Explore the natural wonders and myths that permeate the untouched slice of paradise on Andros.
The largest island in the Bahamas, Andros, holds mysteries and wonders both on land and sea. The 100-mile long island consists of largely unpopulated and undeveloped stretches divided by estuaries into North Andros, Mangrove Cay, and South Andros. Along with intricate creeks, mangrove flats, and pine forests, the island holds a vast expanse of underwater cave systems and sits adjacent to the world’s third largest coral reef. An enormous half-shark, half-octopus creature called Lusca is believed to live in the depths of the blue holes, and sightings of a large feathered creature atop pine trees are still reported. Androsians believe that cures for ailments can be found in nature and that treasure was hidden in caves by the Caribbean’s most feared pirate. Myths aside, Andros is a spellbinding destination with deserted beaches, abundant wildlife, and a rich cultural heritage, where you’ll no doubt come away with a better appreciation for the wild and the wonderful.
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Lusca Mythical Underwater Creature
Similar to Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster, Androsians believe that a gigantic half-octopus, half-shark dwells in the depths of the blue holes. They have named it Lusca, and folklore suggests it’s 75 feet long and uses its strong tentacles to drag humans and boats into its underwater lair. Missing swimmers, underwater cave divers, and wrecked boats are blamed on Lusca. The myth may have a basis in fact, as sightings of this creature might simply be of a giant squid; those who claim to have been attacked reported sucker marks on their bodies. Locals also believe that Lusca causes water to bubble before the attack, but this could be the result of the rapid tidal changes drawing water through the blue holes.
Bush Medicine and Use of Love Potions
The use of plants for medicinal purposes is a tradition brought by African slaves and Native Americans to the Bahamas in the 18th and 19th centuries and passed on to younger generations by practitioners called “grannies”. Cures for ailments can be found in nature’s pharmacy all over Andros. The Bay Geranium, which grows along the sandy shores, is boiled in tea with lime and salt to treat the common cold and flu. Fever grass, as the name suggests, treats a fever. The red peeling bark of the gumbo-limbo tree, commonly known as the “sunburned tourist tree,” is in abundance and is used for, you guessed it, alleviating sunburn (and other skin rashes). The most intriguing is the Love Vine, a parasite that twists around its host plant, eventually killing it–but it acts as an aphrodisiac when its leaves are consumed in a “love” potion.
Mysterious Blue Holes
Created over thousands of years, the limestone bedrock of the island eroded to form intricate cave systems, and Andros is known to have the largest collection in the world. The roughly circular entrances to these deep sinkholes are known as blue holes due to the contrast between the cobalt blue of the deep caves surrounded by lighter colored shallows. Thus far, 178 blue holes on land and at least 50 in the sea have been discovered, and they provide habitat for unusual cave fish and invertebrates found nowhere else on earth. Fossils, shipwrecks, and the remains of a crocodile not native to the Bahamas have also been found within the blue holes. Noted oceanographer and conservationist, Jacques Cousteau, visited the island in 1970 to explore and film these wonders, and divers from around the world continue to be drawn to them.
Black Seminoles of Red Bay
After the United States acquired Florida from Spain in 1821, freedom-seeking Seminoles and African slaves escaped by canoe and established a settlement in the Red Bays on the West Coast of North Andros. The descendants of Black Seminoles identify themselves as Bahamians while still holding onto their connection to the American South. The village of Red Bays is known for its sustainablelifestyle, as the inhabitants live in homes built with local wood and thatched roofs, harvest the ocean for fish and sponges, and hunt wild boars and land crabs on land. The residents are lauded for their wood carvings and sturdy waterproof baskets woven from palm thatch fronds, perfecting the art passed down from generations.
Pirate Lair at Morgan’s Bluff
Legend has it that the Caribbean’s most feared buccaneer hid his gold and rum in a cave at the northwestern portion of Andros. Morgan’s Bluff is located in a notoriously dangerous spot for ships, but the cave underneath seemed like the perfect hideaway for Sir Henry Morgan, according to folklore. While historians have confirmed Morgan used this part of the island as a hideout, they don’t have evidence to prove he ever entered the cave. That doesn’t stop eternal optimists from venturing into this bat-filled, vine-covered cavern in the hopes of finding Morgan’s lost booty.
Blessing of the Chickcharney
Sightings of the mysterious Chickcharney, a feathered three-foot tall creature with one red eye, three-toed claws, a prehensile tail, and a 360-degree rotating head are still being reported. This flightless bird may have a basis in the large, 3.3-foot-tall barn owl, Tyto pollens, whose remains have been found on Andros. That species, however, disappeared in the 16th century due to hunting and habitat destruction.
