© 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 Ernie Martin
Introduction. This is intended for first-time visitors to Great Harbour Cay ("GHC"). It was prompted by the dearth of information on the Internet. Some of it is factual, some of it is my opinion, and therefore biased. All errors are mine. Because this is a work in progress, suggestions are encouraged. Telephone numbers for many of the entities appear in the "Telephones" section (bottom of page). The "Search" or "Edit / Find" feature of your Internet browser is a useful tool to find things on this page (like "beer", "clothing", "ice" or "mechanic").
Overview. Only 126 nautical miles east of Miami (and pronounced Great Harbour Key), GHC is a secluded out-island 6.7 miles long by 1.5 miles wide. It had its heyday in the 1960's, after being developed as a luxury resort and attracting such vacationers as Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Brigitte Bardot. Ten years later the development stopped and over the years some of the resort's opulent facilities deteriorated; however, key infrastructure elements (e.g., roads, airport runway, electrical power, telephone service, marina) are in good condition and well maintained. Today the island is a quiet, simple paradise, with beautiful beaches (click picture above), great fishing and a well-protected marina. More importantly, it is blessed with wonderful people (about 500 live on the island). There is very little shopping and virtually all transactions are cash (both U.S. and Bahamian currency circulate) -- there are no ATMs, and credit cards are accepted only for marina slips/services/fuel (they take only Visa and Mastercard and add a 5% surcharge) and in some instances for lodging.
Getting There by Air. It's a one-hour flight from South Florida to GHC. Sun Air International (the successor of Gulfstream International Airlines) provides scheduled service to GHC with several flights each week from Fort Lauderdale. In addition, several FAA-Certified Air Carriers provide charters from South Florida and some of the carriers will accomodate individual passengers; try Noble Air Charter (Curtis), LuxAir (George Toledo), AirSwiss or Treasure Air (Don Moss). You can also fly to Nassau and take one of the two daily flights to the island; contact Berry Islands Air Travel Agency. For private aircraft, the airport has a jet-sized runway. U.S. citizens need whatever documents they would need to re-enter the U.S.
Getting There by Boat. It's an easy voyage by boat from Florida, with minimal risk of reefs. Larger boats take a course that passes north of Bimini to the west end of the Stirrup Cays just north of GHC, then straight to the marina. Smaller boats (e.g., up to 30 feet) coming from Miami can take a direct course passing south of Bimini along a line of latitude 25o 40.5'N; at 30 knots it's under 5 hours. For more info see the blue box on the boating page.
Features. The largest of the Berry Islands in The Bahamas, GHC's features can be seen in the satellite figure below (a more detailed, zoomable picture with cars visible may be seen on Google Earth). The airport is near its southern end. Virtually the entire east coast is beach and that is where most of the non-Bahamians have their vacation homes. The "Village" (officially Bullock's Harbour) is where most of the locals live and where you find most of the shops (well, sort of). A secure hurricane hole, near the center of the island and accessed from the west, offers excellent protection for boats, as well as a marina and fuel dock. Caves near the northern end of the island (click for pictures) and a south-to-north drive by the island's highest point (see satellite figure) are worthwhile.
Near the southern end of GHC, just north of Haines Cay, is a shallow area which the Cuban-Americans (many of whom have houses on the island) call the "Bajito" (pronouced bahitoh). Roughly a square mile in size, this sand bank comes out of the water at low tide and is a treasure trove of sand-dollars and shells for children of all ages (click for picture). Because from a satellite GHC and Haines Cay appear to be a single island, separated only by narrow Shark's Creek, the satellite figure above has been edited to show more separation (click to see unedited picture).
Note also Cistern Cay, which lies very close to GHC to the west. Also shown are the Stirrup Cays to the north. The remainder of the Berry Islands, offering great boating destinations, lie to the south (click here for map of the Berry Islands).
Weather. Daytime weather is typically sunny and temperatures are moderate (80s in the summer and 70s in the winter are the norm). For an in-depth forecast which gives you the next five days at a glance but allows you to get hour-by-hour for the next 3 days and daily for the whole month click here. If you're about to leave for the island in your boat or airplane, click here to see current weather (from an automated weather station provided by "Frenchie").
