It is no secret that the long-grounded, travel obsessed, are ready to get back out into that big, beautiful world. Booked flights are creeping up in price, sold out Airbnb accommodations are an obstacle and restaurant reservations are already at a premium. Our pasty white legs and COVID fatigued brains, like so many, were in desperate need of some sandy beaches and sunshine. Already, finding an affordable vacation option close to home is proving to be a challenge. The sand, sun and crystal blue waters of the Caribbean were calling our name but places like Cancun, Grand Cayman and the Virgin Islands already had expensive flights and most resorts and Airbnb’s were sold out. Then, like a gift sent from above, just a two-hour, direct Delta flight from Atlanta, we stumbled upon Eleuthera. Eleuthera, Bahamas – A Caribbean Island Playground.
- Beaches: It’s said there are some 130 beaches on this 110-mile strip of island. The Atlantic Ocean to the east of the island and the Bright of Eleuthera to the west.
- Easy Travel to and from Atlanta: There are three airports on the island and several direct, 2-hour, flights into ELH from ATL. Door-to-door from Atlanta to our Airbnb in Central Eleuthera (45 min drive from the airport) in just 5 hours! If you live in Atlanta, you know the joys of the International Terminal. It made traveling a pleasure. Pip Tip: Did you know that even if you are traveling domestic you can still use the International Terminal in Atlanta? Two important things to remember, however: 1. You must already have your boarding pass. 2. You can NOT check your bag (carry on only).
- Two Islands for The Price of One: The famous Harbour Island is a 10-minute ($5) water taxi ride from North Eleuthera and is home to the famous Pink Sands Beach. If you’re lucky, you might run into Lenny Kravitz who has a home in the area.
- Boating: Exploring by boat in the Bahamas is a must! Sandbars and beautiful beaches are everywhere and Eleuthera is no exception.
- Fishing: I don’t fish much, but I hear this is kind of a big deal in Eleuthera!
- Exploring: Eleuthera is not JUST about heavenly beaches. There’s so much to explore – caves, cliffs, nature preserves, and pineapple farms. So many adventures.
Getting to Eleuthera
If you’re like me, and vacation days are at a premium, it’s important to cherish every precious minute. Extra time spent traveling is not ideally how I want to use those minutes. I’m a sucker for a direct flight and living in Atlanta usually affords us that luxury. Eleuthera is no exception. Delta has 2-hour direct flights to ELH! It’s such a quick trip, it’s almost wrong NOT to go.
Don’t live in Atlanta? Fret not my friends, there are also direct flights from Miami and Fort Lauderdale into Eleuthera. Most commercial flights fly into the North Eleuthera Airport (ELH), but there are two smaller airports on the island: Governors Harbour (Central Eleuthera) and Rock Sound International Airport (South Eleuthera). Remember, Eleuthera is 110 miles long and can take nearly three hours to drive from top to bottom, so it may make more sense to fly into a different airport depending on where your accommodations are located? If you’re traveling to Harbour Island you will want to fly directly into ELH where the water taxi is 10 minutes from the Airport.
Renting a Car
Remember how I mentioned the island is 110 miles long? If you plan on doing any exploring, renting a car is a necessity. There are no major car rental companies on the island, instead there are locals that rent cars (it’s the island way) for tourist to use. The Queens Highway is the Andretti Speedway of the Bahamas and not a friendly bicycling or walking road, but will be your main drag around the long skinny shaped island. It takes about 3 hours to drive the entire length of the island, so really there’s no other way than renting a car unless you plan to simply chill at your resort or Airbnb which is also a legit way to unwind. No judgement here.
See that little red sign in the window?
Tips for renting a car:
- Taxis from the ELH to Governors Harbor one-way are about $100 and a car rental is about $75-$80/day making it more affordable to rent a car if you want to explore the entire island.
- Payment is usually required in cash when you pick up the car from the airport.
- Most people will meet you at the airport with your rental car.
- Try to get a small SUV, or high clearance vehicle, as the roads are often dirt and sport your occasional pot hole. Several of those beautiful beaches require a drive down some fairly treacherous roads. Nothing you can’t handle, just be aware.
- Don’t forget “Keep Left.” Not only is the drivers side on right side of the car, but they drive on the left side of the road. Makes for some exhilarating driving experiences.
- There are no major car rental companies on the island so it’s a good idea to ask where you’re staying for a connection. We used Jeremy and Anna Lewis 1-242-422-9055 (firstname.lastname@example.org). The car was clean and in good condition.
- Several car rentals do not allow you to drive the vehicle to Surfer’s Beach or Lighthouse Beach on account of the extreme pour road conditions. Double check and plan accordingly.
