- A Brief Tour of the Abacos -
- A Down to the Basics Quick Planner -
- The Abbreviated Abaco Guide -
Considering a trip to the Abacos?
Here are the fundamentals updated February 2014. The details can be found at:
Sandy Estabrook's Guide to the Abacos, Bahamas
But first you might want to take a look at this video.
The Abaco Cays (pronounced Keys) are a string of islands that line the Atlantic side of the Island of Great Abaco 180 miles from Florida. A one hour flight from southeastern Florida cities, Abaco's weather is pretty much the same. The big island of Great Abaco, and seven of its cays are habitable, four of which have settlements. All the aforementioned have accommodations and restaurants.
The number one attraction of the area is the Abaconian waters and beaches and their offerings. IE Fishing, Snorkeling, beach combing, shell collecting, picnicking etc. Again, for the whole story, pictures, videos & more, check out Sandy's Guide to the Abacos. Our website is very thorough and can leave some befuddled, we'll summarize things here, and we do answer questions.
First, consider getting yourself a copy of the colorful Cruising Guide to the Abacos (by Steve Dodge). You'll want to bring it with you. It's made for the cruising folks but it's packed with info - more than any travel guide. It's sold state side at West Marine. You can learn about anything from weather to the snorkeling spots. Restaurants, hotels and the popular watering holes are also included. It includes a yellow pages arranged by location where you can look up a shop for anything one might want. And it's an absolute must if you rent a boat.
As for the Beaches
They are bountiful and beautiful and found on both the Oceanside and Sea of Abaco side of the Cays. Mainland Abaco has beaches on both depending on location. The ocean beaches for the most part are only attainable by land as rental boats are not permitted in the ocean. It is the ocean side, however where you'll find the reefs for snorkeling and diving, many of which are right off the beach. The Sea of Abaco beaches are just as beautiful (less reefs) and easily accessible by rental boat. Again: The use of rental boats is not permitted in the Ocean.
Boat or No Boat? That is the Question.
The question we always get asked, Should we Rent a boat when visiting the Cays?: In our opinion, it's a must (for at least part of your stay). The Abaconian waters are the appeal to this part of the world, and Abaco life is spread out over many different islands. The maximum travel time between two adjacent Cays, shouldn't be more than a half hour. You'll want to explore the beauty of uninhabited island beaches for some frolicking fun, fishing, picnicking, snorkeling, beach combing etc. etc. Then there are the out island watering holes where folks gather for lunch or on the way home after a day of fun in the sun. Yes, a boat can be expensive and so is gas but plan a rental for at least part of your stay. And if boating still isn't your thing, day trips / excursions that offer picnics, snorkeling, fishing, bar hopping are easily found at most locations.
Boating Considerations: In two words, size matters. The further you plan to travel, the bigger the boat. Green.Turtle Cay, being north of the Whale Cay passage pretty much limits your boat rental travels to the uninhabited neighboring islands. Just 20 - 30 minutes to it's north is Manjack Cay and some of the loveliest uninhabited beaches anywhere. Just 15 - 20 minutes South you'll find a lovely stretch of beach on North west Noname Cay. For anything furthure south, IE Guana Cay or over to the Treasure Cay Resort you'll need a larger boat and good weather. Staying in on Elbow Cay works the same way with Guana Cay being your northern limit and the uninhabited islands to its south to Little Harbour your southern limit. It's all spelled out on our BOATING PAGE.
Home or Hotel? That is the other Question.
Nobody in this tropic environment uses the word "Hotel". Whether called an Inn or Club or Lodge they define themselves as a resort. Definition of Resort in the Abacos: Includes hotel, rental cottages and or villas with bar(s), restaurant(s), pool, beach, and marina . Sometimes the marina, or beach are optional but found close by. They all have "Day Docks" gratis for rental boats and dinghies, for over night or just visiting for lunch or using their pool bar.
The most economical way to go is rent a home and they are numerous. This especially if you are traveling as a family or group. You can eat out or bring provisions in a cooler on the plane or buy your groceries at a supermarket in Marsh Harbour or the more expensive small island markets where "fresh" is hard to find, except bread and sometimes fish. Resorts offer fully equipped cottages too. Their villas usually include a small frig and only a microwave, if that can work for you. - Ask. Lastly, some houses and villas are on the water with a dock of their own if that suits you.
Up front the two most popular Abaco Out Islands are:
Green Turtle Cay with its village of
& Elbow Cay with its village of Hope Town.
