This 120-mile-long Stretch of Islands in the Bahamas Is Home to Dolphins and a Pedestrian Bridge Over Crystal-clear Water

How to visit the Bahamas' Abaco Islands.

Scenes from Abaco, Bahamas
Photo: Alison Fox

Off the coast of the tiny island of the Bahamas' Green Turtle Cay, the horizon looked steady, the air felt still, and the sun shone brightly. That's when captain Kyle Stevens, my guide from Brendal's Dive Center, snapped me out of my meditative state to point out a pair of playful dolphins, bouncing through the water.

"Do you want to swim with them?" he asked.

I laughed, thinking surely he was joking. But as I looked at him, I could tell he, shockingly, was not. He didn't have to ask me twice. 

I jumped to put my fins and mask on, dove into the water and swam faster than I ever had before. As I caught up to my new pals, everything around me went quiet, and I watched as the dolphin couple swooped down and swam along the white sandy ocean floor.

Scenes from Abaco, Bahamas
Alison Fox

This is just a regular day in the Abaco Islands, a 120-mile-long, wildlife-rich stretch of islands spread across picture-perfect turquoise water, in the northern Bahamas

Great Abaco, the larger of the two main Abaco Islands, sits just northeast of the popular Bahamian capital of Nassau. It's known as one of the country's "out islands," offering an endless parade of sea animals (stingrays, sharks, dolphins, even an elusive sea turtle or two), laid-back beach bars serving fruity rum punch, and fewer crowds than some of the more sought-after Bahamian ports.

In 2019, the island chain was struck by Hurricane Dorian, a category-5 storm that nearly leveled everything in its path. That said, the Abacos are recovering and once again receiving visitors. Here's what you need to know about planning a trip to this island paradise.

It's still a destination in recovery.

Scenes from Abaco, Bahamas
Alison Fox

The Abacos Islands are still recovering from Hurricane Dorian. Evidence of the destruction is still visible in the bare trees forming eerie forests, the giant ship that somehow sits in the middle of a field in town, and piles of rubble that still dot the island. Don't be surprised when you come across this, but do make sure to look past it to get a peek at the island's fantastic future at destinations like the newly rebuilt Abaco Beach Resort, where I stayed on my island getaway. 

After check-in, I walked out onto my balcony and was mesmerized by the bright white sand, deep turquoise water, and the small yachts parked at the hotel's marina. The view was postcard worthy, and my room boasted modern, clean lines and a giant soaking tub.

The luxurious attention to detail in each room is also felt at the hotel's main restaurant, Bistro. I've never met a truffle dish I didn't like, and the polenta with wild mushrooms, truffle, and crispy shallots served at Bistro didn't disappoint — nor did the meticulously crafted chef's tasting menu with a potato rösti and rich coconut curry that I still think about.

Scenes from Abaco, Bahamas
Alison Fox

One of my favorite spots near the resort was Little Harbour, where I found Pete's Pub and Gallery, an old-school, laid-back beachfront restaurant that sits along a narrow stretch of sand. I ordered off the whiteboard menu, kicked off my shoes, and made my way to a picnic table. As for the "gallery" part in the pub's name, that comes from the working bronze foundry next door. Tucked underneath a canopy of palm trees, intricate and beautiful pieces celebrating the sea are painstakingly created by hand and on view in the small shop for tourists to gawk at and buy if they're so inclined.

Island hopping is a must.

Island hopping is the best way to experience the Abaco Islands to ensure you don't miss anything. In Green Turtle Cay, I found adventure. In Elbow Cay, I found adorable cottages and 19th-century history. In Great Guana Cay, I debated the finer points of beach vs. pool as I sipped on cold Bahamian beers while moving between the two. Even the main island of Great Abaco has quiet spots, like the overwater bridge called "Long Dock," where I was transfixed by shallow water so clear it glistened in the sun like glass. I felt as if I had stumbled on a travel destination secret that was too good not to share.  

Life here moves slowly — and that's a good thing.

Scenes from Abaco, Bahamas
Alison Fox

I didn't think anything could top snorkeling with wild dolphins, but as we pulled up to a small beach, I could see the island wasn't done surprising me. Stingrays and small reef sharks began gathering around us, waiting to check out the new humans. The stingrays were like puppies, darting around and coming in for a pet or a treat. And as I knelt in the water, watching the sea creatures on the nearly deserted stretch, I understood the magic of the "out islands." It's a place of uninterrupted beauty — but one that isn't without its cultural charms. 

Following my animal-centric adventure, I headed to Elbow Cay, where a candy-striped lighthouse proudly watches over the long, narrow island. The lighthouse has been continuously operated since 1863 and is so synonymous with the Bahamas that it's featured on the $10 bill. It's still cranked by hand every two hours.

"It's something that, as Bahamians, we're very proud of. And the unique thing about it is this is the last lighthouse out of 18,000 in the world that is kerosene burning and hand-wound nightly by keepers," Debbie Patterson, the office administrator at the lighthouse, told me before our 101-step climb. "And so we have quite a mandate to keep it going."

Elbow Cay itself feels steeped in history down to the small plaque that sits along the water's edge in Hope Town, commemorating when the "first loyalists" arrived following the Revolutionary War.

Scenes from Abaco, Bahamas
Alison Fox

The island also happens to be a great place to shop. Woven baskets and local treats like guava jam and goat pepper sauce dot the shelves at the Ebb Tide Gift Shoppe, while handcrafted bags made from recycled sails at Hope Town Canvas make for a fabulous (and practical) souvenir.

I headed to Da Crazy Crab to pick up children's books on stingrays and fish for my nephews and took home a large hand-painted ceramic magnet from the lighthouse's gift shop that was just as quaint as the real thing.

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