll check out real estate listings, just for fun. Holy smokes. There were homes here, much more affordable than similar homes in Michigan. Owning waterfront property was not out of the question.
Third, we visited my husband’s sister and her husband in Harlem, New York. They gave up a beautiful Hastings, New York home with woods, and great neighbors for the convenience and excitement of city living. Walking everywhere, and for everything was awesome. Witnessing the payoff of giving up stuff you love for a life you love, was inspiring.
Within a week from returning from Harlem, over a beer at a favorite brewery, I had my husband on board for selling our house, and moving to a smaller, less expensive place in town. This would allow us walk to shops and restaurants, be part of a community, and (hopefully) the financial independence to own a small home on the island of our dreams.
Within months of this conversation, we were moving into a new (to us) home in town and readying our home of 15 years, the only home we had ever purchased, for the market. Our new home was more than half the living space of our previous place, and down to one bathroom, a drastic reduction from the three we had before.
Even more of a surprise to everyone, including us, is that we purchased an owner occupied rental. So, along with adjusting to town life, and living in a smaller space, we were learning how to be property managers. While this is not what we set out to do, keeping our minds open to this may have lead us to the very component of this move that will help make our dream a reality.
For many reasons, having a person we like and trust in the flat upstairs, has been one of the best parts of our move. Not only is it a financial help, we now have someone around when we travel. We love new experiences, and meeting new people, so this was the unexpected twist that might prove to be the best decision of all, no matter what path our future plans take.
Home Before: Home After:
Eleuthera is one of the most special places I’ve ever been, more rural and beautiful than I could have imagined. Tiny towns dot Queen’s Highway, the one main road running the length of the 110 mile long, 1 mile wide island. The neon Caribbean flanks one side, while the rougher Atlantic defines the other. There are 135 beaches in total on the island. Since most of it is undeveloped, these beaches can prove pretty tricky to find. It’s definitely an adventure lover’s dream.