Travel, at its best, offers us an environment that wildly contrasts with the physical spaces we usually move in; spaces like our homes, where we find comfort, and crowded streets, where we get jostled around, and offices, where everything can feel just a little sterile. Shrugging off the clothes of earth-walking and slipping on the equipment of underwater breathing can be outrageously liberating.
And The Abacos offer us exceptional diving spaces, some of the best in the world, with shallow waters, fish of extraordinary colors and flourishing reefs – and, amazingly, it is all only about 180 miles, or 290 kilometers, east of south Florida.
We have selected three tried-and-true underwater adventures in The Abacos that will bring you bliss.
The First is all about caves
Diving in a cave is an almost magical experience: It is dramatic, to slowly enter an underwater cavern, where light dances and retreats, the water temperature cools and the art of nature, in its wild formations, surrounds you. You will be struck by the absence of gorgeous colorful fish and awed by calcite crystals, speleothems and halocine.
You might be thinking that diving in caverns that lie underwater is an activity best left to subscribers of Scuba Diving magazine with hundreds of dives under their belts but a novice can dive into an underwater cave – after some required training – and with a certified diver at their side.
The National Association for Cave Diving offer a course titled The Cavern Diver, which is the introductory course to the world of cave diving. You can use the Professional Association of Diving Instructor’s (PADI) tool to locate a dive shop close to you or to your resort.
A helpful note: You should book ahead, as far ahead as possible, if you wish to dive the caves of The Abacos, as only one or two divers can accompany a team leader, and the entire process takes longer than slipping into the open ocean from a boat.
Learn to dive in caves in The Abacos: Bahamas Underground
Get inspired by the experts: Read about diving the blue holes of Abaco
Watch a specular short video of a Bahamas Underground cave dive
The Second is all about Fowl Cays National Park
In 2009, the Bahaman government created Fowl Cays National Park – it is 1920 acres– so as to preserve its natural beauty for all to enjoy, and create a space for fish, birds, sponges and other wildlife to flourish, including the endangered staghorn and elkhorn coral.
Fowl Cays National Park has earned a reputation as a do-not-miss snorkeling and diving spot: You are likely to see blue tangs, lionfish, angel fish, batfish, grouper and snapper. And there are sea turtles slowly swimming around and looking wise.
There is an astounding reef that houses all of these fish, turtles and other sea creatures, and it is made up of strange rock formations, towers that rise up from the ocean floor, entrancing swim-throughs and, yes, caverns and caves. Underwater flowers abound, as do great sponges and corals.
Learn more about Fowl Cays National Park here.
Watch a short video on how Fowl Cays National Park became a park here.
Check out some photos at the Fowl Cays National Park Facebook page here.
The Third is all about a shipwreck
Shipwrecks fascinate us; the idea of a once mighty vessel that smashed through fierce, wild waves sitting on an ocean floor is a dramatic one. And every ship that rests on an ocean floor has its story, as does the U.S.S. Adirondack, which can be found on the reef off of Man-O-War Cay in The Abacos.
The U.S.S. Adirondack was blocking ports used by the Confederates in the American Civil War, and went down in 1862, only six months after being launched. In the 155 years that this wooden ship has lain on the ocean floor, much of it has been eaten or naturally disintegrated. But you will see its cannons and various remnants that were not made of wood – and, importantly, you will sense the ships history – and ours – as you survey the site.
There is a worthy reef that surrounds the shipwreck site, and so you will be treated to sights of its fish, plants and coral.
Read a blog post about diving the U.S.S. Adirondack site.
Read about the U.S.S. Adirondack here.
Read this article about diving the Abacos here.
So, why not immerse yourself in a new world on your next holiday, in a place where the diving experts have your back and the visual joys amaze.
A great hotel can help make your Abacos getaway truly memorable. Sure, you might want to spend a day hiking through the pine barrens of southeast Abacos, on a quest to see the rare – and colourful – Abacos parrot, but this does not mean that you don’t want to be pampered upon your return to your hotel. Or perhaps it is seclusion you seek?
These 10 Abacos hotels make vacationers regularly beam with pleasure, and they are in random order.
- The Treasure Cay Beach, Marina and Golf Resort
The 3.5-mile-long crescent-shaped beach is the pièce de résistance at this resort that vibrates with authentic, laid-back Bahaman hospitality. The 18-hole golf course stands waiting for you on those mornings you want to rise early, as the tennis courts do, and should you have a hankering to swim with a school of blue tang, the resort will set up a diving excursion for you.
