arthest to the east of The Islands of The Bahamas and looking out to the Atlantic Ocean lies San Salvador, just 12 miles long and 5 miles wide. Home to miles of pristine and secluded beaches, an emerald blue sea of sparkling clarity and challenging reef and wreck dive sites, San Salvador is the ultimate escape for divers, fishermen, yachtsmen and those who yearn to relax in a serene atmosphere. The island is actually the exposed peak of a submerged mountain that plunges 15,000 feet to the ocean floor.
The island’s several name changes are a reflection of its deep historical past. The Lucayan Indians initially named the island “Guanahani”. Then, in 1492, Columbus made his first landfall in the New World on the island. He named it San Salvador or “Holy Savior”, which he noted in his travel journal and described it as “the beauty of these islands surpasses that of any other and as much as the day surpasses the night in splendor”. Today, four separate monuments mark the exact spots where he came ashore, although it is generally regarded that he landed at Long Bay where a large stone cross stands. However, British Pirate Captain George Watling took over the island, making it his headquarters of the buccaneer and named it Watling Island after himself. The island retained this name until 1925 when it was then renamed San Salvador.
San Salvador is dotted with monuments, ruins and wreck sites, all illuminating its history. Besides lounging on secluded beaches, basking in sunshine and diving, snorkelling and fishing in clear waters, guests to the island enjoy touring the old plantation ruins, climbing to the top of the old kerosene-operated lighthouse and exploring the archaeological site of the Lucayan Indians.
Rum Cay is just ten miles long and five miles wide. The only settlement, Port Nelson, is home to the few inhabitants of the island. While rimmed with stunning beaches, Rum Cay remains one of the less developed islands of the archipelago, with very little in the way of tourist activities.
Only 80-miles long and 4-miles wide, Long Island is one of the most scenic hideaways in The Islands of The Bahamas, famous for its world-class scuba diving and bonefishing. The island is divided by the Tropic of Cancer and is bordered on each side by two contrasting coasts, one with soft-white beach, and the other with rocky headlands that descent into the sea and serve as boundaries for the crashing waves. The topography of the island varies as well – from sloping hills in the northeast to low hillsides in the south to stark white flatlands to swampland to pristine beaches, all of which combine to create a picturesque landscape and an ideal haven for seamen, sun-lovers and vacationers alike.
Long Island was originally named Yuma by the Lucayan Indians and was renamed Fernandina by Christopher Columbus upon his third landfall in the New World. Then, in 1790, Loyalists from the Carolinas and their slaves settled Fernandina. They built large plantations and produced sea-island cotton until the abolition of slavery, which made them unprofitable.
Today, many of the Loyalist mansions still stand as a reminder of the island’s past. Although the plantations are overgrown and non-productive, agriculture is still a very important part of life. Pothole farming, which is a method that utilised fertile holes in the limestone where fertile topsoil collects, yields much of the food supply for the other islands, including peas, corn, pineapples and bananas. Raising sheep, goats and pigs is also popular amongst Long Islanders.
Pace of life has not changed much from Long Island’s deep past. The carriage road, built more than a century ago, is lined by the island’s major settlements of Burnt Ground, Simms, Wood Hill, Clarence Town, Roses and South Point, all situated around the island’s harbours and anchorages
Little-known Acklins and Crooked Island lie next to each other and are connected by ferry. They are an escapist’s dream with endless beautiful beaches lapped by aquamarine water. These waters are popular with the more adventurous tarpon and bonefishermen, as well as with divers, as a 50 mile barrier reef rings the islands. Crooked Island is the main island of the two, with most of the sparse population living in and around the capital of Colonel Hill. Experienced birders also know that the undisturbed wooded areas are a popular resting place for numerous species, including the ever elusive hummingbird.
Crooked Island, approximately 200 miles southeast of Nassau, is one of three major islands called The Crooked Island District. At the southeastern tip of Crooked Island, a ferry transports visitors across the ocean to the exotic Acklins Island – also part of The District – where gentle hills as well as the colorful scattering of the purple, green and blue houses make Acklins Islands a very unique site within The Islands of The Bahamas.
According to Bahamian historians, when Columbus was sailing down the Crooked Island Passage, the sweet aroma of native herbs and flowers drifted out to his ship and delighted his senses. Soon after The Crooked Island District developed the nickname the “fragrant islands.” However, it was not until the end of the 18th century that the first-known settlers, British Loyalists, actually stepped foot on Crooked Island. These Loyalists established almost 50 cotton plantations, but in 1820 the plantations were ruined because the crops were destroyed by blight and poor soil conditions. Those remaining were able to survive by adapting to fishing and small-scale farming. In addition, since the middle of the 18th century, Crooked Islanders have been stripping the Croton Cascarilla shrub and shipping the Cascarilla bark to Italy to be used as flavouring for the famous Campari liquor.
Some interesting structures, old plantation houses and the like, still remain on Crooked Island. The ruins, preserved by the Bahamas National Trust, overlook Crooked Island Passage, which separates Crooked Island from Long Cay, the third island in the Acklins-Crooked Island chain.
Yet another interesting spot to explore is Crooked Island Caves. These are dark passageways, which widen into gaping chambers and embrace speckles of sunlight that poke through holes from above.
Built in the north the glistening Bird Rock Lighthouse on Crooked Island is a popular nesting spot for ospreys and acts as a guard to the Crooked Island Passage, one of the most important sea passages for ships, which follow the southerly route to the Panama Canal. The Castle Island.
The ultimate desert island dream, Mayaguana makes Crooked Island and Acklins look busy! Similarly, Jumento Cays and Ragged Island, to the west of Acklins, are isolated with just a few inhabitants who make their living from fishing.
Inagua’s pristine environment is home to an exotic variety of wildlife and is one of the largest breeding destinations of the West Indian flamingo in the western hemisphere. The flamingo was saved from near extinction 30 years ago by The Bahamas National Trust, with help from The National Audubon Society. Today, more than 80,000 flamingoes live primarily in Inagua National Park. Visitors can witness the spectacle of nesting flamingoes, see adults standing guard over fluffy white chicks or feeding on tasty shrimp. The flamingo mating season runs October through February and the nesting season is March through April.
The island is also home to many water birds including the unusual roseate spoonbill, pelicans, herons, egrets, black-necked stilts and Bahamas pintail ducks. One of the most exotic birds in Inagua is the endangered Bahama parrot that feeds among the Inagua oak trees and are a vibrant green color with a whitehead camouflage. Visitors to the park may be lucky to see the Bahama woodstar, a dazzling endemic humming bird that is not found anywhere else in the world.
Other wondrous sights include burrowing owls, American kestrels in courtship displays, and ospreys. In the fall and winter many North American birds escape from the cold to Inagua. The most famous of these are the endangered Kirtland’s warblers that travel from their Michigan nesting grounds.
In addition to the exotic variety of birds, visitors can see feral donkeys and endangered freshwater turtles. Accompanied by experienced guides, travelers can explore Inagua’s limestone caves and enjoy fabulous beaches and snorkeling.
Inagua, mostly flat and scrub, is the third-largest island in The Islands of the Bahamas. The national park’s 287 square miles account for almost half the island and is dominated by Lake Windsor. About 1,000 people live on Inagua whose capital, Matthew Town, is on the southwest coast.