Spanish Wells vs. Harbor Island
The Islands of Eleuthera, Bahamas
- Spanish Wells is surrounded by shallow flats. Therefore, the main beach on the island is not considered a "swimming" beach. However, it is not touristy at all, and gazing across at the small cay (or “key”) is something you will probably want to do every day. For most sunsets and picnics we were one of only a handful of people on the beach. This would be nearly impossible on the bustling Harbor Island so enjoy it if you can. It seemed to be the perfect spot to run in the mornings and accessible no matter where you are staying due to the size of this tiny island.
- Harbor Island's three mile long beach is breathtaking and has earned countless awards as the best beach in the Bahamas from travel magazines and websites over the years. That quintessential umbrella on the beach photo? You can take that here. The pink sand is the pinkest I've seen anywhere on Eleuthera. And on a windy day the surf is just rough enough to excite. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Where to stay on Spanish Wells & Harbor Island
- There are no hotels on Spanish Wells. It's a quaint, self-sufficient fishing village that (at this time) does not depend on tourism to survive. It is not shiny. It is not hip. It is not glamorous. It reminds me of somewhere in New England, maybe Maine. Even though it has zero hotel rooms there are plenty of cottage rentals available from sites like VRBO.com, or rentals from on-island realtor Bahamas Vacation Homes. If you go with a local rental agency like BVH they will meet you at the ferry and bring you to your rental! It's really worth it to go local. Prices start at $700/week.
- Harbor Island is...a little different. This island has meticulous and stunning resorts, complemented by tennis courts, heated swimming pools, and upscale dining. Some are located high above the sand and surf with spectacular views. High end resorts do exist on mainland Eleuthera but they often feel like a gated community and are very insular. Here you can really experience the island either on foot or cruising in your golf cart. If your budget falls short of an overnight take the ferry for the day from either Nassau, Spanish Wells or mainland Eleuthera. Rent a golf cart and eat lunch at The Dunmore, walk on the pink sand, and jump into the water!
How to get here
- High Speed Ferry to Spanish Wells & Harbor Island
Both Spanish Wells and Harbor Island are located just a short distance from the mainland of North Eleuthera. Access either island from Nassau with Bahamas Ferries. If you are already on SW, you can get to HI on the same high-speed ferry in 50 minutes. It departs from Nassau, stops in Spanish Wells, and then sails on to Harbor Island. Day trips are possible because the ferry drops you off in HI (or “Briland” as the locals call it) at 11 AM and doesn't depart the island until 3:40 PM. On the way back it stops first in Spanish Wells and then on to Nassau. Schedules vary according to season (see below for the late summer schedule). The boldly painted "Bohengy" fast ferry is modern and spacious with a carrying capacity of 400 people. The inside is air conditioned but don't miss being outside on the deck to witness the boat maneuvering through the treacherous Devil's Backbone.
- Local Boat Taxi
From North Eleuthera, Spanish Wells and Harbor Island are a just speedy boat taxi away. If you are coming into North Eleuthera Airport (ELH), ask your taxi driver to take you to Jean's Bay for Spanish Wells ($20-$25) or the dock for Harbor Island ($8-$10). Once you get to the docks you'll realize this next boat is very casual, very small, and runs at the captains discretion. If it just departed don’t panic, because they will be back around shortly. They all have walkie talkies and seem to know exactly who you are when you get on. You may not notice it, but your taxi driver already informed them you are on your way. If you are driving yourself just find a free spot to park near the dock.