The vibe of the Abacos is pretty well summed up by a sign we spotted in Hope Town: “Open if we’re here, closed if we’re not.” Though Great Abaco is one of the largest islands in The Bahamas and home to one of the largest cities in The Bahamas, its remained free of the mass tourism from the cruise ships. In fact, there’s not a cruise ship in sight. And best of all, with a well-connected ferry services it’s easy to go cay hopping in the Abaco Islands without your own boat.
We visited in the off-season, but locals told us that even during the height of tourist season you can find abandoned beaches to enjoy all to yourself. Sleepy as the Abacos are, there’s plenty to do. With direct flights from Florida in just 50 minutes, why wouldn’t you want to visit The Bahamas’ northern island chain? Here’s a few things not to miss:
Abaco Beach Resort
Marsh Harbour is the best central point for exploring Great Abaco and many of the cays in the Abaco chain. It’s one of the largest cities in The Bahamas, but with a population of just over 6,000 (compared to Nassau’s 240,000) Marsh Harbour has a variety of restaurants, shopping, accommodations while maintaining its small town feel.
We stayed two nights at Abaco Beach Resort & Boat Harbour Marina, which is conveniently located a short drive from Marsh Harbour International Airport and within easy walking distance of the many restaurants and shops in town. Though the resort has everything you need from a white sand beach to onsite restaurants to enjoy a relaxing holiday without leaving the property if that’s your thing.
If you read about our not-the-least-bit relaxing stay at Bahama Beach Club on Treasure Cay thanks to their heavy construction they failed to inform guests about, you’ll probably wonder why we even changed resorts at all. If it weren’t for my friend Angie Away’s destination wedding, I would have headed straight back to Abaco Beach Resort for the other three nights we spent on Abaco. Albury’s Ferry Service is a short walk from the resort and can whisk you off to cays like Elbow Cay and Green Turtle Cay.
The luxury resort has just 89 simple, yet tastefully decorated rooms. But it’s all the amenities that make Abaco Beach Resort a fantastic choice. The resort has two pools, but I always prefer the beach and there’s a beautiful stretch of beach right in front of the hotel. After a hectic few days swimming with pigs and cay hopping around the Exumas, a day of swimming and relaxing on the beach was just what the doctor ordered.
There’s something luxurious about never having to change out of your bathing suit when on vacation. But there’s definitely more to do at Abaco Beach Resort than just sit on a beach. The activity center has kayaks and stand-up paddle boards, plus there’s beach volleyball on their beach and a fun water trampoline all available for guests. And there are colorful fish, starfish and other sea treasures just about everywhere in The Bahamas, so snorkeling right off the beach is another great option.
Abaco Beach Resort also has some excellent dining options. We had dinner and breakfast at Angler’s in the Marina and both were honestly some of the best meals I had in The Bahamas. I’d already had eggs benedict in the Exumas, but that’s always my breakfast indulgence when it’s available on the menu. I definitely couldn’t pass up lobster eggs benedict and it was one of the best I’ve had anywhere in the world.
My friend Angie, who was holed up in wedding hell over at Bahama Beach Club where there wasn’t any food even available, asked to me to bring her an order. If only I’d known in that moment just how badly she needed the luxurious pick-me-up of lobster eggs benedict…
And it wasn’t just the delicious food; the service was exception too! My mom, who was traveling with me, had ordered pasta for dinner. The portion was so large that she couldn’t finish it and our waitress boxed it up and told her just to bring it back and they would be happy to heat it up for her. We put her leftover pasta in the mini fridge in our room and the staff at the Beach Bar & Grill did indeed heat it and plate it nicely for my mom for lunch the next day. They even timed it to be served with the cracked conch I ordered so we could enjoy a hot lunch together.
Sipping delicious piña coladas and lounging in hammocks punctuated by dips in the crystal clear waters at Abaco Beach Resort wasn’t a bad way to spend a day.
If you can pull yourself away from the lovely Abaco Beach Resort, Albury’s Ferry Service is just a short walk away and can whisk you over to Hope Town on Elbow Cay in just 20 minutes.
The candy colored buildings of Hope Town are straight off of a postcard and even in the off-season, we had plenty of charming shops to wander in and out of selling everything from straw hats to rum. I even found several wine shops and wine bars. Clearly, these were my people.
But I passed on a glass of wine, instead opting for a Goombay Smash. It’s the drink to drink when visiting the Abacos since it was invented here. Though the original recipe remains a very well-kept secret, a Goombay Smash is a delicious concoction of coconut rum, dirty rum, apricot brandy and pineapple juice. In other words, it’s a dangerous drink because before you know it you’re absolutely smashed. Hmm…perhaps where the name came from?
Hope Town does have a beach, and much like Abaco Beach Resort, we again had the long stretch of white sand beach entirely to ourselves. Be sure to bring a towel with you, because the beach doesn’t have any services like chairs or beach bars. But it runs all along the backside of Hope Town, so plenty of restaurants and even a grocery store are a short walk away. Also bring snorkeling gear because there are shallow reefs right off the beach.
