When people hear “Bahamas,” they often conjure images of bustling Nassau, Freeport, and Grand Bahamas where the only wild things are raucous hotels, bars, and restaurants.
To find the truly natural wild areas, you’ll need to head to the “real Bahamas ”—the less explored, less known, and less developed Out Islands of Acklins , Mayaguana, Long Island, Crooked Island, Eleuthera , and Conception Island National Park.
They don’t sound familiar? That’s the point. These pristine destinations offer untouched beaches, untamed mangroves, and undisturbed wildlife rarely seen by most Bahamas visitors.
No other cruising vessels call at these remote, sparsely populated Out Islands, which serve as the frontier that divides the vast Atlantic from the subtropical waters of the Caribbean, farther to the west.
Here are just a few of the dazzling natural highlights of an expedition to the spectacular Out Islands of the Bahamas.
As you sail away from the more touristed areas of the Bahamas, the turquoise waters become incredibly clear and undisturbed and you’ll find unique marine habitats like shallow reefs, inland lagoons, deep blue holes, and mangrove-lined creeks.
Scuba divers will be able to descend in the vitrine waters near Eleuthera, but you don’t need to go deep to appreciate the underwater world: This is a prime area for snorkeling, too. Eleuthera offers one of the ultimate experiences in the world to see an extensive variety of reef fish without diving. Geographically, this area of the Bahamas has very calm surf protected from wind and waves, and ecologically, it boasts healthier reefs than those closer to more populated islands. And without many other people around, you can simply float and let the prism of colorful tropical fish surround you.
Diving into the deep waters of Eleuthera brings the opportunity to spot Nassau grouper. Once threatened by overfishing, the large—one to four feet long and weighing 10 to 20 pounds—fish are on the road to recovery, and keep protected by submerging to depths of up to 170 feet. And swimming beneath the waves through the sea grass beds here, you may also spot sharks in their natural habitats.
Another watery highlight to keep your eyes peeled for: Gentle green sea turtles. Around Eleuthera’s Turtle Lake, sea turtles nest in protected waters before traveling through underground caverns to reach the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
At nearly three feet long and weighing up to 500 pounds, these surprisingly graceful giants also make their home around the apt ly named Turtle Cove on Crooked Island and in the calm mangroves of Conception Island National Park. Only accessible by small boat, this preserved natural area is rarely visited . You can explore the park’s lagoons and calm inland waterways in Zodiacs or one- or two-person kayaks to see the pristine verdant mangroves where turtles, birds, and other wildlife feed undisturbed. The stunningly beautiful beaches here lead to a nother top spot for snorkeling, a protected cove where you can swim through staghorn coral just below the shallow surface.
On Long Island, a hike leads to a very special natural water feature: Dean’s Blue Hole. At 663 feet, it’s the deepest sinkhole in the Bahamas, and the second deepest in the world; a fantastic spot for diving and snorkeling.
Be prepared for extraordinary bird watching on the untouched Out Islands. There are numerous highlights to fill a life list on these tiny islands, but birders will especially be keen to visit Mayaguana (called the “Outback of the Bahamas”), where the beautiful endemic hummingbird the Bahamas woodstar makes its home.
Another very special birding highlight on Mayaguana: Colorful West Indian flamingos with easily-seen nesting populations. West Indian flamingos can also be spotted on Crooked Island, and across the channel on Long Cay and Acklins.
On Eleuthera, keep your eyes peeled for mockingbirds and nearly a dozen species of North American warblers, including the rare Kirtland warbler, which migrates here in the winter from Michigan.