How to Spend a Weekend in Eleuthera, The Bahamas
Published January 30, 2018
If you enjoy driving and an off-the-beaten-path adventure, look no further than the Bahamian island of Eleuthera! With a length of 110 miles and an average width of only 7 miles, Eleuthera’s unique geography makes it the perfect place for a weekend road trip. The Queen’s Highway runs from north to south along the western coast of the island and in many areas is the only paved road around. Untouched by commercialization, Eleuthera’s handful of towns and villages scattered along the island are all great places to get out and stretch your feet, order some fresh conch, and meet some friendly locals.
Getting There & Getting Around
I’ve been wanting to spend a weekend on one of the Out Islands ever since I traveled to Nassau in July of 2017. Unfortunately, this presented a logistical challenge, since most flights to these islands are only scheduled once or twice a day (generally out of Nassau) and need to be booked on small airlines like this. For a short trip, it seemed impossible to make it worth the while.
However, when I discovered that Delta flies seasonally to the North Eleuthera International Airport (ELH) directly from Atlanta, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity! Without having to book with multiple airlines, I had more time to spend on Eleuthera itself and could skip a layover in Nassau.
Before you arrive, you’ll need to arrange a rental vehicle as there is no public transportation on the island. Car rentals in the Bahamas are generally much less formal than they are in the US, so I was able to simply ask my Airbnb host to arrange it for me. There was no paperwork to sign, and the security deposit was paid in cash. Once your rental car is secured, you’re ready to go!
Where to Stay
I booked an Airbnb close to Surfer’s Beach, which is slightly south of Gregory Town. This area was a great location since it was only about a twenty minute drive from the airport. If you’re flying in and out of the North Eleuthera Airport, I recommend staying in this area since Gregory Town has a handful of options for meals, as well as some convenience stores and a gas station.
Planning Your Trip
A drive from the north end of the island to the south and back is about 200 miles in total, and is totally doable in one full day. If you start your journey between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m., you should be able to reach the south end by sunset (which in January was around 5:30 p.m.) and have many, many hours in between to stop and mingle in places that pique your interest along the way. The drive itself is between two and three hours without stops, so wake up early to maximize the amount of daylight you have while you go exploring!
Here’s my recommendation for an itinerary:
1. Preacher's Cave
This will be your very first stop, located on the north shore of the island. A sign outside explains how early English settlers from Bermuda used the cave as shelter when they arrived on Eleuthera. When you venture in, be sure to look up; there are a number of holes that let natural light in and offer interesting pinhole views of the canopy of trees above.
2. Glass Window Bridge
Once you’re done exploring the cave, you’ll want to take the paved road east until you turn left onto the Queen’s Highway to start driving south. Pass through a small town called the Bogue and your next stop will be the Glass Window Bridge. You’ll be crossing it to continue on your journey, so it’s impossible to miss and quite a sight to see. The bridge traverses the narrowest part of the island, which is only about thirty feet across and very rocky. What’s truly incredible though isn’t the bridge itself, but the bodies of water on both sides:
Pull off to the side to park your car, and climb up the rocks on the left to a higher elevation to take in the view!
3. Queen's Bath & Daddy Joe's Restaurant
Once you’ve crossed the bridge, you will have the option to take a small detour to check out the Queen’s Bath. There will be a sign on the highway indicating its location on the left. If you happen to be passing by during low tide on a sunny day, you can soak in the shallow, warm water brought in by the waves. Otherwise, it’s still an interesting sight to go check out for a few minutes.
One kilometer down the road on the lefthand side is a bright green and blue building. This is Daddy Joe’s Restaurant. I went here for dinner on my first night and ordered cracked conch with a spicy garlic sauce. According to my waitress, the conch itself is a traditional Bahamian meal, but the spicy topping is a house specialty. It was truly delicious and legitimately spicy! You also get your choice of sides, so I went with two classics that you have to try before you head back home: peas and rice on the left and plantains on the right.
4. Gregory Town
From here, travel 5.5 km south and your next destination will be Gregory Town. Try a classic breakfast (omelets, breakfast sandwiches, and fresh coffee) at the Surf Shack as you chat with the hospitable couple who owns it, or make your way closer to the beachfront area and stop into Unca Gene’s for some seafood and fries with a coconut rum and orange juice. You’ll want to check out the Island Made Gift Shop next to Unca Gene’s if you plan to bring any souvenirs home. They have a huge selection of shirts, jewelry, and other cool handmade stuff.
5. Beaches Near Cocodimama
Grab your souvenirs and head back to your car, and from this point take the Queen’s Highway south for 30 km. The next stop is just south of Governor’s Harbour Airport and was one of my favorites. If you turn right at the sign advertising the Cocodimama Resort and continue just past the hotel, there is a paved road that runs south right along the beach. This tucked-away beach is absolutely gorgeous and when I arrived, there wasn’t a single person in sight!
What made this area my favorite is the fact that you can actually jump back in your car and see the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast within a five minutes. Take this road, find a place to park, and climb down the hill. You’ll find that the contrast between both sides of the island (less than a mile apart at this location) is striking. The wind howls here and the waves are rough. There isn’t a resort in sight, which makes the entire area feel completely timeless.
6. Governor's Harbour
Once you’ve finished exploring these two beaches, continue 11 km south and rest for a bit in Governor’s Harbour. If you’re running low on cash, this is the only town on the island that has an ATM (it’s a First Caribbean Bank, and yes, the ATM is available 24 hours), so make sure to withdraw if you need to. There’s also a Shell gas station here and a big convenience store, both of which were open on Sunday. I was shocked to find out that filling up the tank of my Jeep cost a whopping 70 dollars, so be prepared for a similar gas bill to fill up your rental car.
