What comes to mind when you think of a trip to The Bahamas? Nassau? Expensive cruise ship ports? High-end shopping and dining? Beaches and fancy resorts?
You might write off the possibility of a “real” vacation in the beautiful Bahamas because you think it’s too expensive or not your style. I urge you to think again. You CAN do the Bahamas on a budget. Getting to Nassau’s Lynden Pindling International Airport is pretty straightforward from anywhere in the world. This time, you’re going even further! I’ll mainly highlight the island of Eleuthera for this post. However, all the other Family Islands of The Bahamas have their own charm and allure.
Eleuthera is a 170 km long, approximately 3 km wide island just east of New Providence, with a population of around 11,000. Travelling to Eleuthera from Nassau can be by boat or plane. Since we’re talking budget here, one of the most cost-effective modes of transportation would be the ferries.
Arriving at Eleuthera
One of your most significant expenses will probably be renting a vehicle. Unfortunately, there is no good way to get around that issue. Eleuthera is long and narrow, and there is really no public form of transportation. Typical car rentals are in the neighbourhood of $70 per day for a mid-sized car, which can quickly add up. However, sometimes you can strike a bargain with your rental service for a reduced price if you’re staying for several days. It’s possible to get taxi service almost anywhere on the island from your disembarking point, so if you’ve chosen to spend your time on Eleuthera in one spot, like your vacation home on a beach, then taking the cab is your best bet.
Lodging on Eleuthera
Lodging on the island can range anywhere from $70/night to upwards of $1000/night at the higher end. Although it’s illegal, camping on the beaches is definitely an option for travellers if you have your own gear. Most of the 135 beaches of Eleuthera go untouched by human feet for days on end, so you can expect to have the place to yourself! It’s best to check with the locals if you’re considering camping out somewhere, as they can give you a bit of advice on the soundness of your choice.
Food options in Eleuthera
The least expensive option is to purchase what you need in a local grocery store or at a food stand or market when it comes to food. Convenience foods stock the shelves in these places, so head out to a conch stand or ask the fishermen for fresh seafood and other Bahamian favourites at the town pier.
To add to your food options, visit a settlement during its annual Homecoming celebration. This event is a great cultural experience, and local eats are offered at reasonable prices. Throughout the typical Homecoming weekend, the party usually starts in the late evening, continuing into the wee hours of the morning.
What to visit in Eleuthera
While the Family Islands are not known for their nightclubs, fancy resorts, or expensive excursions, there’s always plenty to do. As most of the 135+ beaches on Eleuthera are usually entirely empty, finding a secluded stretch of sand for walking, jogging, shelling, swimming, snorkelling, or sunbathing is never difficult.
Lighthouse Point – Cape Eleuthera Marina
The southern end of the island is quiet and remote. Lighthouse Point is a sight to behold, so if you have transportation or can find your way to Bannerman Town, be sure to head out to the beach here. The incredibly blue waters of the Caribbean and the Atlantic crash together at this point, and you can explore the abandoned lighthouse or the limestone cliffs to your heart’s content. Occasionally, cruise ship passengers visit this area; however, they don’t often stay very long, but even if they do, there’s plenty of space for all. Bring lots of water and perhaps a picnic, and plan to spend the day. Boogie boarding on windy days or snorkelling and swimming on calmer days is a must.
Out on the cape, the Island School and Cape Eleuthera Institute will give you a free tour of their sustainable facilities if you’re interested. The grounds are incredible, with beautiful views and cutting edge, socially responsible systems for solar energy, hydroponics, and conservation.
While you’re on the cape, head out to the Cape Eleuthera Marina and Resort, recently revived and offering a small store, dive shop, swimming pool, beach area, and Pascal’s restaurant, along with its condos for rent or sale. Ask for directions to the 4th Hole beach, too, a remote area with great snorkelling and a cute tree swing, and impressive sunsets in the evening.
Driving north along the Queen’s Highway brings you through some smaller settlements and up to Rock Sound. Don’t forget to visit the Ocean Hole, where you can view fish or jump right in with them and swim.
Continuing north, you can’t skip stopping at Queen’s Baths, the area on the east side of the island just before Glass Window Bridge. The Queen’s Baths is a magical place where the waves of the Atlantic crash up onto the limestone, creating small pools where the water warms during the day. Wear good water shoes, and climb around or float in the many pools as you gaze at the caves and the view out to the ocean.
Glass Window Bridge – Preacher’s Cave
Of course, a trip to Eleuthera wouldn’t be complete without exploring the Glass Window Bridge, where the Atlantic and Caribbean crash together under the highway at high tide. You can hike up the rock to the highest point above the bridge to get an unencumbered view of the island stretching north and south. On a sunny day, it’s breathtaking!
Keep heading up the Queen’s Highway and check out Preacher’s Cave. This cave is a free, fun place to climb around or crane your neck and stare up at the cave ceiling, imagining what it was like for those brave souls who didn’t know a thing about where they were. These settlers eventually called the island “Eleuthera,” which in Greek means “freedom.”
Anywhere you go in the Family Islands, be sure to patronise the small local establishments and find out about native crafts and souvenirs. So the only thing left… is for you to plan your trip to The Bahamas!!