The relaxing, blissful beaches of Harbour Island. (Photo: Sophie Forbes)
Known to the locals as Briland, and one of the 700 islands that make up the Bahamas, Harbour Island has been a relatively hidden Caribbean treasure — until now.
With an influx of new celebrity fans, it’s now being heralded as “the new St. Barts,” that is, a tropical paradise for the rich and famous. But although Harbour Island shares many of St. Barts’s definitive qualities — namely, its luxury and quaint elegance — it’s missing the biggest one: an ego.
Much like its French West Indian counterpart, Harbour Island is not the easiest location to access. The journey from the U.S. mainland requires a flight to Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or Nassau, and then a connecting flight to Eleuthera, the neighboring island. From there, it’s a taxi ride to the dock, followed by a water taxi across the short and beautiful expanse of ocean separating the two islands.
Once the capital of the Bahamas, the island is just 3.5 miles long and home to around 1,500 people, almost all of whom live in Dunmore Town, the island’s heart.
The island has many other kinds of inhabitants, too, including an incredible array of sea life, lizards, and hordes of wild roosters, who cock-a-doodle-doo their way into the late afternoon.
In recent years the enclave has caught the attention of several celebrities who have bought homes on the island, increasing its exposure to the outside world. Supermodel Elle Macpherson, designer Diane von Furstenberg, and British socialite India Hicks have all purchased property there. Hicks even opened a store on the ocean front selling high-end clothing and accessories.
I stayed at the newly and beautifully refurbished Coral Sands Hotel. I spoke with many islandgoers, who said that visiting once is never enough. Every single person I talked to had made the journey to the island at least once before. Many had been coming for years and insisted they wouldn’t go elsewhere.
So what makes it so spectacular? Here are five reasons to make Harbour Island your next vacation destination.
Pink sand beaches
This impeccable 3-mile stretch of beach is regularly voted one of the best beaches in the world, and it is easy to see why. At 100 feet wide in most places, the vast expanse of sand is made up of coral, shell, rock, and microscopic marine invertebrates from the reef that surrounds the coast of the island. Ground to the finest powder, the sand appears white at first sight, but upon closer inspection, it is the warmest shade of pale pink.
Pretty in pink. (Photo: Coral Sands Hotel)
As the sun sets in the early evening, the warm light hits the pristine sand, making the color all the more spectacular and vibrant. Contrasted with the turquoise water, it is a breathtaking sight — one that should be enjoyed with a cocktail from the Coral Sands Hotel Beach Bar or the neighboring Dunmore hotel.
The Bahamas boasts some of the world’s best diving sites and has the highest concentration of shipwrecks per square mile on the planet. Conspiracy theorists would suggest that this is due to the country’s positioning within the Bermuda Triangle — but shallow waters, large coral reefs, and vastly fluctuating tides are more likely to blame.
Hunting for buried treasure is actually a real thing you can do. (Photo: Project Eleuthera)
The waters surrounding Harbour Island are no different. The peninsula boasts several incredible shipwrecks, a couple of which are in fairly shallow water and accessible by snorkelers, not just those with scuba equipment.
The Carnarvon shipwreck is the result of a natural disaster; the vessel was sunk in just 30 feet of water in 1918. There is also the Potato and Onion Wreck, submerged in only 15 feet of water. This wreckage is over 200 feet long and went down in 1895.
There are very few cars on the island, due to the expense and insane process it takes to actually own one. Because of this, almost everyone owns a golf cart or two.
It was a novel experience to be picked up from the Dunmore Town dock by Coral Sands’ general manager Pam Berry in her personal two-seater, my suitcase loosely strapped to the back while I received a brief tour of the town.
Why drive when you can cart it? (Photo: Sophie Forbes)
This eco-friendly and inexpensive mode of transport certainly adds to the laid-back, quaint atmosphere of the community. It adds a social aspect to moving around the island that wouldn’t exist if people were holed up in cars.
