Marsh Harbour is the third largest city in the Bahamas and it has only stoplight: It is the perfect place to perch in The Abacos, with restaurants and hotels sprinkled close to the marina, along with shops selling food, alcohol and other necessities.
Imagine that you awake early in the morning in your Marsh Harbour hotel and you are anticipating a day trip. It could be one of these marvelous excursions:
1. The Hope Town Day Trip
Have an early breakfast – maybe at Ju’novia’s, where the pancakes are fluffy and the pig feet souse an acquired taste – because you are to have a day that requires a robust energy.
Hop on the 20-minute ferry to Hope Town on Elbow Cay, an extraordinarily pretty 5-mile island where you’ll see a collection of tiny cottages, painted white or pastel, with gorgeous small gardens – and a kind of peace will wash over you.
Why not rent a golf cart and explore the area, lingering at spaces that intrigue you? Then it’s lunch, perhaps at Cap’n Jack’s or Harbour’s Edge, before heading out the reefs for some memorable snorkling, to float above lively schools of colorful fish as they pass under you.
After snorkeling, you might want to chill out on one of the magnificent local beaches before… well, you might be up for kayaking or perhaps it will be time to head back to Marsh Harbour for dinner at Wally’s.
2. The Great Guana Cay Day Trip
Cay hopping is easily done from Marsh Harbour where you’ll find cruises to all other cays, and Great Guana Cay is a fabulous place to spend the day – and perhaps you should make it a Sunday, as that is when Nipper’s Beach Bar and Grill roasts a pig, and it is a feast. (And a party.)
If you have children with you, you might float about the pool and then have some lunch – the kid’s menu offers chicken fingers, but know that there is also sesame-seared ahi, cracked conch and homemade key lime pie.
However, If you are adults in the mood to party, this is your spot: The music will spill into you until you start dance, as will the strong drinks that just might make you smack your lips. Dance, dance, dance.
3. The Abaco National Park Day Trip
As National Parks go, The Abaco National Park is young, just 23 years old, were it a human being, it would just be leaving college. At 20,500 acres, it is a significant park, and it just might protect the endangered – and exquisite – Abacos parrot.
A dirt road, or trail, which is 15 miles long and takes about 1.5 hours to drive, cuts through the park: The tourist office offers walking or driving tours, which allow you to learn about the ecosystem and which animals are likely strolling about in the forest. If you would like to see the Abaco parrot, your best chance to get up very early and join a eager group of birdwatchers who want to do the same thing.
4. The Man-O-War Cay Day Trip
There is no alcohol served or sold on this cay, so if you are in the mood to linger over some Chablis at lunch, head elsewhere. But if you are in the mood to spend some time with hardworking folks who build boats, this is your cay of the day.
There is a harbour road, naturally, and at its north end you’ll find a unique shop known as The Sail Shop and officially named The Albury’s Canvas Shop – everyone who visits Man-O-War visits this shop, so why not check it out: You’ll probably buy a cool bag or hat made out of canvas that is usually used to make sails.
Also, don’t miss Joe’s Studio, where you’ll find arty jewelry made out of local sea glass and fabulous miniatures of the boats that float all around The Abacos. And there’s a heritage museum because learning is fun.
5. The Elbow Cay Day Trip
Rent a cottage on a cay, Elbow Cay is a great place to do this, and really chill. Bring along a book that you have yet to begin, pour yourself, and your partner or comrades, some chilled wine, head out to your private patio and read. Then have a nap. Maybe you’ll feel like floating around in the ocean before dinner. Maybe not.
Or you can rent a golf cart and lazily explore your environment, or walk on a long beach that takes your breath away or celebrate your inner child by renting paddleboats. It’s all good.
Scuba diving is like opening a door to a new world; when you are finally out of the pool and floating over a reef bursting with colour and a fantastically odd-looking fish nonchalantly swims within inches of your mask, a new kind of exhilaration will flow through your veins.
