Famous for its stunning pink beaches, Bermuda is a popular destination for sun and sand. But there’s much more than sunbathing, swimming and snorkeling on offer. This tiny archipelago — it’s just 24 miles from top to bottom and a mile across — packs in lots of activity for visitors. In between beach breaks, take time to discover a 19th-century shipwreck, walk all or part of the 18-mile Railway Trail, go caving among stalagmites, and catch and prepare your own fish fry lunch.
Most famous for its outdoor beauty, Bermuda has hidden depths as well — literally. More than 150 inland limestone caves, formed during ancient glacial periods, have been discovered in and near Bermuda. All feature massive stalactites and stalagmites. The most famous, and therefore most visited, are sister caves Crystal Cave and Fantasy Cave, but the stunning mineral formations make it worth braving the crowds. If you want a guide with you inside Crystal Cave, you can book a half-day tour through Bermuda Explorer or Thinking of Bermuda, which both combine a cave visit with a trip to the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute.
Admiral’s Cave is another cave open to the public; there is no admission fee and no guide. Bring a flashlight and explore at your own risk, or book a guided tour with Winsome Tours. Guests staying at Grotto Bay Beach Resort may swim in the underground lake contained within Cathedral Cave. For those who want to explore beyond Crystal Cave and Fantasy Cave but prefer having a guide, Bermuda Hidden Gems offers private, customized cave tours.
Have an Ocean Adventure
Known mostly for its pink sand beaches and maritime history, the islands of Bermuda also offer rich ocean ecosystems to explore. Visitors can snorkel along coral reefs, take a boat to watch humpback whales migrate north in March and April, or stick close to shore and explore the islands’ coastlines by kayak.
Several tour operators offer a variety of eco-friendly adventures. Island Tour Centre leads a three-hour glass bottom boat and snorkel trip that visits Turtle Cove, where participants can observe green sea turtles in nature, as well as a five-hour whale watching tour during the migration season. Whale watching tours also are available from the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute. Both Viator and Fantasea Diving & Watersports offer 3.5-hour, guided kayak eco-tours during which you learn about Bermuda’s marine and coastal ecology.
Get a Taste of Bermuda
There are few better ways of getting in touch with the “real” Bermuda than through its food and its people. Time your visit for the latter part of January, and you’ll be able to partake in the country’s annual Restaurant Weeks, an event that showcases local chefs through special prix fixe menus at dozens of restaurants. But few of these restaurants will serve up true Bermudian eats like fish chowder, pawpaw casseroles and Hoppin’ John peas and rice. For dishes like these, you’ll need to go where the locals eat — like their homes!
Bermuda Explorer offers two immersive dining experiences: “Traditional Bermuda Breakfast and More” and “Bermudian Authentic In-Home Dining Experience.” With the first, you’ll have breakfast with a Bermudian family and then join a local fisherman for a fishing trip to catch your lunch. After taking some time to relax or go for a swim, you’ll learn how to clean and fillet your catch before sitting down to a fish fry. For the latter, you’ll join a local family as they prepare, cook and sit down to eat a traditional Bermudian dinner.
Discover a Shipwreck
Ringed by reefs, Bermuda has always presented a challenge to sailors. Even the first European to visit the islands — and claim them for England — ended up foundering his vessel. But because of Bermuda’s strategic location near the United States and the Caribbean, the maritime industry flourished here with shipbuilding and trade. Large numbers of ships and dangerous reefs don’t always mix successfully, and to date there are hundreds of shipwrecks in Bermudian waters.
You can scuba dive down to many of these wrecks. The most popular to visit are located at depths of 30 to 50 feet. Among them are Cristobal Colon, a Spanish luxury liner that sank in 1936 and is the largest of Bermuda’s wrecks; the Mary Celestia, a blockade-running ship that carried weapons to Confederate forces during the U.S. Civil War before sinking in 1864; and the Constellation, an American schooner that sank in 1943 on its way to Venezuela carrying Scotch and morphine.
Unless you’re an expert scuba diver, your safest option is to join a dive operated by a PADI diving center like Fantasea Diving & Watersports, Blue Water Divers & Watersports or Dive Bermuda. Viator also offers a four-hour, two-tank certified dive. Island Tour Centre runs a shipwreck snorkel trip for those who don’t dive.
Brave the Jungle
There’s not much you actually need to be brave about when it comes to Bermuda’s jungle. Commonly known as Tom Moore’s Jungle after the Irish poet who did much of his writing there, the Walsingham Nature Reserve is a 12-acre park comprising dense woodland, mangroves, walking paths, lakes and grottoes. Visitors to the “jungle,” located in Hamilton Parish, can follow paths to small caves as well as the Blue Hole, a crystal-clear mangrove pond.
