At around this time of January every year I find myself setting out my goals for the following 12 months. Not to be confused with my pitiful New Year’s resolutions which have usually already been canned just hours after they were pledged, this list is far more positive and that much more achievable – where I hope travel in 2015.
And this year is no different. Replete after a fortnight of festive frivolities and eager to find my sea legs again, I set up my computer and begin my research. Because this year I want to go somewhere off the beaten track, despite 2015 being the Year of the Sheep. I have no desire to follow the crowds, so where should I go?
Three long days later, with my shoulders around my ears from crouching over the Internet, I have found my #1 dream destination for 2015: The Out Islands of the Bahamas.
The ‘Family Islands, ‘Paradise by the Sea’ and ‘Heart and Soul of the Bahamas’ are all terms of endearment by which this collection of islands in the Caribbean Sea are called. More than 700 islands scattered to the east of Florida make up this idyllic sailing territory with only 14 out of the Out Islands inhabited. Anyone who is even half decent at math can work out that there remains a huge number of deserted islands left to explore.
But let us focus on the islands where human life thrives and where visitors are welcomed with open arms, according to Mike Kefford, who has recently returned from a trip to the region on his 43-foot Beneteau, Tashi Delek.
Mike and his wife Carol were fortunate enough to visit more than half of the inhabited islands, which include the Abacos, Acklins and Crooked Islands, Andros, the Berry Islands, Bimini, Cat Island, Eleuthera, Harbor Island, the Exumas, Inagua, Long Islands, Mayaguana and San Salvador.
“After the commercialization of many of the Caribbean islands we visited, we found the Out Islands hugely refreshing. It is no wonder there are referred to by local Bahamians as the ‘family islands’ as they ooze warmth, simplicity and beauty.
“Unlike on many other islands, we were relieved not to find lots of large luxurious resorts. The beaches still look like I am sure they did on other more commercialized islands a hundred years ago, and the waters were stunning.
“We particularly enjoyed Crooked Island and Acklins Island, and the pink flamingos of Great Inagua which were possibly one of the highlights of our trips last year.”
So, where else should I visit in this Paradise Lost? From chatting with friends and family who have already ventured off the beaten track in the Bahamas, I have come up with the following TOP 10 MUST DO list for any trip to the Out Islands.
TOP 10 MUST DO:
1. Moor in Marsh Harbor on the Abacos and from here make the journey to the Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse on the southern end of Great Abaco, making sure you look out for the endangered Abaco parrot on your way.
2. Dive off the east coast of Andros, the largest island in the Bahamas. Discover miles of vertical walls in a reef which stretches 140 miles along the edge of the Tongue of the Ocean, a 6,639-foot underwater canyon.
3. Snorkel with wild spotted dolphins in the clear waters off Bimini, a collection of three islands which were the favorite holiday destination of U.S. author Ernest Hemingway.
4. Cat Island, named after a pirate, Arthur Catt, is a magical island not to be missed, I am told. And if you do visit, make sure you allow time to climb up to the Hermitage stone monastery on Mount Alvernia, the highest point in the Bahamas.
5. Next recommended port of call is Eleuthera, which means ‘freedom’ in Greek. Mike tells me if I do one thing on this island, it is to buy the specialty of the island – a pineapple tart.
6. Once replenished with pineapple tart, head to Harbor island, which is separated from Eleuthera by a narrow channel that you can probably swim without too much trouble. Not being a hugely strong swimmer, I prefer the comfort of a yacht and a gentle paddle off Pink Sand Beach, one of the most famous stretches of sand anywhere in the Bahamas.
7. Snorkel off the Exuma Cays, a group of islands, one of which was used as the beach setting for the Pirates of the Caribbean movie starring Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley.
8. Join a fishing expedition from Stella Maris on Long Island and catch yourself your tea. The region is very popular with fishermen, both amateur and professional.
9. Explore the sparsely populated islands of Crooked and Acklins and experience traveling in a time warp. The few people who live on the Far Out Islands survive on fishing and farming, and a visit here is like stepping back in time.
10. Marvel at the flock of pink flamingos which have made their home on the salt flats of Great Inagua. More than 60,000 of the beautiful birds are believed to be living here at any one time.