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Great Guana Cay, Bahamas Travel Guide
 
Last Updated: Jul-13-2014, Hits: 12,225, Rating: 4, Reviews: 1, Votes: 1 Bookmark and Share
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Great Guana Cay, Bahamas Travel Guide Restaurants (7)
Hotels and Lodging (6)
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Attractions (5)
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Location: Caribbean
Geography: Island, Beach
Vacation Type: Relaxation, Adventure
Popularity: Off-the-Beaten Path
Costs: Moderate, Expensive
Attractions: Scenery, Boating, Scuba & Snorkeling

Facts and Stats:
Island population: 150
Country dialing code: +001 (inbound), +011 (outbound)
Telephone Area Codes: 242
Electricity: 110 volts
Languages: English
Currency: Bahamian Dollar/American Dollar
Time Zone: Eastern (EST) UTC-5/UTC-4 (Summer)
Current Time:

Introduction:
If the out-islands of Bahamas are off the beaten path, then Great Guana Cay is off the grid entirely. Most visitors to the Abaco Islands stop by Great Guana for the day while island hopping or are sailors making a pit stop, but if you want to stay somewhere with few tourists and almost nothing to do, this is the place for you.

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). What was up with the Spanish? Seriously! Was there a place in this part of the world that they didn't pillage? The Lucayan Indians died out sometime around 1550 due to overwork and European diseases.

After the Spanish, the Abaco Islands served as a pirate hideout, but wasn't settled again for 200 years. The Guana Cay settlement Harbour, Kidd's Cove, was named after the famous pirate and this name appears on the earliest maps.

Abaco was not permanently settled again until the 1780's 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.

Great Guana Cay wasn't settled until sometime around 1825 when New Plymouth Inn was built as a residence for the "Roberts" family.

New settlers came and stayed on the Abacos, bringing with them an assortment of skills. The islands became an important center for small shipbuilding. Soon, due to the high quality of the islanders' craftsmanship, sloops, fishing boats, and dinghies built on the Abacos became prized throughout the Bahamas.

In 1957, Yachtel opened in Guana Cay by Mr. Combs, later known as Guana Cay Resort, was destroyed in 1999 by Hurricane Floyd.

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.

Geography:
Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco is the capital of the Abaco Islands and is home to about 5,000 of the Abaco Island's 13,000 residents. Great Guana Cay is located just 185 miles east of West Palm Beach, FL and 110 miles north of Nassau, and about 8 miles from Marsh Harbour. Guana Cay is in the center of the boomerang-shaped barrier of cays flanking Great Abaco. These cays are the divider between the shallow Sea of Abaco and the Atlantic Ocean on the east side of the cays.

The Island is small at 9 miles (14.5 km) in length and just over a half mile wide at the widest point.

There is a five and a half mile long beach on the ocean side of the island which is one of the longest in the Bahamas. Just 50 feet off the beach is one of the healthiest surviving elkhorn and staghorn coral reefs in the world. Great Guana has important turtle breeding sites and is also has pristine forests that are home to endemic and neotropical migrating birds.

The Settlement is located in the middle of the island on the west side and is the location of the marina.

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. It is reported that Great Guana has 100% employment with a number of residents managing the many rental houses on the island, mony of which are owned by U.S. citizens.

The islanders are a mostly laid-back group that likes to party. The construction of Nipper's Bar in the 90's made this the party hotspot in the Abaco Islands.

Despite their laid-back nature, they aren't afraid to fight for what they believe in. They care very much about the well-being of the island and the surrounding ecosystems. This is evidenced by their foray into the world spotlight in recent years due to a dispute about the construction of Baker's Bay Golf Resort on the north end of the island. Residents rightfully claim that the runoff of water and fertilizer from the golf course will destroy the fragile reef only 50 feet offshore. They also claim that the resort is being built on Crown lands that belong to them, not to mention that the resort will double the population of the island. They have banded together and created an organization called Save Guana Cay Reef which has been fighting the developers. Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures Society, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Global Coral Reef Alliance, Mangrove Action Network and other conservation groups have been supporting the native islanders in their several year battle against Discovery Land Company.

