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May 7-13, 2011
Eleuthera, graced with beautiful pink and white sand beaches, endless opportunities for snorkeling and diving, an invitingly temperate climate and friendly people, is the perfect Bahamian island for intrepid explorers and casual travelers alike—in less than an hour from Miami, you can be enjoying your own “Lutran paradise.”
True to its Bahamian roots, Eleuthera boasts crystal clear, shockingly turquoise colored waters, a laid-back atmosphere, spectacular practically deserted beaches, and a character all its own—belonging to Bahamas’ Out Islands, you won’t find chain or high-rise hotels, fast-food, or nightlife, it’s not for everyone but it sounded perfect to us.
We arrived on Eleuthera, via American Airlines, in the mid-afternoon—an associate of Hilton Johnson, a local man who rents vehicles, was waiting at the North Eleuthera Airport with our rental car (arranged through our hotel) and we were off for the center of the island and our home for three nights, Cocodimama (the last three nights would be spent at The Cove).
The charming Cocodimama resort, located just five minutes from the Governor’s Harbour Airport and approximately thirty minutes from the North Eleuthera Airport, provides guests with oceanfront accommodations that face the calm, picture-perfect waters of Alabaster Bay—three colorful Bahamian cottages, each with four spacious rooms with covered verandas, feature ultra comfortable beds, air conditioning, ceiling fan, hair dryer, digital clock, and coffee maker.
In addition to the fantastic resort amenities, Cocodimama lays claim to, not only one of the best beaches on the island, but one of the best restaurants as well—the resort’s main building, just steps from the rippled sand of Receiver’s Beach, is home to their onsite Italian restaurant.
We arrived at the resort just in time to settle into our room before dinner—check-in was a breeze and the friendly staff all greeted us with smiles and a warm welcome, especially Sammy, the bartender who whipped up a couple of pina coladas for us as soon as we walked in the door.
After a quick walk on the soft sands of Receiver’s Beach, we made our way back to the restaurant in the Blue Building—a Colonial-style structure with hand-crafted furniture, a casual bar, comfortable lobby, al fresco or indoor dining, and a great view of the sunset.
With menu in hand, we gazed dreamily at the waters of Alabaster Bay from the open deck that fronts the restaurant—the aroma of Italian pastas and sauces, fresh fish, and bread baking in the chef’s Northern Italian kitchen brought our attention back to the task at hand, dinner.
Nightly specials, along with an appetizing list of regular menu items such as salads from homegrown vegetables, spinach ravioli, Sicilian spaghetti, linguini carbonarra with lobster or shrimp, mixed grill, rigatoni ‘matriciana with pecorino, and last but not least tiramisu, kept us coming back night after night for the best Italian dining this side of Venice—we can’t say enough about the dining experience at Cocodimama.
We finished our last bite of tiramisu just as the sun was setting into the Caribbean—shallow waves in hues of pink and purple lapped at the beach as we made our way back to our room.
The next morning, ready for a day of exploration, we made our way to the remote sand of Lighthouse Beach—located at the very southern tip of the island of Eleuthera, Lighthouse provides the traveler with six miles of pinkish white sand beach, superb snorkeling, sculpted limestone cliffs, and a derelict lighthouse for exploring. All you need is a 4WD and a sense of adventure and you could have this beach all to yourself.
To reach Lighthouse Beach simply follow The Queen’s Highway south as far as it goes—when you reach the sharp right turn towards Bannerman Town, take the dirt road straight ahead for a fun-filled bumpy ride to the best beach on the entire island, and some say in all of The Bahamas.
The two postcard perfect beaches, Lighthouse Beach on the Atlantic side and Lighthouse Bay on the Caribbean, are collectively known as Lighthouse or Eleuthera Point—all that stands between you and paradise are 3.3 miles of extremely rough, rutted road. No worries, the road is easily passable with a 4WD high-clearance vehicle—simply follow the dirt road all the way to Lighthouse Bay, bypassing the turnoff to the right en route (keep going straight).
At mile 3.2 you will see the white sand beach and turquoise waters of Lighthouse Bay to the right—park the car amid the palms and Casuarina trees and hike over the sand dunes to your left to reach the stunning vista of Lighthouse Beach.
