110 miles long with a population of just 8000, Eleuthera is an island of rolling green hills, sleepy villages, and 60 miles of deserted beaches. To visit Eleuthera is to step back to a time when life was simpler. The island community is a small town where the residents know one another. Young and old hitchhike everywhere. Famed for their friendliness to visitors, Eleutherans will stop to wave at you as you drive through their villages.
There are no shopping centers on Eleuthera, no crowds, and no traffic. The guidebooks are fond of noting that Eleuthera has not a single traffic light, but that isn’t surprising when you consider that most of it has only one paved road. The Queen’s Highway, as it’s called, is a two-lane country road on which you can dr
Eleuthera was settled in 1647 by English pilgrims in search of religious freedom. They named the island Eleuthera, the Greek word for freedom. Eleuthera’s long history is apparent in its villages, with their ancient whitewashed churches and colorful cottages. Governors Harbour, the provincial capital, has a collection of large and stately colonial-era homes. Half a century ago, Eleuthera was a popular destination for the European and American jet set, including the British royal family, with resorts such as Windemere Island and Juan Trippe’s Cotton Bay Club. In the decades that followed, Eleuthera faded into obscurity. All that is changing now. Several new developments have broken ground, including major resorts by Starwood (www.cottonbayeleuthera.com) and Hyatt (www.frenchleaveresort.com). Travel and Leisure named Eleuthera one of its “Top five up and coming travel destinations” for 2006. (Click here to read the Travel and Leisure article.) The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times travel section gave Eleuthera similar reviews.
A nineteenth-century traveler dubbed the Bahamas “The Isles of Perpetual June,” and with good reason. Thanks to the Gulf Stream and Trade Winds, temperatures are mild year round. The average daytime high during the winter months is 78 degrees Fahrenheit, with a night time low of 67°. During the summer months, the daytime high averages 88° and the night time low 77°. Water temperatures are just as comfortable, ranging from 74° in the winter to 84° in the summer.
The Bahamas is an archipelago of islands extending from the east coast of Florida south to Haiti. The government is stable and democratic. Independent from Britain since 1973, the Bahamas retains its ties with the British Commonwealth and recognizes the British monarch as head of state. English is the spoken language. The currency, the Bahamian dollar, is on par with U.S. dollar which is also accepted throughout the Bahamas. The economy relies primarily on tourism and off-shore banking. Foreigners can purchase and own real estate directly. There are no income taxes, capitals gains taxes, or inheritance taxes.
THINGS TO DO ON ELEUTHERA
“Surfer’s Beach is for wave riders, but there are also beaches for snorkelers, swimmers and shell collectors. Best of all, you can have one all to yourself. Around midafternoon on New Year’s Eve, when nearly all the island’s rooms were booked, not a single soul could be spotted on Ten Bay Beach, six miles south of Governor’s Harbour, despite a brilliant sunshine and near perfect temperatures.” New York Times, February 19, 2006.
It’s obvious that the reporter who penned these lines was seeing Eleuthera for the first time. Regular visitors are surprised to find anyone on their favorite beach. With sixty miles of beaches and a few dozen hotel rooms, Eleuthera is a paradise for beach lovers who enjoy privacy and unspoiled natural beauty.
Beyond the beaches, Eleuthera is surrounded by coral reefs that offer exceptional diving and snorkeling. Buttonwood Beach has a shipwreck, and there is even a sunken train wreck off the north coast of the island. The Devil’s Backbone, another popular dive, is a large coral formation notorious for wrecking ships. The Current Cut, a narrow channel with currents that regularly reach 10 knots, has been rated one of the ten best dives in the world.
Eleuthera is famous for bonefishing, and deep-sea fishing, reef fishing, and spear-fishing are also popular. The Caribbean side of the island is usually free of heavy surf, providing excellent conditions for sailing, windsurfing, and kayaking. Trails through the fields and woods are perfect for jogging, hiking, and mountain biking. You won’t find them on a map or in a guidebook, so ask a local resident, or just watch for trails on the side of the road. The Atlantic side of the island offers many excellent beaches for surfing. For golfers, Eleuthera has the only Robert Trent Jones-designed golf course in the Bahamas, once ranked among the best in the world. Although currently a bit worn at the edges, it is still a very enjoyable course with an oceanfront hole.
Eleuthera offers varied and unique sightseeing. The Hatchet Bay Cave extends for a mile underground. At The Cliffs, giant ocean swells crash into a limestone precipice. The Rock Sound Ocean Hole, said to be bottomless, is an inland salt lake connected by subterranean passages to the sea. Feed the tame saltwater fish miles from the ocean. The Glass Window Bridge, painted by Winslow Homer, is the narrowest point on the island, where the calm turquoise waters of the Caribbean almost touch the turbulent deep blue of the Atlantic. The cavernous Preacher’s Cave provided shelter for the first European settlers of Eleuthera, and served as their first church. The Queen’s Baths are a collection of small pools carved out of the soft rock by wave action. At low tide, the Queen—or anyone fortunate enough to be on Eleuthera—can bathe amongst the little fishes. These sites are all in their pristine state. Don’t expect to find a guide booth–or even a paved road.
Each of Eleuthera’s score of picturesque villages deserves a visit. Gregory Town, home of the annual Pineapple Festival, has a popular gift shop featuring local handicrafts. Spanish Wells is an island fishing village off the north coast of Eleuthera with lovely nineteenth century cottages in pastel colors. Governor’s Harbour, fifteen minutes south of Buttonwood Reserve, features an historic waterfront, colonial homes, and the recently restored Haynes Library. Governors Harbour also hosts the Friday night fish fry, a waterfront street party that brings out locals and vacationers alike. Harbour Island, a five-minute water-taxi ride from Eleuthera, offers five-star hotels, shopping, and celebrity sightings. No private cars are permitted on the streets, so plan on renting a golf cart.
RESTAURANTS AND NIGHT CLUBS
Eleuthera has a large variety of restaurants and night spots, both family-owned establishments featuring local cuisine, and gourmet restaurants attached, in most cases, to the resorts on the island. The village of James Cistern, half a mile north of Buttonwood Reserve, has two restaurants: Lee’s Cafe is famous for its fried chicken and its baked snapper with rice and beans. Kel-D’s, a favorite of the locals, doesn’t even need a sign to bring in its customers. Look for the fish painted on the wall.
For more elaborate dining, Cocodimama, four miles south of Buttonwood, has gourmet Italian cuisine, and The Bistro at Sky Beach Club, five minutes further south, offers fine seafood and international cuisine. The Rainbow Inn, located ten minutes north of Buttonwood, is famous for its steaks and salads picked fresh from the organic garden. All three establishments offer live entertainment on a regular basis. More restaurants can be found in Governors Harbour, fifteen minutes to the south.
For a complete and continually updated list of restaurants on Eleuthera, click here.
Live music is popular on Eleuthera, part-time home to Lenny Kravitz, Patti Labelle, Mariah Carey, and others. For an insider’s guide to live music on Eleuthera, click here.