The Bahamas offers world-class resorts, international shopping, exciting water sports and chic nightlife. But there's another side to this nation of islands, a quieter side where night skies are filled with stars and deserted beaches stretch to the horizon. These are the Out Islands — the Abacos, Exumas, Andros, San Salvador, Long Island, Bimini, and more. In these outlying realms, island life moves at a relaxed pace, and visitors escape the crowds to enjoy relaxing moments at intimate resorts and eclectic beach bars. The Out Islands offer their own mix of adventures as well. Here are ten Out Island activities to add to your vacation to-do list.
1. Historic Haunts
The Out Islands are rich in history. The Lucayan people made it their home long before Columbus landed — and when he did make that historic landfall in 1492, it was on the Bahamian island of San Salvador. The Out Islands provide a pirate's haven for the likes of Blackbeard, Henry Morgan and Calico Jack. Loyalists to the Crown sought refuge here in the aftermath of the American Revolution, and historic settlements on island such as Man of War Cay are still home to their descendants. Rumrunners and smugglers launched their excursions across the Gulf Stream from remote outposts on Bimini, Gun Cay and the Cat Cays, while celebrity anglers like Earnest Hemingway and Zane Grey made the islands their second home.
2. Go Off the Wall
Wall diving enthusiasts will find a lot to like in the Out Islands. The entire eastern coast of Andros Island is flanked by subterranean limestone cliffs that plunge into the mile-deep waters of the Tongue of the Ocean. Cat Island offers divers a 20-mile-long wall lined with reef crests that rise to within 40 feet of the surface. Farther to the south, San Salvador Island is ringed by a submerged rampart that is often visited by pelagic gamefish and numerous species of sharks.
3. When Pigs Swim
The Exumas are a 130-mile string of small emerald islands chain ringed by white-sand beaches, turquoise shallows and vibrant reefs. Midway down this chain is Pig Beach, where a family of feral but gentle porkers join island hopping humans for a swim in the shallows. This unique day trip begins at nearby Staniel Cay, which is also the launch point for equally intriguing encounters with the world's only population of Bahamian Rock Iguanas on nearby Bitter Guana Cay. For even more adventure you can channel your inner James Bond 007 Spy character with a snorkeling trip to the hidden grotto featured in the classic film Thunderball.
4. Into Lusca's Lair
The Out Islands of the Bahamas perch atop a massive limestone plateau that's riddled with networks of flooded caverns. These underwater labyrinths come to the surface in openings known as blue holes. With special training, divers can penetrate deep into this the shadow world, but some of the most spectacular diving and snorkeling takes place in the sunlit zones near entrances. Here, tidal currents flowing in and out of underground chambers nurture rich coral growths and attract large schools of fish. This rhythmic ebb and flow is said to be the breath of the Lusca, a mythical sea beast that lives deep within.
5. A Thrilling Line Up
The Out Islands provide anglers with a wealth of opportunities to wet a line. Light tackle anglers stalk mangrove-lined tidal creeks and expansive flats in search of powerful tarpon and elusive bonefish. Coastal waters teem with trophies that can be released to fight another day or transformed into a savory seafood dinner. In blue water the excitement expands exponentially when fishermen do battle with gamefish that strike with powerful, reel-scorching runs.
6. More Shore to Explore
Beach lovers will have plenty of sand to themselves in the Out Islands, where beaches can stretch for miles without a hotel in sight. When civilization does encroach on shorelines, it's usually in the form of lowkey cottages tucked into the palms, or an open-air beach bar strategically positioned on the dunes to catch sea breezes and deliver sweeping water views. Also, not to be missed are the mangrove-lined shores that beg for exploration by kayak or paddleboard.
7. Fin-tastic Beasts
The Islands of the Bahamas is where shark diving became a thing, and dive resorts across the archipelago stage scheduled feedings that draw lively swarms of gray reef sharks. But underwater buffets are just the beginning, as the waters of the Out Islands offer an exciting range of shark encounters that includes open-water swims with crafty oceanic white tips, shallow-water meet-ups with lemon sharks, hammerhead sightings and face-to-face encounters with huge tiger sharks.
8. Regatta Time
Each year, sailors from across the Out Islands converge on Great Exuma to compete in the National Family Island Regatta. Thousands of spectators gather to watch teams race in traditional Bahamian sloops. These unique vessels sport oversized sailing rigs balanced by up to a dozen crew members who perch precariously on extended plank to counterbalance the force of the wind. Ashore, the George Town waterfront is the sight of a week-long street party with food, music and dancing.
9. Shallow Water Delights
There's no need to dive deep to enjoy the underwater world of the Out Islands. With thousands of square miles of coral reef rising close to the surface, you can leave the dive gear at the dock and enjoy the freedom of snorkeling. Tidal creeks, shallow wrecks, grass flats and rock grottoes add variety to the mix, and the silent nature of snorkeling lends itself to marine life encounters with spotted eagle rays, southern stingrays, and sea turtles. One of the most thrilling snorkeling adventures in the Out Islands takes place on shallow banks where spotted dolphin come to play.
10. Make Local Connections
When you get away from the cruise ship docks, souvenir shops and big hotels, you discover a whole new side to the Bahamas. Life moves slower in the Out Islands, and locals aren't outnumbered by visitors. This is your chance to make genuine connections, taste local flavors, engage in a more authentic way of life. The Out Islands are also where you will find authentic gifts and artworks handcrafted by traditional artisanal methods.