The Abacos Islands of The Bahamas are one of the world’s top boating and sailing destinations.
With its own calm sea surrounded by charming islands, each worth a visit, the Abaco Islands are known as one of the world’s top boating and sailing destinations. Not that those who prefer to sleep in a bed that doesn’t rock should look elsewhere: With quaint colonial towns, two golf courses, miles and miles of Stellar Beach, great fishing and diving, and a wonderful selection of hotels and resorts and restaurants and bars, the Abacos are a complete vacation destination in The Bahamas Out Islands.
The Abacos consists of its own 120-mile-long island chain, basically a mini-Bahamas complete with its own Out Islands. Great Abaco Island and Little Abaco serve as the “mainland,” with a string of barrier islands separating them from the Atlantic. The body of water between – a turquoise Nirvana for those boaters and sailors – is the calm, shallow Sea of Abaco.
Great Abaco Island is home to Marsh Harbour, the “bright lights and big city” of the Out Islands. And to put that into perspective, Marsh Harbour has exactly one traffic light (the only operative one in all The Bahamas Out Islands!). Along with having a great selection of hotels, restaurants and bars, Marsh Harbour is charter boat central, with several full-service marinas where you can dock your own boat or find a rental – both live aboard sailboats and powerboats are available.
North of Marsh Harbour is Treasure Cay, a hotel, golf, marina and real estate development wrapped around a beach with the whitest, softest sand you’ve ever seen. To the south lies Little Harbour, a picturesque protected bay where you’ll find a small artist colony based around the Johnston family and Pete Johnston’s Pete’s Pub.
Setting out across the Sea of Abaco from Great Abaco Island, and you can steer toward any one of a number of islands -- each a vacation destination in its own right. This is an island hopper's paradise.
The Cays of Abaco
The Abacos were settled by English colonists who remained loyal to the crown after the American Revolutionary War, which is why the settlements like Hope Town on Elbow Cay and New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay have the look of New England fishing towns complete with picket fences and gingerbread trim – of course with the distinctive Bahamian touch of pastel colors.
Hope Town is home to the famous candy striped lighthouse, a favorite photo subject now, but quite controversial when it was under construction back in 1863 because up until then, the island's residents had been making a comfortable living by salvaging ships that wrecked on the offshore reefs.
North of Elbow Cay, Man-O-War is another Loyalist settlement, a conservative “dry” island, and the Abacos’ boat-building center, with a wonderful naturally protected harbor and boat-fitting and sail shops. Next up the chain is beachy Great Guana Cay, famed for the Sunday barbecues thrown at Nippers Bar that sits atop the island’s tall sand dune, which overlooks Guana’s magnificent seven-mile-long beach.
The outer islands up to Great Guana are easily reached by the Abacos scheduled ferry service – think local bus, but with a much better view and friendlier passengers – from Marsh Harbour. To reach Green Turtle Cay, you first head north on Great Abaco to Treasure Cay, where you can catch a boat for the short hop. There you’ll find the quaint town along with a full-service marina and hotels and dive and snorkel services.
The diving and snorkeling is excellent all through The Abacos, with several protected underwater areas such as Fowl Cay National Reserve and Pelican Cays National Park, massive reefs with swim-through caves that are seasonally filled wall to wall with silver baitfish, and even dive spots at the edge of the reef where you’re almost guaranteed to see Caribbean reef sharks.
Fishing is huge in the Abaco Islands, from the excellent bonefishing in Cherokee Sound and out in the “marls,” to the blue water big game species like marlin and tuna that prowl the Atlantic side within easy sight of the outer islands.