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Elbow Cay, Bahamas Travel Guide
Last Updated: Jul-09-2014, Hits: 9,361, Rating: 0, Reviews: 0, Votes: 0 Bookmark and Share
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Elbow Cay, Bahamas Travel Guide Restaurants (9)
Hotels and Lodging (7)
Bars and Nightlife (5)
Attractions (15)
Services (18)
Maps (1)
Links (5)
Additional Articles (1)
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Location: Caribbean
Geography: Island, Beach
Vacation Type: Romantic, Relaxation, Adventure
Popularity: Off-the-Beaten Path
Costs: Moderate
Attractions: Historical Sites, Scenery, Boating, Fishing, Shopping, Scuba & Snorkeling

Facts and Stats:
Population: Approximately 500
Elevation: Sea level
Country Dialing Code: +001 (inbound), +011 (outbound)
Telephone Area Code: 242
Languages: English
Electricity: 110V
Currency: Bahamian Dollar
Time Zone: Eastern (EST) UTC-5/UTC-4 (Summer)
Current Time:

Elbow Cay is a 6 mile long, narrow island in the Abaco Island chain of the Bahamas. Its main settlement of Hope Town has a well developed harbor and is a popular pit stop for sailors. The town is most famous for its candy cane striped historic lighthouse.

Elbow Cay is located approximately 185 miles east of West Palm Beach, FL and 110 miles north of Nassau in the Abaco chain of out islands. Elbow Cay is located approximately 4 miles east of Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco. It is one of the many cays that flanks Great Abaco to the east. Elbow Cay is between Man-O-War Cay to the North and Tiloo Cay to the South. Lubbers Quarters Cay is West of the Southern End of Elbow Cay. On the western side of the island is the Sea of Abaco which reaches a maximum depth of 30 feet, and the Atlantic Ocean is on the east side.

Toward the northern end of Elbow Cay is the main settlement of Hope Town. To get to Hope Town, you must enter a fairly narrow passage that opens up to the much larger harbour that is fringed by the town.

Brief History:
The first inhabitants of the Abaco Islands were the Lucayan Indians, described by Columbus upon his discovery of the New World in 1492, as gentle and kind. Like everywhere in this part of the world, the Spanish explorers, who called the island "Habacoa", forced the Indians into slavery and took them to Hispaniola (Haiti/Domincan Republic). The Lucayan Indians died out sometime around 1550 due to overwork and European diseases. They may have never settled Elbow Cay, only visited.

Abaco was not permanently settled again until 1783 when The Loyalists who had fled the U.S. during The Revolutionary War, were promised large tracts of Crown Land in the Bahamas. Most of the men were decorated British officers in the war against the states who left their plantations in New York and other states for the currently uninhabited Abaco Islands. Some 600 refugees from New York founded Carleton, the first Loyalist settlement in the islands on Great Abaco near the present-day resort of Treasure Cay. Remnants of some of their plantations still exist on Great Abaco. Elbow Cay was settled in 1785 by Wyannie Malone and her children who came here from Charleston, South Carolina. This settlement became Hope Town.

In 1850, a cholera epidemic in Hope Town killed 100 people. A cholera graveyard was established next to the fire station.

During the early 1800's, in addition to farming and fishing, Hope Town's economy subsisted on salvaging ship wrecks on Elbow Reef. This practice was known as wrecking. In 1863, wrecking all but disappeared after the construction of the famous 118 foot tall, red and white striped lighthouse that prevented ship wrecks.

In 1960, the seat of government moved from Hope Town to Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco.

In the early 1970s came the movement toward Bahamian independence which was completed in 1973. The white population of the Abacos remained fiercely loyal to Britain and they even tried to secede from the Bahamas.

Elbow Cay suffered significant damage in 1999 from Hurricane Floyd. It nearly cut a new inlet near White Sound.

Today, there are still a handful of fishermen left, however, most of the economy is largely based on tourism.

People & Culture:
The population of the Abaco Islands is 50% white and 50% black. Many of the white residents are descendants of the original Loyalists.

The people of Elbow Cay are laid-back and the pace is slow. It isn't for everyone. The pace, lack of amenities, irregular business hours, etc. would likely frustrate some people, however, if all you want to do is relax, there are few places better. As Hope Town is built around a large harbor, sailing, boating, and sportfishing are a big part of the tourist industry.

