Sandy Estabrook's Abaco Guide, AbacoEscape.com homepage as well as our other pages have undergone a complete overhaul 2019. Unfortunately along came Hurricane Dorian in the fall and during the rebuilding process along came the Coronavirus, closing off the Bahamas and Abaco from the world. Updated July 20, 2020. See below.
Visiting Abaco, cruising or renting, we strongly recommend you get yourself a copy of the Cruising Guide to Abaco, it is a must. It would be like bringing this website with you only so much more. It's updated annually and authored by state side professor and Elbow Cay resident, Steve Dodge and available in Abaco shops. Better yet get a head start and get copy stateside at West Marine or online. His guide, although geared to the cruising folks, it's jam packed with useful info not found in any Fodor's or Frommer's etc. It's colorful and so inviting. Every nook and cranny is mentioned including many not covered in our pages. Snorkel spots and fishing info are also covered. It also includes a useful "Yellow Pages by Location" listing of services, shops, restaurants, fishing and diving guides etc.
Hurricane Dorian, a Cat 5 Hurricane, made landfall Labor Day, Monday Sept 1, 2019 at Marsh Harbour, the Abaco Islands commercial hub and the Bahamas third-largest city. It then moved on to Grand Bahama, just east of Freeport, the 2nd city in the commonwealth. Here it sat for another 24 hours resulting in the COMPLETE SHUTTING DOWN ALL OF ABACO and parts of Grand Bahama.
Note: After Hurricane Dorian, you can no longer take the particulars outlined here in our Abaco Guide as gospel. So much in Abaco is no more. This is how it was. As vendors reopen and notify us, you will see their ads which we are posting gratis. They are also Updatedlisted here.
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The Bahamas, are not in the Caribbean, they are in the Atlantic off the coast of Florida. The Abacos are in the northeastern Bahamas about 150 miles east of Palm Beach. (Map)
On earth as it is in Abaco. These are the Out Islands, Family Islands and Friendly Islands of the Bahamas as they have been called. They are definitely are aptly named. Here you will find friendly folks, a relatively bustling economy with none of the hassles and hustlers of fast paced Nassau, Paradise Island and Freeport. Evenings are spent with family and friends or fishing buddies usually at the local watering holes, or on your deck or dock. Some bars offer bingo or trivia pursuit for drinks. Darts and karaoke are also popular pastimes where as native folks can be seen playing dominos. A couple nights a week are highlighted with a local band. And that is it for nighttime excitement, no casinos, no discos. As for weather, it's pretty much the same as southeast Florida with early fall being hurricane season and when many places close. In our book, the Abacos rate high as being a truly homogeneous little spot on the globe with first time visitors returning more often than not.
The Abacos, start in the north at Walkers Cay working their way 110 miles or so, down to Hole in the Wall and Sandy Point on Great Abaco. On Green Turtle Cay and Elbow Cay you'll find the old English loyalist settlements of New Plymouth & Hope Town with their colonial homes in hues of pastel colors. For the most part these Cays parallel the Island of Great Abaco and can be thought of as barrier islands as they are what separate the Atlantic from the shallow Sea of Abaco and Mainland Abaco. Unlike the classical sandy barrier islands of the eastern US, here they consist of limestone with some elevation and are protected on the ocean side by the third largest barrier reef in the world. For the most part the cays are green with mangroves and beautiful white sand beaches, one only dreams about. Most are uninhabited. Mainland Abaco, south from the settlement of Cherokee, is all on the Atlantic with direct ocean exposure and written in the South Abaco section below.
Short Video Introduction
The Atlantic side of these cays are strewn with some of the most beautiful coral reefs you'll find in the Atlantic. Shooting up from the depths one can find reefs in waters from 6 to 200+ feet. They are surely as spectacular, as the Caribbean hot spots of Grand Cayman, Bonaire, Belize etc. There are reefs for snorkelers to the experienced diver. There is even a network of well maintained and protected underwater parks with mooring buoys for rental boats / boaters. It's truly a divers paradise and a well kept secret. And it's the same distance from Ft. Lauderdale as is Key West - you just cant drive. (nautical chart). The Florida Keys cant even come close and shouldn't even be mentioned in the same conversation.
For the fisherman in Abaco, the fishing is - as outstanding, with tournaments at many locations throughout spring and summer and no less comparable than Costa Rica or Cabo San Lucas. A word of caution: Making passage from the Sea of Abaco between the cays to the ocean and the deep sea fishing areas and diving spots is a bit tricky if not impossible in most areas. It is generally forbidden to take a rental boat to the ocean in any case. There are plenty of spots to dive without risk covered later. Lastly the protected waters, trade winds and panoramic beauty make this 120-mile long stretch of he Sea of Abaco a boating and sailing paradise. World class Bareboat Chartering companies, marinas and small boat rentals are found through out Abaco and the Cays.
