We recently spent 10 days on the island, from April 24-May 4, 2013. The Island is about 45 miles long, 3 miles wide, with population of 1,500 or so.
Cat Island in the Bahamas isn’t for everyone, thank goodness! If your dream vacation includes words like: shopping, nightlife, casinos, pampering, golf course, exquisite food, high thread count sheets, and wait staff available at the snap of your fingers....you are seriously barking up the wrong tree!
If, however, your dream vacations includes words like: desolate, private, adventurous, this may be the island for you. If you can pry yourself off your beach chaise and help yourself to your own drink from the honor bar, aren’t freaked out by various forms of wildlife co-habitating with you in your cabin (lizards, moths, toads, etc), and are generally the self sufficient type, this island is paradise.
The first thing I noticed about the island is, it’s seriously not crowded! As in you can drive for 20 minutes and maybe see 1 car. The second thing is, there are few towns, and those that are, consist of a dozen or fewer houses. Shopping for groceries is sparse. There are many abandoned houses which freak people out, but is the result of leaving old homes standing in homage to the elders, and allowing the next generation to build a new house right next door, built on a pay as you go basis, so there are unfinished houses around.
Also, the fires. As of this writing, a forest fire has been burning 2 months. Since the island has one fire truck, which doesn’t work, it’s been slowly smoldering it’s way northward. Depending upon the wind, the smoke is minimal, or horrible. It’s pretty confined to the central area of the island.
You also have to suspend judgement on the place that you choose to stay until you’ve been there a day or so..first impressions are “not indicative of actual experiences”, that is, most places are underwhelming at first impression. After you’re there awhile, you fall in love with the place. The beaches, on the other hand, WILL knock your socks off.
We were fortunate to have booked at Fernandez Bay Hotel at first, staying in “The Point” cabin. Resort owners live on site, and the family has been “in country” since 1780! Gorgeous powdery sand beach, toys (kayaks, etc), a couple of off shore islets to intrigue, a nice mangrove filled creek you can kayak around to a blue hole, snorkel trips that can be arranged...in short, ample activities to keep you interested if you want to do something besides park yourself on a lounge chair.
We stayed in a two bedroom cottage, “The Point,” at the farthest end of the beach. Nice 2 bed/2 bath cottage with comfortable furniture. Little porch for cocktails. Small kitchen. We’d planned on eating all meals in the dining room, a 1/4 mile or so walk up the beach. The bathrooms were open, that is, the showers were open to the outdoors, very private, no worries there. Stone and wood construction. Very private. There are also single bedroom spots, but we didn’t investigate.
The main dining/bar area is open and airy. Food is pretty good, buffets for breakfast and dinner (two entree options, salad, etc). Lunch is off the menu with nice salads and sandwiches. Basic good food. Nothing to get foodies excited about. Bar is honor system. Sunset views are stunning. Dress is casual, as in, you don’t need shoes. Most people wore pants, women capris. Not a dress up kind of place.
There is wildlife to be encountered, in our case a giant toad parked himself above the toilet on the bathroom wall one day. Found him the next morning soaking up the water in the toilet (do I flush? what to do?). A giant bat-sized moth admired himself in the bathroom mirror for a day and a half. This is nothing to get excited about, and explains the “issues” with outdoor showers. The rooms do have screens though, it’s just the bathroom that’s open. It’s best clean up all food right away (true in all islands) as ants find it in like 30 seconds - not kidding. Also a good idea to bring bug spray like off, there are noseeums and mosquitos.
We enjoyed 4 days there, until the “still night of the smoke”. It was horrible, irritated nose, throat, etc, and I had to leave. BAD night. The smoke just settled in and drove me batty.
Fernandez was very accommodating about it, and I would for sure go back there again. They called around and found us a room at Pigeon Cay Beach Club and arranged transportation. Boy were we in luck!
Arrived at Pigeon Cay Beach Club and kind of freaked out. It was like pulling up to someone’s back yard, which it is since the owners live on site. 2 dogs make a show of greeting you but mostly leave you alone after the initial bark and sniff, 2 cats lurk around, but stay away from the guests. Bikes and old buoys adorn the yard, there’s a few flags on the “golf course” which is a tongue in cheek joke along with some clubs. Ned and Leslie, the owners greet you and make you feel at home. They originally owned a sporting goods store in Telluride, Colorado, one of our favorite hiking destinations.
