The Out Islands consist of all the Bahamas except the major islands of Grand Bahama, New Providence and Paradise Island. The Out Islands are comprised of a few large islands (like Andros and Eleuthera) and hundreds of cays (small islands; pronounced "key"). Some of the cays are inhabited, but many are uninhabited and others are privately owned. Most of the Out Islands are barely developed, making them ideal for those wishing to experience an untouched tropical paradise. The Abacos
The Abacos are a cluster of over 100 cays, most of which are uninhabited, in the northeastern region of the Bahamas. Known for crystal clear waters and favorable winds, the Abacos have earned a reputation as the sailing capital of the Bahamas. The two main islands, Great and Little Abaco, both offer pristine lagoons and inlets that promote a sense of seclusion and peace that is unrivaled even in other parts of the Caribbean.
Great Abaco Island, the largest of the Abacos, is home to the third largest city in the Bahamas, Marsh Harbour. One of the most civilized spots in the Out Islands, Marsh Harbour boasts banks, a gas station, some restaurants and, those true rarities of the Out Islands, traffic lights. Shops retailing an assortment of goods including hand made jewelry and Bahamian native crafts line the center of town.
Just off Marsh Harbour's coast, on Elbow Cay, lies the quaint village of Hope Town . The town's most visible landmark is the 120 foot Hope Town Lighthouse , built in 1838. Because residents feared it would ruin the island's profitable ship wrecking business, vandalism plagued the lighthouse's construction and delayed its completion for many years. Today, the lighthouse is one of the last hand-turned kerosene lit lighthouses in the Caribbean.
For another excellent day trip, take a ride 30 miles south from Marsh Harbour to the artists' colony of Little Harbour. Here you will find Pete Johnston's Foundry where master artisan Johnston uses an old wax method to strike intricate and impressive bronzes. After perusing through the local art scene, stop for a relaxing drink at Pete's Pub.
A trip 10 miles south of Little Harbour will take you to the Bahamas National Trust Sanctuary , home to the endangered Bahamian Parrot as well as over 100 other species of birds.
Treasure Cay , the modern resort district of the Abacos, is on the east coast of Great Abaco, 20 miles north of the Marsh Harbour. Some residents complain this area, which in recent years has turned extremely commercial and homogenized, lacks the charm of other islands. Nevertheless, the town center offers plenty of shopping and dining destinations, and golfers will enjoy the championship course the vicinity. It is the only golf course in all of the Out Islands. Andros
Andros, the largest and least explored island of all the Bahamas, attracts visitors looking to experience an untouched, tropical environment. Its densely packed pine forests are filled with exotic botanical specimens, and lush wooded areas provide a natural breeding ground for a diverse array of birds. The 140 mile long Andros Barrier Reef, coveted by scuba divers and snorkelers for its spectacular aquatic life, runs along the Eastern shore.
Whether a culinary journey, underwater exploration, or fishing strikes your fancy, a great place to start is at Fresh Creek, Andros Town. Stop by the Chickcarnies Hotel for some of the cracked conch. The Small Hope Bay Lodge offers free introductory scuba lessons, specialized diving excursions, and conducts fishing charters every day for bonefish, tuna, tarpon, and other various types of fish indigenous to the reef.
As for diving, beginners might be more apt to snorkel the shallow reefs such as the Three Sisters, while diving experts tackle the "Over the Wall" dive. This excursion takes you 185 feet down to an underwater pre-Ice Age beach. All along the reef are natural phenomena known as Blue Holes, underwater channels of coral that emanate a light blue aura that can be seen from the surface. The Berry Islands
Over two-dozen cays make up the Berry Islands, known for exceptional beaches. Located north of the Andros, some of these cays are privately owned while others have no human inhabitants. Bullocks Harbour, located on Great Harbour Cay, is the main settlement and has a few restaurants and stores. These islands, like most of the other outer islands, have superb diving as well as a thriving fishing charter business. The Biminis
The Biminis, only 50 miles east of Miami, are the closest islands to the mainland United States and a popular destination for sailors. While the Eastern side of the Biminis is full of boat slips and marinas, the western side is one continuous stretch of pristine beach. Most visitors and inhabitants are situated along the northern part of the islands. The two main roads of the Biminis, the Kings and Queens highways, run parallel to each other and can take you anywhere along the islands. However, everything on North Bimini is extremely close together so a car is not needed.
It is said that Juan Ponce de Leon searched for the mythical Fountain of Youth on South Bimini. Tourists are still lured in by locals for a quick tour of what is called the Healing Hole—rumoured to cure rheumatism and gout. The main community in northern regions of the Biminis is Alice Town. In the waters north of Alice Town lies a strange underwater rock formation, which is called Atlantis. Only 20 feet deep, it is an ideal spot for snorkelers and scuba divers. It is estimated to be between 5,000-10,000 years old. Cat Island
Cat Island is an extremely thin, 80-mile-long stretch of land that is characterized by towering cliffs, dense vegetation, and untouched beaches. Most visitors to Cat Island stay at the settlement of New Bight. The Cailing Club is one of the more popular resorts known for its bar-restaurant that specializes in native cuisine. Those looking to do some shelling should check out the beaches of Devil's point. Alternatively, someone interested in Africana history might want to take a stroll through the Richman-Newfield Plantation to see the ruins of slave quarters.
