Harbour Island Rum PunchI'm an island girl, and the smaller, the sandier, the less developed and crowded the island is, the better.

I hit pay dirt on a recent trip to two of the 700 islands in the archipelago that make up the Out Islands of the Bahamas.

Actually, only 14 are inhabited: the Abacos, Acklins and Crooked Islands, Andros, the Berry Islands, Bimini, Cat Island, Eleuthera, Harbour Island, the Exumas, Inagua, Long Island, Mayaguana and San Salvador.

It's 25 minutes from the hubbub of Nassau to North Eleuthera Airport (there are flights from Miami and Fort Lauderdale) aboard a BahamasAir prop plane.

The domestic and international departures terminal at Nassau Airport has seen better days, but a new terminal opens in a year and will match in cachet and comfort what the stunning 4-month-old, $410 million U.S. arrivals and departures facility offers.

A $5 cab ride to Three Island Dock; a $5, 15-minute water taxi across South Bay to Harbour Island; and a $5 cab ride brought me to the wide wooden porch of Valentine's Resort & Marina on Harbour Island.

Conch frittersValentine's, nine years under current ownership, has 41 rooms in four pastel-colored buildings overlooking the pool and marina. The small resort caters to honeymooners and to travelers like me, in search of authentic island life.

Room rates average $300 a night and up in winter plus 21% tax and service.

Harbour Island is a tiny, pricey sliver of land, three miles long by half a mile wide, with 12 small hotels and even smaller guesthouses.

Electric golf carts, with a top speed of 20 mph and a daily rental rate of $40, rule the roads, and the 1,500 carts just about equal the island population. There are no traffic lights on Harbour Island. In fact, there's no traffic.

I lunched at the Coral Sands Hotel, second "largest" resort with 39 rooms. It overlooks Pink Sands, one of the prettiest stretches of beach I've seen.

Eleuthera Gift ShopOn to Eleuthera (or "Lutra" as the locals say) the next day, 110 miles long by three miles wide, where the top attraction is the Glass Window Bridge, often referred to as the narrowest place on Earth. It's 30 feet wide, flanked by the Caribbean on one side and the Atlantic on the other.
Jackie Gibson, senior manager with the Eleuthera Tourist Office, told me that "every visitor to Lutra takes a photo here. Often there's a crowd."

"Crowd" on Lutra could mean a group of three or even a tour bus of 20.

Three airports serve the island, and there's a cruise port at the southern end where Princess calls weekly in the winter.

Governor's Harbour, the capital, sits midisland, a charming town with a pink, colonial-style library, a small harbor and beach shacks offering conch salads, fritters and cold beer served with warm smiles.

We drove farther south on Queen's Highway, a two-lane paved road that runs the length of the island, passing pineapple fields, clumps of love vines and stands of palmetto palms, which are dried, plaited and used for baskets.

Visitors who want to explore Eleuthera's 100 beaches get around in rental cars, which run $60 to $80 a day.

Eleuthera Sky Beach ClubWeddings are a big business at Sky Beach Club near Governor's Harbour, a high-end, modern enclave of seven villas.

"This is our niche market, and we do well with it," said Stephen Kappeler, resident manager. "The bulk of our business is from the U.K. and Canada, but our U.S. business is growing as we get better known."

The Out Islands Promotion Board, headed by Raymond Francis, executive director, has a Fly Free offer with two free air tickets from Nassau when a four-night stay is booked at participating resorts; a three-night stay is good for one free ticket.

Travelers must book by June 30 for travel through October.

"We're trying to build up island-hopping travel so that visitors can experience more than one island on their trips here," Francis said.

All too soon it was time to go. I headed back to Governor's Harbour Airport for the short hop to Nassau. I pocketed a small shell, shook the sand from my flip-flops and shouldered my backpack.

I'm sold. I'll be back.

Visit www.myoutislands.com.

Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly. 


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