Photo by Lyndsey Matthews
Photo by Lyndsey Matthews
The view from the White Ocean Coral Villa, bookable on Airbnb
Most tourists haven’t heard of it. Many Bahamians haven’t been there. Here’s why Cat Island should be your next island getaway.
There are no swimming pigs on Cat Island. There are no cruise ship ports, either. In fact, I didn’t even see a single cat on Cat Island when I was there recently for a long weekend. Named after the pirate Arthur Catt—instead of the animal—Cat Island is one of the Out Islands (locally known as the Family Islands) that make up the eastern boundary of the Bahamas. The 48-mile-long island has approximately 1,700 residents and no big-brand resorts, making it an ideal place to seek out if you’re looking to disconnect from the rest of the world (especially from the cruise ship crowds that you’ll often find on other popular Bahamian islands). So go ahead, pack your beach bag and hop on the next flight to the Bahamas.
Cat Island’s remote location means that is has remained blissfully free of large resorts, so travelers can choose among a handful of family-run small hotels or several dozen villas available to rent on Airbnb.
Rollezz Villas Beach Resort is located on a quiet beach on the western side of the island in Old Bight. There you’ll spend your days under a palapa listening to turquoise water lap against the sand and your evenings dancing to a local rake ’n’ scrape band—a type of music played with handsaws and accordions—at the hotel’s casual open-air restaurant with other travelers. If you ask the owner, Yvonne Rolle, she can organize a boat trip to the beach at Joe Sound Creek. Although it’s right around the corner, it’s inaccessible by road, so you’ll likely have it all to yourself
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If you’re traveling with a larger group, White Ocean Coral Villa is located on the beach near the southeastern tip of the island and offers four bedrooms spread out across two levels. Each room comes with its own private bathroom, making it a great fit for both families and groups of friends traveling together. The property manager is more than happy to do a grocery run for your group ahead of your arrival, too, but flexibility is key. (The week I arrived, the milk delivery didn’t make the boat to Cat Island on time, so there wasn’t any to buy at the store.)
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While many foods—like fresh milk—need to be shipped over from the more densely populated islands in the Bahamas, you’ll never lack for fresh fruits, vegetables, and seafood while you’re on Cat Island.
Sundays after church and annual events like the Cat Island Regatta each August are the most popular times for locals to head to the Cultural Village and Fish Fry (located along the water about a seven-minute drive south of the airport in New Bight) for fresh and fried seafood. While you’re there, don’t miss picking up pineapple pastries from Olive’s Bakery, a little farther south down the road. On the southern end of the island, Da Pink Chicken, a popular beach bar, serves conch salad and chicken wings and is run completely by solar power.
For an even deeper experience with locals, connect with the tourism ministry online before you travel to participate in a People-To-People cultural experience. Cat Island is one of 10 Bahamian islands that participates in the program that pairs travelers with volunteer locals for any kind of activity that matches your interests, from music to fishing. One evening, Harrison King, a local motel owner and farmer, welcomed me to his Lakeview Motel with his wife and friends for a home-cooked meal of fresh watermelon he grew himself, cracked conch, and fried plantains.
Cat Island is popular with divers who seek out oceanic whitetip sharks and the wreck of a Spanish battleship sunk in 1898 in the clear waters off the coastline. Those who like their beach activities to be a little more relaxed (and with fewer sharks), can explore mile after mile of pink- and white-sand beaches along the island’s coastline. Rollezz Villas Beach Resort is on the five-mile stretch of white sand at Old Bight Beach on the western shores of Cat Island, while Greenwood Beach Resort is set on eight miles of pink sand facing the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern side of the island.
Cat Island is also home to the highest point in the Bahamas. Mount Alvernia is only 206 feet above sea level, but a 10-minute hike to the top provides 360-degree panoramic views over the entire island. Monsignor John Hawes, a Roman Catholic priest, built a small monastery at the top of Mount Alvernia called The Hermitage in 1939. While he was alive, he used it as a small monastery. Today, it remains open to the public to explore as they wish even though it is no longer used by the clergy.
You’ll feel worlds away from Nassau on Cat Island, but it actually doesn’t take that long to get there. Sky Bahamas makes the 40-minute flight twice a day (see the schedule here) from Nassau’s Lynden Pindling International Airport to the small airport in New Bight with twin-engine turboprop airplanes. There are also many charter airlines that can be booked for flights from other islands and southern Florida.
If you don’t want to rush through the airport from the United States to Nassau to make the last flight of the day to Cat Island, arrive a night early and check into one of the three hotels at Baha Mar resort, which is conveniently located a 10-minute drive from Nassau’s airport. The Rosewood Baha Mar is the most luxurious, but the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar also has spacious rooms for more affordable rates. Even if you just have a long layover before your flight back home, it’s worth the cab fare for a meal at one of the resort’s 30-plus restaurants instead of waiting it out at the airport. The newest offering is Carna, a steakhouse by the eighth-generation Italian butcher Dario Cecchini, which is open for dinner nightly. If you’re only there for lunch, make a reservation for Italian at Michael Schwartz’s Fi’lia or Mexican at Costa, located in the garden at The Rosewood.
Things are spread out on Cat Island, so renting a car for your stay is recommended. (Remember: They drive on the left in the Bahamas.) If you simply need a cab ride from the airport to your resort, taxis can be arranged via Danny King of C&O Tour Services.
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