And The Abacos are a divine spot to take the plunge for the first time:
I want to dive so badly, but I want to be safe
The Abacos have highly professional dive masters with extensive experience in teaching beginners how to be safe while exploring the ocean with an oxygen tank strapped their backs. And they’ve got your back. To learn about what to expect during your certification, read the great guide put out by The Adventure Junkies.
I am so excited and a little bit terrified
Anticipating your first dive is truly exciting, and it should be; you are about to enter a new world. But it can also be a tad terrifying, with what-if-I-panic-when-I-see-a-huge-fish-swimming-toward-me thoughts punctuating your glee.
Many of the diving spots in The Abacos are 60 feet deep – or less. President George Washington’s head, on Mount Rushmore, is 60 feet tall: It is a reasonable depth for your first dive. And if you choose The Pelican Cays National Park for your first dive, you will be in about 25 feet of water, with prehistoric-looking sea turtles and magnificent eagle rays.
I didn’t really see anything cool
These are words that you will not be uttering after your first diving experience in The Abacos. Green Turtle Cay is home to a thrilling variety of fish like rainbow parrotfish, the common yellowtail snapper and chilled-out stingrays.
The islands proximity to the North Atlantic ocean has meant that the tides have formed lots of caves and holes in reefs that you can swim through, which will leave you in awe of their ethereal beauty.
That was so amazing. I want to go again. And again. And …
The likelihood that you will finish your first dive with a joyous desire to go again is extremely high, and The Abacos offer diverse diving for beginners so that you can go again. And again. From Walker’s Cay, with its alluring caverns, to Green Turtle Cay with its incredible fish life, to the resting place of the American Civil War gunship, the San Jacinto.
But what if I am not certified?
You might be the kind of person who stands enthralled in the aquarium section of your local pet store, losing yourself in the ballet of tropical fish, but you aren’t a great swimmer. (And this is an understatement.) Be prepared: You will have to swim, using any stroke, for 200 metres and also be able to tread water or float for 10 minutes. If you doubt your ability to these two things, head to your local pool for some individual swimming lessons before you land in The Abacos. Again, you can download a terrific scuba primer from The Adventure Junkies.
And on a more serious note
You obviously need a health insurance policy so that you can travel worry-free beyond the boundaries of your home country. If you are headed to The Abacos, or any place where you will be trekking, diving or motorcycling, read the fine print as some insurance companies will not cover any injuries that occur while you are engaging in what they have determined to be a “dangerous activity.”
Brendals Dive Center
Froggies Out Island Adventures
“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” F. Scott Fitzgerald was on to something when he wrote these words in 1925. While those of us with bank accounts of ordinary sizes are drawn to the Abaco for its sparkling white sand beaches, its chilled-out vibe, the far-out snorkeling and its bluer-than-blue waters, the uber rich and famous have their own reasons for hanging out in these glorious cays:
The seduction of seclusion
“I have a place that I go to in The Bahamas. It’s the only place that guarantees total anonymity and freedom.” Johnny Depp. To be famous, Johnny-Depp famous, is to be recogized wherever you go. It is to walk down a street in Happy Adventure, Newfoundland, with its population of 219 human beings, and be recognized.
But Johnny Depp purchased a small cay in Abaco that he can call his own; where he can treat into freedom. And Mr. Depp is not alone. The Abacos are not Nassau: They offer seclusion for the rich and famous, whether in the gated community of The Abacos Club where the uber-rich play or in stand-alone homes that serve as the ultimate private resorts.
And you don’t have to own your cay to find seclusion
You can awake to the rhythmic sound of waves rolling to shore in a king-sized bed of divine comfort, and then have your personal chef bring you breakfast on a private balcony overlooking the blue sea and a secluded beach for 2,799 USD per night, in Winding Bay – and its all just 19 minutes from the Marsh Island airport.
