Bahamas Out Islands: Cat Island, with Videos
Cat Island is located some 300 miles from Miami and 130 miles southeast of Nassau. The island is 48 miles long and 4 miles wide at its widest point. It has the distinction of being home to Mount Alvernia – the highest point in the Bahamas. The “mountain” is 206 feet above sea level, and on its top is a rock-hewn monastery known as The Hermitage, created by Father Jerome Hawes in 1939.
Cat Island is largely undeveloped and is surrounded by 60 miles of white and pink sand beaches, coral reefs, tall cliffs, and beautiful turquoise water. The inland is comprised of gently rolling hills, caves, fresh water lakes, and streams.
The island is great for a get-away-from-it-all vacation and is perfect for honeymooners and couples who want privacy and solitude. There are no theme parks, fancy casinos, amusement rides, high rises, or fast food restaurants.
Long before Cat Island was called by its present name, it was known as San Salvador for almost 400 years. According to some historians, it was here that Columbus first landed in the New World. When another island assumed the name of San Salvador, the island changed its name to Cat Island.
There’s debate on how the island got its name. Some say Cat Island was named for Arthur Catt, a British sea captain and pirate. Others claim the isle was named for the numerous feral cats the English found here when they arrived in the 1600s. Supposedly, the cats’ ancestors had been left on the island by the earlier colonists from Spain.
In 1783, Loyalists from America settled on the island and established cotton plantations and cattle farms.
Visitors can walk among the ruins of the cotton plantations and the eighteenth-century slave huts or visit one of the caves of the Arawaks. There’s also a small museum in Knowles where visitors can learn about the island’s past. You can also see actor Sidney Poitier’s boyhood home in South Bight.
The beaches of Cat Island are truly breath-taking. Some have white sand, and others have pink sand. But whatever the color, you won’t have to worry about crowds. These beaches, for the most part, are usually practically empty. The best beaches are mostly found on the leeward side of the island, especially those along Exuma Sound.
Fountain Bay Beach is a great place to visit. The beach is about a mile long, and in the bushes near the flats is a natural fountain. At the end of the beach is a lagoon with a reef – a great place to snorkel.
If you want to rub elbows with the locals, visit New Bight Beach. Here, you’ll discover beach dances and picnics on the weekends.
Cat Island is famous for its great diving opportunities. Coral reefs, wrecks, rock walls, underwater caverns, submerged canyons, and blue holes abound. Experienced divers can explore on their own, while those with less experience might want to hire a local guide to help them navigate.
Some of the best dive spots include The Tunnels, White Hole Reef, Blue Hole, First Basin Wall, and Third Basin Reef Wall. In addition to interesting reef formations and caves, divers can expect to see sharks, dolphin, rays, huge lobsters, and plenty of tropical fish.
Because of the clarity of the water and the abundance of marine life, snorkeling is a favorite pastime on the island. Some of the best spots are found at Naked Point, a submerged cavern; Hazel’s Hideaway, with lots of hard and soft corals; Port Howe and its various types of sponges; Shipwreck, where grouper, lobster, sea fans, and small fish can be viewed; and Dry Head, with its grunts, yellow tails, and corals.
Bring your snorkel gear with you – you won’t find any for sale or rent on the island.
Like most of the Bahamas, Cat Island is known for its fishing. In fact, most of the native Cat Islanders fish just about every day. In the shallow flats and tidal creeks, bonefish are the favorite target for visiting anglers. Deeper water will reward fishermen with catches of grouper, sharks, mahi-mahi, wahoo, blue marlin, tuna, and snapper. Also, some of the largest lobsters in the world are taken at Cat Island, so you might want to try your luck with them. Local marinas can arrange boats and fishing guides.
Several resorts, villas, beach cottages, vacation homes, and inns provide accommodations to visitors. Some of the more popular are Greenwood Beach Resort, where a room with a ceiling fan is $110 per night; Fernandez Bay Village, where family-size villas start at $335 a night and cottages start at $235 per night; Sammy T’s Beach Resort, where rooms start at $145 a night; Pigeon Cay Beach Club, with rooms for $160 per night in the off season; and Island HoppInn, where suites start at $225 per night.
Some of the resorts and hotels offer package deals with meal plans.
You can also rent a private beachfront home with three bedrooms, two baths, and air conditioning for an amazing $1600 per week! Cat Island is definitely a place to find a cheap Bahamas vacation!
Cat Island is very natural and undeveloped, so don't expect the glitz of Nassau, Freeport, and Paradise Island. Nightlife consists mostly of the type of music made famous here - the Rake n Scrape. Local bands use conch shell horns, saws, goatskin drums, and whatever else they can find handy to create music. Sometimes an accordion is added to the mix. This is the real Bahamas, mon!
How to Get There
Commercial flights from Nassau fly to Arthur’s Town five times a week. Numerous charter flights also make the journey from Nassau or Florida to Cat Island. A round-trip ticket on Gulf Stream Air is around $400 per person from Ft. Lauderdale.
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