The Salty Sea Breeze Blew Gently Through My Hair As I Looked Out Over The Stunning Water, Its Hues Vacillating Between The Deepest Blues And Every Shade Of Turquoise.
This little slice of paradise – only 42 miles off the U.S. Coast – has hosted everyone from pirates to Pulitzer Prize winners. While guests of other Bahamian islands are wandering amidst the bustling mega resorts and crowded beaches, I’m gathering seashells in quiet tranquility while munching on some delicious sweet bread from Charlie’s. This little island is my happy place and once you visit, you will see why.
Little Island, Big History
Bimini got its start in the 1830s as a wrecking salvage spot for freed slaves and the indigenous Bahamians. Historians believe that prior to 1835, Bimini was the home to famous pirates like Blackbeard and Francis Drake. Its many reefs and narrow passages caused ships to run aground often, making it ripe for pirates to hide and wait for their prey.
Once pirating and salvaging came to an end, the islands of North and South Bimini were a supply point for alcohol smuggling during the Prohibition era in the U.S., and a very lucrative one. But when Prohibition was repealed, the money left as fast as it had come in.
Luckily for Bimini, its beautiful waters would soon become the place of fishing legends. Ernest Hemingway spent many summers there. When he wasn’t writing, he could be found fishing and socializing with locals. According to legend, Hemingway was also known to enjoy a good boxing match at a tavern. As locals will attest, he was never beaten.
It is Hemingway’s love of the water and shores of Bimini that continues to keep these islands thriving in the fishing world. During Hemingway’s time on the island he and a small group of individuals founded the Bahamas Marlin and Fishing Club, an ancestor to the preeminent International Game Fish Association.
Bimini’s water is breathtaking. Its spectacular palette of blues is created by the variations of shelf depths on which Bimini sits in the warm Bahamian waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
A snorkel and bottle of sunscreen will take you far in the fun-in-Bimini department. The sea flora and fauna you encounter are far superior to those of other Bahamian islands. My family particularly enjoys the Shark Snorkel Tour provided by Bimini Undersea. Our tour guided us to shallow reefs where we saw small reef sharks and sea turtles and were urged to swim in the waters and explore.
Once over the shock of swimming with sharks, we jumped back on board our boat and headed to the SS Sapona. This concrete cargo ship ran aground in 1926, and has become one of the most popular dive spots in the Bahamas. We spent nearly two hours snorkeling in and around this sunken water museum, where an astounding array of colorful fish and coral have made their home.
Local lore says the waters off of Bimini are also home to the lost city of Atlantis. A cluster of massive rock slabs on the ocean floor known as the “Road to Atlantis” has been the source of much archeological speculation and study. Legend or not, this is a perfect day trip to dive, snorkel and enjoy a cold Kalik beer while floating in the turquoise waters.
Another Bimini must is the dolphin swim tour – a full day trip offered by Bimini Undersea. After a lengthy boat ride, you are invited to jump in the crystal clear waters and wait. It is magical how the dolphins immediately swim in, curious to greet their new visitors. These gentle creatures seem almost as happy to see you as you are to see them. It’s a lengthy excursion, but easily worth every minute.
All Things Conchy
Bimini is best known for its incredible fishing and its succulent conch. These slug-like creatures are a true delicacy. On nearly every street, you can find a “conch shack.” The locals dive and harvest the conch, then walk directly from the dock to their open-air restaurant where they prepare conch salad (ceviche-style salad), conch fritters and the extremely decadent conch chowder. My family’s favorite is Stuart’s Conch Shack, known to the locals as “Fab’s.” The conch is fresh, and the view is breathtaking.
Once you have eaten your fill of conch at Fab’s you’re only a short distance from Charlie’s Bread. Their sweet yeast loaves are baked throughout the day and make the most incredible grilled cheese sandwiches and French toast. For purists like myself, enjoy it warm and slathered with butter.
You will always find traditional Bimini bread at Charlie’s, but you may luck into some other delights. Be sure to ask if he has coconut or raisin bread available. His coconut bread is hands-down, out-of-this-world delicious. All of Charlie’s breads are sold warm in a plastic bag right out of his front door. Just look for the long line of patrons or ask any local for directions.
Bungalow by the Sea
In the past, if you wanted to stay on Bimini, the only choices were The Bimini Big Game Club or a privately owned property. Current lodging in Bimini ranges from local home rentals and small hotels to luxury residences and multi-bedroom suites at Resorts World.
My family’s choice has always been the gorgeous Resorts World, both for its quaintness and luxury accommodations. Located on the northern tip of North Bimini Island, Resorts World features beach bungalows reminiscent of Tommy Bahama’s home: whimsical yet exquisitely appointed. There are numerous on-property restaurants, a beachside infinity pool, mega yacht marina, and for those feeling lucky, a new luxury casino.
Depending on the time of day, the ocean view from your room changes like the tides. The property’s beaches are perfect for quiet strolls and shell gathering, and it never feels too busy. It’s laid-back, island-style perfection.
Bimini may be thought of as the little Bahamian island no one has heard of, but I promise this gem won’t stay hidden for long. Take a moment to evaluate what type of beach vacation you really want for your family. If you are looking for quiet, secluded beaches without the hubbub of overly commercialized hot spots, then Bimini is the perfect choice. It’s what the Bahamas used to be before water parks and aquariums took over the other islands. Besides, what’s not to love when the bartender at the charming local restaurant is also the cook and that morning’s fisherman?