There are places of exhilarating natural beauty on our planet that require you to rough it a little when it comes to accommodations: Not The Abacos, where it is not necessary to live in a style you don’t want to get accustomed to: posh villas await those who desire them, and when the rich and famous are off playing in another part of the world, their homes are offered to, well, other rich and famous people.
And you can arrive by sea, on a yacht that dwarfs regular yachts
Should you possess a yacht that is the size of a small cay, perhaps with a winding staircase, a movie theatre and a bowling alley, you will find a welcoming berth in The Abacos. Why? Because these cays have been catering to tourists and boating residents for a long time, and being a collection of islands, the people of The Abacos expect you to arrive by boat, if you have one, and they don’t mind if it is of an extraordinary size.
The vibe is chill in The Abacos
The Abacos is a place for laidback relaxation, for everyone. The rich and famous can stroll along a beach at sunset before heading for dinner in a local restaurant just like everyone else; there are no small crowds of the curious in their wake, snapping photos and calling for autographs – though it is fun to have your head turned now and then by a celebrity sighting.
But in the end, it is not possible to point to one feature of The Abacos that attract the rich and famous among us; it is a combination of alluring factors. The government is stable and friendly, there is a reliable communications grid, there is the possibility of privacy and the warmth of the local people – and there is a beauty in The Abacos that draws you in, that inhabits your dreams after you leave, eventually assuring your return.
Did you know that ice diving is a thing? That brave, adventurous human beings plunge into –the 2°C/28°F waters of Baffin Island in Canada, and float in front of other-worldly icebergs? Or head to the Magdalen Islands of that same country in late February, to watch baby seals swim for the first time?
You are probably thinking that while these ice divers see some unforgettable things –you’d rather dive in waters without icebergs, even in waters that are pleasingly warm. You don’t want to know if it is possible to dive in The Abacos in February, but if you will want to.
Well, it is never too cold to dive in The Abacos. Here’s why:
When it gets cold, it’s not that cold
January is historically the coldest month of the year in The Abacos – But the diving is cool, as in groovy, not as in shivering. Seatemperature.org is a reliable online source for water temperatures in oceans and seas on our planet, so let’s look at the water temperatures for January for The Abacos:
As you can see, the average temperature in Abacos water in 23.3 °C or 73.9°F: At Scuba Diving, they officially recommend a 5 mm to 3 mm full suit for diving in water that is 22.2°C or 72.0°F, and that, folks is the coldest it gets. For the average temperature of 73.9°F, the same magazine recommends a 3 mm to full suit to a 2 mm shorty. Have a look at the chart below, which we created from data found at Seatemperature.org, with January dates running across the bottom and temperatures on the vertical left side, and you’ll see that there are no significant dips in temperatures in January, the water temperature is predicable.
The sun shines a lot
Historically speaking, and yes, we are including very recent history; the sun shines about 340 days a year in The Abacos. The sun heats up the shallow waters of the Abacos Sea, which sits between Great Abaco and Little Abaco and the remainder of the Out Islands. If you want to dive in the Abacos Sea in, say, March, you will be embraced by waters averaging temperatures of 27.4 °C or 81.3 °F.
The tropical climate does its part
Tropical climates are not into drama, the trees don’t shed leaves in fall and shiver in the winds that will soon cover them in the whitest of white snow: A tropical climate is all about being predictable, about it being sunny and warm when you wake up on Monday morning, and low and behold, when you walk out your front door on Tuesday, it is more of the same. Divers like predictable weather, and they love The Abacos.
But you know what you like
Diving in The Abacos, at any time of the year, is comfortable: The climate is tropical, the sun is usually shining and the dives shallow. But you might be a diver who digs the absence of a wet suit, or perhaps you are willing to squeeze into one that is 1 mm but no thicker. And so you show in The Abacos in June. Or July.
But know that if you feel secure in your ability to handle the relatively warm winter water in The Abacos, that you will be diving in some of the clearest water you’ve ever been in – yes, it has been compared to gin. And January and February are perfect months to swim with the sharks.
Dive Time Abacos
My Out Islands