Swimming and snorkeling makes me hungry and Captain Jack’s hit the spot. Not only is there a sensational view of the harbor, Captain Jack’s has a tasty menu that varies based on the fresh catch. There’s also Bahamian staples like conch – cracked and fritters – and even burgers for the landlubbers. With Bahamian lobster in season, I couldn’t pass up on yet another way to enjoy it and gobbled up a Bahamian lobster roll.
Hope Town isn’t all just cute cottages and fun in the sun, you can also pop in to the small Wyannie Malone Historical Museum. The museums tells the story of Hope Town, which includes a history of pirates, rum-runners, Lucayan Indians and even hurricanes.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do the one thing we really wanted to do on Hope Town. That was to climb the 100 steps to the top of the Elbow Reef Lighthouse. So if you want to climb the lighthouse, be sure to get off at the very first stop Albury’s Ferry Service makes once you enter the harbor. If not, you can get off either at the Lower Dock or the Upper Dock for the town.
The candy cane stripped Elbow Reef Lighthouse is probably the most recognizable landmark in the Abacos. It’s also one of the last manually operated lighthouses in the world. Built in 1863, a lighthouse keeper still winds it up by hand every two hours so that ships can see its beacon from up to 17 miles away. For someone like me who just adores lighthouse, I’m still kicking myself that I only got to admire it from the harbor.
Brendal’s Dive Center
One of the things that can make or break a tour is the people that you meet, and I can guarantee that Brendal Stevens will make your trip memorable. And I mean that in a good way! Angie Away had raved about a trip with Brendal’s Dive Center and Kristin from Camels & Chocolate even got her dive certification on a trip with Brendal years before. I couldn’t wait for our full day adventure tour with Brendal.
Brendal’s Dive Center is located on Green Turtle Cay, which you can also easily reach from Marsh Harbour via taxi to Treasure Cay and then on Lowe’s Green Turtle Ferry. Though I only had an all too brief visit while getting checked in for our day tour with Brendal, Green Turtle Cay is another place we need to go back to in The Bahamas.
Our full day adventure started off with snorkeling in two different snorkel spots. Unfortunately, we’d been dealing with high winds so like a couple other snorkel tours I went out on we had to stick close to shore and weren’t able to visit the very best spots. I still saw loads of colorful reef fish, conch, stingrays and even spotted a lionfish.
After a few hours of snorkeling and sailing, we moored at Munjack Cay to spend the rest of the afternoon on an uninhabited island with yet another long, gorgeous white sand beach.
There are a few stingrays who recognize the sound of the boat engine and come to say hello so often that Brendal and his team have named and can recognize them. Prepared with buckets of squid, we hopped in to the water to feed our new wild friends. Just like a vacuum, the stingrays glide ever so gently through the water and suck up the squid right from your hand.
If your feet aren’t too ticklish, Brendal will even put some squid between your toes. If you place your foot down, the stingrays will vacuum up the squid right from between your toes. It’s an experience sure to put a smile on your face.
While we swam, fed the stingrays and tried our Survivor skills at opening coconuts, Brendal cooked us up a fabulous lunch of grouper stew and lobster tails with salads and the best bread I have ever tasted. He even brings herbs to cook with that are from his very own garden and the fish and lobster were caught while we snorkeled.
I won’t admit how many lobster tails I ate, but if there was a contest for the most lobster tails you could eat in 20 minutes I’d have surely won. Now, where to hide all these empty shells?
The stingrays weren’t the only ones to pay a visit. While we were all chowing down on the lobster tails and fish stew, a shark swam up right to shore. For most people, that would be enough to make you never go in the water again. But not our crazy bunch. We were right in the water to get a closer look while Brendal kept watch. It was a seriously awesome way to end a great day sailing and snorkeling around the Abacos.
Even with spending five full days in the Abacos, I really only scratched the surface of all there is to do when visiting this northern island chain of The Bahamas.
Treasure Cay isn’t really a cay since it is actually attached to Great Abaco by a little stretch of land. It’s home to only two hotels and we think you should steer clear of Bahama Beach Club. But I do think Treasure Cay is worth mentioning for two reasons: the 3.5 mile long beach was voted the most beautiful beach in the region by Caribbean Travel & Life and you can only get to Green Turtle Cay without your own boat from the dock in Treasure Cay.
Know Before You Go
- Taxis are readily available on Great Abaco.
- You can easily walk to bike from Abaco Beach Resort to town and to Albury’s Ferry Service.
- Albury’s Ferry Service services Marsh Harbour, Man-O-War Cay, Hope Town, Great Guana Cay, and Scotland Cay.
- The Lowe’s Green Turtle Ferry operates between Treasure Cay and Green Turtle Cay.
We were provided with a 2-night stay at Abaco Beach Resort in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own. This article contains affiliate links. When you book on Booking.com through our affiliate site, we earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.