Which Out Islands for a 2-3 week stay?

Jul 19th, 2010, 07:47 AM
  #1  
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Which Out Islands for a 2-3 week stay?

I'm in the planning stages for a 2-3 week trip in October/November, and would love to get some input on which Out Islands to include.

We've spent almost 20 years traveling the Caribbean. Our preference is for smaller, less-commercial, off-the-beaten path locales, and the more "Old Caribbean" feeling the island, the better.

By this, I mean islands that still retain their cultural identity and there's a laid back, unhurried Irie vibe. For comparison's sake, some of our favorite other islands are Nevis, Bequia, Dominica and Carriacou. For a larger island, we like Grenada.

Our interests include expanses of beach (fewer people is better - that is one reason we travel in the off-season), local food and live local music, good snorkeling/diving, day-sails on cats or sailboats.

We don't need glitzy shopping, fishing, yachtie atmosphere, etc.

We've been island-hopping in the Grenadines and BVI's/USVI's, and found that moving too much takes a lot of time away from liming, so we plan to include no more than 2-4 islands in our 2-3 week stay. Could we get some ideas on which combination of islands would work well together?

Thanks so much!
Diana is offline  
Jul 19th, 2010, 08:40 AM
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The Out Islands are my favorite destination in the West Indies for some of the very reasons you are interested -- laid-back vibe, beautiful beaches, lack of commercialism, etc. But part of the reason the islands retain that wonderful untouched character is that, despite their nearness to the mainland US, it's still a challenge to get there. It's even a greater challenge to get around between them unless you are willing to use Nassau as a hub. That much said, a few thoughts:

- I always recommend the Abacos for first-timers. While "busier" than the other Out Islands, they are still deliciously slow and remote compared to other non-Bahamian destinations. Once you get to the Abacos from the US, you can move easily among them by regularly-scheduled ferry service which is efficient and reasonably-priced. I could easily spend 2 weeks there ... say a week on Elbow Cay to visit the lower Abacos, and a week on Green Turtle Cay to visit the upper Abacos. Renting a runabout is essential here, because one of the joys of the Abacos is island-hopping from deserted beach to beach bar to settlement.

- Another thought is to take advantage of package put together between Staniel Cay Yacht Club (Exumas), Small Hope Bay Lodge (Andros) and Watermakers Air (based in FLL). Your "package" includes flights, lodging (which, at Staniel Cay includes use of a runabout and fuel), and most meals (plus all drinks at Small Hope Bay Lodge). The Exumas and Andros couldn't be any more different from each other. The Exumas are a beachy escape, while Andros offers nature, diving, mangroves, etc. Neither, however, has much in the way of choices for dining or entertainment off-property. I did this package last year, and was very happy with the value and the experience.

If you are willing to go back to Nassau for flights, or willing to consider private charter flights (which are surprisingly affordable), you range of choices would expand. Cat Island, Eleuthera, Harbor Island, Long Island, etc.

I've got trip reports of some of my Out Island adventures on my webpage here: www.islandtime.homestead.com.
Callaloo is offline  
Jul 19th, 2010, 09:22 AM
  #3  
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Thanks Callaloo! Long time no see. I think you helped me with Carriacou before our first trip there, and probably other spots over the years as well.

Local food is always one of our very favorite things (which I neglected to mention), so a place where there are at least a few off-property choices for that - funky little beach bars that serve conch, rotis, rice n peas, etc. - is essential.

We've really enjoyed time spent in the BVI's and the Grenadines, so a locale where we could island-hop in a runabout or via ferry would be perfect if there are good dining and drinking establishment opportunities.

So maybe the Abacos would fit the bill as you suggested? I did read somewhere that the Abacos are VERY much a sailing destination. There are aspects of that I like (opportunities for daysails and trips), and some I don't (overcrowded snorkeling reefs, etc). I read a review where the person said it was "full of rude people on sailboats." What would your take be on that comment? Seemed rather like a sweeping generalization to me.
Diana is offline  
Jul 19th, 2010, 09:28 AM
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Based on the description of places you prefer and the out islands we have been to (Abacos, eleuthera, HI, long island and exuma) I would recommend long island (check out cape santa maria resort) and eleuthera as a second choice. Both islands have stunning beaches (eleuthera probably has more primarily because there is quite a lot of information around how to get to the diff beaches) but LI is more remote. I think all your needs w/respect to snorkelling and day sails could be met in LI. The cape santa maria beach is one of the best in the world and honestly I think its the best one we've come across in the bahamas....though this is a personal kind of statement. If LI sounds too remote then Eleu may work as well.
mnag is offline  
Jul 19th, 2010, 09:56 AM
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Abacos full of rude people on sailboats? I would love to know the context of that remark! It certainly doesn't resemble any of my experiences. The writer must have been in the wrong place at the wrong time (the BVI, maybe?).

