San Salvador is famous for being the probable site of Columbus’ first landing in the New World in 1492. Nowadays it is also noted for its reefs, beautiful bays, creeks and lakes. Fishing, diving and sailing are all popular. There are shallow reefs, walls, corals and several wrecks to interest scuba divers and underwater life here is said to be some of the most spectacular in the Bahamas. The entire east coastline, with the exception of the creek areas, is uninhabited and has fine beaches of white sand. East of Dixon Lighthouse past the sand dunes is East Beach, a mile-long stretch of excellent sands.The island is about 12 miles long and six miles wide with a network of inland lakes (with names like Granny Lake and Old Granny Lake) which were once the main transport routes
Known as Guanahani by the original Lucayan inhabitants, this island claims to be the first place that Columbus landed after crossing the Atlantic in search of the East Indies. Four sites vie for recognition as the first landing place and celebrations marked the quincentennial anniversary in 1992. One of the sites where Columbus may have come ashore is Long Bay. There is a bronze monument under the sea where he was supposed to have anchored and a white cross on the shore where he was said to have landed. Close by is the Mexican Monument commemorating the handing over of the Olympic flame to the New World for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. At Crab Cay in the east is the Chicago Herald Monument, erected in 1892 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing.
For a good view, climb the lookout tower east of the airport on Mount Kerr, at 140ft the highest point on the island. Until the 1920s San Salvador was known as Watling’s Island after the legendary pirate John Watling, who was said to have built Watling’s Castle on French Bay in the 17th century. Archaeologists have now proven that the ruins are the remains of a loyalist plantation. You can see the stone ruins including the master’s house, slave quarters and a whipping post. Access to the ruins is via the hill to the west of the Queen’s Highway near the bay.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the US military leased land from the British Crown and built a submarine tracking station at Graham’s Harbour in the north. Roads, an airport, a Pan American Base and a US Coast Guard Station were also built. The withdrawal of the military in the late 1960s led to unemployment and emigration. The building at Graham’s Harbour is now occupied by the Bahamian Field Station, a geological and historical research institute. Further development took place under the Columbus Landing Development Project, which built houses, condominiums, roads and a golf course around Sandy Point. In the 1990s, Club Med built a resort near Cockburn Town, known as Columbus Isle, which has provided some jobs. In 1995, Club Med was granted a casino licence, the first ever to be awarded to any of the Family Islands. The largest settlement is Cockburn in the northwest.
North of Cockburn on the Queen’s Highway is the small settlement of Victoria Hill where the New World Museum is owned by the local historian Ruth Wolper. There are interesting Lucayan artefacts, most of which came from the remains of an Indian settlement at Palmetto Grove, named after the silver top palmettos found there. Dixon Hill Lighthouse, which was built in Birmingham in the 19th century and rebuilt in 1930 is on the northeast coast, still on the Queen’s Highway. Mrs Hanna, the keeper, gives tours of the lighthouse, which is run by candle power and clockwork and is one of the few remaining hand operated lighthouses. South of the lighthouse and past East Beach you get to Crab Cay and the Chicago Herald Monument.