Where to Stay
There are several resorts and a bounty of Airbnb’s on the island. I recommend staying on the Atlantic side of the island where the water is just as blue at the seaside, but the breeze is plentiful. Bugs on the island are brutal and relentless, especially the no-see-ums. Trust me you’re going to need that ocean breeze to keep them at bay. We opted to stay in Central Eleuthera close to Governors Harbor. Governors Harbor is one of the larger cities on the island and has plenty of restaurants, night life, grocery shopping and gas stations. Governors Harbor is a 50-minute drive from ELH Airport to the north and about an hour and half drive heading south to Lighthouse beach.
I just adored our little slice of paradise on, what felt like, our own private beach. We stayed at Cayo Loco, an 8-minute drive to Governors Harbor and walking distance to the beach bar Pascal’s Oceanfront Seafood Restaurant & Pool Bar and the Sky Beach Club.
The off the beaten path, Cayo Loco, was quaint with just two small 1 bedroom beachside casitas complete with sunrise views, outdoor shower, snorkel gear, kayaks, beach chairs, covered parking, beach towels and a well equipped kitchen. Although the beaches in Eleuthera are all public, this beach truly felt like it was all ours! Wonderful Atlantic Ocean breezes, coral reef snorkeling right outside your door and an adorable cottage that was well maintained. I would highly recommend staying here. Adults only, quiet, smoke free and air conditioned (if needed – even in the summer we didn’t use). The BREEZE was heaven.
13 Things to Do While Visiting Eleuthera
There is a LOT to do on Eleuthera compared to other smaller Caribbean islands. Exploring the 110 miles of island paradise takes time, so it’s unlikely you will fit in EVERYTHING on your first trip. The good news is, that you can go back again!
Here are some of my favorite island highlights to help you decide what to see during your stay.
#1. Lighthouse beach (South Eleuthera): Man, I’m a sucker for a beautiful beach. This beach is wow, just WOW! There is a LOT to explore here – beaches, caves, the lighthouse and excellent snorkeling right off the beach. Yes, yes, yes, the dirt road to Lighthouse Beach is plagued with potholes and narrow paths on the 2-3-mile-long trek. Don’t give up, it’s do-able with a high clearance SUV and slow, patient driving. Check with your rental car owner and make certain they allow you to take the car to Lighthouse Beach. Ours did not, but we were able to find another great option. Kristel with Eleuthera Tours provides tours either by boat or car to Lighthouse Beach. She was terrific and we learned so much about this special beach. A word of advice…GO NOW!
Disney has recently purchased most of this land and has plans to transform it into a private dock and beach for their cruise passengers. It will soon, most likely, be closed off to future island visitors, so make the long trek and visit Lighthouse Beach now, it’s WORTH IT!
#2. Ten Bay Beach: One of our favorite beaches, on the West side of the island, thus beautiful cove with shallow water and plenty of white sand is perfect for young children. It’s shallow, sandy bottom and calm water make it easy to walk out for what seems like forever, in waist deep water. Bring a picnic, beach chairs and cooler and chill for the afternoon.
#3. The Glass Window Bridge: Separating the sea from the ocean by just a tiny piece of road. It’s a must visit. While you’re in the neighborhood, visit Queen’s Bath which is just south of the bridge and also The Cliffs are nearby too.
#4. Harbour Island: It’s a 10 minute drive from ELH to the port where water taxi’s are waiting to take you over to Harbour Island. The 10-minute-long water taxi ride costs a modest $5/person. Once on Harbour Island, rent a golf cart right at the dock and explore the small island for the day. Make sure you visit Pink Sand Beach where you’ll find a more upscale offering of resorts and restaurants. It’s here you can also go horseback riding down the beach if that sort of thing tickles your fancy. Be advised most things on the island are closed on Sunday (also on Eleuthera).
#5. The Cliffs: Half fun of exploring, is pulling off the side of the road with no expectations only to be completely surprised by an amazing experience. Eleuthera has a fair amount of cliff jumping sites. Although this was probably not one of them the most dramatic cliffs and crashing waves were both intimidating and intriguing. Wear closed toed shoes to protect your feet from the razor-sharp rock and explore this dramatic landscape. Close to The Queen’s Bath and The Glass Window Bridge.
#6. The Queen’s Bath: Just about every Instagram influencer has been seen shooting a photo in this very spot, and for good reason. It’s pretty cool and photo worthy. Go at low tide when you can swim safely in the small shallow pools. Bring water shoes to protect that pedicure from the sharp rocks.
#7. Island Farms Eleuthera: Head here first before the grocery store to get fresh produce, bread, salad dressing, jams, pesto, pre-made food items etc…They take credit card (no Amex).
#8. The Levy Preserve: Explore miles of walking trails on this 30-acre nature preserve. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable and there is plenty of education. Bring bug spray, but they also have some at the front desk if you forget.