While the Abacos are a great sailing destination, there aren't that many charter boats. And most of the cruising sailors (i.e. those who sail down from North America) mostly use the Abacos as a way station to get to the Exumas and beyond. During the summer months, a lot of sportfishing boats come over from Florida, but that won't be your problem. In November, you'll have the islands mostly to yourself, and you might even have to make your own party at some of the more remote beach bars like Pete's Pub in Little Harbour. The most busy place we've experience in the Abacos is Nipper's on a Sunday afternoon (pig roast), and during the off-season, it's got a good, mellow vibe; you'll never see that size of a "crowd" elsewhere.

What make the Abacos appealing for sailors is what also makes them appealing for land-based visitors with a small rental boat -- the cays' orientation toward the sea and those who love it. For example, many, if not most, amenities are accessible from the sea and most shops and restaurants have their own docks.

As for local food, most of restaurants in the Out Islands (not just the Abacos) offer little else. You won't find roti, as that's a more down-island treat, but you'll find conch every-which-way, spiny lobster, grouper, peas-n-rice, etc. on just about every menu (even the few that offer more "continental" choices). So even when we had our meals included at Small Hope Bay Lodge and Staniel Cay Yacht Club, there were plenty of local choices for each meal.

Really, you won't go wrong with anyone's suggestions here. If you loved Carriacou and Nevis, you'll love any Out Island. Your biggest challenge will be working out the logistics of getting from one place to another and crafting an experience that won't leave you bored by staying in just one location.
Callaloo is offline  
Jul 19th, 2010, 12:23 PM
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Thank you BOTH so much for all of the very helpful info. Based on what you have both written and suggested combined with what I have read recently and over the years, I'm convinced that this is the right choice for us.

Callaloo, it was a comment on some review site, but I cannot recall which one it was just now. It did not appear to me as though the writer had a lot of travel experience in the region, and I did not give his/her comment a lot of credence.

I am sure I will have some more questions as I get closer to making final choices, and I thank you so much for the help.
Diana is offline  
Jul 20th, 2010, 03:22 AM
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I have been to 4-5 of the Abacos as weel as Great Exuma and Andros.Personally i think callaloo's first suggestion is your better choice. the diving and snlekeling is great off Andros though not of the beach because reef is out a bit but it has the 3rd kargest reef ib the wirkd that is still in ggod condition and the bone fishing is fun and very good. Snorkeling in the abacos is a 4 while Andros is a 7 but Great Exuma is a 3.But some of the Exuma's though somewhat difficult to get to are very laid back with only 1 modest accomodation on some of the islands but you can "chill" that is if you really can do so. The Abacos are varied from March Harbour to Green Turtle. I always think of the andros as the islands that tried but just coud not make it while Andros has not tris has not tried so hard but on the other hand Great Exuma trud but just did not make it,
StanKase is offline  
Jul 20th, 2010, 05:40 AM
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Although we really loved Long Island, I think 2-3 weeks there may be too long. It's pretty remote and you can hit all the main "hot spots" in a week. My trip report is here in case you're interested:
http://www.fodors.com/community/cari...ort-223-32.cfm

I haven't been to the other out islands, but have read lots of trip reports and done research, and I think Callaloo has the right idea with Abacos. Sounds like there's plenty to explore there.

Or you could stay in the Exumas. Stay on Great Exuma for a week, then Staniel Cay for a week and check out the swimming pigs and feed the sharks. That's definitely a "to do someday" on my list! Let us know what you decide on!
kellybeaches is offline  
Jul 20th, 2010, 09:14 AM
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StanKase- I am trying to decipher the last sentence in your post- could you clarify? I am in the process of planning a trip to Great Guana Cay for 2011- I have stayed at other places in the Abacos (and the Exumas, LI, and Eleuthera) but have only done day trips to GGC. I think I remember your making positive remarks about the snorkeling there, is that right? I am looking at a house near the south end- any advice about staying/snorkeling on GGC would be welcome. Thanks.
ishkribbl is offline  
Jul 20th, 2010, 09:25 AM
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I am having a very tough time deciding and really appreciate everyone's input. It is most helpful.