You can easily explore Walsingham Nature Reserve on your own, but for a deeper understanding of the ecological systems you’ll pass through, a guided tour is recommended. Thinking of Bermuda offers a four-hour private eco-tour, which visits not only Tom Moore’s Jungle but also two other nature reserves. For a full-day excursion, check out Hidden Gems of Bermuda’s summer tour. This seven-hour, lunch-inclusive adventure features a visit to Tom Moore’s Jungle, including cave explorations and lake swims, plus a visit to St. David’s Lighthouse and an isolated pink sand beach.
Find a Hidden Beach
Bermuda’s pink-sand shorelines are world famous, so it’s not surprising that if you’re hitting the beaches during high season you’ll be rubbing shoulders with hundreds of others. But with so much coastline, there are dozens of secluded coves and inlets with beautiful beaches to discover.
Chaplin Bay Beach, located next to Horseshoe Bay Beach where Warwick and Southampton Parishes meet, is a relatively quiet spot for sunbathing — at least during low tide. (During high tide the beach vanishes beneath the waves.) You can get to the beach from nearby South Shore Park or by walking along the water from Horseshoe Bay. If you’re staying on the south shore of Bermuda, John Smith’s Bay is a good beach to try. Even with a lifeguard on duty (from May to September), public restrooms and changing facilities, it never gets too crowded. You’ll also find three beautiful, secluded beaches in Cooper’s Island Nature Reserve in the East End section of Bermuda.
Learn to Sail
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to captain your very own sailboat, Bermuda is a great place to give it a try. While the reefs may pose a danger to ships attempting to come into Bermuda, they also create calm, protected inlets safe for newbie sailors to learn the ropes.
Island Tour Centre offers a 3.5-hour sailing course appropriate for all levels from beginner to advanced. You’ll learn the basics of sailing and be able to handle a boat on your own by the end of the lesson. H2O Sports provides private sailing lessons or free tutorials for those who need to refresh their knowledge when renting a boat. The Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club also offers group and private sailing lessons.
Take Your Best Shot
Before you start uploading your Bermuda pics to Facebook and Instagram, you might want to brush up on your photography skills first. Fortunately, you can visit some of the islands’ most scenic and interesting locations with a professional photographer in tow to offer tips and advice.
Picture Perfect Tours provides two- to five-hour tours that visit neighborhoods most tourists never see. You can also choose a sunrise or sunset nature tour. No camera experience is needed; your guide will offer tips for shooting photos with your cell phone if you like or rent you a more professional camera (you keep the memory card after the tour is done). Another option is Howarth Photography, whose owner will plan a private, customized photo tour based on your interests.
Go for a Walk
Because of Bermuda’s intimate size, you can see large stretches of the island on foot, and there are many walking paths and hiking trails to choose from. A good start is the Bermuda Railway Trail, which follows the path of an old railroad that served Bermuda from 1931 to 1948 and is now a national park. The 18-mile trail passes historical sites, wooded areas and beaches, and often offers stunning ocean views. It’s divided into nine sections, ranging from one mile to almost four; you can start from either end or at entry points along the way. You can get a map of the trail at visitor centers in St. George’s or Hamilton.
Another option is to join a group of locals for an early Sunday morning walk. The Walking Club of Bermuda meets every Sunday at 7 a.m. for a different island walk, usually averaging about six miles (though there are cut-off points if you can’t or don’t wish to go the distance). Visitors are always welcome, and refreshments are provided at the end.
Geocache Your Way Around
Want to explore the island but need something more interactive than a walking tour? Why not put your GPS skills to work and search out Bermuda’s hidden geocaches? They’re all in public but usually off-the-beaten-path places, and reaching them requires low to moderate levels of fitness. Most are close to trails.
The geocache trail, created via a partnership between Bermuda Island Geocachers and the Bermuda Department of Conservation, will take you to beaches, coastline and forests. Those who find all the caches will receive a commemorative coin from the Department of Conservation for their efforts. (Note: Caches do occasionally go missing, according to past geocachers in the area.) You’ll find the GPS coordinates of the caches online at Geocaching.com.
Best Time to Go to Bermuda
Because Bermuda is located near the Gulf Stream, it’s temperate year-round, so expect weather that’s never too hot nor too cold. That said, beachgoers will find winter temperatures too chilly to swim, while golfers will have nearly perfect conditions. Budget-minded travelers will find the best deals from January to March and will want to avoid May and June (prime honeymoon time). There is no particularly rainy season in Bermuda, though keep in mind that tropical storms and hurricanes have been known to affect the region from late summer through fall — but even then the chances are minimal.
Bermuda on a Budget
Everything from food to lodging is on the expensive side in Bermuda, so consider eschewing the popular resorts in favor of the many privately owned cottages and villas scattered about the island. Many come with kitchens and are within walking distance of beaches, bars, restaurants and grocery stores (so you can eat in if you’d like). Buy a bus pass and scoot around like a local. Skip some of the higher-priced attractions and hike on the Bermuda Railway Trail, which slices through woods and curves along waterways.
–written by Dori Saltzman