It has been two years yet my mind still wanders to the deserted beach famed for a scene in Pirates of the Caribbean. I am sure that one day I will return.
“Grand Bahama?” Most people get a quizzical look on their face when I talk about our time there. “Where is that?” Or they think that I think the Bahamas are grand– I chuckle and respond, Freeport. Ah yes Freeport, that usually clears it up. Maybe they have stopped there on a day trip from a cruise, or their neighbor did. Most travel blogs that you see about the Bahamas will surely be about Nassau. If you have read my previous blogs then you already know that crowds don’t impress me, in fact they terrify me. To me, Paradise is not a casino, a crowded beach club, it’s not a beach bar….well, okay- maybe a beach bar but one that is away from the bustle of the hordes of tourists. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with going to one of the top 10 tourists destinations if that’s where you like to be. I just find them to be too pricey and too crowded.
If you like adventures, and you travel on a budget, I hope that my list encourages you to visit this island, and to do things off the beaten track. The discovery of this deserted tropical hideaway just might lure you in for good!
This island used to much more popular some 20-30 years ago. So, what happened? From talking to the locals it seems that they have had years of devastation due to multiple hurricanes passing through the area. What does this mean for you? Outside of day trippers from cruises, you will not see too many other tourists. The locals are extremely friendly when they do meet you as they are truly trying hard to rebuild their tourism industry.
Our trip to the island of Grand Bahama ( Freeport ) began with plans of staying on Florida’s east coast for a week. Because I am the restless type, I started researching islands in the area that we could take a day trip too. At some point in my research I found and became obsessed with The Island. I quickly realized I would change our destination.
It was easy to do. Freeport is only a 20 minute plane ride from Miami. English is the official language. They do speak English with a bit of Irish and Haitian combined, creating a creole. **Some local expressions will be listed at the end of the article.** Their dollar is valued the same as the U.S denomination. If you pay in U.S. you will most likely be given change in Bohemian currency.
The first thing that I highly recommend is renting a car at the airport. If you are from the states be aware that they drive on the other side of the street. You can ask specifically for a rental car that has the steering wheel on the left so that will be the same. It honestly does not take long to get the hang of it. There are really only two main roads on the island and they are not terribly busy. The island is fairly small 96 miles long and 17 miles wide. If you have a car, you can easily explore the whole island in a week. Car rental will cost about $350.00 per week – when you figure in a tour at 100.00 per person x 5 people, you can see why it is much more economical to rent a car. I also love that with a car rental you have the freedom to come and go as YOU please. Plus, if you stay in a condo like we did- you will have access to a kitchen and need to pick up a few groceries. I recommend Solomon’s Market ( I have no affiliation with them ). It is right by the airport and you can click on the link to see their ad specials before you even leave home! I love local cuisine and eating out on vacation but by preparing breakfast and lunch in your condo you can save a lot of money.
ON TO THE FUN STUFF
The first two nights we rented a cute two bedroom ocean front cottage at Pelican Point We found and booked the cottage through Trip Advisor. Pelican point is small town way off the beaten track on the east end of the island. Population is maybe 40. I suggest getting groceries in Freeport before you leave the west end of the island. It was well worth the 1 hour drive for the tranquil seclusion and gorgeous beach front views. I think the sunset speaks for itself!
Our 3rd – 9th night we stayed at The Ocean at Taino Beach in a condo that I reserved through my time share ( I don’t recommend time shares but that’s another blog ). Our unit was definitely stuck in the 70’s but we weren’t there for the decor. Our room did have a beautiful balcony view of the pool and ocean. The pool has an awesome slide that even I, at 50 years old, had a blast on. It also has a lazy river! As far as the location on Taino Beach…it couldn’t be better. Every morning we would take our coffee and walk east on the beach. If you are into sea glass you will find all you can carry home! Right in front of our complex the beach is sandy and gorgeous and at this section of ocean, the rays swim right up to you. We saw at least 5 every day. Ocean at Taino beach.
FIRST DAY TRIP YOU CAN’T MISS
1.) GRAND LUCAYAN NATIONAL PARK: Admission is 3.00$ per person
Here you can visit The Lucayan Indian Cave and the Bat Cave. It’s a small hike back so take water. Also, if you have a fear of HUGE banana spiders (did I say huge?), you might want to pass this place. It is conveniently right across the street from Golden Rock Beach, so if spiders aren’t your thing…no worries. These two locations share a parking lot and there are bathrooms to change into swim suits. Pack a snack or picnic lunch as there are no facilities on site.