My main concern - and I am not sure how to phrase this - is that it appears Harbour Island and some of the Abacos are a little TOO much like a northern US coastal town. I know a lot of people love that, but it's just not for us. I don't WANT to see India Hicks when I am on vacation, or try to spot a celebrity, or oooh and aaaah over people's expensive vacation homes. (I could easily have a completely inaccurate picture of what it's like, so feel free to correct me!)

When we travel, we gravitate more toward local bars, restaurants and people. I am not doing a very good job of explaining it, but we aren't looking for an enclave of ex-pats or an area with a proliferation of seasonal rental homes owned by non-residents. We did not like that about St John. We found it irritatingly US-like (it is the USVI's after all), and we disliked that aspect.

Our ideal day would be: breakfast at our small oceanfront resort which is on a stunning and quiet beach (ideally with good snorkeling), then a walk on the beach, a Hobie ride or some sun time, lunch in a local place in a nearby town, browsing a couple of small shops with local crafts, a couple of drinks in a local bar - where we meet some folks and get an invite to a party. Back to the hotel for a swim, some reading or a quick nap, dinner at resort or beach bar nearby (one with live local music would be GREAT), and head out to the party for a little while.

Meeting and talking to and spending time with local people is one of the things we like the best. We can vacation with people just like us any time we want to! The beauty of the Caribbean is a huge draw for us, but the people, local food, culture and music keep us coming back year after year.

I guess the problem is balancing off-season travel in a relatively quiet area while wanting to get away from it all and not ending up with boredom. As long as there are little beach bars, rum shops, local dining, beautiful beaches and a few things to do and see, we are happy.

kelly, your suggestion sounds interesting, ha ha! The swimming pigs are not what feed the sharks are they?
We did shark dives years ago with UNEXSO and Xanadu, and it was definitely one of the Top 10 things we have ever done.

Sigh... I am having a difficult time with this.
Diana is offline  
Jul 20th, 2010, 09:41 AM
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OK. I checked out the swimming pigs.

If I tell my husband about it, we will HAVE to go there. What to do, what to do...
Diana is offline  
Jul 20th, 2010, 10:09 AM
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I haven't been to Harbour Island, so I can't compare it to the Abacos. But with the exception of the Ritz Carlton-managed Winding Bay Club (I don't even know where it is, you will be hard-pressed to find the posh element in the Abacos. The "resorts" are small and rustic; the rental homes are better described as cottages (and not in the Newport way). Sure, there are expatriates, but it's not like a colony.
Callaloo is offline  
Jul 20th, 2010, 10:12 AM
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Oh yeah! Those Exuma pigs are a RIOT. They don't feed the sharks, though. Word has it they are being fattened up by visitor-accomplices for the occasional pig roast.

I absolutely loved my trips to the Exumas. But with the exception of Great Exuma, each cay is so tiny, with few that have actual settlements, that you would need to be committed to island-hopping to avoid boredom.
Callaloo is offline  
Jul 20th, 2010, 10:21 AM
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Thanks Callaloo. That description of the Abacos puts my mind to rest. It seems to be the consensus as the best choice.
Off to check it out!
Diana is offline  
Jul 20th, 2010, 10:52 AM
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If I were doing the Abacos for 2 or 3 weeks I would take Callaloo's suggestion of splitting the time between Elbow in the south and Green Turtle in the north. If you go for 3 weeks, possibly a week on Great Guana. That would definitely cover the Abacos. A word of caution: your trip time frame is in the 'slow' season and some restaurants may be closed.

