This Tiny U.S. Island Is Full of Quiet Beaches, Art, Rum, History — and Some Say Voodoo

Dirt roads and lonely beaches beckon travelers to an island frozen in time.

Imagine an island with pristine beaches and vast forests, located less than a mile from one of the largest resort destinations on the East Coast. For decades, developers have eyed Daufuskie Island with plans to capitalize on its incredible beauty, yet they've mostly failed. Some blame it on access — the island is only reachable by boat — while others chalk it up to voodoo.

The views and random finds on Daufuskie Island
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Daufuskie Island is a place where very little happens. When it does, word travels fast down the dusty roads that connect the fledgling resort communities with the 500-or-so year-round locals who have persisted here for generations, relying on farming, fishing, and ferries for subsistence. Look closely as you walk, pedal, or golf cart past the cabins in the woods, and you'll see indigo blue handprints painted with evil eyes. These measures are taken by the local Gullah Geechee inhabitants — descendants of the enslaved people and freedmen who have farmed the island for two centuries — to ward off "boo hags," evil spirits believed to slip into bed with slumbering locals.

Haig Point on Dafauskie Island, South Carolina
Courtesy of Dafauskie Island

Where to Stay

Maybe it's the "boo hags" that keeps Daufuskie Island so pristine. The ambitious beachfront Melrose Resort, a popular South Carolina vacation club in the 1990s, was sold in 1996 and then went bankrupt in 2009 and 2017 — the property remains shuttered today, its once-grand inn slowly decaying despite rooms with horizon views across the Atlantic. On the island's southern end, Bloody Point Golf Club & Resort suffered a similar fate and officially closed in March 2021 after a series of financial issues throughout the 2000s. Now, weeds grow on the once-popular luxury golf course.

But it's the island's seemingly innate stubbornness to be developed that lends Daufuskie its charm. And one project seems to have cracked the boo hag's curse. At Haig Point, a membership-only community located directly across from Hilton Head Island, a 40-foot-tall lighthouse dating from 1873 has been converted into a luxurious rental that sleeps four people, complete with a full kitchen and rocking chairs looking out over Calibogue Sound — it's not open to the public, however. Also on the property, the 1910 Strachan Mansion (relocated to Daufuskie from St. Simons Island in 1986) includes four rooms open to members and their guests. The exclusive Haig Point community also features an oceanfront golf course designed by Rees Jones, a tennis complex, and an equestrian center, with trail rides through the forest and on the beach. Two-night, three-day Discovery Experiences are available for those who are interested in learning more about membership, and include overnight accommodations in either the Strachan Mansion or 1873 Lighthouse, as well as several complimentary meals, a round of golf, and a property tour.

Outside of Haig Point, several vacation rental and B&Bs, as well as several home rentals available through VRBO and Airbnb, offer a taste of local life. At Freeport Marina, colorful, tiny cabins offer a place to rest your head for the weekend, with easy access to the live music and cultural happenings on the waterfront. Deeper into the island, it's possible to rent a marshfront home for about $200 per night.

What to Do

Though cars are allowed — they must travel by ferry, which costs $300 round-trip for the car alone, and passengers must travel via a separate ferry — Daufuskie Island is best explored by bicycle or golf cart. Cart rentals start at $85 for half the day or $125 for the whole day. Island attractions include The Iron Fish Gallery, where sculptor Chase Allen crafts coastal images like stingrays and sea turtles into attractive wall hangings. Nearby, Silver Dew Winery has bottled its sweet elixirs in a tiny brick building intermittently since 1953. The island also has its own rum factory, the Daufuskie Island Distillery, which offers tours and tastings.

Daufuskie Island Rum Company Entrance
Courtesy of Daufuskie Island Rum Company

To fully appreciate Daufuskie Island's cultural history, consider taking a tour with local resident Sallie Ann Robinson. Her experience growing up on the island — including time spent as one of author Pat Conroy's students, which led to her appearance in his lauded memoir about life on the island, "The Water is Wide" — casts an authenticity on the place that's difficult to achieve on a self-guided visit. Tour stops include the Mary Fields School, originally built as a two-room schoolhouse for the island's Black children in the 1930s, where Conroy taught for nine years, and today, the place where two enterprising women now operate Daufuskie Blues, a textile company where the nearly lost art of indigo dying is back on trend. Robinson also takes guests to Gullah cemeteries dating back 200 years and to the Oyster Union Society Hall, the gathering place for factory workers during Daufuskie Island's boom as an oyster producer in the early 20th century.

After a day of sightseeing, visitors can wind down with drinks and seafood by the water. At the island's public landing, head to D'Fuskie's Store and Eatery, a restaurant and general store with sunset views across the river. At Freeport Marina, saddle up at the circular open-air bar for a local pint and a basket of fried shrimp or soft shell crabs before enjoying the scenic ferry ride back to the mainland. Or, stay for the night. Just make sure to confirm that the shutters are painted blue before dozing off.

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