M a r s h H a r b o u r
Marsh Harbour Scene.
is the Bahamas third largest city (after Nassau & Freeport) and the Abaco's commercial hub and where you'll probably arrive. It is the primary area providing for the medical needs of the island folks. Additionally there are grocery stores, liquor stores, auto rental agency, gift shops, hardware stores and tradesman to fill your specific needs. Maxwell's supermarket is Abaco's largest, and along with Abaco Groceries are the places to stock up before heading to your rental home or charter.
Boat rental agencies proliferate in Marsh Harbour. Regular visitors often go straight from the airport to their rental boat and head to the Cay's saving the ferry fare and wait time. Our choice in this regard has been Rainbow Rentals. They are on the edge of the harbour making for a quick exit to your destination. See our page on Boating. Beaches are limited in and around Marsh Harbour, but they do boast of one very popular snorkeling spot called Mermaid Reef. It's on the "Eastern Shore" across the street from the "Jib Room Restaurant & Marina.".
Suggestion: Even if your are headed to the Cays, it could happen that your return flight from Marsh Harbour, might be before the first ferry. So why not head over a day or two day earlier and do a little exploring the South Abaco mainland before you fly home.
The "Eastern Shore", away from the hustle and bustle of Marsh Harbour is the region where you'll find lovely homes, cottages and villas - many for rent. Geographically speaking the Eastern Shore is at the northeastern most mainland point of the island of Great Abaco. The homes here are right on Abaco Sound facing the Cays and many have a dock on the protected creek facing Sugar Loaf Cay. One such home is "Done Reach". It's perfectly positioned for quick getaways by boat ether heading east to Hope Town or White Sound on Elbow Cay or the cays south, Lubbers to Little Harbour. Done Reach offers a full size home plus a charmingly furnished boat house on the creek side. Another that comes to mind is, "On the Rocks", with still others easily found with an internet search or checking our Accommodations & Services page.
As far as Marsh Harbour short stay accommodations, we always stay at, the close to everything, Conch Inn Hotel & Marina. In recent times it has been taken over by the Moorings Charter Fleet operation (See Chartering). The Inn's rooms are pretty much geared to short stays, perfect before or after a charter and a great place to stay before an early flight out before the ferries are running. They offer a pool and two restaurants, the Conch Crawl Restaurant and the newer 2nd floor bar & restaurant is now called Da Blue Hole. Some folks may remember it as Curly Tails. The Conch Inn offers an easy walk to town the the multitude of shops and restaurants the line this side of the harbour. Also at the Marina is Dive Abaco Marsh Harbour's oldest dive shop. Just across the street is the Lofty Fig Villas, a lovely place we sometimes stay in the heart of harbour front. They have only six units, so book ahead.
Marsh Harbour has a large cruising community moored in it's harbour and is a lively spot. As mentioned there a good many restaurants are within a short walking distance of the Conch Inn. From here to the center of town is just a 15 minute walk. Hot spots you'll pass along the way are, Mangoes, and, Snappas which is located at the Harbour View Marina along harbour's edge near by. Also in the area is Wally's - It's voted the best restaurant in Marsh Harbour on a regular basis by Abaco bulletin board members. In town there is a luncheonette style restaurant called the Golden Grouper. It's been there for years and popular with the locals. Still a little furthure and highly rated with lobster lovers is Junovia's. It's next to Island Bakery on Don Mackay Boulevard. On the Eastern Shore side of the harbour is the active Marsh Harbour Marina and Jib Room. Here on Saturday night in season, it's barbecue night, when as many as 300 steaks are served. Their steaks are absolutely the best in all the Abacos. Chicken & fish are also available and reservations required. Many of the restaurants have their own "special night" offering special meals and or drinks and are announced on the "Cruisers Net" daily. Be sure to plan ahead. Lastly there is Jamie's Place, a popular place with local business folks. It's a 10 minute walk east of the Conch Inn. It's a great spot for breakfast and lunch.
The Abaco Beach Resort & Boat Harbour. is the largest marina and hotel in Marsh. It is actually not on the harbour but on the Sea of Abaco side. It's a full scale resort with something always going on here especially for the sport fisherman. It is here they hold the annual shootout - the by invitation only, fishing tournament for Hatteras and Bertram owners. There is a dive shop of some renown at this location for expert divers specializing in cave diving, hence ist name Bahamas Underground." Click on their website, you'll be impressed.
