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Harbour Island, Bahamas Travel Guide Hot
Last Updated: Feb-07-2015, Hits: 27,777, Rating: 4, Reviews: 1, Votes: 1 Bookmark and Share
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Eleuthera, Bahamas Travel Guide
Location: Caribbean
Geography: Island, Beach
Vacation Type: Romantic, Relaxation, Cosmopolitan
Popularity: Off-the-Beaten Path, Moderate Tourism
Costs: Expensive
Attractions: Scenery, Spa & Wellness

Facts and Stats:
Island population: 2,500
Land area: 1.5 sq mi
Government: Constitutional Parliamentary Democracy
Country dialing code: +001 (inbound), +011 (outbound)
Area Code: 242
Languages: English
Electricity: 110V
Currency: Bahamian Dollar
Time Zone: Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5)
Current Time:

Harbour Island, one of the most affluent (and expensive) areas in The Bahamas, is probably best known for its famous 3 mile long Pink Sands Beach, fashion model photo shoots, and celebrity clientele. Dunmore Town is the island's main settlement and is a Victorian-style village of narrow streets, bougainvillea-draped archways, and charming white picket fences. Visitors to Harbour Island enjoy strolling through the quaint town's narrow streets, exploring the settlement via golf cart, bonefishing in the pristine waters off the island's coast, and relaxing on the island's sandy coastline.

SCUBA diving is also a popular activity here and Devil's Backbone is an excellent place to explore shipwrecks. The reknowned Current Cut drift dive is located 23 nautical miles boat ride from Harbour Island where a "cut" separates Current Island from the main island of Eleuthera. The tidal flow that forces its way through this cut can at times exceed ten knots, creating a thrilling ride for those experienced divers brave enough to take the plunge. The Plateau and the Arch, both giant coral structures densely populated with marine life, attract divers from around the world. The Wall and The Blow Hole are also popular spots.

Harbour Island, or "Briland", as it is known by residents, is one of the "Out Islands" of the Bahamas and is situated one mile off the northern coast of Eleuthera, roughly 50 miles east of Nassau. The tiny island is just three miles long and a half mile wide with Dunmore Town at its center. The island's famous pink sand beach runs along the eastern coast on the Atlantic Ocean.

Brief History:
Like Eleuthera, Harbour Island was originally inhabited by indigenous Arawak people, known as the Lucayans. Unfortunately for these people, when Christopher Columbus discovered the area, the Spanish Conquistadors that followed wiped the Lucayans out. Those that survived were taken as slaves. By the mid-1500's there were no people on Harbour Island and it would remain that way for the next 100 years.

Harbour Island was later inhabited by some of the "Eleutheran Adventurers", who settled in North Eleuthera in 1648. The Eleutheran Adventurers were a group of British privateers and ministers led by Captain William Sayle, a former governor of Bermuda who was granted a charter to settle Eleuthera. Life for these settlers was very difficult in the early years.

In 1729, residents celebrated the coming of representative democracy when Harbour Island sent four representatives to the first parliament in Nassau. The Sugar Mill monument at the foot of Government Dock commemorates this event.

By 1768, Harbour Island had a population of about 350 people and Eleuthera had a population of about 400. During this era, many islanders made a living salvaging shipwrecks known as "wrecking". This was not a new occupation as it was included in the original governing documents drafted by the Eleutheran Adventurers, however, an increase in shipping to the area made the trade lucrative enough that many no longer had to do it as a 2nd job. In order to become a wrecker, vessels had to obtain a license in Nassau. This license allowed a wrecker to salvage a wrecked or distressed ship's cargo which was then taken to Nassau and auctioned off. The wrecker received 1/3 of the proceeds from sale. Of course, not all of the cargo was taken to auction and plenty was diverted or went directly to the home of the wrecker. Some claim that the wreckers would actually lure ships to reefs in order to cause a wreck. Some also claim that wreckers would sometimes murder survivors and steal the goods much like pirates.

The Spanish occupied New Providence between 1782 and 1783. Colonel Andrew Deveaux led a group of people that included many Brilanders to attack the Spanish. They successfully recaptured the capital and the Brilanders that assisted were given plots of farmland on Eleuthera for their efforts. Much of those lands are still being farmed by Brilanders today.

Dunmore Town was named after the governor of the Bahamas from 1786 to 1798, Lord Dunmore, who had a summer residence on Harbour Island and laid out the city in 1791. Dunmore Cottage on Bay Street still stands today. In 1797, a British loyalist fleeing the United States at the end of the revolutionary war built the "Loyalist Cottage" which also still stands today.

Escaped slaves from the United States are believed to have added to the population throughout the island's history, although the early settlers had slaves of their own until the Emancipation Proclamation in 1834.

Harbour Island became a noted shipyard and sugar refinement center in the late 1800's and residents worked as skilled shipbuilders and farmers. Chief crops were citrus fruits, pineapples, and tomatoes. This was a period of prosperity for Brilanders that came to an end during WWI.

The first signs of a tourism industry began in the "Roaring 20's", but did not take off until the first flights to the area began in 1941. Modernizations such as electricity, phones, fire-fighting equipment, a medical clinic, etc. made Harbour Island a more attractive destination to visitors. Over the following decades, tourism replaced farming as the main economic driver for the island.