Lighthouse Beach, famous for its endless miles of pristine, soft, blush hued sands, is a hidden gem at the southernmost point of Eleuthera—and even though it sits on the windward Atlantic side of the island, the waters are calm and shallow, perfect for swimming and/or snorkeling over the massive coral heads of the offshore reef.
A beach lover’s paradise, Lighthouse Beach offers miles of beach combing, secluded sunbathing, an enclosed cove for snorkeling, shade from the tall Casuarina trees and dramatic limestone promontory—for added adventure and spectacular views, climb the jutting headlands on the south end of the beach. Atop the cliffs you can explore the old East End Lighthouse and soak in the sweeping vista of Lighthouse Beach from above—the clear turquoise waters reveal dark shadows of coral reefs visible below the surface.
Snorkeling at Lighthouse Beach provided us with an intimate look at the coral heads seen from above—the coral, including impressive large stands of elkhorn, seemed robust and healthy, but other marine life was lacking. While snorkeling at Lighthouse Beach we saw very few fish, the one standout was a large ocean triggerfish that cruised by our masks.
Take a full day to hike, swim, snorkel, and explore Lighthouse Beach and Lighthouse Bay—bring a cooler (Michael, the innkeeper at Cocodimama, graciously loaned us his cooler filled with ice when we asked for directions to the beach) with lots of water, other drinks and a picnic lunch.
We spent the day enjoying the unforgettable beauty of Lighthouse Beach, truly one of the top ten beaches we have had the pleasure of visiting, before setting off to see a few other island destinations en route back to Coco—Rock Sound Ocean Hole, Ten Bay Beach, and Club Med Beach all made the cut.
The Rock Sound Ocean Hole, a landlocked crater-like natural blue hole, ebbs and flows with the ocean tide despite being at least a mile inland—subterranean sea tunnels allow saltwater fish to move to and fro.
Ten Bay Beach, a good swimming beach backed by towering coconut palms, is located on the sheltered Caribbean side of the island—watch for the turnoff ten miles past Tarpum Bay.
Club Med Beach, a long expanse of swirling pink sand on the Atlantic side, wowed us with sweeping ocean views, secluded beauty, and remarkably pinkish-hued sand—a must photograph in the late afternoon or early morning light.
Day three of our “Lutran” adventure found us snorkeling in the clear blue waters of Billing Bay—just a minute’s drive from Cocodimama, the pristine reef and myriad of marine life found in Billing Bay is sure to please even the most experienced snorkeler.
To reach Billing Bay, drive past the Cocodimama resort along a palm-lined road that parallels Alabaster Bay—the road soon ends at an old derelict dock, complete with a rusty fuel tank. Park along the side of the road and enter the water via the shallow ramp that used to be part of what appeared to be an old docking/fueling station—royal terns and laughing gulls fly overhead as you dip below the water’s surface. Colorful sea fans, brain coral, sponges and sea rods form pristine reefs interspersed with sandy gardens of sea grass that provide the perfect home for starfish, sea cucumbers, sand dollars, conch,West-Indian chank, French and queen angelfish, grouper, crabs and lobster—the occasional sea turtle or octopus are also often seen.
Post snorkel, we made our way back to Cocodimama for a fantastic lunch with a view—the al fresco dining alcove is the perfect place to enjoy the flavorful lunch fare, everything from burgers and fries, chicken wraps, organic salads, and fresh fish sandwiches are available.
Refreshed and rejuvenated by ice cold beverages and delicious food, we jumped in our 4WD and headed out to explore more of the island—on the afternoon’s radar were James Cistern Beach and Rainbow Beach.
James Cistern Beach, about ten miles north of Governor’s Harbor, is a narrow, rocky strand paralleling the Queen’s Highway through the fishing village of James Cistern—renowned for shelling, you can find countless specimens gracing the sand. Birders will also be excited to catch sight of the American oystercatchers that often ply the shores in search of mussels and other bivalves—look for the large shorebird with white underparts, brown upperparts, a black hood, and a long, bright red-orange needle-shaped bill near the fishing pier and along the roadside as the drive weaves closest to the ocean.