On GREEN TURTLE CAY where it all started for us back in '73, the pace is slower, and the island a little more laid back than Hope Town, Yet it's settlement of New Plymouth offers more to do with three times as many food stores/shops, hardware and restaurants and four times as many churches. There is a Dive Shop and numerous fishing guides/charters. A resident island band can be found playing somewhere 2-3 nights a week. Rental homes are scattered all about the island. Most are represented by local agents. Keep in mind the island's two resorts, the Green Turtle Club, and the Bluff House are on White Sound on the north end of the Cay requiring a golf cart (or rental boat) to get to New Plymouth or another restaurant for dinner. (Ferries too run every couple hours day time only for a charge.) The beautiful ocean beach is a 20 min. walk from the G.T.C. (5 min. by cart), and about twice that from the B.H. Neither resort provides "on call" courtesy transportation here (at least a/o 2013). More on this later. Oh, bringing the kids? This is the island for you. The full picture of GREEN TURTLE CAY, is here.
Proximity to the U.S. aside, most people are attracted to the Abacos for its waters and their offerings. If a boat is in your plans, it will open up possibilities on where to stay. That said, if we had no boat or golf cart at our disposal, would we still go?. Absolutely! Only then our choice of place to stay would be then ELBOW CAY. We say this because if you are renting a home in Hope Town or staying at the Hope Town Harbour Lodge, you can walk to everything. And the resorts at the south will come and pick you up gratis pretty much on demand for dinner, lunch and even for a few drinks and a swim in their pool. And this courtesy even works in reverse - staying at a south end resort, the Abaco Inn or the Sea Spray they will take you to town on request. If you rent a home out side of town, you'll need a golf cart which is sometimes included. All the aforementioned are on the ocean. The exceptions are Hope Town Inn & Marina which is on the Harbour and Sea of Abaco. Incidentally that is the side with the lighthouse, but neither are connected with the west side and Hope Town. HTI&M does provide courtesy transport to town on call for it's guests. To the south is the new Firefly Sunset Resort facing the Sea of Abaco and the best sunsets money can buy. Elbow also has a Dive Shop and numerous fishing guides/charters and resident music groups. The full picture of ELBOW CAY
TREASURE CAY is the resort area on Abacos mainland (not a cay anymore). It boasts one of the worlds 10 most beautiful beaches with two resort areas at its edge. Both are a collection of condos which management rents. The larger, the Treasure Cay Resort & Marina includes homes, villas, and townhouses, all scattered about. Their focus is on the beach, golf course and marina. Still many condo / homeowners choose to represent themselves directly though advertising or on the internet. Accommodations & Services page.
The other near by resort is the Bahama Beach Club. Close by both resorts is the Marina with the usual resort amenities; shops, restaurants, a grocery and liquor store, and bakery. There is also a dive shop, boat rental agency and ferry that runs to Guana Cay. From here you might want to rent a car and explore the settlements to the north Abaco and the near by wild horses and blue holes written about in our page "ABACO OFF THE BEATEN PATH."
GUANA CAY has a picturesque small settlement, with bars & restaurants scattered about the island. One bar, "Nippers" is of some international renown, and is the big draw on the island with occasional concerts and Sunday pig roasts. There is also a couple gift shops plus a grocery and liquor store on the island. There is even a dive center. We would describe Guana Cay as the Abacos playground as defined by its 7 mile long magnificent snorkeling beach and bar hopping atmosphere. It's a must see if possible. If you choose a rental home on Guana Cay you'll need a boat unless you plan to stay put and use the ferry to get back and forth (Marsh Harbour only). It's mid way (45 minutes by boat) between Hope Town, New Plymouth, Marsh Harbour and a half hour from Treasure Cay. Guana is definitely the out island getaway not to be missed. However with the exception of the beach bars, Guana is pretty much limited to just that, as compared to Elbow and Green Turtle. Still, Guana will induce the out island spirit especially at sunset as the daytime visitors depart. More on Guana Cay is HERE.
MAN-O-WAR CAY is a day stop for most visitors. It is the quietest of the four major cays yet a busy place. Sounds like an oxymoron I know. We say this because M-O-W has a busy settlement by day with boat builders and repair shops aplenty, with nautical craftsmen of all types. Accommodations are limited but available and the same applies to their eateries, and the ones that be, are alcohol free as Man-O-War is the only "dry island". There is a canvas shop of some notoriety, model boat builder and a couple gift shops and food store. It's a regular stop on the Marsh Harbour ferry. Oh, it too has a lovely ocean and great snorkeling at its off shore reefs. More on Man-O-War is HERE.
MARSH HARBOUR, is Abaco's Commercial hub. The lovely rental homes and the beaches are a bit of a trek from town and you'll need a rental car (not cart) even to get to Marsh. There is one resort in town, The Abaco Beach Resort. Its more geared for sport fisherman because of their large marina and many tournaments. It's a short walk to "restaurant row" and the harbour life. Marsh Harbour makes for a great location to explore the big island and it's settlements to the south such as Cherokee and Little Harbour. A little furthure and you pass a couple of new (2012) resorts en-route to Sandy Point. You might want to hire a guide and look for Parrots while on the way to Hole in the Wall Lighthouse. Again, all written about in "ABACO OFF THE BEATEN PATH." What some folks do, especially if you have an early flight home, is rent a room in one of the downtown hotels such as the Conch Inn or Lofty Fig for a couple nights before your departure. Both are on "restaurant row" with walking distance to everything and a good way to see Marsh Harbour. Then rent a car and go exploring Great Abaco too. Marsh Harbour is the home of numerous charter fleets where you can charter a boat with or without a captain. It's covered in our BOATING PAGE. It is just another was of seeing Abaco and it's tucked away anchorages and settlements. To get the full picture of MARSH HARBOUR check out our Abaco Guide.
