I always wondered about that slogan, “Eleuthera, It’s Not for Everyone.” Eleuthera has beautiful beaches. Eleuthera has fresh seafood, lovingly prepared by friendly people, people always interested in if you are enjoying your visit and willing to help you along the way. There are no big grocery stores or Hertz or Avis rental cars. You shop at local, family-owned stores, and rent cars, some which have seen quite a few miles, from islanders. Eleuthera is not about shopping malls, casinos, or big hotels. If those are your needs, it’s not for you. But for those of you who are “all about the beach,” join us as we explore this wonderful island.
This is the first of several parts of our trip report to Eleuthera. This first part will focus on how to get there and get around the island. Future reports will focus on our home away from home, the gorgeous two-bedroom villa, “Whel-Appointed,” the restaurants, the beaches, the sites, and the people we met along the way. We visit Tippy’s, the Beach House, Pammy’s, and the Friday Night Fish Fry. We’ll meet the fisherman, as they bring home a boat full of lobsters which will become our dinner the last night on the island. We’ll take a day trip to Harbour Island, where we visit a haunted house, lunch at Sip Sip with the beautiful people, and get rescued by a superhero. It was an incredible nine days, so let’s get started!
Most people I’ve spoken to recently about our trip have never heard of Eleuthera, when in fact, it was the first settlement in the Bahamas. The Bahamas were uninhabited after the native Lucayan/Arawak indians succumbed to disease or slavery at the hands of the Spanish explorers in the early 16th century. Early mapmakers used a variety of names for the island of Eleuthera. The Arawak name for the island was Cigatoo or Cignateo. Maps in the 1700’s referred to the island as Lucayos, Cigatoo, Alabaster, Eleutheria, and other variations on those names. The name “Eleuthera” is credited to Captain William Sayles, who named the island after the Greek word for “freedom.” Captain Sayles and other sought religious freedom, desiring to leave Bermuda as a result of conflicts which arose between Puritans and Royalists/Anglicans as a result of the British Civil War. In 1647, Captain Sayles sailed from Bermuda to London to form the “Company of Eleutherian Adventurers” with the intention of settling Eleuthera. In 1648, Captain Sayles led 80 adventurers from Bermuda to Eleuthera, grounding out their ship on the reefs along the north end of the island.
The island has seen periods of boom and bust over the years. In the late 1700’s, a cholera epidemic would claim a good portion of the population. In the 1800’s, the island saw a boom with the explosion in demand for the pineapple crop on the island, until the 1900’s, when the US began to subsidize the pineapple crops in Cuba and Hawaii. The island once again saw a boom in the mid-1900’s with the development of the land by wealthy Americans and Canadians including Juan Trippe, founder of Pan American Airways, Arthur Vining Davis, Chairman of Alcoa, and Austin Levy, a successful New England Textile Mill owner and operator. Eleuthera was a travel destination, with multiple resorts and a Robert Trent Jones designed golf course, among the top 100 courses in the world in the late 1960’s. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the resorts closed and the golf course became overgrown. Eleuthera is no stranger to hurricanes, having suffered significant losses with Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The island saw a surge in development in the mid-2000’s, only to be halted as a result of the economic downturn in 2008 which affected development everywhere. Signs of renewal are appearing again with the development of French Leave Resort and several other projects on the island.
It’s surprising that more Americans have not heard of, or been to, Eleuthera. One of the out islands of the Bahamas, Eleuthera is located just 260 miles southeast of Miami. On its west side is the Caribbean, and on the east, the Atlantic. The island is 110 miles long, and at one point, is as wide as the road which runs the length of the island, the Queen’s Highway. Eleuthera is served by three airports, North Eleuthera (ELH) on the northern end, the centrally-located Governor’s Harbour (GHB), and Rock Sound (RSD). Harbour Island, just off the northeastern tip of the island is home to the famous Pink Sand Beach, regularly listed among the top beaches in the world.
Let’s take a quick trip down the island. We flew into North Eleuthera airport. If you are headed to Harbour Island for your stay, this is the best route. You can then take a taxi about a mile east where you will see the boat dock. Take a $5 water taxi over to Harbour Island, and a golf cart is your transportation for the rest of your stay. Our destination was a villa on Banks Road in Governor’s Harbour. If the flight times from Chicago had worked out, we would have flown to Governor’s Harbour and had a short commute to the house. Instead, we had about a 50 to 60 minute drive from North Eleuthera airport. We rented a car, a 2002 Jeep Cherokee, and set out for Governor’s Harbour.
Let’s talk about the roads. When you first set out on the road, you notice quite a few signs, several which read “Speed Kills,” and a few areas where there are crosses along the roadside. That’s a bit intimidating. The “Queen’s Highway” is the biggest thoroughfare on the island, but like most island roads, has potholes and some areas under repair. That’s not unusual. However, there are sharp, blind curves, which if you took them too fast, you can easily be in the oncoming lane of travel. Take it slow. You’re not in a hurry. You’re on vacation. Take it easy, and you will be fine.
Headed south on the Queen’s Highway from North Eleuthera airport, you will soon cross over the famous “Glass Window Bridge.” What was a natural bridge until the strong Atlantic waves took it out, is now a man-made bridge. The beauty of the spot is that you can see the familiar turquoise blue of Caribbean Sea on one side of the road, and the cobalt blue Atlantic Ocean on the other. Stop and take a look around.
As you wind your way down the island, you’ll pass through a number of settlements, including Gregory Town, Hatchet Bay, Rainbow Bay, and James Cistern before reaching Governor’s Harbour. Later in the week, we went a bit farther south to Tarpum Bay. More on those visits in upcoming reports. If you followed farther south, you can reach Lighthouse Beach at the far southern point of the island, or round the bend to Cape Eleuthera. We didn’t make it that far on this trip, but that just leaves more to explore on the next trip.
We settled in at our home away from home, “Whel-Appointed.” Part 2 of our trip report will share our experiences at this beautiful, two-bedroom home just steps from French Leave Beach.
So why isn’t this island overrun with tourists? Why is it such a secret? Those questions puzzle me to this day. We just spent nine days on some of the most beautiful beaches we’ve seen with reasonably-priced, luxurious accommodations and fairly-priced restaurants. I still don’t know the answers to those questions, but for now, I’m glad it’s still there.
More Eleuthera and Harbour Island posts here:
All words and images ©2006-2017 Wendy G. Gunderson. Any use without written permission is prohibited. For licensing information, please send inquiries via the Contact page.