The idyllic island of Eleuthera is a curious place, free from the crowds, herds of cruise ship passengers, casinos and high-rises that plague many of its more popular Caribbean neighbors. It seems to make sense considering the island’s name is derived from the Greek word “eleutheros,” meaning freedom—something you’ll feel almost instantly as you arrive and begin to take in the laid-back vibe.
Located just 50 miles east of Nassau in the Out Islands of the Bahamas, Eleuthera is a slender slice of beach heaven for travelers seeking a peaceful escape. Running 110-miles long, but just two miles wide, the island is home to beaches of white and pink sand, rocky bluffs, charming colonial cottages, turquoise waters and pineapple plantations.
With Delta offering nonstop flights from Atlanta to North Eleuthera International Airport two days a week, sneaking off for a Caribbean getaway is a two-hour hop away. Depending on your mood, the island offers old-school R&R or plenty of opportunities to explore, from snorkeling and surfing to fishing, kayaking and horseback riding on the beach. Here’s your guide to 72 hours in the unspoiled Bahamian oasis of Eleuthera.
Once you’re in Eleuthera, we recommend renting a car (a jeep, preferably) as the best way to explore the island. Most hotels on Eleuthera can easily help you set up a rental car reservation, with recommendations on various rental car companies (and there are always taxis if you can’t wrap your head around driving on the “wrong” side).
One of the first sights you’ll come across on your journey southbound from North Eleuthera International Airport is the famed “Glass Window Bridge,” where the dark blue Atlantic Ocean meet the calm aqua-hued waters of the Caribbean. Often called the “narrowest place on Earth,” this man-made bridge (which replaced a natural bridge rock formation that was wiped out by a hurricane) has steep cliffs on both sides that drop down dramatically, revealing breathtaking panoramic views of the striking contrast between the two bodies of water.
Farther down the road, you might want to steal a peek at the Queen’s Bath (or the Hot Tubs)—natural pools formed out of rock formations that fill with water from the Atlantic Ocean. The water in these “moon pools,” as they’re locally known, is clear and heated by the sun, creating tidal pools for soaking. But you can hike down to the Queen’s Bath only when the tide is low (the rough Atlantic waters make it dangerous during high tide).
Continue trekking to Governor’s Harbour in the center of the island, location of the French Leave Resort—a boutique property that’s part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. With just a dozen bungalows (expanding to 20 by early 2018) overlooking the pink-sand beach and harbor of Cupid’s Cay, French Leave Resort is an oasis that melds chic, modern design touches with Caribbean flair and British Colonial influences. Cottages have covered verandas and killer ocean views, among other amenities (like an in-room iPad for requests). Each villa is assigned its own golf cart for exploring the property or going to the beach.
Another luxurious option for accommodations is The Cove Eleuthera, an intimate 57-room resort in Gregory Town with stylish rooms, suites, villas and cottages, set on 40 lush acres with two private-entry beaches.
Settle in at French Leave Resort, spend the afternoon lounging at the infinity pool before getting ready for dinner. If you want to keep things simple, dine at the on-site restaurant, 1648, while enjoying sunset views with your fresh seafood. The more motivated traveler might want to head into Governor’s Harbour to check out the local offerings, like Pammy’s—a modest spot where you can find classic Bahamian dishes (conch fritters, grouper, curry chicken, plantains, etc.). Or try the popular Tippy’s, a casual bistro located in gazebos on the beach.
Depending on your interests, there are a myriad of ways to explore Eleuthera’s natural beauty—and there is more than enough to keep you busy over a long-weekend stay (and then some). Activities like diving, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, boat rental and horseback riding can be arranged through the hotel and provide excellent ways to enjoy the island while taking in some nature and having a little fun.
Or beach hop, stopping at interesting cultural sites in between sandy shores. You can head back north to Harbour Island—located just off the tip of North Eleuthera—to see its pink-sand beaches. And while you’re there, pay a visit to Preacher’s Cave, where the first English settlers in the Bahamas took refuge after getting shipwrecked at the Devil’s Backbone reef. Cool off with a swim next door at Tay Bay Beach. Just a few minutes from Preacher’s Cave, adventure seekers and skilled divers can explore the Sapphire Blue Hole—but you’ll need a local to give you directions to this well-kept secret (the jump off the cliff into the hole and the climb out are not for the faint of heart).
However, we suggest leaving Harbour Island and North Eleuthera for another trip (perhaps a longer visit) and instead focus your sightseeing on South Eleuthera’s coasts—where you can also spot pink-sand beaches dotting part of the Atlantic side of the island, as well as some places on the Caribbean side.
You can start off with the rosé shores of French Leave Beach, then head off to Surfer’s Beach, located in central Eleuthera just south of Gregory Town, to hang 10 at one of the most famous surf breaks in the Bahamas. Just south of Surfer’s beach, the Hatchet Bay Cave is a mile-long cave system filled with saltwater pools, stalactites, stalagmites and, get ready for it, bats. It is recommended to tour this extensive cave system with a guide.
Nearby Gaulding Cay Beach offers a long stretch of powdery white sand that feels private. Pack a picnic to relish on this peaceful beach, then go for snorkel or walk through its shallow waters at low tide directly to the little casuarina-tree-covered island right off the beach.
For dinner, go to Pascal’s Oceanfront Seafood Restaurant & Pool Bar, a quick jaunt down the road from French Leave Resort. The fine-dining restaurant serves up international fare.
If more beach exploring is on your mind, grab a quick breakfast and make the long drive to the remote and unspoiled Lighthouse Beach on the southernmost tip of the island. Be sure to plan ahead (bring water, account for travel time and take the right vehicle for a bumpy ride), and you’ll be rewarded with expanses of pristine shores, unusual rock formations and utter peace and quiet.
On the southwest end of the island, Cape Eleuthera has 18 miles of shoreline on its 4,500-acre nature and beach preserve. Heading back north, you might want to visit the southern edge of Rock Sound to see the Ocean Hole, a natural limestone formation inland blue hole where you can swim with fish and turtles. And Ten Bay Beach in Savannah Sound offers large casuarina trees for morning shade, white sand and low tides ideal for wading.
In the afternoon, check out the historic Haynes Library, an adorable pink library built in 1897 in Governor’s Harbour. Right next to the Haynes Library, partake in the Governor’s Harbour Fish Fry at Anchor Bay to revel in live music, dancing and tasty local eats from 6 p.m. to midnight on Fridays. Sample some of their famous and potent “rum bubbas” drinks—and let the dance moves take over.
Sleep in a little (to sleep off that last rum bubba) and spend the morning relaxing down at the pool or at French Leave Beach before packing your bags. As you drive back to the airport and take in your last vistas of Eleuthera, you’ll probably already be wondering when you’ll get a chance to visit again. We’re betting it won’t come a day too soon.