LUBBERS QUARTERS, is where one really has to rough it. Yes there are many lovely rental homes. Quite a few are geared for the eco-tourist (solar powered with gas stoves and no A/C but breezy). The majority are contemporary homes with modern conveniences, wi-fi, Sat TV and backup generators. There is no provisioning of any kind here, but there are two restaurant on the island, one attached to a cluster of rental homes. You definitely need a boat here as the ferry charges "charter rates", to get you to and from. The good news is it's only a short hop to Hope Town (10 Min. by boat). Lubbers has a picturesque quiet beach on its western shore and just "across the street" on Lubbers eastern shore is popular Tahiti Beach on Elbow Cay. More on Lubbers Quarters HERE.
Lastly you say you want "really quiet and out of the way", a place to disconnect, don't mind picking up or bringing your own provisions, and renting a boat, then the place to go is, till now unmentioned, 5.5 mile long TILLOO CAY. Tilloo separates the Ocean from the Sea of Abaco and is just south of Elbow and east of Lubbers. MORE
If you are looking for a quiet out of the way place with remote islands and beaches where you'll have a good chance to be alone to yourself then Green Turtle and its village of New Plymouth is the place to go. As pointed out there is still plenty to do on the Island with a golf cart and perfect for family travel. And if you rent a boat (a 15 - 17 footer will do), the uninhabited islands just 15-20 minutes to it's north are loaded with beaches on the protected bay side where you can pretend to be the only people in the world.
As of the mid 90's the term "Family Islands" have taken on new meaning especially on Elbow Cay. Here because of it's village of Hope Town, lighthouse, many new homes and proximity to Marsh Harbour, it has become a popular bustling vacationing spot not unlike many US coastal cities where families gather seasonally. On Elbow, in summer, a table at a casual restaurant will often consist of 2 adults and 2-4 kids. Also, it's more of a challenge to find a quiet spot to be alone. Even on the lovely and numerous islands south of Elbow Cay you'll have company most of the time.
If you are adventurous and a boater with some navigation experience, you might want to pick up at least a 22' boat from Rainbow Rentals or other rental agency in Marsh Harbour as we often do. Then trek north the 30 miles to Green Turtle for a few days then south to Hope Town for a few more using each as a base for local exploration. As mentioned, this inter island approach will require commonsense boating experience and a copy of the Cruising Guide to the Abacos. The downside to this approach is weather. It could be unpleasant on the day you've committed to pick up or return your rental boat.
On Snorkeling: The reefs are spectacular and usually just off the beaches on the ocean side of the cays so plan to rent snorkel gear or better yet bring it with you. Dive shops with experienced dive masters can be found on all islands for snorkeling and scuba. They all can arrange for our favorite event - a snorkeling or fishing trip with a picnic on a isolated beach featuring the catch of the day accompanied with conch salad and a Goombay Smash. It's heaven!
REMEMBER, If all you want to do is, lay on a beach, snorkel, read a book, cook your own meals or dine out, and or other romantic activities, the possibilities are many. And as far as other things to do, check our home page at AbacoEscape.com. What ever you come up with, you wont be disappointed.
Green Turtle Cay & New Plymouth
Suggested Travel Tips
Note: The world economy has no doubt impacted Abaco travel and deals are being offered by all the resorts. A 1% "foreign transaction fee" started to be added to many US issued credit cards. This fee has nothing to do with foreign currency rates as the Bahamian dollar is on par with the US dollar and used interchangeably.
1) Normally if you are considering going in May, June, July or November through New Years and especially on weekends during those periods, book well in advance. This particularly applies to airlines and boat rentals and to a lesser degree, golf cart rentals. See Calendar of Events
2) With the exception of the two major US carriers, the airlines servicing Abaco, the smaller carriers come and go regularly. So, reconfirm your flight a couple times to avoid any surprises. More on our Air Carrier Page
3) Try to avoid changing planes in Nassau in either direction as Air Bahama planes are often late. Add to that lost or late luggage. If you must use Nassau, use carry on baggage.
4) When departing Marsh Harbour, try to avoid a late day flight flight and get there early especially if you have connections. The main reason they want you to check in so early before departure, is to allow time for your passport number to clear with Homeland Security. It's not uncommon to hear of a passenger arriving 30 minutes before departure and not be allowed to board.
5) Try not to arrive too late as you might miss the last ferry connection to your destination resulting in an expensive charter.