Anyway, after the initial shock, we LOVED the place! The cottages are cozy. Nothing fancy. Nice bathrooms and well equipped kitchen. The cottages face a 1 1/2 mile beach of the whitest, powdery sand you’ll find anywhere. Lots of toys (kayaks, canoes, snorkel stuff, bikes) and cars are available for use by the hour, a huge plus if you want to take an adventure off to a remote beach. Ned can give you great tips on where to go, but be advised actually GETTING there can be a challenge. There is only 1 main road on the island, and getting to beaches requires some unmarked dirt roads, wrong turns, driving down old runways (don’t ask...) and other misadventures. People are very nice if you stop and ask for help, if there are any people around to ask...
We were more helpless than normal...we usually rent houses instead of staying at resorts, but hadn’t planned on fending for ourselves food-wise. Ned cooked breakfast, but it was too late for our taste (9:30 after dropping kids at school). Leslie went out of town the day after we got there, so that could be a fluke. Lunch is typically an on your own thing. Dinner is served, sometimes... Generally when somebody new arrives, or on someone’s last day. Ned serves appetizers, a single entree (unless you have a food allergy), and dessert, eaten at a big table with other guests, though there are a couple of small tables for the introverts. Other nights are a fend for yourself affair. Once a week a group dinner outing is planned (transportation provided) to the Smoke Pot for a local dinner and “Rake and Scrape” music unique to Cat Island - great food: grouper, ubiquitous conch, chicken or ribs. We rented the car with another couple and ventured about 15 miles north to have dinner at Shanna’s Cove resort. Shanna’s is the foodies friend, with fabulous 3 course meals. Only bad thing is the LONG, DARK drive home afterwards.
Shopping for food is a challenge. We went to 2 different grocery stores: one in Port Arthur, which is pretty good but no pork products (bacon, I want my bacon!), they had turkey bacon though. A second down by The Bight, which was pretty good too. Don’t expect your home supermarket! There are little shops set up along the main road here and there that offer vegetables, bananas, and the freaking best bread on the planet! Stop by those shops if you can and support the locals. Ned can tell you where to go.
Forget about drugstore items. You’ll want to bring anything you need along, another guest had expected to be able to buy contact lens solution....guess again! Sunscreen is probably available, but not your special brand...bring it. Same with bug spray (off, deet, etc).
Gas stations are sparse and random too....a couple of pumps all by their lonesome by the side of the road, you honk and somebody wanders over from across the street to fill the tank.
We’re snorkel freaks, we certainly didn’t get to sample many, but the best spots we went were:
Dry Head, requires getting there by boat, supposedly National Geographic did some filming there, awesome coral and fish, on the Caribbean side.
Man of War - take a trail (1.4 miles) through woods by Shannon’s up North. Faces Atlantic so is rough, best for good swimmers. Saw MASSIVE green turtle, biggest turtle we’ve ever seen in 30 years of snorkeling: 4 1/5 feet by 5 plus feet! Came up right under my husband so a foot beneath him. Scared the POOP out of him! Also Barracuda.
Northeast Beach - pretty rough day we went, water murky.
Ned can arrange snorkel tours by boat, we had one set up, but weather got stormy and it was cancelled, then we left...dang it!
Supposedly good snorkeling a short bike ride from Pigeon Cay right down the beach, didn’t do that. No snorkeling right off the beach at Pigeon, sandy bottom, great swimming though. A small ramora (shark sucker) did try to attach himself to my leg during a long swim off the beach though. There are occasional barracuda, stingrays and other lost fish right off the shore, but nothing to get excited about (unless they’re trying to attach themselves to your leg!).
In conclusion, we will go back. We missed seeing the south end of the island. Next time, I would start at Fernandez Bay for a few days and head north to Pigeon Cay again. The island is big enough to spend time on each “end” and that way you don’t get bored. There’s a lot we didn’t see either. Hermitage, bat caves, etc. We did stop by some other resorts on our journey’s to check them out, but I hesitate to say anything about them since, as I said before, no place is going to knock your socks off if you just drive up for a look-see.