There are also two very informative Abacos specific forums:

http://coconuttelegraph.net/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=2

http://www.abacoforum.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=3
RobertoB is offline  
Jul 20th, 2010, 10:55 AM
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Hi- I have been to Harbour Island and actually, I agree with you about it- It is probably the only place I have visited in the out islands that I do not really care for and, according to what you have said, would not recommend to you. I do love the Abacos and agree with what Callalou said about them and what she said about the small cays in the Exumas. We loved Staniel Cay but unless you want to spend your days adventuring on the water there is not a lot else to do.
I agree with her first suggestion of flying into Treasure Cay and taking a water taxi to Green Turtle to stay for a week or so then you can get back to TC and taxi (not cheap but probably your best bet) down to Marsh Harbour where you can take a ferry to Hopetown for the remainder of your stay. There used to be at least one airline that did the hop between TC and MHH (literally up then down) but I am not sure if anyone does these days or not.
If you are comfortable renting a boat then go from Hopetown down to Little Harbour one day and visit the foundry and gallery and have lunch at Pete's Pub.
You really might run into seasonal closures in October in the Abacos so check on that.
ishkribbl is offline  
Jul 20th, 2010, 11:12 AM
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PS If you have not seen them, some of the videos at www.myoutislands.com/bahamas-videos.cfm are very good and help you get the vibe of some of the places mentioned to you already.
There is also a company www.majesticholiday.com that does multi-island packages (like the 9 night Great Exuma, Long Island, Cat Island safari) and will customize a trip for you including the air from island to island. I have not used them but they have been around for a long time. Callalou can give you more Cat Island information. I agree that you would not want to spend a couple of weeks on Long Island but we did enjoy it for a week (Stella Maris).
As far as the beach bars, little local restaurants, walking around a settlement/town and being able to easily get around in a golf cart, bike or by foot, the Abacos are going to be hard to beat though.
ishkribbl is offline  
Jul 20th, 2010, 01:17 PM
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Have you considered the Dominican Republic? It definitely fits your description of Old Caribbean in terms of strong cultural identity and laid back. It has amazing merengue and bachata music, both of which originated there, as well as salsa and son.

To get some more info and see photos check out www.antitourdr.com

Good luck!
drfan is offline  
Jul 20th, 2010, 03:39 PM
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I envy your situation - 2 to 3 weeks in the Out Islands!

Just to add on to very good advice above:

Harbour Island - yes, it's a yachty-type atmosphere and kids spending Daddy's money. I could see running in to "rude boaters" there but not Abaco. Harbour Island is beautiful, the cottages are charming, you have fine dining choices, but it does not exude the typical Out Island experience we've had on other islands.

Cat Island was very low key and not much there other than a few scattered "resorts" and a mom and pop grocery that may or may not be open. We really enjoying being lazy on our beach and exploring the island. I don't know that there are many flights to Cat so that could be an issue going to another island.

Abaco was a lot of fun as we really enjoy the boating aspect that it has to offer. Even novices can buzz around in a whaler to several of the local cays, especially Great Guana for the Sunday pig roast at Nipper's. It also has a nice snorkeling area off of it's beach - not Tobago Cays quality but nice. We stayed on Treasure Cay (loved it) and visited some of the others cays nearby. It was a great trip.

Eleuthera was our most recent trip and we could have spent two weeks there easily as the island has so many beautiful beaches to explore and was a little more developed (term used very loosely) than the very quiet Cat Island. (Disclaimer: we love quiet and found it was the most remote of the ones we have visited...so far. )

Great Exuma we loved for the boating aspect and exploring more beaches. To explore on the main island required renting a car (we stayed on Stocking Island across the harbor.)

Bahamas website has had offers for discounted air and hotel stays. You may want to check that out to see if they have anything similar to Majestic's multi-island offer.

**
I could easily spend 2-3 weeks in Abaco. Great people (visitors and locals), beautiful beaches, boating from one cay to the next. And again, ease of travel between them.
BeachGirl247 is offline  
Jul 21st, 2010, 03:26 AM
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diane; I am a hunt and peck typist. I meant to say that I see the Abacos as the islands that tried and just never made it where Andros never tried.Some of the comments after mine I agree with in terms of it being in some respects an extention of the US. If you want to get away in some respects you can find Abaco in the Florida Keys. Andros-Small Hope Lodge (5 days), Stella Maris ((no strong preference 3 good places-4 days) or Long Island (4 days) and Great Exuma ( 5 days) would make for quite a diverse and relaxing trip with good accomadtions good to very good lpcal from the waters fish and some seafood and some great beaxhes,I think 14 dats is appropriate but you will eat up the eqivakent of 20 hours traveling but you will see msny dubtke differences. I suggest you star awat from BahamaAir and consider American Eagle and Continental Express.
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