MILES FROM CHARLOTTE: 877
TRAVEL TIME: 2-hour, 7-minute flight to Miami; 1-hour, 9-minute flight to North Eleuthera Airport
Shenika pipes up from the back seat. “Ormond, dumb question that’s actually kind of smart,” she says. “Around Gregory Town, that’s where you have the most red soil?”
Ormond, behind the wheel, breaks into a grin. “Yep,” he replies. “That’s how they can grow the pineapple.” He pronounces “can” with a patois-derived island twist: “kyan.”
We’re southbound on the Queen’s Highway—the only highway—on the Bahamian island of Eleuthera, essentially a 110-mile-long sandbar in the Atlantic about 220 miles east of Miami. Ormond Saunders is driving a group of travel journalists in a Nissan minivan toward a saltwater pond that contains one of the world’s densest seahorse populations. Shenika Darville has come along. Both work for The Cove Eleuthera, a beachfront resort that opened in 2013 and our base of operations for this tour.
We’ve learned that pineapples are what Eleuthera is known for—well, that and Lenny Kravitz. (More on him in a bit.) A layer of rich, red-clay soil, unusual for a sandy island and ideal for pineapple, blankets the island’s central section. We stop at a farm as the sun sets. The plants are just starting to produce fruit ahead of the summer harvest, celebrated every year with the Pineapple Festival in nearby Gregory Town, population about 400. We stroll through long rows of spiky leaves in a field framed by banana trees. Wherever you go on Eleuthera, Ormond says, people see red mud on your shoes and immediately know: “‘You live in Gregory Town! You live around all that red dirt.’” He laughs. “They always know where you live.”
It’s a morsel of information known to the 11,000 or so who live on the island, but Eleuthera is hard to summarize for visitors. It’s beach and ocean, of course, and pineapples, but also opportunities to wade with sea turtles and pigs—pigs!—and a cave used as a church in the 17th century, and tidal pools you can bathe in, and seahorses, and other things. It’s perhaps best rendered through snapshots.
Ormond leads us down a footpath into the mouth of Preacher’s Cave, an auditorium-sized cavern at the northern tip of the island. It’s where the first English colonists in the Bahamas held services after their shipwreck.
In 1646, a group of about 70 Puritans fled Bermuda to escape persecution by the Anglican colonial authorities. They sailed some 850 miles south and wrecked on the Devil’s Backbone, a shallow, jagged coral reef at the northern edge of Eleuthera, believed to be unpopulated at the time. Desperate, they sheltered here—and eventually established a home, naming the island after “eleutheria,” the Greek word for “freedom.” (The “i” was dropped for reasons unknown. “Eleutheria” is also the title of a 1993 Lenny Kravitz song. It all comes back to Lenny.) The colonists became known as the “Eleutheran Adventurers,” although “Bermudan refugees” would be more accurate.
An entrance sign and rock-mounted plaque, both decaying, hip you to the history as you wander past beams of light from roof holes, which surely convinced the Adventurers that the Almighty had blessed their wreck/colonization. One other noteworthy thing about the Eleutheran Adventurers: Their captain, former Bermuda Governor William Sayle, would later found a city on the South Carolina coast that he initially named Charles Town, after the king. It eventually became known as Charleston.
Lenny Kravitz has a home here. First-time visitors learn this quickly. The shuttle driver, passing fields and trees on the way in from the North Eleuthera Airport: “Lenny Kravitz owns this.” The boat captain, as he plies the choppy waters off the Devil’s Backbone and gestures landward: “You know Lenny Kravitz?” (Not personally, no.) The PA system at The Cove’s restaurant: “It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over,” “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” and “Fly Away,” which the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism has turned into an unofficial anthem.
He’s Bahamian on his mother’s side—you may remember Roxie Roker as Helen on the 1970s sitcom The Jeffersons—and bought the property in 1989. Kravitz has since become an informal ambassador for the Bahamas and the vehicle for a recent national tourism campaign. “My first memories of the Bahamas were just magical,” he says in one video. “The smell and the feel of the air, man—you were transformed from that moment. It was like going to another world.”
Eleuthera has far fewer residents and hosts far fewer tourists than the capital, Nassau, a three-hour ferry ride west. So celebrities who (ahem) want to get away often come here. Our tour group sees no sign of Lenny. But we’ve heard rumors that Ludacris has come here to chillax. After breakfast, a member of our group approaches, flushed. “I was in the gift shop,” she says, “and I saw him!” (A check of his Instagram feed reveals that in early March, Ludacris appeared to be vacationing on Eleuthera—and if he was, it wasn’t his first visit.)