2.) GOLDEN ROCK BEACH: Admission, free with fee to Grand Lucayan National Park
This is a gorgeous secluded white sand beach. The trail back is a beautiful hike through the mangroves, estuary and woods that suddenly opens to one of the most beautiful beaches I ever seen. If you like to snorkel ( pack your own gear ) you should plan to go around low tide. There are not many colorful fish near shore. To get to the fish you’ll need to swim out to Golden Rock. I do not recommend EVER snorkeling alone and I don’t recommend doing this at high tide or if you are not a very strong swimmer. Golden Rock is quite far from shore. This location along with Lucayan National Park is a cruise boat tour so if you want to avoid the crowds you’ll need to find out what days/times the cruise ships port. To end our day we headed back east to 3.) Bishops Restaurant at High Rock for dinner. I have never and I mean ever had such tasty conch fritters in my entire life. It does help that the owner is a native Michigander from Detroit, only 1 hour from my home town. There is also a beautiful beach here should you decide to go for a dip.
4.) PETERSON CAYE NATIONAL PARK –
CALABASH TOURS COST. 69.00$ PP 12yrs.-over. 45.00$PP 11yrs.- under free if under 5. PARK FEE 5.00$ PP not included. LUNCH 10.00$-20.00$ not included
So, remember I said that I don’t “do tours?” This one was an exception because I truly HAD TO SEE Peterson Caye. The only way to get there is by tour or private boat. I was obsessed! This tour ended up taking about 7 hours and the cost was 346.00$ for our family of 5, not including lunch. Would I do it again? Absolutely! In fact, I can’t wait to go back and do it again. This is my number one can’t miss, if your budget allows. First thing in the morning we were picked up at our condo at about 7:45. We did take water and snacks with us as my husband is diabetic. We, along with about 8 others were driven by our guide, Ansenio, to a deserted beach on the edge of a tropical forest. The Caye was ( barely ) visible from the shore. It sits about 1 mile out and is about a 30 minutes of kayaking. Although we have canoed many times this was our first experience at kayaking. My 10-year-old was able to buddy up with Ansenio, our guide, so I knew she was in qualified hands. After a brief “how to” class, we unloaded the kayaks and set off to what appeared to be a small coral island sticking out of the sea. I must admit I felt a little intimidated being in the open ocean like that but what the heck…I’m always up for adventure! My 15-year-old daughter and I were the first of the group to make it to the island. I will say that fear might have encouraged our speed. We pulled our kayaks up to the small lovely sandy beach and proceeded to put on our snorkel gear. We could not wait to get into the water and we surely were not disappointed! Not only was the coral astounding but the variety f fish was unbelievable. We also saw star fish and a lobster. When the rest of the group arrived Ansenio led us behind the back of the island, which is predominately coral. Behind the island is a drop off and again, the fish here were just breathtaking. We probably spent a good 2 hours on the island before returning back to the mainland. Once the guys loaded the kayaks we headed to 5.) Banana Bay restaurant for lunch. The location of this restaurant is so beautiful that you could easily make this a day trip and spend the day swimming and lounging while having access to lunch and their facilities. In fact, next trip, we will probably do just that! After the tour we were returned to Taino Beach at about 3:30. It was the perfect day!
6.) PARADISE COVE aka DEADMAN’S REEF: Admission fee, free if you have your own snorkel gear. Cafe on site for lunch and snacks. Kayak rental available.
This is another one of my favorites. Yes, I love this place. Admittedly, the names are a contradiction. One doesn’t know whether it will be heaven on earth or the gates to hell. You can be assured that it is truly heaven. You are able to rent snorkel gear here but I need to add that my family has our own gear. As much as we snorkel I feel not only does it save us money but we have the assurance of knowing whose mouth the breather has been in last. Using someone elses snorkel gear has a huge ick factor for me. Others seem to be able to do it so I’m thinking that it may just be my personal problem 🙂 Anyway- you should know that it is available to rent. The entry to the water is somewhat rocky so you may also want to take some water shoes . On to the snorkeling. This may be the best snorkeling I have ever seen. ( Yal Ku Lagoon and Cozumel in Mexico are definitely on my best list too ). Before you enter the water a guide will show you pictures of what to stay away from. Fire Coral being the number one danger. If you accidentally rub against fire coral, it will burn. That being said, I did not personally see any fire coral– whew. This place is wonderful for beginners as they have ropes to hang onto all the way out to the coral islands. They also have inner tubes placed and anchored intermittently in case you get tired. The water is shallow most of the way out and at times the bottom is sandy so it is easy to stop and stand if need be. If you do happen to need to rest please do NOT stand on coral, wait until you get to a rope, inner tube or sandy spot. Touching coral kills it, leaving the marine life in jeopardy. The variety of marine life here is astounding! The size of the fish was crazy huge and colorful as well. We also saw rays and barracuda just to name a few. The goal is to make it to the back of the three coral reefs. The reefs drop dramatically in the back and the variety of color in both the coral and the fish is just gorgeous! We wanted to work with the current so we started at the eastern reef and kind of floated to the western most reef. You will not be disappointed! After spending much of our day here we were able to grab a bite to eat at the small on site restaurant. The food was actually pretty good. They also have a small gift shop with reasonable prices. Before heading back we decided to take a stroll on the beach towards to west. Quite a ways down we came across what looked like another small coral reef/island. The water appeared to have a sandy bottom most of the way out. We ( my husband and I ) were so tempted to swim and check it out and we probably would have if the kids had not been with us. When we have the kids we always try to keep safety in mind and there was not another soul in sight! From the looks of it, there used to be a set up similar to Deadmans Cove. There were picnic tables on the beach and an old deserted bar/restaurant. Possibly another deserted business due to the last hurricane? If you are adventurous it would be a great spot to check out.
