An iconic place for beaching and boating in The Bahamas is a string of pearl-like islands —the Exumas. But, if you visit the southern Exumas, Acklins Island, Crooked Island and Long Cay in particular, you’ll find the familiar aquatic landscape more commonly associated with the Exumas to the north.
These three atoll islands encircle the Bight of Acklins, a 500-square-mile lagoon, where you can wade in the water knee-deep for thousands of feet offshore. The shallow seas encasing the islands radiate turquoise light. A tapestry of undulating white sands blankets the ocean floor, peeking out here and there to showcase a collection of elongated sandbars. The meandering coastlines are dotted with countless sandy bays, crescent-shaped coves, and mangrove nurseries. A network of tidal creeks and inlets snake through the land, and from sky high, they appear like saltwater rivers slicing cuts into the coast.
Long Crooked Acklins
Acklins Island, Crooked Island and Long Cay are truly underexplored island gems in the southern Bahamas. Unlike the Exumas, these sister islands are known more for their bonefishing and ecotourism than for their boating and physical beauty. But island-hopping in these islands will turn that perspective completely upside down. Take in the scene at the French Wells Channel between Long Island and Crooked Island, or cruise around Turtle Sound or Lovely Bay, and the stunning picture will be abundantly clear.
The Bight of Acklins is the “Exumas of the South” when it comes to beaching and boating. Beach Hop the North Coast Start in Lovely Bay, where you can comb for shells on the Lovely Beach sandbar or spot iguanas on Snake Cay. Chase stingrays in Chester’s Bay or head beyond the main Atwood Harbour Beach to a cay locals call Saddleback. Saddleback Cay marks the opening of a creek that winds its way down to Gordon’s Bay. Depending on the tides, Saddleback is only connected by the beach. On the tip of the cay is a large osprey nest. The birds stand watch over this entrance, soaring above to keep an eye on visitors.
Despite its array of offerings, Acklins and Crooked Island are not as accessible as other islands in The Bahamas. There are no marinas or official docking facilities, so boaters have to use the various anchorages. Commercial flights with the national airline, Bahamas Air, originate from Nassau, the capital of The Bahamas, and fly to Acklins and Crooked Island only twice per week on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Long Cay is only accessible by private boat or a ferry from Crooked Island.
Hotels are limited to a few bonefishing lodges scattered around the Southern Exumas, including Chester’s Highway Inn, Chester’s Bonefishing Lodge, Grey’s Point Bonefish Inn, and Ivel’s Bed and Breakfast on Acklins Island. Also, Acklins only has a population of about 500 people compared with Nassau, which has about half the landmass as Acklins with a population of about 300,000. Acklins, Crooked Island and Long Cay are relatively secluded and rural. The inhabitants fend for themselves and epitomize the simplicity of island living.
There are no gourmet restaurants, although the local food is delicious. Chester’s Highway Inn serves creamy lobster chowder as its welcome meal, and it’s chock-full of flavorful, meaty goodness. There are a few local bars for entertainment. You’ll meet a charismatic (and perhaps pestering) local drunk. You’ll also meet hard-working island people who pass the time by drinking rum and gossiping.
City slickers would likely not survive in Acklins unless they were specifically looking to go off the grid. Boaters, however, with simple tastes and plans to spend their days on the water fishing, snorkeling, diving, beaching and enjoying the outdoors, would find an attractive vacation home in Acklins, Crooked Island and Long Cay.
Launch a Kayak
Atwood Harbour, Relief Bay, and Gordon’s Bay have ample bonefishing flats. But it’s also an ideal spot to kayak. These uninhabited parts of the island hardly have any civilization to speak of. Many areas are only accessible by boat, but they all have at least one inland access point to launch a kayak. They also serve as anchorages. In Atwood Harbor, you can land a dinghy on the beach and walk about two miles to Chester’s Settlement.
If the horizon line is glowing pink, it’s not a mirage, it’s a colony of West Indian flamingos in the distance. Acklins, Crooked Island and Long Cay all have flamingos. Flamingos are The Bahamas national bird. These regal birds are skittish about visitors, but there are three reliable places to spot them in their natural habitat: Mason’s Bay and Chester’s Pond in Acklins and Flamingo Bay in Long Cay.
There’s tons of fishing in the Southern Exumas, but bonefishing is the ticket. You don’t need a boat for most of the flats. Instead, you can walk off the shoreline, wading and stalking your fish. The peak fishing months are March through November as the weather is more unstable between December and February. However, fishing is a year-round pastime in the south.
In addition to these core activities, sail around the atoll or cave on Crooked Island. There are coral gardens and historic ruins, including the remnants of slave and cotton plantations. Bird Rock Lighthouse sits on the northwestern point of Crooked Island, and Castle Island Lighthouse sits off the southern tip of Acklins. Boaters can also explore the Samana Cays to the northeast and the Plana Cays to the east.
By Noelle Nichols, Southern Boating January 2019