Since I got into town around noon, I was looking for somewhere nearby to have lunch. As I mentioned above, I was traveling on a Sunday, which meant almost every restaurant was closed. I happened to see that the Four Friends Restaurant was open on Sundays, but when I arrived around 12:30 p.m., a neighbor informed me that the owners were still in church.
She recommended I try the Buccaneer Club down the road, which at least was already open and very clearly catered to a tourist clientele. Nonetheless, the conch I ended up ordering there was excellent and so was the side of mac n’ cheese. I ordered a large coffee to go and continued on my way.
7. North Palmetto Point
From Governor’s Harbour, you could hop right back onto the Queen’s Highway and continue on your way south. However, I recommend that instead, you take Haynes Avenue up to Banks Road and drive along the Atlantic shore for a few miles for a change of scenery. The beaches along this road are awesome, and once you reach North Palmetto Point, you can follow signs back to the Queen’s Highway.
8. Rock Sound (Ocean Hole)
The next two towns you’ll pass through are Savannah Sound and Tarpum Bay. I don’t remember seeing much of interest in Savannah Sound, but in Tarpum Bay, the Queen’s Highway becomes the Meridian Highway, and a small stretch of it runs right along the ocean. Stop here to take a few pictures if you like, but I actually recommend eating dinner here on your return trip back north (read more below).
Keep driving south and you’ll find yourself in Rock Sound. The view of the sound is actually quite nice. If you want a short break from driving, you can follow signs to the Ocean Hole, which after turning left at the road with the sign, is only a few minutes from the main highway.
The Ocean Hole is a blue hole, which is believed to be connected to the ocean through underwater channels deep below the island’s surface. The Ocean Hole has no shoreline, and instead is surrounded by bedrock. It is so deep that the bottom is not visible from the surface. Go up to the water’s edge to see a huge variety of fish and marine life.
9. Beaches on the South End
At this point, there’s only one more stop to see before you head back north! Hopefully you’ve arrived on the south side of the island in time for a beautiful sunset. I recommend trying to see it from either this unnamed beach or this one, both of which are interesting. It was quite satisfying to finally reach the end of the paved road that brought me all the way from Preacher’s Cave to this end of the island.
I recommend exploring these areas instead of going towards Freetown, since there wasn’t much of interest there in my opinion, and if you try to head even further west (towards “The Island School”), you’ll eventually run into a guarded checkpoint and be forced to turn around before you’re even able to find a nice beach in that area.
I was also interested in seeing Lighthouse Beach, which is located at the southern-most tip of the island. Unfortunately, I ended up turning around before I arrived since the deceptively short-looking unpaved road there was absolutely awful. Unless you have an off-road vehicle, you’re not going to make it, and you’ll be traveling at less than 10 mph the entire way. The road was full of sharp rocks so I was constantly worrying about popping a tire. The road is also so narrow that only one car fits; in all but a handful of places, there is nowhere to pull off to the side to allow another car to pass since a dense forest of trees surrounds the road. The beach has amazing reviews (which I’m unable to attest to), but know what you’re getting into before you go (read more here).
10. Dinner in Tarpum Bay
Congrats, you’ve explored the whole island and been rewarded with a beautiful sunset for your efforts! Be careful on your drive back north in the dark, since the Queen’s Highway doesn’t have any streetlights.
A good place to stop for dinner in my opinion is Tarpum Bay (the town with the waterfront stretch of highway). Since I was traveling on a Sunday and almost everything was closed, I was looking for any restaurant that was open. Luckily, a brightly-lit beach shack was clearly open and actually had a huge crowd (makes sense since everywhere else was closed). Everyone there was local, and both the customers and the bartenders were super friendly and welcoming. They were serving burgers and fries, cold drinks, and conch salad, so I ordered one of each.
To my surprise, the burger actually had conch on it as well, which was delicious. It ended up being way too much food, but I’m glad I got to try all of it. The conch salad was prepared before my eyes, and it was quite an experience to watch the cook crack open the huge conch shell, pull the meat out, and slice it into thin strips.
Oh, and by the way: if you order conch salad and it comes with the option of a homemade chili sauce, ONLY USE A LITTLE BIT! I absolutely love spicy food and can handle quite a bit of spice, but when I put on a big heaping scoop of chili sauce, the chef looked at me like I was crazy. I assured him I’d be fine; a few minutes later, I had no choice but to frantically order a bottle water at the bar. A girl sitting next to me asked if it was too spicy, so I told her that I’ve never tasted a chili sauce that was as spicy as this in the States! The entire place erupted in laughter. It was a great experience sharing a meal at a truly local joint.
From here, your drive back home should be smooth sailing as long as you avoid the potholes in the road. You’ve now seen the whole island in a single day and can go back to any of your favorite spots to soak up the sun if you have another day or two to spare!
My biggest piece of advice would be to either download an offline map of the island or enable roaming data on your phone. A GPS is going to be a huge help and allow you to stray from the main road without having to worry too much about finding your way back. If you do get lost, I have always found that Bahamians are extremely welcoming and willing to help in any way they can.
My other piece of advice to you is to be SURE that you are leaving your rental car completely empty whenever you get out to explore. Unfortunately, the rear window of my rental car was smashed at this location because I left a gym bag with a change of clothes for the beach in the back seat. It was a good reminder that I have to be more vigilant and aware of my surroundings when I’m in another country. Take your bag with you even if you step out of your car for just a few minutes, and you won’t have to forfeit your security deposit like I did!
Despite this setback, Eleuthera was an absolutely phenomenal place. The name of the island comes from the Greek word eleutheros, meaning “free,” which is exactly the feeling you get when you discover a completely empty beach along its vast coastline. I’d wholeheartedly recommend the island to anyone interested in seeing the “real” Bahamas!
This post was published on Jan 30, 2018