There’s an English belief that if you see an owl in a tree, walk around it for good luck. Bahamians believe in something similar and recommend wearing bright colors before birdwatching to increase chances of being favored by a Chickcharney and blessed with good fortune. If the creature is offended, it is said that it violently twists the person’s neck all the way around. Chances are, you’ll encounter the harmless Bahama Oriole, Swallow Warbler, Woodstar, Cuban Emerald, and other exotic birds on your outing.
Bonefishing Capital of the World
Andros is surrounded by thousands of square miles of inland waterways and fishable flats that are home to bonefish, making it a sought-after destination for anglers. These silver-toned fish blend in with the white sand and live in the abundant seagrass, mangroves, and flats of the island. They are often targeted by sharks and barracudas, making them wary of their surroundings. Hunting them under the bright sun takes special skill, planning, and precision casting, which make it all the more interesting for those craving the rush. With practically no other boat traffic on the water, there’s nothing to come between the angler and the catch, except, of course, lack of patience. But isn’t solitude and serenity part of the package?
Andros Barrier Reef
Stretching more than 190 miles and 6,000 feet deep, the Andros Barrier Reef is the third largest living organism on the planet. The reef sits along the edge of the underwater trench known as the Tongue of the Ocean, running parallel to the island’s east coast from the Joulter Cays in the north to the South Cay. This rainforest in the sea has stayed pristine due to the remoteness of Andros and provides habitat for 164 species of fish and different types of coral, including the Giant Tube Sponge, Sea Rod, Smooth Brain Coral, Deep Water Gorgonia, and the Staghorn Coral. The deep water trench is also frequented by pilot whales, humpback whales, and large open water fish. Those wanting to witness the kaleidoscope of exotic fish can dive or snorkel to experience the underwater beauty.
Crab Hunting and Festival
When the rains come at the end of May, hundreds of crabs in the central and southern parts of the island come crawling from their mud burrows and rocky crevices. They’re seen at night crossing the Queen’s Highway to the sea for the purpose of spawning. Equipped with lanterns, “crab catchers” line the highway and grab them with their bare hands, skillfully avoiding their formidable claws. At the annual Crab Fest, held in Queen’s Park in Fresh Creek on the second weekend in June, visitors can take part in the largest cultural festival in the Bahamas. Crab is cooked in 101 ways, live music fills the balmy air, and crab-catching contests get people scrambling to get their hands on 1,200 released crabs. It’s definitely not for the squeamish!
Northern Bahamian Rock Iguana
The land of crabs is also home to the largest terrestrial vertebrate in the Bahamas, the rock iguana, found only on Andros and Exuma islands. These iguanas can grow up to four feet in length and weigh 20 pounds. These dinosaur-like lizards range in color from dark grey to black, with a crest of spiny yellowish-green scales on their head, chest, and legs. With age, the yellow turns orangish-red in males. The Andros iguana in the only one in the world to deposit eggs in termite mounds. Females lay up to 18 eggs and fiercely guard their nests for 10 weeks. Sadly, these eggs aren’t safe from hunters nor the island’s snakes, feral dogs, cats, and hogs. Conservation efforts are underway to educate the population and protect the species.
In 1973, the year the Bahamas won independence from the British, a handcrafted batik factory opened in the capital, Andros Town in North Andros. It began producing Androsia, a colorful fabric that has since become a part of the Bahamian identity and national dress. The batik features whimsical shapes found in nature, including conch shells, hibiscus flowers, and coral heads on bright fabric. The stencils are dipped in hot wax and pressed onto the fabric, then soaked in dye long enough for it to absorb color. The cloth is then boiled to remove the wax and dried outside before being turned into clothing or wall hangings. The factory, located next to the Lighthouse Club, has an adjacent store, selling their creations and souvenirs.
Small Hope Bay Lodge (SHBL) Dive Center
Small Hope Bay Lodge near Fresh Creek is one of the two earliest dive-dedicated resorts in the world. In 1962, owner Dick Birch, along with Canadian physicist Roger Hutchins, set the world record for deep diving (462 feet) on compressed air at the dive center. As a teenager, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau learned to dive at SHBL. Don’t let the name of the lodge dissuade you though. It comes from the fact that there’s a small hope of ever finding hidden treasure. Located on a stretch of pristine beach with access to hiking trails and kayaking around the mangroves, the all-inclusive eco-lodge continues to offer rustic-chic accommodations along with first-class dive sessions under the management of Dick Birch’s children. Manager Jeff Birch boasted that more men have walked on the moon than have been on some of their dive sites. That reason alone is compelling enough to visit Andros.