Abaco, Bahamas—Unplug, unwind and enjoy
laidback luxury and barefoot elegance.
POPULATION: 17,224 (2010) | LARGEST SETTLEMENT: MARSH HARBOUR (POPULATION: 5,728)
From craggy, windswept vistas to pristine crescents of sugar-soft sand, each Abaco beach is more spectacular than the last. And whether you prefer a leisurely walk, a gourmet picnic, an afternoon nap in the sun—or all three— you’ll more likely than not have the beach all to yourself.
Enjoy Laidback Luxury
in Historic Abaco, Bahamas
BY AMANDA DIEDRICK
For nearly a thousand years, Abaco—the northernmost island in the Bahamian archipelago—has been a haven for those seeking refuge. It’s where, centuries before Columbus sailed across the eastern horizon, the peace-loving Lucayans sought shelter from violent, marauding Carib Indians.
It’s where, during the early 18th century, pirates such as Charles Vane, Ann Bonny and Mary Read dropped anchor in hidden harbours to wait out tropical storms, repair their ships and elude capture by authorities.
And, fifty years after the last swashbuckler was run off, it’s where thousands of British Loyalists—recently defeated in the American Revolutionary War—landed, looking to recreate the plantation lifestyles they left behind.
Though the island’s thin soil would thwart their ambitions, the seas around Abaco yielded up other lucrative economic prospects. Over time, the Loyalists launched successful wrecking, shipbuilding, sponging and fishing industries, in which some of their descendants work today.
Today, visitors arrive in Abaco seeking a different sort of refuge. An escape from the chaos of daily life. A place to unplug, unwind and enjoy laidback luxury and barefoot elegance.
The sparkling blue waters around Abaco are perfect for every sort of water sport, from swimming and snorkeling to kayaking and paddle boarding, jet skiing, Flyboarding, and of course, fishing.
The ocean abounds with dolphin, sailfish, tuna, bonefish and grouper. Along rocky reefs and in the gin-clear shallows, you’ll find vividly coloured tropical fish, curious eels and rays, and turtles so friendly they’ll eat out of your hand.
Of course, not all Abaco wildlife lives beneath the waves. Several hundred species of birds including swallows, sandpipers, brightly hued parrots and laughing gulls make their homes here, as does a famous family of swimming pigs.
Scattered along Abaco’s northeastern shore is a chain of small islands, known as the Abaco Cays. The narrow streets of their quaint, colourful settlements are lined with glimpses into Abaco’s past.
In Green Turtle Cay’s, New Plymouth, cannons from a Civil-War-era ship—sunk while pursuing local blockade runners—stand guard at the public dock. At the harbour head, the “wrecking tree,” where goods salvaged from foundering ships were brought for inventory and auction, still stands. Beneath it, friendly locals are happy to sit a spell and share tales of their seafaring ancestors.
A memorial sculpture garden commemorates the settlement’s founders. And New Plymouth’s Albert Lowe Museum—the Bahamas’ first museum—houses a treasure trove of artifacts, dating back almost a thousand years to the Lucayans.
Equally steeped in history and tradition, picturesque Hope Town on Elbow Cay is home to the Wyannie Malone Museum, named for the Loyalist widow who founded the settlement more than two centuries ago.
Hope Town is also the site of Abaco’s most recognizable landmark, the Elbow Reef Lighthouse. Built in 1864, this candy-striped beacon is the only remaining manually operated, kerosene-fueled lighthouse in the world. Climb the 101 steps to the top and you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking view of Elbow Cay and the dappled turquoise sea that surround it.
Sadly, the Lucayans have all died out. There hasn’t been a pirate spotted in these waters for nearly three hundred years. And modern-day Abaco boasts a myriad of amenities—enchanting boutique resorts, gourmet restaurants and elegant shops and galleries— beyond anything its Loyalist founders could ever have imagined.
Yet Abaco remains a haven of sorts, an idyllic and unspoiled paradise where you can relax, recharge, and make memories that last a lifetime.
To learn more about Abaco’s intriguing history, check out Those Who Stayed: The Tale of the Hardy Few Who Built Green Turtle Cay by Amanda Diedrick featuring oil paintings by Bahamian artist, Alton Lowe, and nearly 200 historic Green Turtle Cay photographs.