Are you daydreaming about escaping the city and heading to secluded cruising grounds that are peaceful yet vibrant, remote yet accessible? Far away from anywhere but just 120 miles east of Miami, the Berry Islands are an easy trip depending on weather and the tide. This 12 square mile cluster of 30 cays stretching in a thin crescent shape is surrounded by waters so clear you could navigate by sight. Robust groves of coconut, pine and thatch berry trees, acres of sparkling white sand beaches, a few lush golf courses, and enticing Bahamian flavors are scattered throughout the cays. Only seven of the islands are inhabited.
Two full-service marinas well suited for cruisers, Great Harbour Cay Marina in the north and Chub Cay Marina in the south, serve as ports of entry and fuel stations. Between and around the two are inviting cays surrounded by ever-changing, intense shades of blue water.
Most of the archipelago's 700 inhabitants live and work on Great Harbour Cay, the largest in the chain at 7 miles long and 2.5 miles at its widest point. The island features three horseshoe-shaped beaches, several restaurants and a handful of shops. Most locals reside in Bullock's Harbour, The Village, an assemblage of restaurants, markets and liquor outlets. Dining throughout the islands is a casual affair where fresh fish, conch and lobster take the spotlight.
Cooliemae's Sunset has great food, good music and sports on TV. It's known for specialty breads such as cinnamon, potato or raisin, and a dessert called Guava Duff. Bean and dumpling soup with coconut bread on Thursdays is a favorite. The restaurant sits atop a westward facing cliff with spectacular sunsets. The aroma of conch fritters and sizzling burgers leads straight to the blue and yellow local hangout, New Beach Club, which serves custom-made cocktails just steps from the shoreline. Stroll next door to The Art Shack for Bahamian arts and crafts and souvenir items. Proceeds from the Shack sales support a local school.
Located just before St. Bartholomew Anglican Church is another hotspot for dancing and fun, The Back Side Bar. They offer chicken wings, conch fritters and fresh conch salad daily and a fish fry on Tuesday nights.
St. Bartholomew Anglican Church was the first place of worship built in The Berry Islands more than 150 years ago. On the church's western shore is Bishop's Landing, the stone steps carved out of the landing rocks where visiting bishops disembarked from their boat.
Snugged into the east side of Great Harbour is Soul Fly Lodge, a destination catering to fishermen. Wade into the sand flats, lush turtle grass, dense mangroves and backcountry creeks of the area to discover fabulous fishing grounds. It's illegal to catch the several shark varieties roaming the shallow waters.While on Great Harbour, explore Sugar Beach Caves whose sandy coves, rocky cliffs and sheltered caves resemble those of the best Mediterranean beaches. The Great Harbour Cay Marina has 65 slips nestled inside a serene harbor and accommodates yachts up to 150 feet. One of the most protected marinas in the Bahamas, it's an excellent hurricane hole.
The first known settlers to the Bahamas were the Lucayan people, relatives of the Arawaks who populated the Caribbean around 600 A.D. Great Stirrup was a pirate hideout until 1815. This era marks the first documented settlers of Great Stirrup shown on period charts as simply Stirrup's Cay. Many of the structures from this settlement are still standing.Little Stirrup (now known as Coco Cay) and Great Stirrup Cays are now private cruise ship islands and not accessible to boaters. Several good anchorages are located in the area such as Slaughter Harbour, which lies between the two, and Goad Cay or Snake Cay, which are behind Great Stirrup.
The abandoned Ghost Island of Cistern Cay was a known drug hub in its heyday and exploring visitors often speculate about the wreckage of a plane symbolizing a dark past in island history. Whether a drug-runner downed by authorities or just a victim of bad weather, the sunken wreck is now a city of coral habitat for creatures of the sea.
Hoffman's Cay, whose only living inhabitants are said to be oysters, is home to the famous Blue Hole. From the beach, follow the cleared trail through the dense vegetation and hike down to the most visited blue hole in the islands. Adrenaline junkies leap from a cliff 20 feet above the water into the mysterious depths of the 600 feet wide hole.
The tiny mom-and-pop fried conch restaurants adorning the islands offer a great way to soak up local culture. The walls are often tacked with memorabilia âshirts, boat flags, pennants and signed dollar bills. Between Great Harbour and Chub Cay, Flo's Conch Bar is a cruiser's landmark. It's wise to call ahead and order the cracked conch to avoid the disappointment of missing out on Flo's famous delicacy. Little Harbour Cay is a protected anchorage with gorgeous green and navy waters, good depth, and some fun inlets to poke about on a dinghy.
Chub Cay is a 1,000-acre spit of coral rock at the southern tip of the Berry chain. It has convenient access to the Bahamian waters known as The Pocket, which provide possibly the best fishing grounds in the Western Hemisphere and the world's best billfishing. Remote flats south of Great Harbour, from Anderson Cay to Money Cay, are excellent bonefish habitats, as are the flats around Chub Cay. The area is also a diver's dream with coral reefs, blue holes, walls, caves and shipwrecks to explore.
Chub Cay Resort & Marina is a private island paradise, with full amenities and magnificent untouched beaches. The eleven guest rooms include a two-story presidential suite. On the reception level, oak ceiling beams are from century-old Texas cattle barns, while the lobby floor, complete with an inlaid compass rose, is made of Brazilian Ipe wood.
The Clubhouse Restaurant overlooks Sunset Beach. If a breakfast of coconut guava waffles has worn off by evening, the dinner menu includes delectables such as lobster poppers and Bahamian cracked conch dinner.
Chub Cay Club Marina can accommodate yachts up to 190 feet in its 109 slips. Approach and dock depth is 12 feet at low tide. The Posh Peacock and Marlin Market in the adjacent historic Harbour House building has a wide inventory of island and boating supplies.