When I think of epic summer adventures, I visualize crystal blue waters, towering palm trees, strong cocktails, and soft sand beneath my bare feet. In short, I dream of the sorts of paradises that I see on postcards or in movies. But those dreamy locales often don’t actually materialize — even on the best of trips.
So as you can imagine, when I found just such a postcard-perfect spot earlier this summer my first instincts were to tell everyone I knew about it… but also to keep it a total secret. Because the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas is a literal portal into paradise. The sort that makes you want to sing its praises and be hush-hush.
A little background: The Abacos are a 120-mile-long chain of small islands and cays in the Bahamas. One of the top boating and sailing destinations in the world, the archipelago has long been a getaway for those in the know — a respite from the more bustling and visited islands of the Bahamas. With a population of just over 17,000, the chain feel laid back at every turn, while still offering plenty to do with your days besides just sprawling on the sand. And after being dealt a massive blow in 2019 by Hurricane Dorian (then the pandemic), the region is back open for business and eager for tourism.
Meaning that staying silent about my “discovery” wouldn’t help anyone. So get ready for me to sing some serious praises because this spot is special. Here’s where you should eat, drink, sleep, and explore in the Abacos, Bahamas.
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PART I — Where to Eat
This was my first visit to the Bahamas and I was eagerly awaiting some island cuisine and conch everything. I was not disappointed, to say the least. On my first day in Abaco, I stayed on Great Abaco Island and made the short trek to Little Harbour. Tucked down a long and completely unassuming dirt road I found Pete’s Pub and Gallery – a true hidden gem. Located right on the sand, the pub is a classic beach bar. I had a lobster and shrimp wrap which I enjoyed on the beach, before bringing my drink into the water for a dip.
Remember when I mentioned “conch everything” – well, I wasn’t kidding. Conch is a true Bahamian specialty. The traditional dish of the Bahamas, it wasn’t hard to find conch salad, conch fritters, or really conch anything anywhere I visited.
But if you want the royal treatment, you have to visit Kow’s Conch Stand at Abaco Fish Fry. Owner Jade “Kow” Adderley is a master of conch salad – a local delicacy I was eager to try. He famously prepared conch salad with Prince William and Kate Middleton during their tour of the islands earlier this year, and I have to say, this dish is fit for royalty.
This was my first, but will not be my last, taste of conch salad. A combination of raw conch meat, veggies, oranges, and lime juice – it is unlike anything I have ever tried. Related, check these conch fritters:
There is no shortage of casual dining on an island, but I was also pleasantly surprised to find some great upscale meals during my trip. My favorite was The Bistro at Abaco Beach Resort. In fact, I actually ate dinner here twice and both times exceeded my expectations. The first night I enjoyed a wedge salad and crab cakes that were fresh and just the lightness I wanted.
The next night I was happy to participate in a dinner with a unique tasting menu. Chef Deja Rutherford pulled out the stops with a rock lobster tempura appetizer, incredible seared snapper with a coconut curry veloute main course, and a banana fritter with a chocolate hazelnut center for dessert. I was blown away by each dish and only wished there were more courses.
PART II — Where to Drink
When I travel (and when I’m at home) I am almost exclusively a wine drinker. Out of habit maybe more than anything else, but it just feels like an easy choice in any scenario.
Any scenario outside of island and beach hopping, that is. Wine just wasn’t going to cut it here. I needed some boat drinks and I needed them fast. Luckily, I was able to locate Bahama mamas and piña coladas easily and often. I also found a new favorite – the Goombay Smash. Created by Emily Copper (Ms. Emily) at the Blue Bee Bar in New Plymouth (on Green Turtle Cay) the drink is a mix of rum and pineapple juice – but the original recipe is a secret.
I visited Ms. Emily’s Blue Bee Bar to try one from the source and I was not disappointed. There have been many iterations of the drink made throughout the Bahamas and elsewhere, but this one is the prototype, despite Ms. Emily never having tried her own invention – she was allergic to pineapple.
