A vacation in the Bahamas for the masses often means braving hordes of spring breakers, gamblers and golfers who flock to the well-known resort havens, like Nassau and Freeport, in search of rum drinks, sunburns and that elusive hot-streak at the craps table. These glitzy tourist destinations, however, are only a small part of what this nation of island clusters just off the southeast tip of Florida has to offer visitors looking for a Caribbean escape. The more adventurous traveler, willing to add just a few short legs to his travel itinerary, can easily plan an economical vacation that will transport them to a remote island paradise away from the crowds in a genuine Bahamian setting. In the Abacos, for instance, the concerns of everyday life seem a world away, along with the headaches and eyesores common to the more prevalent, Bahamian tourist traps. This island chain is accessible by a half-hour flight from Nassau Airport, the Bahamas' main entry point, to Marsh Harbour, a port town on Great Abaco Island known as "The Boating Capital of the Bahamas." While Marsh Harbour is a commercial hub (by Bahamian standards), somewhat lacking in charm, a short ferry ride across the bay leads to the outer islands of the Abacos, a series of long, narrow cays that tend to be shaped like crooked crescent moons dotting the turquoise sea from above. We recommend staying on Elbow Cay, a small, nearby island boasting majestic scenery that is centrally located among the outer islands. It is home to a sleepy village called Hope Town, originally founded in the late 18th century by colonists loyal to the British Crown. The town is known for its New England-style charm and the red-and-white candy-striped lighthouse overlooking the harbor that visitors can climb for panoramic views.
To the Moon Enjoy the outer islands of Abacos' crescent-shaped cays
The two best lodging deals on Elbow Cay can be found at the Hope Town Harbor Lodge , a nice inn right in town with rooms ranging from $150 per night, and the Abaco Inn at the other end of the island, with bayside rooms starting at $140 a night. Lodgings range from private, ocean-side bungalows to more expensive villas. Both establishments offer fine dining, seaside pools, white-sand beaches, and an array of amusements, from snorkeling around coral reefs teeming with exotic marine life to nature walks through bird sanctuaries. And, if you visit this winter, you can scratch your Good Samaritan itch, since the area was recently battered by a torrent of hurricanes (common to this area in the fall season) and the local economy is hungering for visitors to return in full force. Visit the popular bar at Abaco Inn, and you can sample a variety of frozen daiquiris and coladas or settle for "the beer of the Bahamas," a cold Kalik. Take in a ballgame on the satellite television, or you can opt for a game of cards or backgammon and listen to the locals chatter with guests about their recent late-night antics. Walk out to the patio, and you'll see waves crash on the rocky shore to the east, while to the west, the glassy waters of the harbor turn brilliant hues of pink, purple and orange as the sun sets on the horizon. It's out there, in the calm waters protected by a string of islands and reefs, that the morning's activities begin. For anyone staying on Elbow Cay, a boat rental is essential, and inexperienced skippers need not be intimidated. Piloting a small craft in these waters is safe, simple and highly liberating, even for a seafaring neophyte. The sandy bottom is free of rocky obstructions that often spell doom for an engine's propeller elsewhere. The island chain is easily navigable, since everything is in sight in the distance. The waters are never crowded, and any problems can be easily remedied with a message, for assistance, over the short-wave radio onboard, largely used as a primary means of communication -- in place of telephones -- throughout the Abacos.