More than 700 islands make up The Bahamas. With the exception of New Providence Island and Grand Bahama Island the rest of the islands in the archipelago that make up The Bahamas are called the Out Islands. One of these Out Islands became our vacation haven in March; off the beaten path and tucked away in paradise.
We travelled to Great Exuma via Atlanta and took a taxi into George Town to the market docks. A boat arrived from our resort to pick us up and ferried us across Elizabeth Harbour to a tiny island. It was a fabulous beginning to our vacation jetting across the turquoise waters past sailboats and yachts under a brilliant blue sky to our retreat.
Our destination was St. Francis Resort and Marina, a small family-owned property on Stocking Island with 8 villas and one restaurant/bar. The magic of this property really is its location, which in our opinion is nothing short of spectacular. Stocking Island is a very narrow spit island only 3 miles long. It has low hills, silky beaches, blue holes and lagoons. The St. Francis villas perch on the hilltop about midway down the island providing panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and beautiful Elizabeth Harbour on the other. You can enjoy incredible sunrises and awe-inspiring sunsets without ever leaving your room.
The resort doesn’t have a lot of amenities with no pool, recreation centre or store and it only has one restaurant, but it is a social centre for many of the live-aboard and seasonal sailors anchored in the Harbour. We participated in Trivia night as well as poker nights and met some very interesting people, some of whom return year after year. The food is good and reasonably priced and your stay includes a daily hot/cold continental breakfast big enough to keep you going all day. The owners close the restaurant to everyone but guests on Monday nights and do a barbeque with all the fixings. You tell them in the morning what your choice of protein is and they pick it up fresh that day. I chose lobster and it was beautifully grilled. Overall it was a great dinner with great company.
The property does have a number of ocean kayaks for the taking as well as a Hobie Cat sailboat if you know how to sail. There is no cost to use these boats, which is a huge value-add for your stay. We spent countless hours sailing around the harbor on the Hobie and exploring the many beaches of Stocking Island. Exploring on our own became something of a “safari” and at last count we had encountered: a pod of wild dolphins, stingrays, a spotted ray, starfish, various colourful tropical fish, live sand dollars, a black tipped reef shark and a pair of mating Ospreys (who were not happy to see us on their beach). The dolphins swam with the snorkelers and circled our boat, entertaining us for at least 20 minutes.
Just a short hop across the bay is a famous little spot called the Chat and Chill. You can walk over from St Francis if you don’t mind wading across a channel or you can hop in one of the kayaks and paddle across. This popular spot serves up ice cold drinks and bbq every day with a pig roast every Sunday. There is also a conch stand that prepares fresh conch salad (the Bahamian ceviche specialty) to order. This is where a group of wild stingrays hangs out hoping for some snacks of their own. They love to be fed and petted and are very tame.
The beach here is a popular spot for sailors, locals, and guests at resorts on Exuma who take a water taxi over. It’s a great place to relax, strike up conversations, or play some beach volleyball.
There is an interesting blend of tourists visiting the islands and sailors to chat with so you will likely meet people there from all corners of the globe – Canada, India, France, Germany, Guatemala, etc. You’re sure to hear some interesting stories at the Chat and Chill.
Not to be restricted to Stocking Island, we got a car in George Town to do some more exploring of the main island. St. Francis’s owner and host Gillian arranged for a rental and got us ferried over to the dock in George Town to pick up our car. Be ready for left side driving in the Bahamas. Don’t worry though; vehicle traffic is light so it’s a great place to try driving on the opposite side if you haven’t before.
Our rental car took us to Little Exuma, which is connected to the main Exuma Island by bridge. We had heard about two spots worth seeing – the Tropic Of Cancer beach and a little restaurant called Santana’s that serves up the freshest seafood on the island. Luckily, we found both. The beach was not easy to find but fortunately, other travel sites had described markers to look for so we found it without any problem. The road in to the beach is very poorly maintained and not for the faint of heart, but if you drive slowly and plot a path you can get there. We were expecting a big sign or some kind of “TaDa!” to mark the Tropic of Cancer but all there is to show you’re there is a faded line and some painted letters. Cross over that line and go down the stairs and you’re on a powdery white sand beach with spectacular ocean views and gentle rolling waves – another stunning beach. Back at the main road, we had a short drive to Santana’s for lunch where I had the best lobster of the trip! They somehow manage to deep fry the lobster still in the shell leaving it fluffy and tender, and then they top it with soft fried onions and a special lime hot sauce. The combination is sheer magic. It comes with beans and rice, coleslaw and corn so be ready with an empty stomach.
After Santana’s you can wander next door to Mom’s Bakery where they are baking up moist banana, coconut, and pineapple cakes and fantastic rum cakes. We loaded up and headed back towards the water taxi but not without stopping first to visit the Fish Fry in George Town. It’s a collection of small food huts and restaurants that serve up Bahamian dishes and cold drinks every afternoon and night and even has local music on weekends. We will have to go back for dinner and music the next time we are in George Town!
St. Francis is the kind of place you go when you want to unplug from the world and get away from it all. It’s not the vacation for you if you want five star accommodations, multiple pools, swim-up bars and dining variety at gourmet restaurants. However, if you want to wake up and nod off at night to the sound of rolling surf, enjoy home cooked breakfasts on a deck by the beach and play on the most beautiful beaches in the world then run, don’t walk to Stocking Island. It is SO off the beaten path you will usually be the only bodies on the beach for miles.
Hitch a boat ride with George the proprietor when he heads over to the main island to pick up staff or supplies and grab your beer, wine and snacks to stock up your room. Then pack a bag for the beach or grab a book and a drink and hit a lounger on your deck where you can gaze up at the beautiful azure Atlantic between chapters. One strong caution though…you will not want to leave!