Rainbow Beach, located south of Alice Town on the Caribbean side of Eleuthera, is a delight to beach hikers—soft sand, shells and sand dollars, crystal clear sapphire water, and Rainbow Cay, an offshore “island” accessible at low tide make for the perfect day of exploring.
To reach Rainbow Beach, take the Queen’s Highway until you find Wandering Shore Drive—the road, marked with an actual street sign (rare on Eleuthera), is located 4.3 miles north of the James Cistern Pier.
Turn west onto Wandering Shore Drive and follow it to the designated parking area for Rainbow Beach—the beach, which is the quintessential Caribbean beach, will lull you into a tropical stupor with its clean, calm and clear turquoise water and soft white sand.
When you sink your toes into the powdery sand, scan the horizon for the rock pile jutting up from the bight on the southern end of the beach—the coral island known as Rainbow Cay, complete with a jagged land bridge, can be accessed at low tide. Cross the land bridge, watching your footing (one slip here could result in serious injury on the jagged ironshore) as you make your way to the vegetation covered cay—several footpaths lead up and around the tiny “island”. Climb to the highest point, about 15 feet above sea level, for a seagull’s eye view of the surrounding coral reefs and resident fish.
After taking in the scenery from atop Rainbow Cay, hike back along the beach to your car and retrieve your snorkel gear for a more intimate look at the coral and fishes—the perfect way to end a day hike on the beach.
Great snorkeling encounters can also be found just outside Cocodimama in Alabaster Bay—as guests of the resort, we had free access to kayaks, so we paddled out into the sheltered cove. We opted to stay in the shallow waters where the sandy bottom provided the perfect place to dive for sand dollars. While snorkeling above the rippled sand, I noticed a piece of sea grass that seemed out of place—I watched as the “grass” floated along the sea floor until I realized it was a seahorse! After 12 years of snorkeling I had finally spotted my first seahorse—I flagged down Pick who was able to grab a few shots with her underwater camera gear before it swam out to sea, a definite highlight of our Eleuthera trip!
As mentioned earlier, we opted to spend three days at Cocodimama, splitting our time on the island between the southern and northern sections—for the second half of our vacation we reserved a room at The Cove, located near Gregory Town.
The Cove, billed as an opulent haven with two pristine private beaches, left a bit to be desired as far as accommodations and staff were concerned, but the beaches, or rather the snorkeling at either of the twin coves, saved the day—our room, which could not be locked, was disappointing in its cleanliness and cramped bathroom. If we had it to do over again, we would spend the entirety at Cocodimama—The Cove simply pales in comparison to the family atmosphere, the great food, and the comfortable accommodations that we encountered at Coco.
We cleaned up in the tiny bath (just don’t try to bend over in the bathroom or you might have a naked skin to wall collision) and made our way to the onsite restaurant for dinner—the wait staff was friendly enough and the food was presented beautifully and tasted great, but we had definitely been spoiled by the meals at Cocodimama.
The next morning we packed up our valuables, snorkeled The Cove, and then made our way north—stops included The Glass Window Bridge, the Queen’s Bath, and Gaulding Cay.
Snorkeling at The Cove was stunning, we encountered numerous fish (all the usual suspects such as French angel, Queen angel, grouper, wrasse, parrotfish, cowfish, grunts, and snapper) and a variety of surprises including peacock flounder, southern and yellow stingrays, moray eel, a huge stone crab, and last, but not least, a lionfish.
Encountering a lionfish was bittersweet—a native of the Indo-Pacific, lionfish, while beautiful, are an invasive species that is wreaking havoc on the coral reef and native fish of the Atlantic and Caribbean. Like lions, they are ferocious predators that can kill 75% of a reef’s fish in as little as five weeks—indeed, many of the reefs we snorkeled in Eleuthera were strangely devoid of fish.
The Bahamas have been hit hard by the lionfish invasion, a catastrophe that not only has dire environmental consequences but may eventually affect tourism—to curb the invasion, Bahamians are fishing for lionfish and a few restaurants now serve lionfish. So do your part and eat a lionfish for dinner!
