10 of the Bahamas' Best Kept Local Secrets

Go beyond Nassau and the expected by exploring these lesser-known, insider and secret destinations in the Bahamas.

By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville

Photo By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation

Photo By: Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation

Photo By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation

Photo By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Joe Sills

Redefining the Bahamas

Each year, some six million visitors travel to the Bahamas including a large number of U.S. tourists who find themselves at all-inclusive resorts like the forthcoming Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville in Nassau (pictured). But travelers willing to go off the beaten path can quickly find themselves on one of the dozens of Bahamian islands that see less than 10,000 visitors per year.

Exploring the wonders of those islands can reveal an incredible world of natural beauty and adventure that rewards those who veer off the well-traveled path. Read on for some of those best-kept secret Bahamas stops.

1: Hamilton's Cave

This otherworldy cave on Long Island was purchased in the 1800s by a family for the bargain price of £27 from the British Crown. Its passages have yet to be fully explored, but its owners will take you on a guided tour of the cave’s halls. Inside, you'll find hundreds of bats, crabs and rock formations highlighted by skylights.

Know before you go: Hamilton Cave is located a short distance from the town of Deadman’s Caye. Admission runs $15 for adults and $8 for children. Ceremonial artifacts from the Lucayan civilization were found at Hamilton’s Cave in the 1930s, replicas of which can be seen at the Long Island Library and Museum about 15 minutes away by car.

2: The Queen’s Baths

This collection of natural hot pools sits on the Atlantic side of the island of Eleuthera, not far from the Glass Window Bridge. At low tide, these pools are a beachcomber’s paradise. The pools are filled with urchins and other small marine animals, offering travelers an up-close view of some of the planet's most delicate creatures.

Know before you go: Water shoes are recommended at The Queen’s Baths due to the presence of sharp rocks and sea urchins. Exploration is discouraged at high tide, when rough seas can create dangerous conditions in the pools. A stone entrance gate marks their entrance just off of The Queen’s Highway.

3: The Hermitage on Mt. Alvernia

The Bahamas might be the last place you would expect to see a medieval-style monastery, but you’ll find one towering over Cat Island. The stone monastery here was built in 1939 by Roman Catholic architect, sculptor and priest John Hawes. At the monastery you can spot hand-carved reliefs and stonework on a hike up to the structure, which sits at highest point in the Bahamas.

Know before you go: Flights to Cat Island average $175 round-trip from Nassau. The Hermitage on Mt. Alvernia is located less than five miles from New Bight Airport. The monastery is open 24/7 and charges no admission fee.

4: The Magic of the Milky Way

By day, it's easy to see why the Bahamas are well-known for cerulean waters and colorful coral, but some of the country’s most impressive colors come out at night. In the summer months, the deep blues, purples and whites of the Milky Way rise high in the night sky. This is especially true if you’re staying far away from larger cities like Nassau and Freeport.

Know before you go: Atlantis and Sandals may be the most famous resorts in the Bahamas, but smaller operations like Cape Santa Maria resort, seen here, are often found in more remote areas where light pollution is at a minimum. If you want the views to yourself, consider traveling to the Bahamas during down season between June and October.

5: Flocks of Flamingos

On the island of Great Inagua, flamingos outnumber humans 80 to 1. The astounding ratio is thanks to nearly seven decades of conservation work that began under the National Audubon Society. Prior to that, the island—which serves as one of the last breeding refuges for the American flamingo—was home to just 100 birds.

Know before you go: In a rare, symbiotic relationship with humans, Great Inagua’s flamingos benefit from the island’s largest employer, Morton’s Salt. The company harvests salt from evaporated sea water, and the company’s ponds provide shallow water habitat for the birds.

6: Rare Reptiles

The northern Bahamian rock iguana inhabits the Andros and Exuma islands, but populations have been impacted by hurricanes and hunting. Less than 5,000 of these rare reptiles remain in the wild, according to IUCN. According to locals, the average size of these lizards has decreased from over six feet to just half of that. Still, that hasn’t stopped Bahamian tour operators from ferrying visitors to the rocky shores that these prehistoric creatures call home.

Know before you go: Northern Bahamian rock iguanas are inquisitive by nature. They are likely to approach travelers who wade close to shore, but special care should be taken to give these creatures space and distance. Aside from the obvious responsibility to avoid harassing the animals, they wield a powerful bite.

7: Cayes of the Out Islands

Sandy Caye, seen here, is just one of hundreds of lonely strips of sand dotting the Caribbean Sea between the inhabited islands of the Bahamas. These cayes have avoided human hands thanks to a lack of natural resources like soil and plantlife, but that's no problem for you.

Bahamian cayes make the perfect picnic parcels to live out your private island fantasies, provided you bring a cooler, some sunscreen and an umbrella.

Know before you go: Plan to book your caye excursion in advance. Cayes are typically only accessible via boat. Plan to spend between $50-$100 per person for your trip.

8: Shallow Water Shipwrecks

In 1986, a Bahamian treasure hunter discovered a shipwreck worth $1.6 billion. Odds are that you won’t be stumbling upon that on your trip; however, the Bahamas still hold scores of shipwrecks sitting in plain site. Such is the case with the SS Sapona, a massive World War I-era troop transport located near Bimini.

You don't have to be in Bimini to see a shipwreck though. Other sites, like the Haitian vessel seen here, are often used as landmarks between main islands.

Know before you go: Wrecks aren't usually marked on Google Maps. Try asking local fishermen where and how to access the wrecks around their islands. Also, it should go without saying, but climbing on rusting hulks of metal balancing on delicate coral ecosystems is not generally a good idea.

9: Roadside Conch Bars

Dominoes, moonshine and conch shells. What more could you want? Skip commercial restaurants and soak in the real Bahama breeze at one of the country’s roadside conch bars. You’ll find these locally-owned eateries all over the Bahamas. Most often, they resemble a ramshackle collection of driftwood and salvaged parts that have somehow come together to form a kitchen.

Grab a conch salad and a Kalik (pronounced kah-lick) and soak in the night.

Know before you go: Many conch bars would make Andrew Zimmern proud, so be prepared to try new things when you visit. They’re loaded with hyper-local variants of conch salad, jerked chicken, fish and—of course—conch. Cabs are available from most Bahamian towns, but expect to call one on the phone. Uber is not prevalent on the islands.

10: Dean’s Blue Hole

Blue holes are found throughout the world, but only one is deeper than Dean’s Blue Hole on Long Island. This secluded hideout reaches 663-feet below the water’s surface—well beyond the reach of the human body. Each year, free divers come to Dean’s Blue Hole to test their mettle, competing to see who can dive the farthest on a single breathe of air. The current record sits at 331 feet.

Know before you go: Several local outfitters will rent snorkel and dive gear for use at Dean’s Blue Hole. Beneath the waves, divers can look forward to sand falls, while snorkelers can enjoy reef fish around the fringes of the hole. No boat is necessary to access Dean’s Blue Hole; it’s located just off of a sandy beach near Clarence Town.

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