Eleuthera - Peaceful Paradise

Eleuthera Offers Surf, Sand, Sky And Solitude

This tiny, undeveloped island offers an alternative to those who prefer to avoid casinos, nightclubs and crowds. If you're looking for five-star hotels on Eleuthera, pampering, entertainment and fine dining, look elsewhere. But if having beaches to yourself and unspoiled views of the ocean in countless shades of blue and turquoise sound appealing, Eleuthera Bahamas is paradise.

Whether you're seeking a romantic getaway or a family vacation, Eleuthera is a little-known gem. My husband and I enjoyed a second honeymoon here for our anniversary a few years ago and just went back with our three kids, who loved it as much as we did.

The place is beautiful and unspoiled: water so clean you can stand chest-deep and see your feet; air so free of pollution that the night sky is black and sprinkled with millions of stars; flowers so bright they inspire people to paint their houses in a rainbow of pastel colors.

The soft pink or white sand, bountiful shells, warm water and coral reefs right off shore offer a relaxing and interesting day at the beach. There's nobody trying to braid your hair or sell you trinkets, and with 220 miles of coastline, it's not hard to have the place to yourself. The island is so narrow, you can choose between the Atlantic or the Caribbean side with minimal travel time. (At the 62-acre private estate where we stayed, we could walk to the Atlantic Ocean or the Caribbean Sea, often going to one beach in the morning and the other in the afternoon.)

Nature lovers have their choice. We awoke to a chorus of songbirds each morning, and our hosts said birder guests have identified more than 100 species on the island. Our children enjoyed watching the turquoise and brown lizards, the noisy frogs with suction feet, tropical fish, starfish, sand dollars, conch and sea crabs.

The vegetation was varied and interesting. Tropical fruits, including pineapples, oranges, mangoes and papaya, grow on the island. We all liked drinking coconut juice and eating the coconut fruit from a green coconut knocked from a tree on the estate. And, in Tarpum Bay, an old roadside banyan tree, with roots that descend from its branches, was so expansive that another visitor kept stepping farther and farther away to try to capture its immensity on film. A single tree was so gigantic that 50 kids could have climbed on it simultaneously.

Another interesting experience is passing over the Glass Window Bridge north of Gregory Town in North Central Eleuthera, where, at the narrowest point of the island, the calm, shallow Caribbean and the deeper, more turbulent Atlantic meet. The only thing that separates them is a narrow bridge. The bridge is manmade, replacing a natural arch that was washed away in a storm. The Caribbean is a lighter blue-turquoise than the deep blue Atlantic, and taking in all of those shades of blue at once is a feast for your eyes, especially on a sunny day when the sky is yet another shade.

If natural phenomena interest you, Eleuthera has plenty to offer. In Rock Sound, there's Ocean Hole, which appears to be a pond surrounded by walls of rock. Called “bottomless”, it contains ocean water fed from underground streams. Bring bread, because feeding the jumping fish is a treat. The fish are so used to being fed that they're like ducks on a public pond.

There are also ancient caves to explore. Preacher's Cave, in North Eleuthera, is where the Eleutheran Adventurers, the pilgrims who fled Bermuda and England for religious freedom, held religious services.

The tropical fish that feed in the coral reefs just off the beach are fascinating to watch, and the plentiful shells range in color from mother-of-pearl to pink, sunset hues to purple.

The real gift Eleuthera offers visitors isn't in any one “must-see” site. It's the atmosphere. Eleuthera, “freedom” in Greek, lives up to its name.

The people are so laid back and friendly that it's impossible for even the most Type-A folks not to relax. The roads are narrow - and the rental cars are older, less-than-perfect models - so you can't speed down the highway. Besides, there is no highway. The main road, which runs north to south, one lane in each direction, offers many unspoiled, breathtaking views of the ocean.

A few years ago, a wealthy developer spent $3.5 million for a private island off Bahamas Eleuthera. But you don't have to be wealthy to enjoy the kind of peace, quiet and solitude the super-rich enjoy on private islands.