A few minutes’ drive from Preacher’s Cave is the Sapphire Blue Hole, one of an estimated 1,000 underwater caves scattered throughout the Bahamas. It’s a semicircular pool about 100 feet across and a 25-foot drop down, and it glows brilliant blue in the sun. You can jump off a wooden platform into the hole. There’s one way out: a knotted rope against a cliff of jagged limestone. You’re supposed to strong-arm yourself up the rope. “Caution,” warns a black-and-yellow sign on the approach. “Dive at your own risk. No lifeguard on duty.”
“Are you going to try it?” a group member asks me. I respond with an expletive, followed by a comma and “no.”
Some of us are braver and in better shape. The lady who saw Ludacris manages the dive fine but has a brief moment of panic halfway up when her arm muscles begin to tire. (She makes it.) Shenika does a double-flip off the platform and hoists herself up the rope like she’s taking a sip of coffee.
The Glass Window Bridge is Eleuthera’s best-known landmark. The bridge itself is nothing much, but it’s where the island narrows to 30 feet wide, which creates a stunning visual: the deep near-indigo of the Atlantic to the northeast, and shallow, glistening turquoise water to the southwest. Tourist sites often refer to the turquoise as the Caribbean Sea. So do our shuttle drivers. It’s a heck of a draw—wow, the place where the Caribbean meets the Atlantic.
Except … it’s not. That’s not the Caribbean. We’re north of Cuba and Hispaniola. The Caribbean is south of them. In general terms, we’re still in the Atlantic, and the turquoise water is the Bight of Eleuthera. (A bight is a large, open bay, which this absolutely is.)
A half-mile southeast down the Queen’s Highway on the ocean side lies another taste of royalty, the Queens Baths, a series of pools that the sea has carved out of the limestone over centuries. The ocean fills them, and the sun warms the water at low tide. The parking area is just off the highway, and getting to the baths requires a trudge of several hundred yards over rough, uneven rock. You must wear proper shoes, not flip-flops, and you run the risk of an ankle sprain, but it’s worth the effort.
I settle into one of the pools, which in early March are not exactly warm. I have acquired a sinus infection, pestilence in paradise. It occurs to me that I’m sitting in a natural neti pot. What the heck. I dip my cupped hands into the water, bring them to my nose, and inhale the Atlantic.
What’s now The Cove was a ramshackle, overgrown former resort—on the bight side of the island, a five-minute drive up the highway from Gregory Town—until Sidney Torres IV, a New Orleans real estate developer who made millions from a post-Hurricane Katrina cleanup contract, bought the 40-acre property in 2012. It opened the next year, and Torres sold it to the Arizona resort company Enchantment Group in 2015.
Today, it’s a mix of 29 villas, suites, and cottages, all with at least partial views of the water and staggeringly beautiful sunsets. I stayed in one of its six Caribbean cottages, spacious villas with a private beach, deck that faces the water, outdoor and indoor showers, and pyramidal roofs designed to draw warm air up and keep you cool below. The resort does close for the seasonal lull and maintenance from late August to early November—just as well, as it’s peak hurricane season.
Freedom Restaurant & Sushi Bar, The Cove’s on-site restaurant, is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a splendid view of the sea and an infinity pool just outside its doors. The chefs make good use of fresh seafood and vegetables from the on-site organic garden, but their specialty is sushi. If you’re up for it, they can guide you through the construction of your very own roll.
Everything mentioned earlier, plus a few unusual animal habitats. Off the island’s northern end, at a spot called Whale Point, is a shallow gap between Eleuthera and far smaller Harbour Island where you can hop into about 3 feet of water and say hi to the green sea turtles. They’re mainly juveniles, about the size of serving platters—adults can grow to 5 feet long—and you can pet them as they placidly paddle by.
On Meeks Patch, a tiny, privately owned cay just off Eleuthera’s northwestern edge, you’ll find Pig Island Adventures, where you can drop anchor, hop off the boat, and greet a colony of pigs. They swim. You can feed them. Residents brought in a few to raise eight years ago and allowed the prolific breeders to take it from there. They come in an assortment of colors, ages (piglets included), and snout lengths. Down the main island, south of Gregory Town, is Sweetings Pond, a lagoon that hosts a dense population of lined seahorses, a vulnerable species. Visitors can view them—but only by floating with snorkels just beneath the surface, as wading damages their habitat. The Bahamas National Trust conservation group has been trying to persuade the government for years to turn the pond area into a national park, which would further protect the seahorses.