Guest Post: Jim Byers' Insider Guide to Long Island, Bahamas
Jim Byer's Insider Guide to Long Island, BahamasYou’ve shopped Freeport from top to bottom. You’ve played with the dolphins and slid down every slide they’ve got at the Atlantis resort. You love the people and the warm, soft winds of the Bahamas. But you’re looking for something different this winter.
Well, do I have a treat for you. As someone who served five years as Travel Editor at the Toronto Star and has been writing travel stories for the better part of a decade now, I’ve had the good fortune to travel up and down and all around the Caribbean. And one of my favourite trips was one of my first experiences in the area; a trip to Long Island in the Bahamas.
If you haven’t heard of Long Island, you’re far from alone. It’s a tiny sliver of an island about halfway between Nassau and the Turks and Caicos Islands. There are only a couple of major resorts, both independent places with a ton of charm but very different atmospheres. Cape Santa Maria has been named one of the most romantic resorts in the Bahamas, and there’s good reason for it. This might be the remote resort you’ve pictured in your dreams, with a massive, seven kilometre stretch of white sand and water so blue the Crayola crayon people don’t even have a name for it.
They’ve got a series of beachfront bungalows and villas that fit the needs of romantic couples all the way to extended families. You can snorkel in gloriously clear and calm waters and also try your hand at scuba or stand-up paddle boarding. The resort can arrange world-class bone fishing on the tidal flats, or you can try your hand at deep-sea fishing if that’s more your thing.
I don’t recall what I had on my visit a few years ago, but there was a lovely dining room with wonderful ocean views and fabulous food. I had a wonderful beachfront unit that was just perhaps 20 small steps from the water, which is warm and toasty and calm enough to skip a rock across.
The other main resort on the island, which is only six km’s wide at its broadest point and about 130 km’s long, is Stella Maris. It’s a small, intimate resort that feels like the best kind of throwback spot, with a simple pool and a nice beach on the Atlantic/eastern side of the island, where the water is rougher but more interesting and varied than on the Caribbean/western side.Stella Maris Resort
The owners can take you on a nature walk in the area, where you’ll learn about plants and island history. The food is good and the atmosphere very welcoming and family-friendly. You can fish or snorkel here, and they also eco-tours to check out nearby islands with Bahamian Iguanas that adults and kids both will enjoy.
The resorts are great, but what I loved most was the down-home atmosphere and sheer isolation of the place. There’s only one real road and hardly a building to be found for long stretches at a time. You might find locals selling handmade arts and crafts by the side of the road; everything from elephants made of straw to Christmas ornaments.
It was too wet for our car to get there when I visited, but there’s a fine monument to Christopher Columbus on a rocky promontory at the north end of the island, where Chris himself landed in 1492 (allegedly his third stop on his unexpected tour of the Caribbean). The road to get here is rough, so you’ll want to grab a four-wheel drive car when you land at the small (and I mean small) airport on the island.Columbus Monument
The only town is Clarence Town, and at last check there were less than 500 residents. So this is clearly not a shopping mecca like Nassau. But there are some fun attractions. Dean’s Blue Hole is one of the most famous diving spots in the Caribbean, with famously clear water and tons of sea life to check out. It’s said to be the deepest blue hole on the planet, which is saying something.
There’s a small museum near the village of Buckley’s Settlement that’s quite delightful and fun, with exhibits on local life and history. The island also has a series of tiny jails about the size of a Smart Car; great spots for casual photos you can send home.
Be sure to stop in at Max’s Conch Bar in Deadmans Cay for some of his famous seafood. The conch salad has bits of hot peppers, tomatoes, onions and lime juice and is as fresh and tasty as the sea itself. It’s also said to pack a punch for men seeking a natural version of Viagra.
There’s no such thing as the hidden Bahamas. But Long Island is most definitely a place where you can get away from civilization and feel a connection to this special part of the world.
JIM’S INSIDER TIP: The Bahamas are great. But you’re not that far south, so I think a Bahamas trip is best taken in February or March when you have a better chance of warmer temperatures. Another suggestion is to try a couple nights at Stella Maris to get a feel for the island and its attractions. Then head north to Cape Santa Maria to chill and swim and check out the Columbus Monument before heading home with that perfect Bahamas tan. The resorts can often arrange your flight from the larger Bahamian airports. You also can try Bahamas Air.