Back on the Queen’s Highway, we drove north to the Glass Window Bridge—five miles north of Gregory Town the landscape becomes rocky and exposed as the island shrivels away to nothing at an area called the Glass Window. Spanning this thin sliver of Eleuthera is the Glass Window Bridge—below the ephemeral structure, the deep dark blue waters of the roiling Atlantic infiltrate the turquoise serenity of the calm Caribbean.
Intrepid travelers will enjoy climbing the rocks around the bridge for spectacular views from above—of particular interest is a blowhole to the south of the bridge on the west side of the road, and views of massive cliffside tidal pools on the Atlantic side north of the bridge.
Saving the far north of the island for another day, we turned around and headed south toward Gaulding’s Cay and Gregory Town—along the way, we stopped at the highly recommended Laughing Lizard Café for lunch.
The Lizard, serving soups, salads, paninis, wraps, and refreshing beverages from 11am-3pm, is the perfect place to hang out and enjoy good food and an astounding variety of wildlife—geckos, tree frogs, and several species of birds were all seen from our table on the outside deck. If you stop by for lunch, we recommend the Jam Rock Jerk wrap (spicy jerked chicken, mango chutney, and crisp romaine lettuce) and the freshly made limeade.
Returning to the open road, we tracked down Gaulding’s Cay Beach—a picturesque shallow crescent beach on the Bight/bay side facing Gaulding’s Cay, an offshore island that you can wade or swim out to explore.
Our next adventure for the day was an excursion to the Queen’s Bath/Hot Tubs—located on the rugged Atlantic side of the island, they are the perfect cure for those who find themselves lulled into a trance by the all to gentle waves of the Caribbean.
These round depressions, known locally as “moon pools”, are natural rock formations that fill with water from the sweeping waves of the Atlantic Ocean—the water in the pools is clear and warmed by the sun, creating a bath-like temperate tidal pool perfect for soaking.
To reach the pools, located 0.6-miles south of the Glass Window Bridge, park near the stone entrance gate on the east side of The Queen’s Highway—from the gate, hike along the sandy road towards the Atlantic. In just 0.05 miles you will reach the sharp, rocky bluffs that conceal the baths—hike towards the edge of the cliff until you see an access path leading off to the left and down to sea level. Follow this ocean-smoothed path to The Hot Tubs only if the sea is calm and the tide isn’t high—check the tides before you go as the pools can fill up quickly and forcefully at high tide and can become quite dangerous.
If the sea is calm, enjoy a dip in the warm pools during low or medium tide—the sun heated water, refreshed by sprays and rivulets from the cool Atlantic, create the ideal natural bath with a view.
As the evening rolled around and it became time to decide on a place to eat dinner, we found ourselves drawn back to the Cocodimama—the pasta, salad, and desert were once again incredible!
Having driven back to the Coco, we decided to take a trip to Twin Coves—a secluded double crescent beach on the Atlantic side of Eleuthera, that is the perfect place to stretch your legs and enjoy the water—the powder soft white sand backed by tall sea grass, coconut palms, and sea grapes create a postcard perfect Caribbean hiker’s paradise.
To reach the pair of beaches, head north from Governor’s Harbour on The Queen’s Highway—take the paved road heading east just before you pass the Worker’s House, a white building trimmed in blue with a blue roof. Follow the paved road up to the top of the hill, go through one intersection then bear left at the fork leading downhill—at the bottom of the hill turn right at the T-intersection. Continue 0.3-mile on a sand road past a pond and a house set back in a coconut grove—at the end of the landscaped grounds turn left and park at the bottom of a sand dune.
Hike over the sand dune approximately 0.17-mile to the beach then stroll along the seashore towards the sandbar between the two coves—the sandbar, visible at low tide, connects the beach to a small coral island, or cay—during calm water you can swim or snorkel amid the rocks surrounding the island.
The next morning, our final full day on the island, we packed up the car and set off to explore the far north of Eleuthera, including an excursion to Harbour Island—famous for its Pink Sand Beach, the laid back isle is just a short ferry ride away.
We arrived at the Three Island Dock, where water taxis run approximately every 15 minutes, just before 9:00am—after just a brief wait, we boarded the boat and skimmed across the waves to the Government Dock on Harbour Island ($5 per person each way).