Food & Nightlife:
Elbow Cay has a number of restaurants to choose from with most of them being in Hope Town. There isn't much variety with most options focusing on a menu of Bahamian and American cuisines, or a few upscale restaurants that prepare Bahamian and Continental fusion. Fresh conch, grouper, shrimp and lobster are found on most menus.

If your accomodations have a kitchen, there are 3 grocery stores on the island. The stores in Marsh Harbour are larger and have more variety, so you might consider stocking up there before coming to Elbow Cay. Most establishments are closed on Sundays, however, LVA south of Hope Town does have limited hours on Sunday.

If you are over 18 years old, you probably will want alcohol. There are 3 liquor stores on the island as follows:
  • A&E Liquors - 242-366-0625 - South of Hope Town near White Sound.
  • Hope Town Wine & Spirits - 242-366-0525 - At the Lighthouse Marina and only accessible by boat.
  • Lighthouse Liquors - 242-366-0567 - In the center of Hope Town.
It is illegal to sell liquor on Sundays.

Just like groceries, there is much more variety in Marsh Harbour. Also keep in mind that beer is ridiculously expensive in the Bahamas. The main brand is Kalik which is a local beer. You can learn more about beer in the bahamas at

There is very little nightlife on Elbow Cay. A few of the restaurants and bars have a set night when they will stay open a little later and bring in entertainment such as live music.

Money & Costs:
Even if you are visiting from the U.S., a trip to Elbow Cay can be somewhat expensive, particularly if you rent a boat. The cost of a boat varies depending on the size you need and where you rent it, but the low end will run you in the neighborhood of $150/day or $1,000/week plus gas! See our services section for a list of companies that rent boats.

While accomodations are moderately priced, food and beer tend to be expensive here. Beer tends to cost more at a liquor store than a grocery store.

Bahamian money is on the same scale as the American dollar and you can use both while here. In other words, 1 Bahamian dollar is equal to 1 American dollar. Make sure that you use all of your Bahamian money while you are there, or exchange it before you leave, because you will get a worse exchange rate (in the USA at least). There is one bank on the island (First Caribbean International) and they do not have an ATM, however, you can get cash advances from them using a credit card. They are only open on Tuesdays from 10am-2pm. Credit cards are widely accepted on Elbow Cay.

Tipping is 15%. Make sure you check your bill as some places will add it in automatically.

Entry Requirements:
U.S. visitors staying for 8 months or less need a return ticket plus a passport. Naturalized citizens require naturalization papers and photo identification. Permanent residents (green card holders) require their green card and a valid passport from their place of birth. Canadian visitors not staying more than three weeks need the same identification as those from the U.S.. All others need a valid passport. Some visitors may also require a visa.

Getting There & Around:
To get to Elbow Cay, you will need to fly into Marsh Harbour International Airport (MHH). This small airport is serviced by Continental Airlines, American Airlines, BahamasAir, and Yellow Taxi Air. There is also service to MHH and Treasure Cay from Florida by Locair. Depending on where you are coming from and how many people are in your group, you may want to check out charter flights.

Once you arrive at the airport, you will want to get a taxi to take you to one of several places. You may wish to go to the grocery or liquor store to stock up. If not, you will most likely want to be taken to your boat rental or the ferry dock.

You should definitely reserve a boat well in advance, especially during high season. If you are renting your boat on Elbow Cay or not renting a boat, you will need a 10 minute taxi ride to the ferry dock. Check the Albury's Ferry Service website for their schedule. The ferry ride takes about 20 minutes and a caretaker from your accomodations will most likely pick you up at the ferry dock.

If you are renting a boat in Marsh Harbour, make sure that you have enough time to get your boat and make it to Elbow Cay by dark (it is about a 15 minute ride). Do not ever boat in the dark. If it is too late, there are plenty of places to stay overnight in Marsh Harbour. Plan accordingly.

Hope Town is very walkable and bicycle rentals are available. There are no cars on the island except for those required for select businesses, however, golf carts can be rented for exploring. Golf carts are not allowed in Hope Town. From the north, you can drive as far south as the public pool. From the south you can only go as far north as the Post Office and there is a 1 hour parking lot across the street. Note that driving is on the left side of the road. For more information about golf cart rentals, see our services section.