#9. La Bougainvillea Resort: A boutique luxury resort, La Bougainvillea’s comfortable outdoor dining and bar area share a lovely view of the ocean and cooling ocean breezes. The restaurant was better than most we had, using local ingredients and the staff was the friendliest we had on the island. Join them on Thursday night for a live band by the pool.
#10. The Buccaneer Club Restaurant: The best food we had on the island. Try the curry fish. Open for lunch, breakfast, and dinner. Plenty of indoor and outdoor dining in the heart of Governors Harbor. Portions are large and entrees are split-able.
#11. Twin Cove Beach: I feel like this beach needs a do-over! Right before our stay the island saw some pretty serious storms and the loads of strong wind caused a seaweed pile up everywhere! Like LOTS of it. It was still pretty cool and I imagine the sand beneath all the seaweed was probably beautiful. It was still fun to explore!
#12. Cathedral Cave: Located further sound (Rock Sound) on the island, this was one of the most unexpected finds and definitely worth a visit on your way back from Lighthouse Beach. From the road you’d never know what was waiting down the path and down a few flights of stairs. A real-life bat cave, with high arched walls covered in hanging bats. The sound and lighting was amazing (4pm) and we were the only people there.
#13. Bacchus Fine Food: Let’s face it, good wine is tough to come by in the islands, but Bacchus Fine Food had a great selection along with some nice specialty foods. Worth a stop – just down the street from The Levy Preserve, Tippy’s and Club Med Beach.
More Pip Tips to Make your Visit Even Better
- Bring Cash. Cash is king in the Bahamas and ATM’s are hard to find. Our Airbnb had a safe and the island is fairly safe, just be smart about your dough and don’t leave it in the car or unattended. Some places take credit card but mostly Visa/Mastercard. We only found the high-end resorts to take American Express.
- Bring your Own Cooler with Food from Home: How do I say this nicely? You do not come to the Bahamas for the good food! I know I’m more particular than most about my grub, but even the good restaurants cut a lot of quality corners. The grocery store freezers are full of brownish looking, freezer-burned meat and the vegetables were all picked too early so they can ripen on their long journey to the island. Food on the island is very expensive and expiration dates can be past their prime (always check them). Fresh fish is a great option and definitely order whatever seafood is in season. Grouper was in season during our May trip and every grouper dish we ate was delicious. But they do run out once the fish is gone, so keep that in mind. Everyone “in the know” brings a cooler and food to the Bahamas. Feel free to pack a cooler with plenty of frozen meat to bring along. We brought a small carry-on cooler with frozen steaks, chicken, bacon etc. I also packed some simple items like olive oil, peanut butter and granola bars in my checked luggage.
- More Food Tips: Definitely hit the Eleuthera Island Market first for fresh produce, herbs, homemade salad dressings, jams etc… Then hit Governors Harbor Bakery for your breads and pastry needs. Get Coconut Bread anywhere you see it, it’s delicious. Get the Grouper Curry at the Buccaneer Club in Governors Harbor. Sip a Ginger Mojito at Daddy Joe’s in Gregory Town. Sands Light beer with a lime is o-so-refreshing in the hot sunshine.
- Pay Special Attention to High & Low Tide: So many beautiful sites and beaches are even more beautiful at low tide. It’s worth paying attention to the tides throughout the day and visiting sites when they’ll be at their most accessible.
- Wear Eco-Friendly Sunscreen: There are several LIVE reefs right off the shore and it’s a blessing to be able to swim right off the beach to snorkel. Be kind to them and choose friendly sunscreen to keep them alive and thriving for years to come. I use a zinc-oxide based sunscreen. Yes, it makes you look white and pasty but it’s the BEST protection and safer for the reefs and for you to offset all the bad DEET you’re going to use (see below).
- Bring the Strongest Bug Spray you can Find: This is not the time to be afraid of DEET. Bugs are relentless on the island and will ruin your trip if you let them eat you alive. I use the natural bug spray at home but it will not cut it here. Go big, go strong and just DEET yourself for the week (wash it off before your snorkel the reefs). Also, stay on the Atlantic side of the island for a nice breeze to help keep the bugs off those beautiful legs.
- Get to the Airport a 1.5 Hours Early, 2 Hours MAX if you’re Worried: COVID tests are currently required to re-enter back into the US from Eleuthera even if you are fully vaccinated (as of May 2021). You must get a test either before you get to the airport or they were offering rapid tests in tents across from the airport before your flight. Either way, there is no need to get there 3 hours before your flight like they suggest. Once you check in you can go across the street (to the left) and there’s a cute little blue building with a clothing boutique and shop to have a drink in one of the comfy winged backed chairs, enjoy the plentiful of A/C and watch some television while you wait. (June, 2021)