Tiny Elbow Cay in the Bahamas is short on crowds and big on charm--and hardly anybody knows about it.
If the Bahamas call to mind college kids on spring break and hordes of tourists at mega-resorts, consider a visit to Elbow Cay--one of the many small specks that make up the Bahamian archipelago. Pull up dockside to this 6-mile-long island (population 400), part of the country's Abaco Islands, and your preconceived notions will immediately wither in the tropical heat. While it tiny size is not uncommon, its New England-meets-the tropics ambience is out of the ordinary. Pastel clapboard cottages, hot pink bouganvillea, and a 120-foot-tall candy-striped lighthouse are high points of Hope Town, the island's largest settlement, where walking and bicycling are the mian modes of transportation.
With just nine restaurants, three groceries, a handful of shops, and enough other comforts to feel private yet not isolated, Elbow Cay makes for an alluring island getaway. Many of its permanent residents visited years ago and never left. Perhaps you'll decide to extend your stay, too.
Motorized traffic in Hope Town is prohibited, so islanders travel mostly on foot or by bike on small lanes. Stop by Hope Town Coffee House for tasty house-roasted blends and homemade island pastries, such as guava-banana nut muffins. Lovers Lane at Front Street; 242/366-0760 or hopetowncoffeehouse.com
Made on Andros Island, this hand-dyed fabric is worn throughout the Bahamas. Ebb Tide, the island's best-stocked boutique, sells pretty batik purses, clothing, and gifts. Hope Town center; 242/366-0088
Locals have shortened the name of a favorite hangout, Harbour's Edge, to "The Hedge." Try the renowned conch cakes and house cocktail, the Over the Edge (banana rum and fruit juices). Front Street; 242/366-0087
Built on a small hill that slopes down to a public beach, this hotel has 26 guest units (both individual rooms and private cottages), sweeping views of the ocean, two on-site restaurants, a pool, and cheerful bartenders. It's so much fun that the cast of Scrubs stayed here in 2008 to shoot a tropical wedding scene. Rates start at $242 per night. Queens Highway; 866/611-9791 or hopetownlodge.com
The walls and shevles of this shop--famous for the owner's fresh-baked bread and Key lime pie--are covered in index cards scrawled with thoughts and inspirational quotes such as "Some days you're the pigeon, and some days you're the statue." Back Street; 242/366-0037
Cap'n Jack's, a family-friendly bar and restaurant located on the harbor, has a DJ on Wednesday and Friday nights and is the spot to get your groove on. The music starts at 8 p.m. (Front Street; 242/336-0247) For live tunes, make your way to Sea Spray Resort & Marina--three miles south of Hope Town--on Saturday nights at 7:30. White Sound; 242/366-0065 or seasprayresort.com
A South Carolina widow named Wyannie Malone founded Hope Town in 1785. After the American Revolution, she was one of many British loyalists who sought refuge in the Abaco Islands (the closest British territory at the time). Even today, most of the islands' longtime residents can trace their heritage to British ancestry. For more on Elbow Cay's history, visit the Wyannie Malone Historical Museum. Hope Town center; 242/366-0293 or hopetownmuseum.com
Explore nearby cays by boat in the Sea of Abaco--a calm, shallow stretch of water between Great Abaco Island and the Abacos' outlying island. Hot spots worth stopping at: Nipper's Beach Bar & Grill on Great Guana Cay (go for the Sunday pig roast), the U-shaped, sugary sand beach on Treasure Cay, and Miss Emily's Blue Bee Bar on Green Turtle Cay (home to the original Goombay Smash cocktail). Boat rentals: Rates at Island Marine on Parrot Cay start at $125 per day; 242/366-0282 or islandmarine.com. Rates at Cats Paw Boat Rentals on Elbow Cay start at $140 per day; 242/366-0380 or catspawboatrentals.com.