Below are some important boating tips:
  • If you are going to boat, make sure that somebody in your party knows how to drive/park one. The Sea of Abaco is shallow and there are places where you can beach your boat, although most boats have depth finders to help with that. We would highly recommend buying The Cruising Guide to Abaco which is updated yearly. This book has depth maps, things to see and their locations, and tons of other information related to boating here.
  • Never boat at night. It is not only dangerous, it is against your boat rental contract. If you wreck your boat at night, you just bought it.
  • Never take your rental boat into the Atlantic for the same reasons as above. Stay within the boundaries set by your rental company.
  • When boating, make sure you check the weather conditions before heading out, especially off season. The waters in the Sea of Abaco can get very choppy from weather known as "The Rage". Catamarans are better in choppy seas. Catamarans also only have a draw of 2 feet or less. Be prepared to get stuck elsewhere when boating as weather conditions may prevent you from returing to Hope Town.
  • "Don't Rock Passage" is easier to get through than most will tell you in good conditions, but make sure the seas are very calm when you do it.
  • The "Cruiser's Net" radio show is every morning at 8:15 on VHF 68. This show provides weather forecasts, reports on conditions around the Whale Cay Passage ("Don't Rock Passage"), announcements, and other discussions related to boating.
Low season in the Abaco Islands is from June to October - no coincidence that this is also hurricane season. The waters in the Sea of Abaco and the Atlantic are much rougher and you are more likely to experience rain and storms, some of which can be very strong. High season is from November through May.

Below are the current conditions and weather forecast for Elbow Cay.

The table below shows the average high and low temperatures.

Month High Temp Low Temp Water Temp Rain
January 77°F 66°F 70°F 2"
February 77°F 65°F 71°F 1.6"
March 78°F 67°F 74°F 1.4"
April 81°F 69°F 76°F 1.6"
May 82°F 70°F 79°F 4.3"
June 82°F 70°F 80°F 4.3"
July 87°F 75°F 85°F 3.8"
August 88°F 76°F 86°F 4.4"
September 88°F 75°F 85°F 6.2"
October 84°F 74°F 82°F 7.4"
November 81°F 71°F 79°F 2.6"
December 79°F 67°F 74°F 2.2"

  • Emergency - VHF channel 16 or 911/919 on phone
  • Marsh Harbour Emergency Services - VHF channel 80
  • Police - 367-2560 in Marsh Harbour
  • Hope Town Fire Rescue - VHF channel 72 or 242-366-0023
  • Bahamas Air Sea Rescue - VHF channel 22A
  • Taxis - VFH Channel 6
Tips & Additional Information:
  • Most communications in the Abacos are via VHF radio. You will likely have one in your rental home and will definitely have one on your boat. To use the radio, first change the channel to 16. Next push the talk button and announce who you are trying to get in touch with, who you are, and the channel you will meet them at. Typically, this will be channel 11-14. Do not attempt to have your conversation on channel 16 as it is used for emergencies and will prevent others from setting up their conversations on other channels.
  • Some cell phones work in the Abacos. Check with your provider.
  • There is Wi-Fi on the island and many of the rental houses have it. Services are provided by Out Island Internet and they have fixed location and roaming packages for sailors.
  • Don't be an idiot. Elbow Cay is a very bad place to get hurt. There is a clinic in Hope Town, but the closest major hospital is in Nassau. Don't take any chances.
  • Don't touch the coral reef.
  • It is a good idea to spend your last night in Marsh Harbour in case weather conditions prevent you from returning there the day of your flight.
  • Elbow Cay is one of the few places we would recommend visiting during high season. From August-October, Hope Town is practically a ghost town as many of the locals leave the Abacos to visit friends and family elsewhere. The Abacos are sleepy enough that you can visit during high season and still be off the beaten path.
  • Watch out for Portuguese Man-O-War (hence the name of Man-O-War Cay) and jellyfish. We were all stung by small translucent packs of jellyfish and saw another group of them while snorkelling. We have been unable to identify what type these are. The pain is unique and doesn't last very long.
  • Watch out for Lionfish. They are not indigenous here, but have been showing up in increasing numbers. The locals have been fishing for them and serving them in restaurants. If stung, put some vinegar on the wound.
  • There are sting rays in the Sea of Abaco and you will likely see them swimming in the shallows at places like Tahiti Beach. They are beautiful creatures who won't mess with you if you don't mess with them. The biggest danger is stepping on one that has buried itself in the sand. It is a good idea to shuffle your feet as you walk in the water.

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