- The Abaco Club at Winding Bay
Winding Bay is a place of striking visual beauty, you may spend a surprising amount of time attempting to invent a new word for the colour of the water that rolls on to the white sand beach, while waves splash spectacularly into the craggy shore on the opposite side of the resort. If you are into luxury, when outstanding amenities, accommodations and services meet ethereal nature, consider The Abaco Club.
- Delphi Club
The Delphi Club is a self-described micro hotel and fishing lodge in south Abaco: Its guests experience a relaxed luxury; the food is exquisite, the wine cellar diverse and the forests that surround three sides of the lodge unharmed. When you are not fishing for bonefish, kayaking or photographing wading birds, you might finally read that book – the one that has been sitting unopened on your bedside table for months – on the secluded beach.
- The Lofty Fig
Aside from its winsome name, this resort opens its fun-loving arms to embrace families that include children, offering a small freshwater pool for frolicking, an BBQ for grilling simple dinners, and a big screen TV for when its time to snuggle up as a family and watch a movie at the end of a outdoorsy day.
- Hope Town Harbour Lodge
The Hope Town Harbour Lodge invites you to let your hair down, to make your way into a hammock in the morning with no particular plan for surfacing, to paint in watercolours at the side of artist Malcolm Rae and to fall into bed a wee bit tipsy after a few glasses of top-drawer wine, or local beer. And should you want to lunch in your bathing suit, and why wouldn’t you, this resort is with you.
- Guana Seaside Village
Some of us prefer smallness, it is just in our natures to expand and relax in small resorts while we shrink inwardly as an expansive resort overwhelms us. If you are not into largeness in resorts, try the Guana Seaside Village, an inn with 8 rooms that sits on the edge of the sea. Oh, there is a courtyard bar, a fresh water pool and delicious food to complement the intimate feel of this special place.
- Firefly Sunset Resort
Are you a romantic? Does the idea of sleeping in a bedroom with wooden walls that have been painted a pale yellow, in a bed that is smartly made up with the whitest of white linens, with the sounds of the Sea of Abaco seeping into your dreams, make you sublimely relaxed? If do, this resort, with its attention to visual details and the clever creation of private spaces is for you.
- The Black Fly Lodge
Yes, this is a fishing lodge. But it is a fishing lodge where non-fishing human beings are heartily welcomed, and there is a wonderful reason to choose the Black Fly Lodge for at least part of your Abacos getaway – the food. Imagine gathering around a rustic table in the evening, at around 7:30, and there is a sense of anticipation in the air. You see, the chef at this lodge prepares local food – yes, fish – in ways that have guests booking their next stay as they walk out of the front door.
- The Bahama Beach Club
Ah. You have arrived at The Bahama Beach Club. And the beach looks like an impressionist painting that has somehow come to life – and there is an island beach bar serving Bahama Mamas, and you don’t have to leave the sand to enjoy a fish taco that leaves you wanting more. The Bahama Beach Club is a resort that caters to the part of us that wants to leave reality far behind us for a little while.
- Pelican Beach Villas
Are you a relaxed person? Do you seek a lack of fuss and formality in your accommodations? Well, Pelican Beach Villas sit on a peninsula on Great Abacos Island, and is conveniently close to lots of places that you might want to check out – like the Mermaid Snorkeling Reef or to your new favourite restaurant. Chill out, just as you like.
Off The Beaten Track in The Abacos
Ah, The Abacos. Blue-green waves gently caressing white sands while you lay on a beach chair, then float around in the sea, then lay on a beach chair, and so on, until you feel moved to head to the beach bar for a cold pale ale. Should you wish to spend your entire visit to The Abacos on an outstanding beach in this way, you’ll have a Zen time.
Or you could mix it up, walk off the beaten track and absorb some local culture.
The Abacos are made up of over 150 cays, or sandy low islands that have formed on bases of coral reefs, each with its own character. Naturally, cay hopping has become kind of a thing. Why not rent a boat and spend a day – or two, or three – hopping among the cays? You could sample as many beaches as possible, repeatedly discovering the luxury of privacy. And bring a picnic.
Go Where the Bonefish Are
And where are the bonefish? On The Marls, a flat filled with creeks where the mangrove trees seem to sit above the water – you can easily hire a guide to shepherd you through the white-sand cays and secluded bays, and to show you how to catch your very own bonefish. (You should know that bonefish are so named because, well, they have so many bones – so this is not a fish you will be enjoying grilled with a chilled white pinot noir.)
Follow the Gully Roosters
A reggae-calypso band, the Gully Roosters play on Wednesday nights at the Green Turtle Club on the Green Turtle cay. Sip on a Tipsy Turtle Rum Punch, or two, and dance under the stars, grooving to the sounds that you can hear here. The Roosters, as they are known locally, will leave you feeling like there was a little bit of magic in the night air.
