You probably know I’m obsessed with travel, but I also like a bargain, or two. Every couple of years, my best friend and I religiously spend a week together in some Caribbean island. So far we have been to Aruba, the American Virgin Islands, and more recently to Bahamas. Because this isn’t our main holiday of the year, we try to keep it within a set budget. And this is how we organised our island hopping holiday in Bahamas, without breaking the bank.
First, the flight. Since we are both very frequent flyers, we bought our flights with our air miles. However because we planned our holiday very last minute, our original destination – Nassau (from London) – didn’t have any reward flight availability. We decided to fly British Airways to NYC (70,000 avios) and enjoy a weekend there – we stayed with friends so we didn’t have any accommodation expense – and then fly to Bahamas with low cost carrier JetBlue (£220 return including tax). However, even if you buy a regular ticket to NYC, it’s still possible to get a good bargain, if you are flexible with timings and don’t mind a quick stopover (around £400). We also decided to go to Bahamas during off season (mid April to mid December) where hotel accommodation could be more than 60% cheaper than peak season. The only risk is that you might have a day or two of rain during your stay.
Our first stop was Nassau. I’m not particularly fond of this island, home to the monster resorts of Paradise Island, can have a few dodgy areas (particularly around the port) but has a big airport, frequent flights, and many ferry connections to the key islands, so on arrival we decided to spend our first day here. We picked a non frills hotel a few minutes drive from the airport, mid way to Nassau city centre, Sandyport Beach Resort. We decided for this hotel for the beautiful Ocean beach, and the extremely low price. It isn’t the most modern facility, but we thought that for a night in Nassau, it wasn’t really worth investing on an expensive accommodation (£90 vs £250 average price/night in double room on Paradise Island – with two double beds and AirCon). After spending an afternoon chatting, reading and swimming we headed to Arawak Cay for dinner. Food in Bahamas can be more often than not, very average and slightly overpriced (average £70/per head including drinks) so for our first night we decided to keep it very low key and headed to the local Fish Fry. Here you can choose amongst a variety of small independent restaurants where mainly locals and a few (more adventurous) tourists dine on grilled, fried, roasted seafood, and obviously the Bahamian signature dish, conch. We truly enjoyed our dinner at Arawak Cay: tropical raw conch with tomatoes, mango, pineapple, apple and lime; grilled snapper, succulent grilled shrimps with hot sauce and curried herbs, rice and fried plantains, all washed down with Bahamian Kalik beer (£35 for 2 including drinks).
The following morning, after grabbing a couple of (free) cups of coffee from the reception of our hotel, we headed to the port to catch an early morning fast ferry (3hours and 40 mins) to Harbour Island (£60 pp). Another option is to fly from Nassau to North Eleuthera (£75) and catch a taxi to the port (£6) and a water taxi (£3) to the island. This route is operated by Southern Air Charter, a small airline with a fleet of four 19 passenger Beechcraft aircrafts. After an extensive research, we decided for Harbour Island, famous for its legendary pink sand beaches, a 3 mile stretch, perfect for long walks at sunset, and its err.. millionaire visitors.
At our arrival at the port, a golf cart shuttle (free) from our hotel picked us up and took us to the Atlantic side of the island. Harbour island is expensive, more than you can imagine. There is one side of the island where you really want to stay, which is the Atlantic side, overlooking Pink Sands beach. All of the beaches on Pink Sands are private, so if you want to enjoy the beach lying on comfortable sun-bed, and perhaps enjoy a little umbrella shade, you need to be a hotel guest. If you are not bothered about sun-beds and shade, then there are quite a few cheaper accommodations in other parts of the island, and you can visit Pink Sands and bring your towel and lie on the beach and tan, for free. However, if you want to stay on this stretch of coast, there are 4 luxury hotels.
The best value for your money, based on our experience and research (we visited the other hotels for some meals and took a look around) is Coral Sands. The average price for a room on Pink Sands beach – well actually the sky is the limit – but within a more affordable price range if you are not Brand Pitt and can’t afford your own private villa as yet, is around £550/night. Coral Sands Resort offers the same view, and really comfortable rooms for half of that price. A no brainer. And because we booked close to our arrival, and during low season, we managed to bag a bargain on booking.com (£195/night) for an Ocean view room. And it was worth, every penny. From the pink champagne welcome at our arrival, to the stunning beach.
Although we got a good room rate bargain, our package didn’t include any breakfast, or other meals. And this is where Harbour Island becomes even more expensive (£30 for breakfast, £35 for lunch and £80 for dinner on average). However, this is how we stayed on a budget. Not far from Coral Sands is a local mini market, where you can buy yoghurt and fruits for breakfasts, or even some lunch or a few Kalik beers for your mini bar, to enjoy after a sunset swim. For dinner, the first few nights we tried the restaurants of other hotels, such as the super fancy Dunmore Beach. Food was pleasant, fine dining, but nothing to write home about, in fact I thought it was highly overpriced (£160 for 2 ppl including drinks) So, one night, bored of average food at extortionate prices we headed to Queen Conch, on the opposite side of the Island (10 minute walk from Pink Sands). Once again, similarly to Fish Fry in Nassau, we ordered grilled fish, rice and fried conch, with two Kalik beers, and it was tasty, and cheap, and Bahamian! (dinner for 2 with drinks and dessert £40).
After four days on Harbour Island, we were craving a little more action, and we hopped on the water taxi to North Eleuthera, where we hired a taxi to take us to the Governor’s Harbour area (£70 for the 1h 30 journey). A note of warning, if you can, try to research taxi companies in advance and agree a specific time to meet your taxi driver at the water taxi port in North Eleuthera.The drive south is incredibly scenic. Eleuthera is a a long (110 miles) and thin island. One side of the island overlooks the turquoise waters of the Caribbean sea, and the other side the deep blue and rough waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
We stayed a Pineapple Fields Resort (£85/night for a 1 bed condo, with living room and kitchen), a cute little hotel with a luscious garden, a tropical pool, 1 minute from a stunning beach and a small beach cafe, called Tippy’s, a local hang out for residents and tourists. Food was decent, and we ordered pizza, for two nights in row, having reached our maximum level of tolerance for conch, washed down with one too many cocktails (Dinner for 2 with drinks £70).
We also decided to hire a small car for our 10k daily drive to the local beaches (£40/day), given the total lack of local taxis, and that’s how we discovered Perfect Beach, or better known to the world as Club Med beach (home to a former Club Med site). Although it’s on the Atlantic side, the water is calm, and turquoise, the bottom is sandy and shallow for a while. And this where I experienced the second encounter of my life with a barracuda (the first happened at St John USVI). I got so scared, seeing this long fish swimming towards me that I ran out of the water screaming, and obviously everyone was highly amused by this damsel in distress scene, that a few local boys came over to rescue me from the evil fish.
On our last night, before catching our ferry back to Nassau, we were lucky to enjoy one more Fish Fry at Governor’s harbour. It happens every Friday and it’s literally impossible to miss, located just before the bridge on the way to the Ferry Port. The Eleutherans put up a huge grill, barbecue chicken, fry fresh fish, and chop and season fresh conch. (£15 per person including a drink).
You can arrive early, around 6.30 to grab your seats and enjoy a drink, but food isn’t ready until 7.30. And around 8 o’clock the whole town turns up, chatting, dancing in the street, swimming and sipping Rum Bubba cocktails. Note of warning, Rum Bubba cocktails can be quite lethal, particularly if you need to board a ferry later in the evening. And yes I speak from experience…
Total cost of accommodation for 2 people for 8 days: £1,215