Weekly rates for home rentals on Eleuthera go from $600 for a one-bedroom to more than $3,100 for a three-bedroom house on the beach.

Many Eleuthera vacation rentals include linens, beach towels, snorkeling and fishing gear, sand toys and similar essentials. Ours also included use of the sailboat, complete with help with the rigging from our hosts. You can also borrow bikes, books, board games, videos, CDs, and toys at no charge. Our son brought watercolors and paper but forgot the brushes, and our hosts lent us some.

Eleuthera hotel rooms range from about $80 to upward of $500 a night, depending on ocean views, meals and luxury quotient. Prince Charles and Princess Diana honeymooned on Windermere Island off the coast of Eleuthera, so you can find pampering if you want to.

Some places charge less in the off-season, but definitions of this vary. The airfare can be steep, especially if you travel to Eleuthera during peak seasons. We went during school vacation in April and found that by leaving home a day earlier and staying two days longer than originally planned, we saved significantly more on airfare than it cost us to extend our vacation.

Cars can be rented by the week or the day; they're $60 to $70 a day, or about $280 to $350 a week. If you want to explore the 110-mile-long island, you'll need a car, but if you want to just relax at the place where you're staying, you may prefer daily rentals for occasional sightseeing, dining out and grocery-store runs.

We recommend renting a house or cottage on Eleuthera with a kitchen or staying someplace that provides meals, because Bahamian food offers little variety. Except for the really pricey places, most Eleuthera restaurants offer ribs, fried chicken, grouper, conch, peas and rice and french fries. My conch soup had a mellow kick to it, but a steady diet of the mostly fatty offerings would get old fast. The charming people of Eleuthera take their time, so Americans used to quick service may get antsy.

We shopped at one of the large grocery stores in Rock Sound. The selection and prices at the are better than at smaller stores. Between creative shopping, buying fresh fish off the pier and using the gas grill at our house, we ate well. The Bahamian beer, Kalik, is worth trying. Naturally, being on an island, food and liquor are more expensive than on the mainland.

There's something amazingly relaxing about being able to let your children roam and explore without worrying about them. Our three kids, ages 5, 9 and 12, played in the still, shallow waters of the Caribbean while my husband and I looked for shells or read. They were the only children in the water, so they were easy to keep an eye on.

Because we were on a private estate without a soul around, we could let the older two walk the beach without us. On the Atlantic side, one child could be lying in the hammock in the shade of the cabana while another was playing in the sand and a third was splashing around in the water. They were all content, and I was able to read - something I can barely do when we go to the Cape, because the kids need closer supervision and want parental attention. I finished five books in 11 days. Need I say more?

It's not that we ignored our kids - each child got one-on-one time with each parent over the course of the week, and we had lots of fun together as a family. We sailed, looked for sea glass, explored the island and spied shooting stars at night.

And we really played. There's something liberating about being able to be as loud as you like without worrying about disturbing others. We could laugh, splash and be goofy without a care. Our 12-year-old son, in particular, seemed as sunny and carefree as he was at 5 - no need to worry about being cool when there's no one around but your family. With everyone so relaxed, the sibling fighting and rivalry was minimal.

There were even magical moments when everyone was quiet while we laid on our backs outside and looked up at the inky sky filled with stars. “They look like diamonds,” our 9-year-old daughter whispered.

And because we had no schedule, we made a point of watching the sun set over the Caribbean. Once, we lost track of time and ended up staying at the beach to watch the sunset. Another time, our hosts invited us to a sunset barbecue at the beach. Somehow, the peach-colored, glowing skies never got old.

The sunrises over the Atlantic held their own magic. When you awake to a chorus of birds, spend your day drinking in soothing blues, and fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves, it's pretty easy to escape civilization.

By Theresa Sullivan Barger, The Hartford Courant

Ocean Hole
Rock Sound
Tarpum Bay
Eleuthera Bahamas vacation rentals
Preachers Cave Eleuthera