Locals, holiday homers, and tourists alike smile and wave at each other as they scoot down the narrow roads. It’s a feel-good mode of transport. Plus, have you ever seen a golf cart traffic jam? Apparently this actually happens on the island’s main street during busy vacation times, à la spring break.
Golf carts are available to rent from around $200 a week and will be delivered to rental property or hotels, ready for your arrival.
Daiquiris, daiquiris, daiquiris
Let me preface this by saying that I am a wine drinker. Specifically Sauvignon Blanc. Or occasionally a nice glass of Pinot Noir if I’m indulging in a piece of filet mignon. Despite living in sunny Los Angeles, I would never dream of ordering a fruity, alcoholic slushy while out for happy-hour drinks. Unless, that is, I am on vacation.
Mmm. So, so sweet. (Photo: Sophie Forbes)
Daiquiris are a Harbour Island specialty, and one I couldn’t resist during my stay. There is something almost necessary about these tropical concoctions when lounging poolside or basking in the sun at the ocean’s edge. The island even has a daiquiri food truck that is permanently parked by the harbor and constantly has a line in front.
They are addictive. But since the township boasts that it has “the best daiquiris in the Caribbean,” I couldn’t just drink them — I wanted to learn how to make them, too. And thanks to King, the fabulous bartender at the Coral Sands Beach Bar, I got my wish.
So, after several truly necessary samples, here is the recipe for an insanely good strawberry daiquiri. You’re welcome.
1 cup ice
1 shot Bacardi rum
1 cup fresh strawberries (King used a premade strawberry purée that contains some sugar, so add sugar or sweetener if necessary)
½ shot grenadine
Blend in a blender or food processor until thick like a slushy. Pour into a glass and top with a shot of dark rum. It ends up looking like a strawberry rum floater. Obviously strawberries can be replaced by any other fruit. Mango, banana, raspberry, and watermelon are all popular flavors.
The food on the island is truly spectacular. Expensive, but spectacular.
Due to the remoteness of Harbour Island, and a local reduction in farming, almost 100 percent of the island’s food supplies is brought in from the mainland. Twice a week a ferry unloads huge amounts of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, wine, and other grocery items from the dock onto several large flatbed trucks, which then distribute the goods among the island hotels, restaurants, and stores.
To cater to the largely affluent visitors, the hotels and restaurants set a very high standard when it comes to the dining options. Most menus are limited, but you can expect five-star quality from the options available.
Freshly caught local mahi-mahi and tuna are a staple on most menus. The grilled mahi with arugula and potato salad, served at the Coral Sands Beach Bar, was so good I ate it two days in a row.
Fresh seafood deliciousness. (Photo: Coral Sands Hotel)
Latitude 25, the main restaurant on the property, is one of the island’s top spots for dinner. Situated on the large covered veranda overlooking both the pool and the stunning beach, the restaurant treats guests to attentive service and fantastic food. Chef Jarland, a French native, has created a menu rich in fresh local produce and creative French-Bahamian dishes. I recommend the beef tenderloin, which is melt-in-your-mouth perfection, and the Southern-style shrimp and grits, which is a visual delight as much as it is a tasty one.
The restaurant also boasts an extensive and tastefully crafted wine list, with options from all over the world.
The Rock House hotel also has a fine dining restaurant, which is regularly voted one of the best in the Caribbean. Reservations are necessary, as this place is full all year round. And for good reason: Not only is the food wonderful — the jumbo stone crab cake is the best I have ever eaten — but the service is truly impeccable. Try the “Junkanoo” capellini with white shrimp or local lobster in an arrabbiata sauce, or the cider braised pork tenderloin with goat cheese mashed potatoes.
For something a little more island-style, and easier on your wallet, check out the Queen Conch, a roadside food stand that serves the most authentic conch salad in all of the Bahamas. Conch is a giant sea snail that can be served ceviche-style, grilled, or battered and fried. And it is actually the only thing they serve, but it’s well worth it.
So there you have it: a guide to Harbour Island, aka the new and ego-free St. Barts.