Harbour Island, also called Briland, is just three miles from end to end and a scant half mile across—quaint villages with pastel colored clapboard cottages displaying intriguing architecture and an exquisite coral-pink beach that runs the entire length of the windward shore, guarantee the traveler will have a memorable visit.
Thanks to the island’s small geographical size, Harbour Island is easily explored on foot, but many visitors opt to rent a golf cart—we skipped the carts and relied on our two-heeled drive to get us where we needed to go.
Our early morning arrival meant it was the perfect time to enjoy a taste of the fresh baked goodies from Arthur’s Bakery—located on the corner of Crown and Dunmore Streets, the sunny café serves scrumptious fresh-baked pies and cakes, pastries and bread—yum!
From Arthur’s Bakery we made our way to Chapel Street, walking past Wesley Methodist Church, a lovely building built in 1843 that stands on the corner—from the church, it was just a short walk down the street and over the dunes to our destination, Pink Sand Beach.
Pink Sand Beach, a three-mile long stretch of rosy-hued sand on the Atlantic side of Harbour Island, offers sweeping vistas and miles of unbroken sand perfect for beach combing—sink your toes in the soft powder and gaze out at the waves rolling in all the way from the coast of Africa.
After a leisurely walk along the entire length of Pink Sand Beach, we made a beeline for the Blue Bar—a fun, al fresco beach bar on the grounds of the Pink Sands Hotel that serves burgers, fries, salads, and other amazing lunch fare. Painted a bright cobalt blue to match the ocean views, the open, airy restaurant and bar sits high on the dunes overlooking the beautiful beach—the absolute best place to enjoy lunch and/or a cocktail while on Harbour Island.
It was no easy task tearing ourselves away from the company of the Blue Bar’s friendly wait staff and the postcard perfect views, but we had one last destination to track down on Briland—the often photographed “lone tree”.
Following a tip from our waitress at the Blue Bar, we hiked back across the island to Bay Street, past the noisy power plant, and out onto the shallow sand flats of Girl’s Banks—the tide was in, covering the sun-washed flats with knee-high, crystal-clear water that was inching its way up the trunk of one of the most photogenic pieces of driftwood on the planet. Known as The Lone Tree, this wayward piece of driftwood set down “roots” on Harbour Island—planting itself in an upright position that makes it appear to grow right out of the sand flats—it’s a must photograph for any shutterbug that visits the island.
Back on Eleuthera, we set our sights on the far northern reaches of the island—Ben Bay Beach, Preacher’s Cave, and Tay Bay Beach called to be explored.
Ben Bay Beach, located on the northern most promontory of Eleuthera, is a picturesque crescent-shaped beach sheltered from the Atlantic waves by a rocky offshore outcropping—at high tide the waves crash over the barrier, swirling the white-water into the calm turquoise of the bay.
Preacher’s Cave and the adjacent Tay Bay Beach, are worthy of a stop for the adventurous traveler—simply follow the Queen’s Highway north until it ends at a T-junction, then turn right onto the dirt road and follow the signs to the cave. A short trail leads to the large alcove cave that was a temporary home to early explorers that were shipwrecked on the Devil’s Backbone, a treacherous offshore reef, in 1648—a commemorative plaque placed on a boulder within the cave, just below a huge skylight, tells the tale of the survivors.
After exploring the cave, hike back down the trail and over the adjacent sand dunes to Tay Bay Beach—a secluded stretch of bleach-white sand with a quiet cove for swimming.
As the evening rolled around, we cruised back to The Cove for a late-day snorkel—once again, we were impressed with the variety of sea life.
Hungry from our day of adventure, we set our sights on the highly recommended Rainbow Inn—located ten miles north of Governor’s Harbour Airport, the cozy bar and grill serves amazing menu items on the screened-in porch with views of the sea and sunset. Organic and fresh dishes such as fish, BBQ chicken, grilled shrimp, and homemade key lime pie are wonderful—equally wonderful are Mish and Zev, the friendly and welcoming couple who run the establishment.
Eleuthera, that jewel of an island in the Caribbean, provided us with a fantastic six days of adventure—we enjoyed all of the amazing beaches, the incredible dining, and the sun-drenched days of leisure. If you are looking for a Bahamian island to explore, consider Eleuthera and you won’t be disappointed—we loved every minute of our vacation!
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