Bahamas To-do List
Had enough sun, sand, sailing and snorkeling? Here are a few offbeat activities I’ve discovered in my travels.
The Marching Flamingos at the Ardastra Zoo, in Nassau, are world-famous avians that put on an amazing show. You can hand-feed the Lory parrots or admire the three Bahamian boa constrictors on exhibit, and I’ll bet you didn’t know there are native snakes in the Bahamas, did you? They grow to over 7 feet. There are more than 300 animals at the zoo, including Madagascar lemurs and domestic goats and pigs.
Pigs? That brings us to Big Major Cay and the swimming pigs, which are a big hit with cruisers in the Exumas. The pigs have become used to visitors and swim out to dinghies to see what’s on the menu. They’ve learned that there is such a thing as a free lunch, thanks to cruisers bringing them food scraps.
As long as you’re in the area of Staniel Cay, you should dinghy over to visit Thunderball Grotto, where the James Bond flick Thunderball was filmed, as well as Never Say Never Again. The Grotto features excellent cave snorkeling, and many visitors feed the fish with breadcrumbs they’ve brought with them. It’s a short dinghy ride over from your anchorage.
I’ve never managed to get there for this one (it’s still on my list), but Junkanoo, a New Year’s celebration, is a popular event in Nassau. It consists of elaborate costumes, cowbells, goatskin drums, and the blare of conch shells from 0200 until 1000, when the judges pronounce the winners — or survivors? — of the event. Awards are given for best dancing and outfits.
If you’d like something a bit more cerebral, check out the Albert Lowe Museum, on Green Turtle Cay, or Ashley Saunders’ Dolphin House, on Bimini. The museum is an 1825 home, formerly the abode of British prime minister Neville Chamberlain. It now holds a collection of locally crafted ship models, along with photographs highlighting the cay’s history.
The Dolphin House was built over a period of years, totally from reclaimed material, including concrete made from beach sand. The walls are made of shells, coral and rocks. It now hosts an eclectic variety of exhibits, a gift shop, and a guesthouse, but its real treasure is the owner and curator, Ashley Saunders, who will gladly show you around and answer your every question about the museum, its exhibits, life in Bimini and more.
When to Go
Not a few cruisers have commented that the Abacos are cold during the winter months, and there’s no denying that the northers strike here with much more ferocity than they do farther south and east. Save the Abacos for your spring and summer cruising, in other words. Still, even in George Town, in the Exumas, a Canadian Polar Express (another term for the northers) can still strike with surprising strength, keeping many up on an all-night anchor watch.
Away from it all
If you tire of the bustle of the Abacos and the cruiser-filled anchorages of the Exumas, stock up the galley, top off the tanks, and head for the remote Jumentos.
Even the sundowners enjoyed by those cruising these islands are haphazard. With no real planning, people just show up on the beach, drinks and cameras in hand, for the beautiful sunsets.
Stunning in their own right, the Jumentos will likely grow much more popular as they become a staging ground for American cruisers heading to Cuba. Those sailors will do a loop from Miami through the Bahamas, then north along the Cuban coast to Havana, before returning Stateside. Puerto de Vita, a port of entry to Cuba, is only 65 nautical miles from Ragged Island, at the southern end of the Jumentos.
Then there’s the little-known and often overlooked Cay Sal Bank, with pristine beaches so remote that they rarely see visitors.