HOPE TOWN, BAHAMAS - This may be the prettiest town you’ve never heard about. Crayon colored homes line Hope Town’s narrow roads; sleek yachts bob in its tranquil harbour; a candy-cane lighthouse is its tallest landmark; townsfolk always make time for small talk; and the Hope Town’s lone constable is known by his first name.
That’s what awaits you in Hope Town, on Elbow Cay (pronounced Key) – one of the small grouping of out islands known as the Abacos in the Bahamas.
Few people come to secluded Hope Town, a ferry ride and lifetime away from Bahamas’ other overdeveloped islands. Time has pretty much stood still in this part of the world. Not much has changed in Hope Town since it was discovered by sailors seeking shelter from Atlantic storms. And they didn’t tell many people about their discovery.
The next group to discover Hope Town was British loyalists fleeing the American Revolution of 1785. Their descendents’ legacy is what we see today scattered around Hope Town. They built the colorful homes that give the town a fairytale feel.
They also built the red and white striped lighthouse in 1863 to help guide ships through the razor-sharp reef that lies off shore.
Many times, the reef won out and the bounty that washed ashore from the wrecks provided Hope Town’s residents with a very good living.
At the town’s local museum, itself one of the first settler’s homes, the lone guide likes to tell the story of a 19th century pastor who became very wealthy thanks to the shipwrecks. The story goes: During his sermons, the pastor had a clear view of the ocean and would see the ships fall victim to the reef before anyone else. The parishioners, who had their backs to the water, would be told to bow their heads in prayer while the pastor would slip out a side door and claim salvage rights to the wreck. The practice ended when the original church suspiciously burnt to the ground and the new one placed the pastor’s back to the sea.
Left: The colourful town is full of tourists. Right: The children of Hope Town welcome visitors with warm smiles.
Today, many of Abaco’s residents are famous business and theatrical types who have built homes on the tiny islands surrounding Hope Town. However, the most famous residents are the tiny wild horses you see prancing about the pastures. They swam ashore when a Spanish ship ran aground on the reef and have become one of Abaco’s biggest tourist attractions. But they’re not the only ones.
A rare bird known as the Abaco parrot may be the strangest in the world as well. They were forced underground! Yep, that’s right. Because the islands were stripped of their valuable timber at the turn of the century, the parrots were forced to burrow holes in the islands’ sandy soil for shelter. Even though the islands are lush with trees these days, the parrots still prefer their cool underground climate and provide a source of wonderment for the tourists.
Hope Town’s museum showcases many of the relics from its earliest settlers. Hand-carved furniture and primitive fishing gear are what intrigue visitors on their short visit to the clapboard museum.
Elbow Cay is the most popular in the Abaco islands and so has the most guest rooms – more than 3,000. Most of the accommodation in Hope Town is provided by colorful B&Bs, all of which feature handsome gardens. Yellow elder, Bahamas’ national emblem, is the most prominent flower in the gardens, where the island’s famous sea grape is also grown.
The sea grape actually grows on trees and looks more like a purple cherry than a grape. Don’t be afraid to try one but be prepared for the sour taste it leaves in your mouth. It also has a large pit and a thin skin.
The brightness of the town’s homes and its people masks the island’s dark side – the cholera graveyard where 100 victims of the deadly epidemic lay buried. Don’t be afraid to visit the site where no one has been buried since.
Another thing Hope Town is known for is its collection of artisan shops – the most famous of which is Edith’s Straw Shop, where island legend Edith Major-Kemp weaved her wonderful creations for decades.
There are more traditional forms of accommodation on the island – like the historic Harbour Lodge that offers its guests comfortable, affordable rooms with the million-dollar views of the beach and sea. The Harbour Lodge is most famous for its conch fritters – a golden brown delicacy you must try if for no other reasons that the spicy dipping sauce that accompanies it.
The Lodge was a private home until the 1950s when Hurricane Floyd destroyed it. It’s been returned to its original splendor and would be a great place to call home during your visit.
But then again, everywhere in Hope Town feels like home.
- The high tourist season for the Abaco Islands is between March and August.
- Great Abaco is the chain’s largest island and lies about 180 miles off the U.S.
- About 13,000 people live on the Abaco islands.
- Abaco features a tiny airport – the gift shop is a pink hut – but welcomes over 100,000 people annually.
- You can reach the Abaco from Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, both of which offer regular service.
- The Abacos are becoming more developed each year. The latest big city arrival is Peter de Savary, the British tycoon who owns some of the most treasured vacation properties in the world, and is in the process of completing a $250 million golf resort called The Abaco Club at Winding Bay. The property is one of the finest anywhere and its amazing seaside golf course is the only Scottish links style in the Caribbean. It’s a treat to play.
- Dozens of islands make up the Abacos. Each features its own diversity and some come with interesting names, like Man-O-War Cay, Great Guana Cay, Treasure Cay and Turtle Cay.
- The ferry makes the return journey from Marsh Harbour to Hope Town at least four times a day and costs $20 for the return trip.
- If you like sport fishing, the Abacos is the Bone fishing capital of the world.
- There’s a number of real estate companies on the island which can arrange stays in some of Elbow Cay’s pretty cottages. One that comes highly recommended is Hope Town Hideaways http://www.hopetown.com
- You can rent many kinds of boats in Hope Town and dock them right next to the town’s pretty lighthouse. For information, go to http://www.lighthouserentals.com
- For information on the amazing Abaco Club and its world class golf course, go to http://www.myabacoclub.com
- For more information on the Abaco Islands, contact the tourist office at firstname.lastname@example.org