Caribbean Tourism

Abaco Islands

The Abaco islands (pop: 10,034 1990 census), are a chain of islands and cays within the Family Islands, are covered in pine forests, stretching in a curve for 130 miles. Great Abaco covers 776 square miles and is the second largest island in the Bahamas after Andros. The main centre on Abaco is Marsh Harbour, of much of Greater Abaco. The scrub and swamp give the island a rather desolate appearance, but like many islands, life revolves around the offshore cays and the coastal settlements. The area south of Marsh Harbour owes its development and particularly its roads to lumber companies. There are miles and miles of pine forests, secondary growth after the heavy logging earlier this century. Nobody lives south of Sandy Point although there is a lighthouse at Hole in the Wall. Roads are better in the north, where they are mostly paved, while in the south they are dirt. Resorts are small and the atmosphere is casual and friendly even in the most luxurious hotels.


The Taino name for Abaco was Lucayoneque, although the first Spanish reference to it was Habacoa, a name also used for Andros. The Spanish did not settle, but by 1550 they had kidnapped all the Indian inhabitants for slavery elsewhere and the islands remained uninhabited for 200 years, despite a brief French attempt at settlement in 1625 and visits by pirates and fishermen. In 1783 over 600 loyalists left New York for Abaco, settling first at Carleton (north of Treasure Cay beach but no longer visible) and then moving to Marsh Harbour. Other groups settled further south but all found it hard to make a living on the small pockets of soil and of the 2,000 who arrived in the 1780s, only about 400 (half white and half black) were left in 1790.

Wrecking was a profitable pastime and Abaco was ideally placed on a busy shipping route to take advantage of its reefs and sand banks. Sponge, pineapple, sisal, sugar and lumber were later developed but never became big business. Wrecking also declined after the construction of lighthouses. The lighthouse on Elbow Cay at Hope Town was built in 1863, after the wreck in 1862 of the USS Adirondack, despite sabotage attempts by local people. By 1900 Hope Town was the largest town in the Abacos, with a population of 1,200 engaged in fishing, sponging, shipping and boat building. The boats made in Abaco were renowned for their design and the builders became famous for their construction skills. Boats, though made of fibreglass, are still made on Man-O-War Cay today.

The inhabitants of Abaco continued to live barely at subsistence levels until after the Second World War, when the Owens-Illinois Corporation revived the lumber business, built roads and introduced cars. An airport was built at Marsh Harbour and banks arrived. When the pulpwood operation ended in the 1960s sugar replaced it but was short lived. Nowadays the major agribusiness is citrus from two huge farms which export their crop to Florida. Abaco has developed its tourist industry slowly and effectively and has a high employment rate.

Marsh Harbour: The town straggles along the flat south shore of a good and busy yachting harbour. It has the major airport about three miles from the town and is the commercial centre of Abaco. As you drive in from the airport you pass government offices, supermarkets and lots of churches and liquor stores. The town has a large white population, but at the last census 40% were found to be Haitian, most of whom lived in the districts of Pigeon Pea and The Mud and worked as domestic servants in the white suburbs. Many Haitians have since been repatriated however. Shops are varied and well stocked and international banks are represented. The only traffic lights on the island are outside Barclays. Batelco is a yellow building off Queen Elizabeth Drive. The Tourist Office is nearby. The main food stores are Golden Harvest; A&A Food Store (T3674521), Boat Harbour Mini Market (T3674711), Roderick’s Convenience Store (T3673237) and Wilson’s Quick Trip (T3672653). The Bahamas Family Market on Front Street sells mainly fruit and vegetables grown on Abaco.


More . . .

The Family Islands

The Family Islands, often called the Out Islands, are very different in atmosphere from New Providence and Grand Bahama. The larger islands...

Elbow Cay

The name Elbow Cay is rarely used, people refer to the settlement as Hope Town, the main town. It is marked by a striped lighthouse from...

Elbow Cay

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Green Turtle Cay

The picturesque and quaint village of New Plymouth can be reached from Treasure Cay airport by a short taxi ride (US$3 per person, minimum...

Great Guana Cay

The population of Great Guana Cay is about 100. There are a few shops, including a grocery and a liquor store, and most services are...

Man-O-War Cay

This cay is a boat building and repair centre with New England Loyalist origins, where, until recently, blacks were not allowed to stay...

Spanish Cay

Spanish Cay is a private 185-acre island off Cooper’s Town which has recently been developed as a resort. There is a 5,000 ft runway and a...