Islanders were already sensitive to irresponsible development after Disney partially developed a small cay in the 1980's that they named Treasure Island. This cay is just off the coast of Baker's Bay where the current dispute is occurring. Disney dredged the channel near the cay so their cruise ships could come in, but never took into account the currents that continued to deposit sand where they dredged. After abandoning the project Disney was accused of leaving hazardous materials, electrical transformers, and fuel tanks, and also for introducing invasive alien plants and insects that threaten the natural flora and fauna of the island. More information and photos of this can be found here.

Food & Nightlife:
While there are some good local ingredients around such as conch, grouper, and other fish, no famous chef in their right mind is ever going to move to an island of 150 people to run a restaurant. So while you can get some decent food, don't expect delicious fine dining. To sum it up, you have an island of 150 people with only a few restaurants cooking local fare and American bar food which provides a food scene that is sometimes above average, but will mostly just keep you alive.

There is a good chance you will be staying in a house or cottage with a kitchen. If you want to cook your own meals, you will want to head down to the only grocery store in the settlement. The Guana Harbour Grocery (242-365-5067) is located towards the end of the harbor from the ferry dock. This small store typically has steak, chicken, pork, ham and hamburger. Meats are stocked on Thursdays and Fridays. Other items such as milk, veggies, cheese, yoghurt and other cooler items and supplements arrive on Monday and Tuesday. Fresh bread is available most of the time and sometimes cinnamon buns. The store has a small selection of veggies and other staples as well as health products, film, paper products, etc. The store is closed on Sunday. It is a good idea to stock up on food and other items in Marsh Harbour which has much larger grocery stores.

No vacation is complete without some liquor. To get beer, liquor and wine, head down to Fig Tree Wine & Spirits (242-365-5058) which is just south of the main dock. 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 BeerTutor.com.

As for nightlife, Nipper's Bar is the main destination and they have a big BBQ every Sunday. Grabbers is another popular choice and both bars stay open late. With Nipper's and Grabber's in existence, somebody should start a bar called "Grippers" just to confuse the situation more.

Make sure that you stop in at Pirate's Cove at the Sea Shore Villas for one of their Grabber's. They claim to have the original recipe for this drink, although Grabbers makes the same claim. Solution? Try them both.

Money/Costs:
Even if you are visiting from the U.S., a trip to Great Guana 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! Food and beer are also expensive here.

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).

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

There are no ATM machines on Great Guana Cay, but there are several in Marsh Harbour. Surprisingly, credit cards are accepted at most places on the island.

Getting There and Around:
To get to Great Guana Cay, you can fly into Marsh Harbour International Airport (MHH), or Treasure Cay Airport now has commercial flights. 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. Below are the boat rental options that are available.
  • Dive Guana (242-367-4602) - Located on Great Guana Cay. Offers variety of sizes. Best rates.
  • Rainbow Rentals (242-367-4602) - Located in Marsh Harbour. Offers 22' and 26' Twin-Vee Catamarans. Walking distance to large grocery and liquor stores.
  • Abaco Dorado Boat Rentals (242-367-1035) - Located in Marsh Harbour. Offers 22' and 26' foot Dusky boats.
  • Sea Horse Boat Rentals (242-367-5460) - Located in Marsh Harbour and Hopetown. Offers a variety of sizes and manufacturers.
  • Blue Wave Boat Rentals (242-367-3910) - Located in Marsh Harbour. Offers a small variety of sizes and manufacturers.
You should definitely reserve a boat well in advance, especially during high season. If you are renting your boat on Great Guana or not renting a boat, you will need a 10 minute taxi ride to the ferry dock. Albury's Ferry Service will take you to Great Guana Cay from Marsh Harbour, and there is new ferry service from Treasure Cay operated by Abaco Adventures. You can see all of the ferry schedules here.

If you are renting a boat in Marsh Harbour, make sure that you have enough time to get your boat and make it to Great Guana by dark (it is about a 30 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.

Once you reach Great Guana, you may be met at the dock by your caretaker depending on where you are staying. If you are going to rent a golf cart, head over to Donna Sands Cottage Rentals (242-365-5195). Although she has quite a few carts, you should reserve one in advance during high season to make sure there is one available for you.

