There are two good times to go to the Bahamas. Whenever, and anytime.
However, when you think of world-class international hiking destinations, The Bahamas probably don’t immediately come to mind, and for good reason. The Bahamas are world-renowned for beaches and palm trees, not trails and mountains.
If you’re heading to The Bahamas and you want to do more than sip sugary-sweet cocktails poolside, though, all is not lost.
In early October 2016, Jennifer and I visited Grand Bahama Island. We opted to rent a car, since we both prefer adventures over siestas. We landed at Freeport’s tiny international airport after a harrowingly turbulent flight from Miami, and hopped in our Mercury Milan, courtesy of Brad’s Car Rentals.
Adventure time? Not so fast. After 15 minutes of driving, our car’s low tire pressure light came on. We also noticed that our license plate was hanging by a thread, and the whole car reeked of cigarettes and shame.
After meeting gold-chain-clad Bad Brad himself and swapping our ride out for a much more reliable Nissan Sentra, we hit the road, anxious to explore this gorgeous, tropical island.
Grand Bahama Island is home to three national parks, with two more in the process of being established.
Lucayan National Park, 25 miles east of Freeport, is described on various tourism sites as the crown jewel of Grand Bahama natural beauty. It’s the only place on the island where one can see all six of the island’s ecosystems in one location. We figured this would be a good place to start.
We arrived at the dirt-road entrance to Lucayan, and realized that national parks in the Bahamas are not quite what they are in the United States. A very sweaty man behind a folding table in a dusty parking lot greeted us, and informed us that Lucayan doesn’t accept credit cards. So, after driving back into town to find an ATM, we returned, cash in hand, to explore the 40-acre national park.
First, we headed north from the entrance on a 15-minute trail to explore a series of caves. Descending a staircase into the first cave, Ben’s Cave, we witnessed stalactites, schools of fish, and eerily calm blue-green water. This inland blue hole is connected to the ocean, so the water is a mixture of fresh and salt. Jennifer took an accidental seat on the slippery limestone.
Ben’s Cave is one of the longest surveyed cave systems in the world. Diving expedition packages are available from various outfitters.
We then attempted to find the second cave, Burial Mound Cave, where bones of Lucayan natives have been found, but instead were met with an army of enormous spiders, which was enough to turn us back around.
Back at the welcome center, we crossed the highway and headed for the other half of the national park. We crossed boardwalks leading through dense mangrove swamps, crested some small sand dunes, and arrived at Gold Rock Beach.
Known for its “Welcome Mat,” a series of unique tidal pools and sand ripples visible at low tide, Gold Rock is arguably Grand Bahama Island’s most beautiful beach. Featuring stunning white sand that stretches for miles in either direction, Gold Rock is one of the most picturesque beaches I’ve ever had the privilege of sinking my toes into, and a must-see for any Bahamian tourist. If you’re a movie buff, you might be impressed by the fact that several scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean were filmed here, too.
We took the loop trail back through more swampland, stopping to admire a slew of different birds along the way.
From Lucayan, we continued to head east, stopping to explore some beaches and rock outcroppings near High Rock. We heard rumors of a waterfall in Freeport’s Garden of the Groves, but after Googling images of the two-foot-tall cascade, we opted to skip it, and decided to explore more beaches instead.
While it’s not hiking in the traditional sense, some of the best scenery on Grand Bahama Island can be found simply by parking at a beach, any beach, and just wandering. We chose to spend very little time at touristy destinations like Taino Beach, and instead found hidden gems at places like Barbary Beach, Peterson Beach, Bahama Beach, and more. We caught one of the most spectacular rainbow-laden sunsets in the history of mankind after doing a little trespassing and finding a supremely secluded beach at West End. We kayaked around Deadman’s Reef at Paradise Cove. We witnessed a shark feeding. We sipped mediocre beer and adult Capri-Suns. We made it out on the penultimate flight before Hurricane Matthew hit. We had, overall, an amazing time.
Visiting Grand Bahama Island? There’s no need to bring your trekking poles and Camelbaks, but I encourage you to do more than just lay by the pool at your resort. Grand Bahama has a variety of natural wonders waiting to be explored. Only have time for one excursion outside of the city? Hit Lucayan National Park. Have time for more? Explore beaches on all sides of the island, and maybe even fit in a diving tour at Lucayan or at East End, something we’ll definitely be doing on our next visit.
Step One: Go to Grand Bahama Island. Step Two: Explore. Step Three: Enjoy and repeat.