Everyone loves a parade
Junkanoo is not only a fun word to say, but a celebration of colour and music and children and, yes, there is a parade. Nassau may host the most famous of the street carnivals known as Junkanoo, but The Abacos starts the New Year right too, with a smashing parade that winds through the historic streets of New Plymouth, Green Turtle Cay. Put on your brightest clothes and join in the fun.
Take in the Island Roots Festival on Green Turtle Cay
On the first weekend in May, Green Turtle Cay celebrates Bahamian culture – and parties outdoors. Children dig this festival, and why wouldn’t they? There is a tug of war championship with lots of grimacing and laughing, a grill out in a local basketball court in the center of New Plymouth – with grilled jerk chicken and mac n’ cheese, and even maypole plaiting.
Buy some local art
The fundraiser Arts for the Parks in held, in late January, at the Abaco Beach Resort Grand Marquee: You will find striking local art for sale – there is usually a silent auction, as well as the offerings of the Bahamian Heritage lecture series. This is a great way to give back to the Bahamas, as the profits go to support The Bahamas Natural Trust, the non-profit organization responsible for the care of the nations important parks, like the 40-acre Lucayan Park, pictured above, which includes one the largest charted underwater cave systems on the planet.
The Abacos are known for sublime beaches, quiet cays and mesmerizing snorkelling but some of your most cherished memories may come from letting your hair down while the reggae vibrates through your feet.
Air Unlimited has had the privilege of flying scuba divers – from novices to advanced – to The Abacos, and we’ve borne witness to the beaming grins they all wear at the end of their scuba diving holiday. If you’d like to grin like that, to discover what lies beneath the surface of the glistening blue-green seas of The Abacos, we’d be thrilled to be part of your adventure.
The Abacos offer outstanding scuba diving only 180 miles (20 kilometers) east of south Florida: Air Unlimited offers regular flights to Marsh Harbour and Treasure Cay on Great Abaco Island. The Abacos include the big islands, Great Abaco and Little Abaco, as well as small limestone cays like Walker’s Cay in the north and Spanish Cay and Green Turtle Cay in the south.
It is the striking coral towers, the Bahamas porcupine fish and the parrotfish that will linger longest in your memory after you depart The Abacos, but we know that you want accommodations that perfectly complement your experiences undersea, and you have several desirable options: Here are a sampling of the best:
- At The Abacos Beach Resort, you can awake in a private cottage to the calming sound of blue-green waves rolling toward white sand, and perhaps take in an early morning yoga class. Breakfast could be a healthful egg white omelette or an exquisite lobster eggs Benedict, with a rich coffee or an herbal tea – and when you return after a day of diving, you could treat yourself to an luxurious massage.
- Should you desire the comfort of a private house within a friendly community of mostly renters, Schooner Bay offers lovely homes of various sizes. You can visit the community farm to find local produce or have supplies brought to you, and the stargazing is said to be truly exceptional.
- Firefly Sunset Resort blends the amenities of an elegant resort with the exclusivity of space – its cottages are situated so that the offer privacy and striking ocean views. Oh, and one of the best restaurants in The Abacos is but a few footsteps away.
But it is undersea mysteries that define a scuba holiday. Here are 5 diving experiences that you won’t want to miss:
The Towers : Imagine floating in front of two intricate coral structures that are 60 feet tall, set in about 75 feet of water, when you see an intriguing tunnel that you are drawn to explore when a colourful stingray starts to head your way.
- Do you want to swim among big fish, fish that leave an impression, like the grouper? Head to Grouper Alley , where schools of grouper swim 90 feet below the surface.
- The Cathedral is a special cavern where divers chill out as sunlight flickers on its floors, you will feel as if time has been suspended, and, if the season is right, you will see the famed glass minnows that congregate in windows in the coral.
- Revered sea turtles, looking pre-historically wise, can be easily seen at The Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park, where fishing is controlled and sea life thrives.
- A gunboat from the Civil War – The USS Adirondack – lies in The Abacos waters, just off the north end of the Man-O-War Cay. If the idea of happening upon a cannon lying in a shipwreck appeals to you, this is your dive. History buffs will take special pleasure in exploring this gunboat, which was launched on February 22nd of 1862 and sank on August 23rd of that same year.
At Air Unlimited, our motto reflects our commitment to the simplicity that we bring to air travel: “Fly. Enjoy. Return.” But let us make a change, just this once, “Fly. Dive. Return. “