Attire. Clothing is informal, with T-shirt, shorts and sandals welcome everywhere (unless someone invites you to the Tamboo Club, where pants and a nice shirt for men and something similar or a sundress for women are de rigueur); bathing suits (no top, no shoes) are OK only on the beach or the boat.
Activities. This is a quiet, laid-back place. Aside from excellent fishing and some great boating, it's a place to rest, enjoy a good book on the beautiful beach, pick sand-dollars at the "Bajito" or nurse a tropical drink (here are my recipes for Margaritas and Piña Coladas, perfected on the island). Games range from golfing on the 9-hole course to Mexican Train dominoes. Fairs, art exhibits and other activities are posted here.
Fishing. Snapper, grouper and most other fish abound in the waters off GHC. Deep-drop fishing with electric reels is popular. Only Hawaiian slings may be used to spear fish. Lobsters also abound and some are huge (see picture below). Salt-water flats fishing in the shallows west of the Ambergris Cays (the small cays at the extreme south of the satellite figure) is superb, and Percy Darville -- a renown master -- is available to take you out. It's easy, even at a moment's notice, to get locals to clean the fish for you, in exchange for the heads, the spoils and a small tip. See the precautions in the "Boating" section below. (This section would be longer if I fished, or if my fishermen friends gave me valuable data instead of boasting of their catch or the size of their fish.)
Boating. You can rent boats from Elorn at Happy People, at the marina. Whether rented or your own boat, it's essential to have up-to-date marine charts in order to safely navigate the many shallows; generally, deep ocean lies to the east of the island, shallower water to the west (the Bahama Bank).
Although GHC itself has a limited number of attractions (only the caves and the "Bajito" spring to mind), there are lots of things to do and see in day trips to the surrounding Berry Islands. Click here for information, directions and GPS routes to many of these locations, including the enigmatic Blue Hole (which some believe is a "must" stop for anyone visiting GHC), Flo's, the Ambergris Cays, diving reefs and the fishing mecca "Tongue of the Ocean"; there is also a wonderful guided outing with someone who will dive for fish and lobster, take you to a deserted island, and cook up a feast.
Lodging. There is a small hotel next to the Marina which caters principally to Bahamians. A small, family-run boutique hotel, CarriEarl, has recently opened, with rooms at about $150; the beach is just a stone throw away, or just sit by the 50' swimming pool and enjoy a rum punch from the outdoor bar. Most other visitors stay at the Beach Villas, right on the beach (click for picture), or the Townhouses. The latter, directly opposite the marina, are interesting because each has its own dock and each is on stilts, hanging over the water; smaller boats fit entirely or partially under the house and larger boats on the private dock (you can see this by enlarging the picture below). Beach Villas start at about $150 per day for the one-bedroom units (more for larger units), and Townhouses (which are larger) start at about $200 per day; contact Anthony Williams (GHCWilliams@hotmail.com or phone below) or Cindy; for info on a large, recently redecorated Beach Villa available directly from the owner click here. In addition to these choices, new Gilligan's Island bungalows are available across the street from the Beach Villas at $100 - 150 per night depending on size. Finally, full-size homes are generally available for rentals of seven days or more; contact Lauren Higgs at Coldwell Banker.
Dining/Restaurants. The Beach Club, right on the beach, across from the airport, is the place for great breakfasts (superb grits, with eggs and bacon) and lunches (conch fritters, bacon cheeseburgers and sandwiches are specialties). You can also take out (perfect for the boat) and they're now open at night on weekends. For dinner there are several options. My favorite is the Pool Bar at the marina, where several items are world-class (while this is only my opinion, it's based on trying top restaurants, not only in most major U.S. cities but also in dozens of trips throughout Europe); these include conch bits and fish bits as appetizers, and cracked conch and panfried fish with capers as entrees (the fish bits have a zesty taste that puts them in a class by themselves, way better than the best fish fingers you've ever had). Coolie Mae's restaurant in the Village is on the western coastline with a great view of sunsets. The CarriEarl Boutique Hotel (mentioned earlier in Lodging) has a good restaurant, and a pre-dinner drink at the charming outdoor bar by the pool is a delight.