One of our favorite things when in the Abacos, is sampling the Conch Salad from the markets and street vendors (picture above). It is this mans very favorite food in the Bahamas. It's refreshing, non fattening and tasty - sort of a crunchy gazpacho. It's better than Ice cream. Our favorite conch salad can be found at the street vendor you will see just a couple hundred feet north the Conch Inn in Marsh Harbour. The stand that has been there for years although the vendor may change. Get your self a pint. See Sandy's Conch Salad Recipe and Video.
As mentioned, if you're headed to the Cays you will likely arrive and depart from Marsh, so why not consider spending part of your trip here. There is plenty to see and do. And there is one thing you can do in Marsh that you cant do on the Cays and that is rent a car. This can make for a great adventure and exploration to the south like the quaint settlement of Cherokee and its neighbor Little Harbour noted for Pete's Pub and The Johnston's Foundry. Further south at Abaco's S.W. corner is the picturesque settlement of Sandy Point and at Abaco's southeast corner is the old light house at "Hole in the Wall". Still another option is head north to Treasure Cay and its famous beach and nearby settlements, sites and Blue Hole.
Exploration of the Abaco Cays begins by clicking one of the compass points at the top.
S o u t h A b a c o M a i n l a n d
Often overlooked are the lovely rental homes and beaches that surround the communities to the south of Marsh Harbour where you will more than likely arrive. This area has caught on recent times due to the new resorts and lodges with even an airport in Sandy Cay for private planes. So let's take the time to explore South Abaco and its settlements of Little Harbour, down to Sandy Point. We'll be meandering through many of the small settlements new and old alike of friendly folks, most all supporting welcoming smiles. We will pass by Abaco's newest resort and come ashore on Abaco's almost forgotten cay, Moore's Island.
We'll explore the Abaco National park and the Marls.
The Logistics: Needless to say you will require a rental car which can be rented at agencies in Marsh Harbour. Heading south from the roundabout on Scherin Bootle Hwy, AKA The Great Abaco Highway for about 10-11 miles, you'll see a major turnoff (left while heading south) leading your towards Little Harbour & Cherokee.
Casaurina Beach. photo-Nina Henry
LITTLE HARBOUR: About five miles down the turn off to Cherokee you'll see a dirt road on the left that leads to the celebrated Pete's Pub and Gallery (and foundry). It's right on the beaches edge of Little Harbour. It also makes for a great day trip by boat or car from Marsh Harbour. Little Harbour is a protected anchorage with an occasional turtle poking his head out of the water. Pete's Pub serves freshly caught fish or hamburgers at lunch and dinner.
More importantly, Little Harbour is the home of the late Randolph Johnston, Pete's father who made this his home about 85 years ago after being marooned during a hurricane. You can even Explore the Caves where he and his family took shelter and made their home. Mr. Johnston then a professor at Smith College, was an artist and set up a small foundry where he made his bronze castings which he sold to visiting yachties. Soon his fame spread till the point where the Government commissioned him to make his now famous statue in downtown Nassau. Unfortunately Mr. Johnston passed in 1992 and today his son Pete runs the foundry (and beach bar) and continues the artistic traditions. Foundry tours are available where one can see an actual casting, Call ahead for schedule 366-3503.
Abaco Club golf course. photo-Nina Henry
CHEROKEE: The same road off the highway going to Little Harbor runs directly to the Settlement of Cherokee (just don't turn at the dirt road to Pete's). Enroute you pass the
The Abaco Club at Winding Bay. It's definitely the getaway spot of the rich and famous located on over 500 acres with with probably the finest golf courses in all the Bahamas. Add to that 2 miles of white-sand beach. Management has changed over the years including names such as The Ritz and Marriott with the most recent being Southworth (best-known in Europe as the owner of The Village at Machrihanish Dunes in Argyll, Scotland). The Abaco Club on Winding Bay. Little can be seen from the road and their entrance is gated. The Luxury homes behind the gates can
also be rented.
At Cherokee the shoals there seem to go on for a miles before becoming deep enough for a boat hence their long and quite spectacular dock, all 770 feet of it, the longest wooden dock of its type in the Bahamas. Still the shallow harbour permits only the shallowest of draft vessels which questions why this settlement was originally settled. And as for it's name, legend has it one of the original settlers had a Cherokee Indian wife. It's a typical settlement with quite a few homes, a grocery store a weekend only restaurant called the Sand Bar and lots of fisherman of the bonefish guide variety. From here south is Bonefish Territory. Quite a few of the homes, are available for rent, with or without a bonefish guide. See our
Accommodations & Services page.
CASUARINA POINT is the next community south of Cherokee. Turn off the next easterly road from the highway when heading south. One can almost consider it an extension of Cherokee as it is only a short walk to Cherokee across the sandbar (at low tide), which by the way is loaded with shells and sand dollars. The white sandy beach here stretches for miles and is protected by a barrier reef offshore.
