When many people think of the Bahamas
, they envision the glitz and glamour of Paradise Island's celebrity-chef restaurants, or Cable Beach's casinos. But there's another side of the Bahamas that includes simple-luxury resorts, deserted expanses of white- or pink-sand beaches, and a way of life that doesn't revolve around what type of high-end bath products will be waiting for you in your hotel's shower. This is Eleuthera. Although the relax and relax some more" island vacation isn't for everyone, Eleuthera is the place to go for seclusion, sun, and starry skies.
The night sky. On my first night I was walking back to my suite after dinner, and my eyes shifted to the sky -- the myriad white stars seemed to envelop me in a twinkling abyss. This light show was even better than anything I had experienced growing up in Wisconsin. Light pollution is completely nonexistent on this island. I also loved the pristine environment -- clean, quiet beaches in white and rosy pink hues; kelly green palm trees against a cloudless blue sky; rainbow-colored fish darting in and out of the offshore reefs. Colors are more vibrant down there.
If you can tear yourself off the beach, Eleuthera has plenty to do in the way of adventure activities. There's great snorkeling, diving, and kayaking, and many resorts can provide the equipment you need. Fishing is also big here, including bonefishing.
I was shocked by how uncommercial Eleuthera is. There wasn't a single Starbucks on the island, let alone a nightclub, luxury spa, or even a stoplight. This is what makes Eleuthera appealing. It was also refreshing to be around such genuinely nice people. Service at Eleuthera hotels is some of the best I've ever come by because it's evident the staff members truly care about their guests and their island. You'll have to get used to "island time" -- everything moves a bit slower -- but that's part of the charm.
Bug spray. The one downfall of my vacation was that I was almost eaten alive by a swarm of hungry mosquitoes. If you plan on heading outside of any of the little settlements, be prepared. Bugs were never a problem at any of the resorts or restaurants, but when I stopped at a straw purse stand off the beaten path, it was a blood buffet for those pesky bugs. Also, your cell phone probably won't work on the island. If you're used to using your phone as a watch or an alarm clock, be sure to bring back-ups. To create that escape-from-it-all experience, some hotels don't even have clocks in the room.
I stayed at three incredible resorts: The Cove Eluethera, Pineapple Fields,
and the brand new Powell Pointe Resort at Cape Eleuthera.
All three practiced the island philosophy of simple elegance. My favorite stay was at the Cove. Rooms are simply decorated, but my suite had a stunning view of a quiet beach, studded with hammocks and palm trees. You could hear the waves lapping as you drifted off to sleep. Rooms don't have telephones, televisions, or even alarm clocks, and there's no need to lock your doors. It's the perfect place to drop off the face of the earth. The Cove also served the best meal I had on the island, Bahamian fare with a gourmet touch that is truly unique and enjoyable. But perhaps the resort's best amenity is Wallace, the clubhouse bar tender. He's an expert on island fun, and will make sure you feel just as "at home" as he does. A one-night stay in a standard room is $235 a night.
Powell Pointe Resort at Cape Eleuthera was also incredible. This new luxury marina/condo resort really spoils guests. For a truly memorable experience, the staff will arrange for you to spend a day on your own private island. Pack a picnic, a sand pail, and a good read. Seashelling is also at its best out here -- I was able to hold a starfish in my hand! We rented snorkel gear from the resort and spent some time exploring the nearby reefs. A one-night stay at Powell Pointe Resort at Cape Eleuthera is $600, but this is for a town home unit with two bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, and a full kitchen. Each town home can comfortably sleep six people.
Don't expect shopping, tourist attractions, movies, or things like that -- this destination is really just about escaping. Bring a couple good books, your i-pod, and your favorite three swimsuits, and you'll be set. Things are very casual on the island, so leave the high heels at home, ladies. If you're looking for a little more action, take the ferry over to chic Harbour Island
(a 10-minute ride for $5), off Eleuthera's mainland. The island has one of the most gorgeous pink-sand beaches in the world.
High season, mid-November through May, is when you'll find the best weather (mid to high 70s), but also the most people, although this is relative, as Eleuthera is still a best-kept secret. Hurricane season is June through November, with greatest risk of storm from August to October.
You can get to Eleuthera by connecting in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, or Nassau. From these points, the trip over is under an hour. Delta now offers flights out of Atlanta, which is a two-hour trip from Eleuthera. Flights to Eleuthera are around $400, and you can get to Eleuthera from New York in as little as five hours, depending on your flight path.