The long, narrow island, 50 miles from Nassau, is a tropical delight, with great eating and adventure, and accommodations in spectacular settings
By Shelly Goldman, Carla Conway
Originally posted on NYDailyNews.com
Bigger and better-known islands in the Bahamas get most of the attention, but Eleuthera — with its fine food, beautiful pink sand beaches and ancient coral reefs — is just as alluring as its neighbors.
Fifty miles east of the capital city of Nassau, Eleuthera is no secret among celebrities. George Clooney, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz and numerous royals have have all vacationed there. The area was also a retreat for Princess Diana when she was pregnant with Prince William.
Eleuthera, which means “free” in Greek, is 110 miles long and at points barely 1 mile wide, allowing views of both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea just by turning your gaze from east to west. With more than 200 miles of shoreline, the island offers diverse opportunities for beach lovers, rock climbers and adventurers. One road, Queen’s Highway, traverses most of the island, making travel to various locations easy.
Coastal boat tours here are a must, and more fun than exploring by land. Fishbone Tours offers five different adventures — lasting a half day or full day. Book the full-day Adventure Tour for a great experience in Savannah Sound. Included in this adventure: snorkeling into a bed of conch or starfish, wrangling loggerhead turtles on the beach and releasing them into the water, a boat ride where guests are served a delicious conch salad, and offshore fishing with a pole or spear.
As part of the Adventure Tour, guests walk over a bridge from Eleuthera to Windermere Island, which offers some of the best fishing on the Atlantic. Guests who choose to keep the fish or lobster they catch can dock on the beach, grill and eat it, enjoying it with rum punch or Kalik, a local beer.
Superb dining, tropical drinks and reggae music are integral to the Eleuthera Island culture. Bahamian cuisine naturally emphasizes seafood, and peas and rice (a local staple), as well as tropical fruit such as plantains, papayas and melons. The pineapple is a particular favorite in Eleuthera; the summer Pineapple Festival in Gregory Town is a great celebration.
For a satisfying and indigenous meal, head to the Rainbow Inn, near Hidden Beach and just above the midsection of the seahorse-shaped island. Enjoy fresh Angus steaks and local seafood and produce from an exclusive organic garden. Meals here are accompanied by live music on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. There’s plenty of room to dance — bar top included.
Head to the Governor’s Harbour area for plenty of fine food and drink. The Bistro Oceanview Grill & Bar at Sky Beach Club, known for its savory conch chowder, is a welcoming haunt. Lunch runs about $30 and comes with live music on Sundays.
Tippy’s, nearby on Old Banks Road, is the place to be on Saturdays for even more live music and dancing. Stay for the lobster salad and spectacular views of the Atlantic.
Plan to include a stop at the popular Fish Fry, a waterfront street party on the beach at Cupid’s Cay that brings out locals and visitors alike every Friday night .
For more fun, head to the Beach House tapas restaurant bordering French Leave Beach. Come on a Monday or Thursday night to listen and dance to local Rake-n-Scrape bands, the sound of the Bahamas. Musicians beat on goombay drums with heads made of goat skin, while a carpenter’s saw doubles as a percussion instrument.
Close to the French Leave Beach are properties like Squires Estate and the Yellow House — a large home on top of the hill in Governor’s Harbour — both of which can be rented weekly. Governor’s Harbour is the port of call for the Beach Boys’ famous song “The Sloop John B.”
Further south and back to Windermere Island, Mariah Carey’s home, Sea Lily, can also be rented — for a whopping $30,000 a week.
One of Eleuthera’s most popular tourist attractions, the Leon Levy Preserve, is a 25-acre national park ($5 for adults). The park is home to 171 species of plants including beautiful, rare orchids. This is a favorite stop for families and those who appreciate nature’s tropical beauty.
Another must-see: the Glass Window Bridge. Dubbed the narrowest point on earth, with the Caribbean and the Atlantic only 30 feet apart, it was made famous by a Winslow Homer painting and maintains popularity among photographers. The scene is especially remarkable when the sun is rising or setting. It’s all just north of Gregory Town and south of the pink sand beaches of Harbour Island.
Hatchet Bay Cave, located south of Gregory Town, offers a rare experience for the adventurous: exploration of a mile-deep cave complete with bats. The path to the cave is unmarked, so you’ll need a local to show you the way. Step into a hole in the ground to access the cave. The space is tight, slick and dark, so bring a head lamp to navigate.
The south end of Eleuthera holds another site for action lovers. Eleuthera Adventure Tours can take you by dune buggy from Princess Cay to Lighthouse Beach. Here, relative solitude blends with sea breezes for a perfect respite.
You’ll feel a complete sense of freedom, which makes it easy to see how Eleuthera got its name.
IF YOU GO
Getting there: JetBlue offers flights daily from JFK to Nassau (jetblue.com). Southern Air (southernaircharter.com), Pineapple Air (pineappleair.com) and Bahamas Air (bahamasair.com) offer multiple flights daily directly from Nassau to Eleuthera.
Eleuthera offers accommodations to fit all budgets.
In Hatchet Bay , the Rainbow Inn ($130-$295/night), with excellent dining, offers fishing charters and caters to destination weddings. rainbowinn.com.
Squires Estates ($200/night) features 19th century cottages in Governor’s Harbor . squiresestatebahamas.com.
Sky Beach Club ($295/night) houses The Bistro Oceanview Grill & Bar, and bungalows with spacious views of Governor’s Harbour . skybeachclub.com.
The Cove , a gated resort in Gregory Town , has rooms starting at $250 a night or $3,000 a week for three-bedroom suites (including private pool and personal butler). thecoveeleuthera.com.
Buttonwood Reser ve has spacious modern condo units ($2,000/week), north of Governor’s Harbour . buttonwoodreserve.com.
Yellow House ($2,450-$5,250/week, depending on time of year) is off French Leave Beach . vrbo.com/319039.
Fishbone Tours’ Adventure Tour hosts up to five guests for $500. The company also offers the Bonefishing tour ($350 half day/$600 full), Reef Fishing ($450 half day), Snorkeling ($400/up to four people) and Deep-sea Fishing ($500 half day/$700 full). fishbonetours.com.