The flats around these parts are noted for their bonefish, explaining why a good many guides live in the area. Casuarina Point is essentially a cluster of small homes many lining their beautiful white sand beach. Abaco Palms Properties representing four of them, was founded by Kathy Heacock, who hails from the small town of Talladega Alabama. She and her husband Gary decided on investing in a rental home which turned into four! All are on their beautiful beach including the many amenities listed on their website. Also in the area are the Blue Holes mentioned below.
Still on the road, the next point of interest is ROLLING HARBOUR and the inviting
Delphi Club. This now decade old 8 bedroom luxury bonefishing lodge is furnished with antiques ala British Country Style and with numerous amenities and worthy of a stay bonefishing or not. They also welcome outside diners for a truly excellent dinner. The hotel was built and owned by former Financial Times journalist Peter Mantle and was acquired from Peter in 2018 by a group of bonefishing friends / investors led by two US based Englishmen, Andrew Tucker and Robert Ford. The Delphi Club is perched on a hill overlooking a lovely deserted ocean beach. Turn left when you see a large white rock on the right hand side of the highway. Regular visitor and naturalist, Keith Salvesen, often hangs his hat here. His
Fascinating Blog of area environs is quite impressive.
Sawmill Sink, is Abacos most popular and most studied Blue Holes lies to the west of the highway. It was originally studied by National Geographic along with three other blue holes in the area. A great blog on this regions blue holes has been written by the aforementioned Keith Salvesen. Their access is left somewhat hidden due to the fragile environment of the area. In addition see our page on Blue Holes. It includes links to the myriad articles and videos.
SCHOONER BAY:(Video) At about 31-32 miles from the roundabout, you'll come upon the only harbour in Southeast Abaco's mainland- the newly dredged Schooner Bay. It is the home of the The Black Fly Bonefish Club, which was followed by The Sandpiper Inn. Both are centered around a 14-acre harbour, with egress directly to the ocean. The harbour provides slips and fuel for the boating folks along with a general store. The Cabana is the harbours fun spot. The cabana offers access to the beach, cart parking, a shade lounge & deck, washrooms, picnic tables, chaises and tikis on the beach. We’ve heard if one pre-arranges at Sandpiper Inn (in season) they will deliver lunch to guests at the Cabana.
Just a mile beyond, heading south, you are at the narrowest part of Great Abaco enabling on to see water on both sides followed by the small settlement of Crossing Rocks where you'll find Trevor's Midway Restaurant & Bar (366-2199) and small motel.
Still further, about 6 miles you will come to a fork in the road. Actually it looks like just another unpaved turn to the left. It takes you on an arduous 15 mile journey to the
Hole in the Wall Lighthouse - Abaco's other lighthouse. Don't take it unless you are in a four wheel drive vehicle with good ground clearance and have specifically planned for this trip. Don't misunderstand me, it's a great trip for the adventurous and a whole day affair. To the roads east lies the
Abaco National Park and one of the primary habitats of the endangered Bahamian Parrot and many other native birds.
Nancy's Bar and Restaurant Sandy Point. The last Pit Stop in Abaco. (photo-Wally Morgan)
Staying on the paved road will take you to the settlement of SANDY POINT. It's the end of the line. (Video) This picturesque community, of about 200 make their living from the sea or Walt Disney. Sandy Point's proximity to Gorda Cay, eight miles off shore, is what Disney calls Castaway Island, It's their "Out Island" pit stop in the Bahamas for their "Big Red Boats". Most of the labor comes from the folks of Sandy Point which makes for an bustling community. Their primary hangout and fun spot is Nancys Bar and Restaurant. Here you'll find accommodations and grocery stores. Sandy Point is famous for their spring Conch Festival drawing crowds all the way from Coopers Town in North Abaco. We expect Sandy Point to be a trendy new destination in the years to come. Their new airport is the clue plus the fact there is ferry service from Sandy Point to Nassau weekly - Friday morning and returns Sunday Evening. Oh, supporting our suspicions, during Spring 2019 there was a profusion of articles in the Bahamian journals on "another major development planned for Abaco" in this area. We'll have to wait and see what develops. It wont be any time soon.
You may remember seeing that ugly marshy water as your plane approached Marsh Harbour from Abaco's west or "back side". This area of Abaco wouldn't have been written about a few years back. But today it is the domaine of the bonefisherman and m ecotourist where the Sky Meets the Sea. It's all written about here. Its called the MARLS.
North of Gorda Cay and a 40 mile voyage from Sandy Point is MOORE'S ISLAND. Despite it's population of 900, it's settlement named "Hard Bargain" is over looked by tourists and difficult to get too except for the cruising folks. It's called Abaco's forgotten Cay - all alone out there in the Atlantic Ocean. Access is by plane from Marsh Harbour or boat from Sandy Point. More below.