The Bahamas gained its independence from England in 1973.

Getting There and Around:
The most common way to get to Harbour Island is to fly into North Eleuthera Airport (ELH). The airport is serviced by Bahamas Air (from Nassau), Lynx Air (from Ft. Lauderdale), American Airlines, Continental Airlines, and a handful of charter flight companies. It is about a 30 minute flight from Nassau and 1.5 hours from Florida. From the airport, you will need to take a few minute taxi ride to the pier where you then will catch a 10 minute water taxi ride to Harbour Island.

It is also possible to reach the island via boat if you are a sailor, or by fast ferry service from Nassau if you are not. See our services section of this guide for more information about ferry service and marinas.

Dunmore Town is small enough that you can pretty much walk anywhere you need to go, however, golf carts are the preferred method of transportation (see services section). It is probably a good idea to reserve a golf cart in advance as they can sometimes be hard to come by. Also, keep in mind that they drive on the left side of the road here. Bicyle rentals are also available on the island.

Some have described Harbour Island as snooty, and in some ways it is. The island is upscale, caters to the rich and famous, and some restaurants even require dinner jackets for men - a formality not found in most tropical vacation destinations. But whatever snobbery exists here is well-tempered by the friendly, laid-back locals who descended largely from people seeking freedom here from religious persecution or from slavery.

While Brilanders have a rich heritage of ship-building and farming, today, most of Harbour Island's economy is based on tourism. This has created a tenuous struggle between increased development and locals who feel the island's charm and culture are being ruined. To some degree, hurricanes have been the equalizer in this struggle.

Tourists to the Bahamas will be relieved to find that Bahamians speak English, albeit a colorful form riddled with a rich tapestry of slang.

Food and Drink:
Unlike Eleuthera which has a pretty homogenous low-end selection of food, Harbour Island has numerous upscale restaurants that mostly seem to focus on a fusion of Caribbean and Continental cuisines. These restaurants tend to be very expensive, however, there are also more affordable cafes and takeaway joints.

Whatever the type of restaurant, most menus focus on the local food supply, particularly seafood. Conch, grouper, yellow fin tuna, mahi mahi, and lobster are the most common fish served and they will be as fresh as you can get anywhere. Steak, pork and chicken are also commonly served dishes.

Beer is ridiculously expensive in the Bahamas. The local beer is Kalik (pronounced kalick) which runs nearly $40 for a case (24 beers). Liquor is much more reasonable and they do have most major brands. The drinking age in the Bahamas is 18 years old. The water here is drinkable, although most opt for bottled water.

There are also several small grocery stores on the island - see our services section for more information.

Bahamian money is interchangeable with 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 much worse exchange rate, and that's if you can even find a bank in your country that will take it. There are ATMs and a Royal Bank of Canada branch on the island.

As has already been mentioned, Harbour Island is expensive. Rooms at most of the resorts start at about $300/night and can go way up from there. There are some less expensive options available and there are also rental houses which can sometimes be a better deal.

Golf cart rentals typically run about $50/day. Ross Rentals is reported to be the least expensive.

For groceries, Piggly Wiggly is reported to be the most reasonably priced.

The standard tipping practice in restaurants is 15% which is usually automatically added to the bill. An additional 5% is often added by the customer for good service in a nice restaurant. A 10% government tax will also be added to your bill. Bell hops are typically given $1-$2 per bag and maid service usually gets $2 per day.

You guessed it! It's warm here. Hurricane season is from June to November. These months aren't the best to travel here anyway as it gets pretty hot. Below are the current weather conditions.

Here are the average temperatures and precipitation.

Month Avg High Avg Low Average Rainfall
January 77 61 2.0"
February 78 63 1.6"
March 80 64 1.6"
April 82 68 2.2"
May 84 70 4.5"
June 86 73 8.5"
July 88 75 6.0"
August 89 75 7.0"
September 88 75 6.5"
October 85 72 7.0"
November 82 69 2.5"
December 79 64 2.0"

Entry Requirements:
For Bahamas entry requirements, click here. In a nutshell, pretty much everybody except for Canadian citizens needs a passport.

Important Contact Information:
  • Police/Fire emergencies - 911 or 919

  • Air Ambulance - 242-362-1606

  • BASRA air-sea rescue - 242-322-7412

  • Non-emergency police/fire - 242-333-2111

  • Bahamas directory assistance - 916
Tips/Additional Information:
  • Unlike many tropical destinations, mosquitos aren't the biggest problem here. It's the sand fleas (AKA no-see-ums). They are most active at dusk and dawn.

  • Cuban cigars are legal and available in the Bahamas. Enjoy!

  • There are no casinos on Harbour Island or Eleuthera.

  • Buildings and houses do not use addresses. Most have names only.

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User Reviews (1)

Reviewed by: sloshed
Review date: Apr-24-2010

Harbour Island is a cool place that is currently way too expensive for me to spend an entire vacation. However, if you are like me, keep in mind that it is an excellent day trip from Eleuthera, and you can spend as many days over there as you would like. Dunmore town is cool and the pink sand beach is incredible. We had lunch at the Blue Bar and spent most of the day at the beach. Getting to the beach was rough as we were there off-season and it was a blazing hot walk. Unfortunately, there weren't any golf carts available for some reason. If for no other reason than the beach, this is a must visit. 

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