Our recommendation: Island hopping is an incredible experience and all of the cays are worth visiting. For this reason, we highly recommend that you rent a boat for at least a portion of your stay. Make sure you read our Abaco Boating Tips before you boat. Getting around the island in the heat, carrying groceries, dealing with mosquitos, etc. isn't much fun. A golf cart will make life much easier and will enable you to explore the rest of the island.

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.

Weather:
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 weather averages for the Abaco Islands.

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"

Another good place to get weather information is from BarometerBob.com.

Tips/Additional Information:
  • 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. It is a wireless system from Marsh Harbour and is slow. Nippers is reported to have a direct cable link to the mainland. Whether true or not, they have Wi-Fi at the bar and it is much faster than anywhere else.
  • Don't be an idiot. Great Guana is a very bad place to get hurt. There is a clinic in Marsh Harbour, but the closest hospital is in Nassau. Don't take any chances.
  • Don't touch the coral reef.
  • Driving is on the left side of the road. Bahamian law requires golf cart drivers to be at least 17 years of age with a valid driver's license. Drive carefully as there are no stop signs or traffic lights on the island.
  • 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.
  • The Out Islands of the Bahamas are on extreme "island time". Don't go there if you want things done in a hurry including food service.
  • 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.
  • Great Guana Cay is one of the few places we would recommend visiting during high season. During the low season, there are very few residents and almost no tourists. When you visit the other islands, you may find many of the places closed as the locals have left 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.


  • Services and Contacts:
  • Emergency - VHF channel 16 or 911/919 on phone.
  • Police - 367-2560 in Marsh Harbour
  • Fire - 367-2000 in Marsh Harbour
  • Auskell Medical Clinic - 242-367-0020 or 242-367-2510
  • Marsh Harbour Medical Centre - 242-367-0049
  • Post Office - In the settlement and open Monday, Wednesday and Friday
  • Tourist Office - Located in Marsh Harbour. 242-367-3067



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User Reviews (1)




Reviewed by: sloshed
Review date: Sep-30-2009

We stayed in Great Guana for 13 days in Sept of 2008. We flew into Marsh Harbor, spent the night there, grabbed our rental boat (from rainbow rentals - excellent) the next day and headed for Guana. We went off-season and had no idea how sleepy this place is even in the high season. A decision I think we ended up regretting as there was almost too little going on even for us. Our rental house (Shell house next to Nippers) was a disaster. The owners lied to us, wouldn't respond to our complaints and didn't refund any of our money. You can read our story at http://www.shellhouseguana.com. Because we were off-season, the beach in front of Nippers was too rough for snorkelling and at times swimming. There were a number of storms, we were stung by jelly fish, eaten alive by mosquitos, our boat died, etc. We had a rough trip and came back feeling like we just starred on Survivor. After having time after the fact to process the trip and put it into perspective, I realized that I had a good time in spite of everything else. The people at Nippers (Anthony and Nadice?) and Dean at the Sea Shore Villas (Pirate's Cove) were incredible. They all went out of their way for us and we left friends. The island and settlement are very laid back and funky just the way I like. Having a boat and island hopping was an adventure of a lifetime. The beach here is very nice, but having a boat enabled us to see some incredible places like Tahiti Beach and one on Scotland Cay. While many of the accomodations here do have most of the modern amenities that some travelers want, this really isn't for everyone. There is no shopping, no dance clubs, no 5 star restaurants, spa treatments, fast food, activities, or anything else that you would find in a resort destination. Guana is best for those who truly want to get away from it all. Including 2 nights in Marsh Harbor, our trip was 15 days and cost about $5,500. Boat rental, gas, and lodging are pretty expensive here. Outside my own experience, it should be noted that there is a lot of controversy with regards to a group building a golf resort called Bakers Bay. The locals, even with outside assistance, have fought tooth and nail and apparently lost. When we were there, we tried to moor our boat at a dock and were told we couldn't "park there". Beyond the dock, it looked like a resort that was under construction and I'm pretty sure it was Bakers Bay.. In addition to the damage they will do when they build their enormous boat docks and the runoff from the fertilizer on their golf course, this is not the type of island that should have such a place. It should be left the way it is. When done, please don't give these people your money. 

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