Nipper’s Beach Bar, located on Great Guana Cay, is a quintessential and legendary beach bar. The bar is a favorite with locals and tourists alike, with its pristine location above a white sandy beach, two swimming pools, and famous (and famously strong) Nipper Juice cocktail. The colorful establishment was destroyed during Hurricane Dorian, but was rebuilt and just as popular as ever. It’s the perfect place to spend the day drinking, lounging in the sand, and cooling off in the clear blue water.
After island hopping over to Hope Town on Elbow Cay, I took a detour to Thirsty Cuda — one of the most unique bars I’ve ever visited. The floating bar and grill near Tahiti Beach was anchored near the most pristine sandbar I had ever seen, serving drinks and snacks to all who dared to swim up. The fish bites were a perfect afternoon snack, and the Almond Joy Colada was a refreshing and unexpected treat.
PART III — Where to Sleep
During my trip, I stayed in Marsh Harbour, the commercial center of Great Abaco Island, and home to Marsh Harbor International Airport. Marsh Harbour is a great base for island hopping and is home to many hotels and resorts. I stayed at Abaco Beach Resort and it was the perfect place to come back to and relax after exciting days of exploration.
The 40-acre beachfront property has it all – dining, water activities, two pools, a marina, a private beach and every type of room or residence you may need. I loved my newly renovated king room with a large balcony — mostly because of this incredibly dreamy soaking tub.
PART IV — Where to Explore
The Abaco Islands truly provide the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation. During my trip, I spent my days exploring Great Abaco Island, Green Turtle Cay, Elbow Cay, and Great Guana Cay and still left wanting more.
One of the most interesting places I visited was Johnston Art Foundry in Little Harbour. Located at Pete’s Pub, the bronze foundry has been in the Johnston family for three generations – since 1952. The art foundry is the only one of its kind in The Bahamas, using the lost wax process to produce gorgeous bronze sculptures that are commissioned, bought, and displayed around the world.
No trip to The Bahamas is complete without getting out on the water – and that is especially true when visiting The Abacos. I spent one of the most awe-inspiring days of my life on the water with Brendal’s Dive Center, based in Green Turtle Cay — which you can reach via Green Turtle Ferry just a 30-minute drive from Marsh Harbour.
Brendal and his wife Mary started their dive center in 1985, and since their SCUBA and adventure tours have become a staple in The Abacos. From snorkeling a coral reef, swimming with sharks, and dolphin watching to lunch made over the fire on an island served with Brendal’s famous rum punch – it was, in a word, epic.
The Abacos are known as the boating and sailing capital of the world, but even if you don’t have access to a boat or means for a private charter it’s fairly simple to island hop. There are six daily ferries from Marsh Harbour to Elbow Cay alone, so you have no excuse not to make the beautiful trek to its quaint village of Hope Town. I made the short 5-minute drive from Abaco Beach Resort to The Crossing Ferry Dock ready for another day of exploration.
My first stop in Hope Town was a visit to Elbow Cay Lighthouse, the “last manual, kerosene fueled, intact and complete Lightstation on the planet.” I walked up the spiral staircase to a beautiful view of the cay and surrounding water. Be sure to visit the Elbow Reef Lighthouse Society gift shop to learn more about the restoration efforts and preservation of this iconic site.
After visiting the lighthouse I walked through the historic downtown marveling at the interesting architecture, pastel colors, and fun shops before walking right to one of the most gorgeous beaches on the Atlantic Ocean side. This tiny town truly has it all.
Before you leave your new favorite tropical paradise, be sure to stop at Cherokee Long Dock – one of the most surreal stops I’ve made in a while. The 770-foot wooden dock – which holds the title of the longest wooden dock in the Bahamas – stretches out over the very shallow and very blue water of Cherokee Sound — the most isolated settlement on Abaco. It feels completely otherworldly walking along the dock with still aquamarine water stretching out in every direction around you. There were just a few kids playing in the water when I visited. Splashing and swimming and having a great time.
The scene reminded me of that tropical postcard image I’ve often had in my mind. And it was somehow right here in front of me.