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View of awnings on the beach in Eleuthera, Bahamas
forcdan | Adobe Stock

This Under-the-Radar Island Is the Hidden Gem of the Bahamas

SmarterTravel

Editor’s note: The Bahamas Tourism Board hosted the writer of this story.

They say you come to the island of Eleuthera “to be, not to do.” This isn’t to say there isn’t plenty to do—it’s just that you might get stuck on the “be” when seemingly every intriguing dirt road leads down to a beach that looks straight out of a postcard, and you’re the only person around for miles. There are no chain stores or hotels on Eleuthera (you might see a 7 to 11 convenience store but no 7-Eleven), which lends to the feeling of being very far away from it all.

I visited in January, the high season, and still had multiple beaches all to myself. The high season is a tempting time to come—it was five degrees on the bitter morning I left my house in Boston and a brilliantly sunny 77 when I landed in Eleuthera. 

Lighthouse Beach (left) and Cocodimama Beach (right) in Eleuthera, Bahamas
Caroline Morse-Teel

Glenda Johnson Ingraham, a lifelong resident of Eleuthera, expresses the sentiment that most locals share: “If I go to the beach and there are four other people there, I say it’s too crowded and I leave for another beach!” 

Avoiding all human contact on the island is good if you’re seeking solitude, but would be a terrible waste if you don’t interact with anyone, as the people are one of the best things about Eleuthera. Everyone you pass will call out a friendly greeting (don’t worry, if you’re visiting from a city, it will only take a day or two to get over the “do I know them?” and “what do they want?!” feeling when a stranger waves at you.)

Stop into Da Perk Cafe to get a locally grown lunch and you might get pulled into a lively conversation with owner Horatio Smith. When Horatio hears you mention that you’ve never heard of a sugar apple, let alone tasted one, he’ll send you home with one that will ripen before you leave, so you can sample the sweet custard-like fruit you’ve seen on the trees here. 

Mention to Heather Carey, the manager of Pineapple Fields Resort, that you’ve been on a quest for fresh tropical fruit, and she’ll have a gardener cut down ripe papaya from the lush trees on the property and deliver them to your door for breakfast, encouraging you to take advantage of the in-room blender to make a smoothie. 

Meal at Da Perk Cafe in Eleuthera, Bahamas
Meal at Da Perk Cafe in Eleuthera, Bahamas (Photo courtesy of Caroline Morse-Teel)

If it’s locally grown food served with a side of “sip sip” (the Eluetheran term for gossip) that you’re after, head to Lady Di’s Pineapple Farm, where the secrets of how Eleuthera’s world-famous fruit is grown will be shared along with sage life advice from Diane Thompson (nicknamed Lady Di). Thompson’s wise words on courage, “Only you can make your own self afraid” and warnings against spending too much time on your phone, “Do you know how many hours of your life you’ll lose to that thing?” will linger with you long after the taste of the pineapples are gone. 

Be careful what you casually mention you’re craving or have never tried, as Eleutherans will go out of their way to make sure you get to experience everything on their beloved island. When Kristel Anderson, co-owner of Eleuthera Tours, found out I’d never had Sky Juice, (a local drink made from fresh coconuts) she directed me to a beach shack bar and followed me there to make sure I could get one. 

Sky Juice, named after coconuts (found in the sky), is made up of a discordant-sounding cocktail of gin, coconut water, and condensed milk that somehow all works together to create a delightfully refreshing drink. Like the beverage, Eleuthera is a study in contrasts.

The long, thin island has two distinct sides: The Atlantic side, with the deep blue ocean, and the Bight of Eleuthera side (often called the Caribbean side), with crystal-clear, turquoise waters. When one side is windy, cross to the other side, where the water might be surprisingly still and calm.

Start near the top of the island at Glass Window Bridge, a narrow point where you can capture the two sides in one panoramic photo. Then work your way down Eleuthera to the crown jewel that lies at its southernmost tip, Lighthouse Beach. There are more than 130 beaches to choose from on this 110-mile long beach, and yet Lighthouse Beach is widely considered to be the best. 

Is it the best because of its beauty, because of how hard you have to work for it, or because of the melancholy knowledge that the beauty can’t stay? To reach Lighthouse Beach, you’ll have to drive down to the very bottom of Eleuthera, where you’ll turn off onto a rutted dirt road. The hungry forest encroaches on the road, reclaiming its land and ever-narrowing the path, so branches will scrape the sides of your car for the entire three-mile drive. The road is so rough that it’s the sole place on the island where most rental car companies forbid drivers from taking vehicles. (Save yourself the deposit and risk of getting stuck and let Eleuthera Tours do the driving.)

After a slow and cautious journey, the road opens up to Lighthouse Bay, a stunning vista over pristine, powdery pink sand and sparkling aquamarine waters. Here, Anderson will tell you that this “Isn’t even the pretty part”, and lead you up past the remains of an old lighthouse and over the cliffs to Lighthouse Beach, which sprawls for miles without a sign of humanity in sight. Walk the pale pink sand, claim a deserted cove for yourself, or explore the caves tucked amid the waves. But go now, because the land has been sold to Disney Cruise Line, and soon the lush green forest and perfect pink powder beach will be covered with thousands of cruisers, buildings, and even a tram.

Although Lighthouse Beach may change, Eleuthera will remain a quiet escape. Future visitors will still be able to find beaches they can enjoy in complete solitude anywhere else they venture on the island. The restaurants will still be filled with live music and good vibes. The pineapples will still be as delicious, as will the stories you’ll be served alongside them.

A place populated with such sweet pineapples and people may seem like paradise, but of course, there are a few downsides to Eleuthera. Your feet will be perpetually sandy. When you bring your coffee down to a deserted beach for a solo sunrise cup, you’ll eventually run out of your drink and there will be no one there to bring you a new one. And of course, the biggest downside is that you’ll eventually have to leave one day—but you’ll be back. Eleuthera grows on you faster than a pineapple does. Just ask any of the hundreds of expats who came here to vacation in paradise, and find themselves still here years later.

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