As I depart the island of Eleuthera, I can’t help but ponder its similarities as well as its differences to the Exumas. Like with any “love affair”, whether it be the make of car, a brand of clothes, a relationship, or an island in this case, it’s incredibly hard to keep an open mind about the “new” person, place, or thing. An ongoing comparison ebbs and flows in the mind that’s hard to shake. Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed my time on Eleuthera and thrilled I got to see most of the island. I might even consider another visit to spend more time in the southern end of the island. Then, maybe I can squeeze in a trip to Lighthouse Beach. Annnnnd perhaps a beer with Lenny Kravitz. Wishful thinking. Hmph.
Below are a few of the major differences that became apparent in just the short time I spent on the island:
Coconut palms – Give anyone a marker and ask them to draw an island, and you’ll almost surely see palm trees in the sketch. The Exumas are the most beautiful islands I’ve ever set eyes on, but surprisingly, it is void of palm trees. The few coconut palms that ARE on the island are not indigenous and thus have been planted by someone many decades ago. The island is covered primarily in “bush”, low lying thick scrubby shrubs. Palm trees are few and far between. However, strangely Eleuthera has coconut palms everywhere. Beaches look so much prettier with yellow and green palm fronds clapping in the breeze. I’m not sure how exactly they became so widespread but it’s really beautiful.
More land = More Driving – Eleuthera is MUCH larger than Exuma. 110 miles long vs 37 miles long. Most of the land on both islands is undeveloped and it would take several hours to drive from one end of Eleuthera to the other. But Exuma can be done in just a couple hours. Even the settlements in Eleuthera are quite far apart whereas in Great and Little Exuma, the settlements are connected to each other. I felt like I spent too much time driving during my trip but that’s my fault for trying to cover so much territory in one visit.
Beaches – There’s no question the sand in Eleuthera is pink-ish, which makes for great photos. Exuma, on the other hand has some of the whitest sand you’ll ever see. Further, the beaches in Eleuthera are much wider and some are nearly 100 yards to the waters edge. So there’s plenty of room to roam. No biggie though because you’ll likely be the only one on the beach on either island so it doesn’t much matter how wide the beaches are. My vote is that Exuma still gets the win here. The flour like sand and crystal clear water on Exuma’s beaches are hard to beat.
Litter – I have written about the Exuma trash problem several times on this blog and it still infuriates me. I was so thrilled to actually see “Please don’t litter” signs in Eleuthera and rarely any trash along the highway. Many of the beach accesses did have a pile of trash but for the most part, the island was fairly clean as compared to Exuma. Someone HAS to get a grip on the littering in Exuma. It’s literally (no pun intended) everywhere and it’s incredibly disappointing. I often borrow garbage bags from my fairy godmother in Exuma to pick up trash as I’m walking the beaches. One could only hope The Bahamas continues their recycling and littering educational programs.
Local Activity and Nightlife – I was surprised by this one. Because Eleuthera is so much larger than Exuma, I thought certainly there would be more going on as far as nightlife and local hot spots. Wrong again. Eleuthera makes Exuma look like Las Vegas in the nightlife category. It’s possible I just didn’t go to the right places, but Fish Fry was a disappointment as I explained in an earlier post, bars and restaurants were closed by 8 or 9, and we didn’t see many locals, or tourists for that matter, ANYWHERE after the sunset. <scratching head>
Better infrastructure – The roads, buildings, communication and infrastructure in general is on point in Eleuthera. I’m not sure why Exuma struggles with this so much when their sister island is flourishing in this area. Something MUST change in Exuma. It’s starting to catch on as a tourist destination and seeing the beginnings of a real estate boom, yet they can’t seem to keep the roads in good condition or the internet working. The power goes out on a regular basis as well. <again scratching head> We never had an issue in Eleuthera.
Restaurant/Lodging/Store Options – Eleuthera takes the win here. There are plentiful restaurants and shacks to eat, drink, and be merry. Exuma has several but nowhere near the number in Eleuthera. Further, the restaurants are much better and offer many more options. You can essentially get anything you want to eat in Eleuthera. Not so much in Exuma. Often the restaurants are out of ingredients and have very small menus. There are a wide variety of lodging options in Eleuthera, from high-end modern boutique hotels, to vacation rentals, and economy motels. The options in Exuma for vacation rentals and motels are similar but it lacks the high-end hotels like French Leave Resort and The Cove. Grand Isle and Sandals are really the only luxurious options in Exuma. I’m not complaining about that by any means, just stating my observations. I’m not a fuddy duddy and would prefer to sleep in a shack over a fancy schmancy sterile palace any day of the week.
Service – Eleuthera takes the win on service (besides the bad experience discussed in a previous post). If you’re in a hurry in the Bahamas, you might as well leave. Island time is real. Having said that, the service and the timing of the food was actually wonderful! We found the employees to be happy, friendly, and chatty at most of the bars and restaurants we visited. There are a few places in Exuma that are on point but many others have zero interest in serving you food, much less a beer. It sounds harsh but is sadly true.
Island Hopping/Boating/Water Activities – This, in my opinion, is the single most important feature of an island and Exuma is my #1 go-to spot for all things water. You’ll be hard pressed to find clearer water, better boating, and more island hopping opportunities anywhere else in the Caribbean, possibly the world. <potential exaggeration> There are hundreds of beaches and islands to boat to in Exuma, whether with a guide or in your own rental. The snorkeling is amazing, with a menagerie of wildlife in and out of the water. The calm waters in the Exumas make for a limitless playground for the water enthusiast. Eleuthera has plenty of beaches, yes, but it doesn’t lend itself to easy and abundant water activities. And there are very few cays surrounding the island unlike in Exuma where you can spend days island hopping. There’s nowhere I’d rather be stranded for a year than in Exuma. Enough said.
If this were a boxing match, it would appear that Eleuthera wins the fight. But that’s not so, in my humble opinion. For all the reasons I’ve written about over the last couple of years in this blog, Exuma is, and will forever be, my happy place. Eleuthera is beautiful in its own right, has lovely people, a great history, adorable settlements, gorgeous beaches, plenty of privacy, and wonderful food…….but it ain’t Exuma.