Have you ever been to the real Bahamas?
I don’t mean Nassau or Freeport, though the big cruise ports can be a certain kind of fun. I’m talking about the Out Islands… Exuma, Eleuthera, Andros, Abaco, Long Island, Bimini and others. Most folks don’t realize that there’s a long list of inhabited islands that aren’t Paradise Island or Grand Bahama, and that’s a crying shame because it’s some of the most stunning scenery you’ll find anywhere in the world.
NOTE: Want to help The Bahamas recover from Hurricane Dorian? Click here for my list of trusted organizations who are helping rebuild.
Out there in the Out Islands, the pace is slower than in the bustling ports. Hotels are laidback and often family owned. You often have miles of unspoiled beach to yourself. The people are just the best.
About Long Island, Bahamas
Long Island has an epic history, serving as one of Christopher Columbus’ first stops in the New World. Before he arrived and called it Fernandina, the Arawaks named it Yuma. When the conquistadors took the Lucayan residents as slaves to other islands, Long Island was mostly uninhabited until the Simms family arrived in 1720. You can still visit the Simms settlement and their very descendants to this day.
Later, British Loyalists from New England migrated to The Bahamas and started the first plantations. They didn’t last long and once slavery was abolished, they were all but abandoned.
The island became a salt production hub in the 18th century, evaporating sea water in salt pans and using it as a preservation agent in the time before refrigeration. (Like Bonaire, another favorite island of mine!) Today, the economy mostly focuses on tourism, but there are no huge resorts or chain restaurants. It’s a truly Bahamian, barefoot, authentic place to visit.
I have an epic history with The Islands of the Bahamas, too, as most of you know. I’ve been to almost every major Out Island and Long Island is a favorite. It’s a destination I absolutely, unequivocally adore and continue to advocate for, though I haven’t worked with the tourism board since 2010.
Click here to watch the video from my last project with the island.
I’ve had some of the most fun moments of my life with the most wonderful people in the world in The Bahamas. I’ve eaten a metric ton of conch, swam with sharks, turtles, sting rays and pigs, and even got married and honeymooned here. There have been countless epic work trips and yachts, broken bones and scandals, life-threatening emergencies and beauty pageants, run-ins with Donald Trump, Billy Bush and Flo Rida, dance parties and untimely death investigations. If you thought our hot mess destination wedding at Bahama Beach Club was the whole story, you don’t know the half of it!
I still haven’t found anywhere in the world whose beaches compare to The Bahamas, especially in the Out Islands.
One of my favorite destinations in the whole country is Long Island, an 80-mile long slice of island time. On our last trip to The Bahamas, we spent a few days checking out Baha Mar in Nassau. (Verdict: it was alright. Big, flashy, expensive and if you only went there, you wouldn’t really experience authenticity of the country.) As a Bahamas expert, I knew this going in, so we planned the lion’s share of the trip on Long Island. We hopped a small, inter-island flight from Nassau to Stella Maris and I immediately felt right at home again.
On Long Island, it’s no surprise when folks you meet remember you 10 years later. And they remember how big the tuna was you caught last time – really! You quickly figure out who’s related to whom, and who’s daughter works at the grocery store and which restaurants are open on which nights.
Where is Long Island?
Long Island is in the southern Bahamas between tiny Rum Cay and Great Exuma. The eastern shore is open to the Atlantic, so limestone bluffs meet crashing waves on much of the coast. On the western shore, it’s a different story. Tranquil, white sand beaches with flats and mangrove swamps abound. For such a narrow island, the changes in geography are notable. Both coasts are stunning! And the Tropic of Cancer runs through the island, to give you an idea of Long Island’s latitude.
How to Get to Long Island
Long Island, Bahamas, is easily accessible by air from Nassau. Between BahamasAir, Southern Air and Stella Maris’ flight service, there are flights most days to the two airports on Long Island, Deadman’s Cay and Stella Maris. This can be a bit confusing as many of the flights touch down at both airports and barely make mention of that fact. On our trip, we met a man who didn’t realize there were two stops on the flight from Nassau – first in Deadman’s Cay, then on to Stella Maris in the north. Poor fella got off the plane in Deadman’s Cay and then had to take a taxi to Stella Maris. A $90 mistake!
It takes about 45 minutes to fly from Nassau. Airfare can be pretty expensive and inconvenient to get to the Out Islands, but it’s one destination I find worth the trouble.
There’s also a mailboat from Nassau to Long Island, but unless you’ve got lots of time, flying really is the best option. The trip takes up to 15 hours depending on the weather.
Where to Stay on Long Island, Bahamas
Stella Maris Resort
I have loved this property since my first visit more than 10 years ago when I bought a group of journalists to the island for a fishing press trip. And what I loved back then, the authenticity, the comfy island feel and the views of crashing turquoise waves on limestone cliffs, all remained.
There’s a variety of available accommodations, from traditional hotel rooms to 4-bedroom homes overlooking beaches, cliffs and private pools. I’ve stayed in both the Dolphin House and the Rainbow House and you just can’t get more breathtaking views. Plus your own pools!
Stella Maris is basically its own little village. There’s an airport so convenient you could very nearly just walk right from the plane to the hotel. There’s also a full-service marina, restaurants and bars, kayak and snorkel rentals for guests, a post office and Long Island’s only fishing outfitter.
Airbnbs and Vacation Homes
There are lots of highly rated Long Island vacation rentals both on the Atlantic side and the Caribbean side. What side do you prefer?
Cape Santa Maria
Located on a 4-mile stretch of white sand beach, Cape Santa Maria is in a gorgeous location. I’ve never stayed there in all my years, but if Stella Maris is sold out, it’s definitely an option to consider. Check prices and availability for Cape Santa Maria.
