“Surfer's Beach is for wave riders, but there are also beaches for snorkelers, swimmers and shell collectors. Best of all, you can have one all to yourself. Around midafternoon on New Year's Eve, when nearly all the island's rooms were booked, not a single soul could be spotted on Ten Bay Beach, six miles south of Governor's Harbour, despite a brilliant sunshine and near perfect temperatures.”
- New York Times, February 19, 2006
It’s obvious that the reporter who penned these lines was seeing Eleuthera for the first time. Regular visitors are surprised to find anyone on their favorite beach. With seventy miles of beaches and a few dozen hotel rooms, Eleuthera is a paradise for beach lovers who enjoy privacy and unspoiled natural beauty.
Beyond the beaches, Eleuthera is surrounded by coral reefs that offer exceptional diving and snorkeling. The Devil’s Backbone, the most famous Eleuthera dive, is a large coral formation off North Eleuthera, notorious for wrecking ships. The Current Cut, a narrow channel with currents that regularly reach 10 knots, has been rated one of the ten best dives in the world. Buttonwood Beach has a shipwreck, and there is even a sunken train wreck off the north coast of the island. Shark dives and other guided adventure dives are also available. (See SCUBA below.)
Eleuthera is famous for bonefishing and deep-sea fishing. Reef fishing and spear-fishing are also popular. (Guides and charter captains are listed below.) The Caribbean side of the island is usually free of heavy surf, providing excellent conditions for sailing, windsurfing, and kayaking. Powerboat, sailboat, and jet ski rentals are available. Trails through the fields and woods are perfect for jogging, hiking, and mountain-biking. You won’t find them on a map or in a guidebook, so ask a local resident or watch for trails on the side of the road.
The Atlantic side of the island north of James Cistern offers several excellent beaches for surfing, with Surfer’s Beach and Holiday Beach being the most famous. Surfing lessons are available. For golfers, Eleuthera has the only Robert Trent Jones-designed golf course in the Bahamas, once ranked among the best in the world, although maintenance is now haphazard.
Eleuthera offers varied and unique sightseeing. The Hatchet Bay Cave extends for a mile underground. At the Cliffs, giant ocean swells crash into a coral precipice. The Rock Sound Ocean Hole, said to be bottomless, is an inland salt lake connected by subterranean passages to the sea. Feed the tame saltwater fish miles from the ocean. The more adventurous will enjoy cliff-jumping from the cliffs surrounding the hole, which range in height from 5 to 25 feet. The Glass Window Bridge, painted by Winslow Homer, is the narrowest point on the island, where the calm turquoise waters of the Caribbean almost touch the turbulent deep blue of the Atlantic. The cavernous Preacher’s Cave provided shelter for the first European settlers of Eleuthera, and served as their first church. The Queen’s Baths are a collection of small pools carved out of the soft rock by wave action. At low tide, the Queen—or anyone fortunate enough to be on Eleuthera—can bathe amongst the little fishes. These sites are all in their pristine state. Don’t expect to find a guide booth--or even a paved road.
Eco-tourism is growing on the island. The Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve, the first national park on the island of Eleuthera, opened last year near Governors Harbour. Visitors can walk miles of trails through the preserve to view the orchids, food and medicinal plants, and hardwood trees that played an important role in the history of the island. The Island School and the Cape Eleuthera Institute offer fascinating daily tours of their facilities and their work in tropical and marine ecology, and building strong relationships between people and their environment.
Each of Eleuthera’s score of picturesque villages deserves a visit. Gregory Town, home of the annual Pineapple Festival, is also home to Pam’s Island Made Gift Shop, featuring local handicrafts, and Thompson’s bakery, creator of Eleuthera’s famous pineapple and coconut tarts. Spanish Wells is an island fishing village off the north coast of Eleuthera with lovely nineteenth century cottages in pastel colors. Governor’s Harbour features an historic waterfront, colonial homes, and the recently restored Haynes Library. Governors Harbour also hosts the Friday night fish fry, a weekly waterfront street party that brings out locals and visitors alike. Harbour Island, a five-minute water-taxi ride from Eleuthera, offers five-star hotels, shopping, and celebrity sightings. No private cars are permitted on the streets of Harbour Island, so plan on renting a golf cart.
Live music is also popular on Eleuthera, part-time home to Lenny Kravitz and his band, Mariah Carey, and others. There is live music somewhere every night of the week during most of the year. For details, see Entertainment, below.
Eleuthera has numerous annual events, from the annual Jazz Festival, the Pineapple Festival and the Ride for Hope to the International Food Fair and the North Eleuthera Regatta.