After spending an unforgettable day at the cove we headed back to Taino Beach. We knew we wanted to stop at a place I read about in Eight Mile Rock.
7. ) THE BOILING HOLE: Admission free, location Eight Mile Rock
I’m pretty sure you would need to have a rental car to get here. There were no other tourists here and the only other person was a local boy. When a neighbor man saw us he came out with a bunch of over-priced shells of which we gladly bought a few. It seemed like a cheap admittance fee. There was a small place to park but you will need to bring water, snacks or a picnic lunch if you plan to eat here. So, what is The Boiling Hole? It is a small inlet / sink hole/ cave system that goes under the island. It was also one of my favorite places and I think you can see why from the photos below. My girls were a bit intimidated to jump off of the cliff but the local boy was very helpful in showing them where it was safe to jump/dive. He kept admiring our snorkel gear so I broke my “do not share” rule and let him borrow it for a bit. Can I say it made his day? For the timid, there is also a ladder leading into the inlet so you do not need to jump if you so choose not to. Once inside the “pool”, if you swim to the back you can see where the inlet goes deep under the island. We checked it out with our snorkel gear but not knowing the tide schedule we didn’t want to go too far back. This place also has a legendary sea monster so that was enough to convince my kids to stay back from the drop off opening. Along with the sea monster you should be aware that there are cute little black fish that like to nibble, not so gently, on your body. Although it does not hurt, it will definitely shock you if you are not expecting it. In fact, I may have screamed! All of this being said, I hope I did not talk you out of checking this place out. We actually loved it so much that we did return the next day to spend some more time.
8.) THE OLD U.S. NAVY BASE ? : Admission free, you will definitely need a rental car to get here.
So, we were on our way to The Owl’s Nest, a cenote that we never found. Many locals had never even heard of it so stopping to ask directions was out of the question. While we were determined to find it, we never did but we did end up in a place that was a true paradise. We must have turned down the wrong “road” ( I use that term loosely ). After looking for The Owls Nest for over an hour we were just tired, hot and hungry. Thankfully, I had packed a picnic lunch. Anyway, this particular road took us back to what looked to be a deserted parking lot…like maybe 20 years or more deserted, in fact, we weren’t even positive it had been a parking lot. We saw an opening that led to a beautiful lagoon so we decided to park and at least eat our lunch. As we were eating by the waters edge we heard a bunch of splashing in the water. It was hundreds of fish! They looked like they were doing some ancient dance. It was all a beautiful pattern of swimming and jumping in and out of the water. They were everywhere! Well, thats all it took for me to grab my snorkel gear and hop in with them. There was a sandy beach area and also what appeared to be an old boat launch making the entrance slippery but easy. After entering the lagoon we could see at the mouth there was a small coral island that we knew we had to swim out to. The whole lagoon was probably no more than 4 feet at the deepest point but quite shallow most of the way out. We made it to the island and while we didn’t see many colorful fish it was well worth “getting lost.” When we returned to our condo we asked around a bit and found that we had most likely been at the old U.S naval base. They said it had not been in use since the Cold War. How exciting is that?
GARDEN OF THE GROVES: Admission Adults 15.00$ Children 10.00$
So, in my opinion, this is one park you can skip. It ended up costing our family 70.00$ and the waterfall, which was pretty, appeared to be man-made. I feel like you can get a better idea of the natural flora and fauna by taking a hike. We found the cafe to be expensive and really not phenomenal.
I wish in all honesty I could tell you which was my favorite day or my favorite place was. As I sit here writing this blog, looking back at pictures, I am truly longing to return “home.” I am by nature an explorer and I love to discover new and off the beaten track places. This place, Grand Bahama, however has captured my heart. Having been there two times makes it feel more like home. I know, one day I will return…hopefully to find The Owl’s Nest and revisit my favorite spots. If you have been to Grand Bahama and have some suggestions of places that I missed, please leave a comment below. Also, If you enjoyed my blog, please subscribe below.
Bohemian phrases: It is common to drop the H is words like house for example house = ouse. They also frequently commit and H if it follows a T as in things = tings.
- What da wybe is= What’s up?
- Een noting= nothing much
- Switcha= lemonade
- Well mud sick= you’re kidding
- Dem= others
- Jitney= bus
- Jam up= crowded or full
- Pot cake= stray dog (you may see a few)
- Tings= things
I also want add that most of these sites are offered as tours. You will pay anywhere from 50.00-100.00$ per person as a tour. It is so much more economical and fun to rent a vehicle. I highly recommend it.
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