Things to do on Long Island, Bahamas
Bonefish with Docky
One of the main reasons I wanted to return to Long Island was for the bonefishing. Now if you know me, you know I don’t give a hoot about fishing, but Rick is super into it. His fabulously generous wife got him an awesome fly rod setup for his birthday and he was itching to use it on the grey ghost of the flats, the elusive bonefish. I knew from past work trips that Long Island had some choice bonefishing so we returned with rod and reel in hand and a full day of fishing booked with Docky.
Having fished this area for his whole life, Docky was a great teacher and managed to guide newbie Rick to two small bones during the course of the day. It wasn’t a big haul, but for a beginner, it was enough to be worth it. (And to create a monster — all he wants to do now is fly fish!)
Docky also has a few swimming pigs so if you don’t make it to see the famous swimming pigs of Exuma, he can still help you check off your bucket list. Make sure you also visit Docky’s Flats Bar one night for shenanigans, Kaliks and souvenirs.
Dean’s Blue Hole
Dean’s Blue Hole is the No. 1 attraction on Long Island, Bahamas. The white sand is gorgeous, the clear water as beautiful as anywhere in the islands… but what makes it so special? I’m glad you asked!
This swimming hole is 663 feet deep, so if you placed Trump Tower on the bottom of the blue hole, you could splash on the roof of the 58th floor and wave to your friends on the beach!
Sitting in the clear, shallow water on white sand, this could be any beach in The Bahamas. But scoot two feet from my flippers and the white sand begins a quick descent into darkness. It goes from knee-deep to 50 stories deep in a matter of steps. If you can swim, it’s no big deal. You just slide down until you’re treading water over the abyss. Take extreme caution if you can’t swim though. Many have been caught off guard by the unexpected drop off.
The water is clear as you can see, but light doesn’t make it down very far. As you snorkel from the shallows over the middle of the blue hole, you don’t see much but inky blue abyss. It’s rather dramatic, but such a unique Bahamas adventure. If you make your way to Long Island, I think a swim here is a must. I’ve done it lots of times! Just don’t think too much about what lies beneath. It’s probably fine.
Long Island was one of Christopher Columbus’ first stops in the New World in 1492. You can drive up to Columbus Cove (currently unpaved but I heard they’re paving it) to visit a monument at plaque commemorating Columbus’ visit. It’s interesting to note there isn’t the same distaste for Columbus in The Bahamas as there is in other Caribbean nations, namely the Dominican Republic.
The best part of this side trip isn’t the plaque and monument, it’s the view! It’s absolutely stunning in all directions, and with no developments inside the harbor or anywhere within sight, it must be quite similar to what Columbus would’ve seen on his first visit.
Max’s Conch Bar & Grill
If you’re not allergic to shellfish, you absolutely must stop for a fresh conch salad at Max’s on the way back from Clarence Town. Rick and I are actually obsessed with conch salad, so we are becoming real aficionados at this point. And Max does it right. We like it on the spicy side and paired with a local Kalik or Sands, or a sky juice (gin and coconut water) to take the bite from those hot Caribbean peppers right out.
Long Island is known for exceptional diving, both out on the reefs and inside Dean’s Blue Hole. I’ve never been in either, but we’re definitely going out with Stella Maris on our next visit.
The Bahamas may be known for turquoise water and a host of other things, but its underwater cave system is really an unexplored treasure. Hamilton’s Cave on Long Island is one of the biggest known caves in the country, with areas up to 50 feet wide in spots. Evidence of Lucayan inhabitants was discovered here in the 1930s. South of my favorite settlement, Salt Pond, when you visit Hamilton’s Cave, be sure to hire a guide to give you a tour. If not, you will end up lost!
Clarence Town Churches
There are two historic churches worth a visit in Clarence Town, the capital of Long Island. Population: less than 100. There’s St. Paul’s Anglican Church, whitewashed with two towers, and St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s Church, whitewashed with two towers. You’re forgiven if you’re a bit confused. They’re very similar and very close by, so you can visit both on a pass through Clarence Town.
Getting Around Long Island, Bahamas
Unless you’re planning to stay at your accommodations the entire time, it makes sense to rent a car so you can do some island exploring. And since the hotels are pretty much no-muss, no-fuss (read: not Sandals with every activity you could want), you’ll likely want to get offsite at least part of the time. We rented an SUV for two days with the express intention of driving south to explore Clarence Town and Dean’s Blue Hole one day and north to Columbus monument and Cape Santa Maria the next. It worked out perfectly and cost about $100/day plus gas.
The SUV was a must because Long Island’s roads are quite rough, even the main highway can be pitted in spots. There are no large rental car chains on Long Island, so the easiest way to get a car is reserve through your hotel. Stella Maris reserved the vehicle for us and it was waiting at the hotel when we arrived. Couldn’t have been easier!
Taxis are available, too, but since Long Island is in fact, quite long, that can get pricey. Bite the bullet, rent a car and drive on the other side of the road. It’s easy when there’s very little traffic and no stoplights on the entire island.
Explore More in The Bahamas
- The Best Adventure in Abaco
- 6 Tips for Visiting the Swimming Pigs of Exuma
- Adventures for Mermaids in Staniel Cay
Our trip to Long Island was our first visit back to The Bahamas since our destination wedding, and I was just so relieved it was everything I remembered from previous visits. Wild, rocky coastline to the west with gorgeous sunrises; white sandy beaches to the east with colorful sunsets; and my old friends at Stella Maris ready with conch and Kalik and our own private pool. The Bahamas may have its shortcomings, but it’s hard to remember them when you’re on island time.
Tell me: have you been to Long Island, Bahamas? Would you swim in Dean’s Blue Hole? Have you ever been bonefishing? I wanna hear about it in the comments!
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