Pink Beaches, friendly locals, and panoramic landscapes characterize the Eleutheran landscape. The developed yet sparsely populated Hatchet Bay has the only marina on the entire island. If you are looking for some real adventure, head north past the mythical Sweeting's Pond to what is known as "The Cave", an underground passage which leads one mile to the sea. Gregory Town, just north of Hatchet Bay, is on a very small strip of land known as the Glass Window, where you can see both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. However, Gregory Town is known more for its beach culture than its views—two miles south is the surfing hot spot known as Surfer's Beach.
Harbour Island, just off the northern tip of Eleuthera, is one of the islands' more affluent areas, with unique and charming white picket fences and thin streets. The historic Dunmore Town is filled with interesting sights, many of which can be seen on a 20-minute walk. There are numerous churches as well as the Loyalist Cottage, the home of an original settler. Visit the Pink Sands or the Ocean View for native or contemporary dining. The Exumas
After the American Revolutionary War, British settlers brought over the first cottonseeds and established massive plantations on the Exumas. Wild cotton still grows here on the two main islands: Little Exuma and Great Exuma. George Town is the nexus of island, and the straw market here is always brimming with activity. Scuba divers should be sure to visit Stocking Island about a mile from George Town, as the reef and coral formations are remarkable. The Mystery Cave grants divers access to the Blue Holes, depressions in the ocean floor produced by glacial drips eons ago.
On the northern end of the Exumas, right above Staniel Cay, is the 176 square mile Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. Not easily accessible by road, visitors must charter a boat in order to explore the many hiking trails, powdery beaches, and natural whirlpools in this protected area. Inagua
Inagua is best known for its large population of birds. If you are lucky, you can glimpse a flock of pink flamingos within the island's national park, part of the Bahamas National Trust. In Matthew Town, the largest settlement, there are only four places for lodging and even those are limited to the bare necessities. If you are looking for a beach, do not look towards Inagua; there are very few swimming spots. The island is dominated mainly by the Morton Salt Company, which encompasses more than 34,000 acres. There are tours of the salt making process. Long Island
Long Island is extremely thin, never stretching more than 4 miles wide, and its main claim to fame is that Christopher Columbus made a stop on the northern end of the island. There is a monument just north of the Cape Santa Maria Resort which was built to commemorate the landing. He named the area after his lead ship, the Santa Maria.
Just south lies the town of Stella Maris, or Star of the Sea. This small town is home to some shops, a marina, a bank, a post office, a 19th Century plantation and has a daring shark dive where you can watch a dive master feed sharks. Most of the population on the southern part of the island lives in the nearby town of Deadman's Cay. If you are looking for some excitement out of the water, venture east to Cartwright's Cave where you can discover carvings from the ancient Lucuyans.
San Salvador is the Bahamas' most historically significant island as it was the first place Christopher Columbus arrived at the end of his journey across the Atlantic in 1492. The exact location of the landing is believed to be at Fernandez Bay , just a short ways south of the main settlement of Cockburn Town. There are some monuments at the Bay commemorating the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. Check out Riding Rock point, an area that was first explored by Christopher Columbus himself.
If you are interested in the historical aspect of the island and also enjoy hiking, head out to Crab Cay. There is another Columbus monument here; the catch is that there is no road leading there—only an unkempt path.
The Out Islands do not exactly offer up a wide variety of culinary options. Visitors can usually choose between seafood, seafood and, well, seafood. However, since the Out Islands offer some of the world's best fishing, you may never have tasted fish like this before.
Bahamian cuisine, which is primarily made up of locally caught delicacies, has a slightly British flavor. Conch fritters, conch salad and coconut shrimp are favorites. Cooking over an open flame is the method of choice, and barbecue grills can be found even on the most isolated cays. Local residents will testify that you have not eaten fish until you have caught, cleaned and grilled up your own Bahamian fish. However, if you do not wish to go that route, there are some dining (and drinking) options for the seafaring traveler. The relatively posh options tend to be attached to resorts, while causal independents provide a true taste of the Bahamas.
The vast and far-flung Abacos occasionally offer up a culinary treasure or two. Marsh Harbour's Abaco Beach Resort boasts the elegant Angler's , where the chef changes the menu with the catch of the day. Hope Town, by contrast, offers the legendary Harbour's Edge, where you can tie up your boat at the pier and stop in for conch fritters. There's also Cap'n Jacks, a lively spot to hear live music, have a beer and chow down on pub grub.
Those seeking four-star dining in lovely George Town can make a reservation at the Bistro at February Point , and enjoy fine seafood and an ocean view. The waterfront restaurant Club Peace & Plenty Restaurant has been serving fresh caught seafood to residents and visitors for years, becoming something of a local legend. On the casual side, the Two Turtles Inn offers barbecue and beer, even for the barefooted.
Relaxed Angela's Starfish Restaurant serves up authentic Bahamian specialties to the folks in Eleuthera. Guests of the Unique Hotel gather with other wanderers at the Unique Village Restaurant & Lounge to swap stories and maybe have a steak, for a change.
Sports enthusiasts who wish to keep up on the mainland action can do so at Big Game Sports Bar , all while enjoying burgers, fries and booze. Those wanting something a little more upscale can head to the Anchorage Dining Room at the Bimini Blue Water Resort for elegantly prepared, but unpretentious seafood.