Natural beauty conspires with resort vitality to make Grand Bahama Island one of the Bahamas’ most well-rounded, diverse destinations. In its two main towns, Freeport and Lucaya, visitors can find what the more bustling Nassau has to offer: resort hotels, a variety of restaurants, golfing, duty-free shopping, and gambling. But unlike New Providence, the touristy spots take up only a small portion of an island that, on the whole, consists of uninhabited stretches of sand and forest.
Prior to the development of Freeport, West End (the capital of Grand Bahama Island) was the epicenter of the Bahamas’ logging industry and a playground for the wealthy in the 1920s. The fate of Grand Bahama changed in the 1950s when American financier Wallace Groves envisioned Grand Bahama’s grandiose future as a tax-free shipping port. The Bahamian government signed an agreement that set in motion the development of a planned city, an airport, roads, waterways, and utilities as well as the port. From that agreement, the city of Freeport—and later, Lucaya—evolved. The past decade’s hurricanes and economic downfall have demolished Freeport’s resort glamour, and the tourism center has shifted to Lucaya, now home to the island’s largest resorts.
Not much else on the island has changed since the early days, however. Outside of the Freeport-Lucaya commercial-and-resort area, fishing settlements remain, albeit now with electricity and good roads. The East End is Grand Bahama’s “back-to-nature” side, where Caribbean yellow pine–and-palmetto forest stretches for 60 miles, interrupted by the occasional small settlement. Little seaside villages with white churches and concrete-block houses painted in bright pastels fill in the landscape between Freeport and West End. Many of these settlements are more than 100 years old.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Freeport, once an attractive, planned city of modern shopping centers, resorts, and other convenient tourist facilities, took a bad hit from the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes and subsequent economic downturn; its main resort and casino have not reopened. An Irish firm purchased the former Royal Oasis Resort & Casino but no plans have been made to rebuild or renovate. The International Bazaar next door is currently an abandoned ghost town with only a few crafts vendors and shops. Despite all this, Freeport’s native restaurants, Rand Nature Centre, Bahamian Brewery, and beaches make it worth the visit. It’s close to Lucaya (a 15-minute drive), and the airport and harbor are just a few minutes from downtown.
GREATER GRAND BAHAMA
Farther out on either side of the Freeport–Lucaya development, the island reverts to natural pine forest, fishing settlements, and quiet secluded beaches. Heading west from Freeport, travelers pass the harbor area, a cluster of shacks selling fresh conch and seafood at Fishing Hole, a series of small villages, and Deadman’s Reef at Paradise Cove before reaching the historic fishing town of West End and its upscale resort at the island’s very tip. East of Lucaya lie long stretches of forest interrupted by the occasional small village, the Lucayan National Park, myriad bonefishing flats along the eastern end up to McClean’s Town, and the outer Grand Bahama cays: Sweetings, Deep Water, and Lightbourne.
On Grand Bahama’s southern coast, Lucaya was developed after western neighbor Freeport as another resort center, this one on the beach and harbor. Colorful Port Lucaya Marketplace grew up along the safe harbor, known for its duty-free shops, bars, restaurants, straw market, and outdoor bandstand. This is also the home of UNEXSO, the island’s famous diving and dolphin-encounter attraction. Surrounding the port are the island’s biggest hotels: Grand Lucayan, Memories Beach and Casino Resort, and Pelican Bay.