Marina/Fuel. The large marina is well kept (click on picture above to enlarge aerial view). A slip costs $1.30 per foot (boat length) per night. For boats under 60 feet, electricity is $15 per day and washdown water $10 per day. Fuel is available at a separate dock west of the marina; it is also the only source of fuel for cars and trucks (driving from the airport and Beach Villas to the marina, pass the marina on your right, keep driving for about a half mile and the station road will be on your right). Gasoline is around $6 per gallon and diesel around $4.50 -- and remember that the only accepted cards are Visa and Mastercard and carry a 5% surcharge. Fuel used to be spotty, with the station sometimes runnning out every couple of months and having to wait several days for a new shipment, but the problem has largely disappeared. If you're coming by boat, it would be wise to call the marina to check for both availability and price of fuel and slips, since prices may have changed since this was written.
Transportation. Looking at the satellite figure you can see that lots of things are within walking distance (marina, beach, airport), so a car is not a necessity. Taxi service is available and can be called from the airport. Bicycles, golf carts and cars can be rented from Elorn at Happy People, by the marina. Drive on the left side of the road (these had been in disrepair, but were repaved a couple of years ago and are in good condition).
Groceries. Despite its small size, GHC has several grocery stores. There are a couple in the Village and one at the marina. They are small, but one of them is likely to have what you want -- and they'll tell you who has it if they don't. Their selection is limited (for instance, cheese is available in only two varieties: American and cheddar) and prices are nearly double compared to supermarkets in the U.S. None of the stores sell ice, which must be bought from the dockmaster at the marina. Similarly, it's hard to find freshly baked Bahamian bread (only Whitewater Grocery, on your left as you approach the Village, carries it sporadically), but it can be ordered from several people (my favorite is Mrs. Pople).
Liquor. There is a small liquor store at the marina, one by the airport and several in the Village. Prices for spirits are comparable to those in the U.S., but beer is much higher than in the U.S.
Shopping. Basically none. There are a couple of shops in the Village that sell crafts (e.g., wood carvings), and both the Beach Club and Happy People sell GHC T-shirts, hats and visors. The latter, with two stores at the marina, also sells crafts and is the closest there is to a hardware store on the island.
Services. Surprisingly, given the island's size, you can get just about any work or service on the island -- well, the legal ones anyway. Coolie Mae can cook for you to take out. Several people can provide cleaning and cooking at your place; the best, Alsada, is generally not available but she can recommend someone. If you need a mechanic, call Emerson or "Blue" for car repairs, and for boat repairs ask for "Junior" at the marina or call Emerson. If you don't find it here, just ask around (Elorn at Happy People is always helpful); that's what I did when a seam on my bimini top started to come apart, and I got it repaired overnight.
Medical. The island has a well-equipped clinic with a defribillator. Residents and visitors are fortunate that the clinic is headed by an experienced French nurse ("Frenchie") who used to be with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders).
More Pictures/Info. Additional pictures of the island may be seen here. If you want additional information, please send me an e-mail at ; time permitting, I will try to answer.
Telephones. AT&T cell phones will function in GHC, but the roaming costs are large. Phone numbers for most of the entities mentioned above are shown below (area code is 242 for the Bahamas). A much longer list of GHC phones, listing just about every business and tradesman can be seen here (your browser may initially show it in a reduced size, but you should be able to magnify it).
Entity Telephone Number AirSwiss 305-861-0077 Alsada 464-4317 Anthony (Rentals) 464-4167 Beach Club 367-8108 Berry Islands Air Travel Agcy 367-8242/451-0404 "Blue" 367-8009/464-4156 CarriEarl Boutique Hotel 367-8785 Cindy (Rentals) 464-4361 Clinic/Nurse #1/Nurse #2 367-8400/359-9131/367-8649 Coolie Mae 367-8730 Don Moss (Treasure Air) 305-781-4141 Doctor (See Clinic) Emerson 367-8187/464-4226 Flo's (Chester Darville) 457-3969 Fuel Station 367-8113 Gilligan's Island 427-0298 George Toledo (LuxAir Charters) 305-599-4804/786-351-9106 Happy People 367-8117 LuxAir Charters 305-599-4804/786-351-9106 Marina 367-8005 Medical (See Clinic) Noble Air Charter 786-251-4345 Nurse (See Clinic) Percy Darville 367-8119 Pool Bar 367-8051 Pople (Mrs.) 367-8889 Sun Air International Airline 877-226-2040 Treasure Air 305-781-4141
Last update May 1, 2013