Okay, I know, you’re wondering, “What the hell is a Batoidea?” I needed a word that starts with “B”, okay? Grand Bahama Island isn’t one of the more touristy islands in The Bahamas, but it does have one star attraction. Stingrays. Batoidea is a superorder of fish called rays. How lucky was I that it starts with a “B”?
More about Batoidea later. First, a bit about the group of islands known as the Bahamas. There are 700+ islands and cays in this coral-based archipelago. Some are uninhabited and others are jam packed with locals and tourists year round. Not all of these islands are visited by tourists. Like many people, I didn’t realize that the Bahamas is a third-world country with third-world problems. What tourists see on the surface belies what is really going on in this island nation.
I went to Grand Bahama island to visit a friend who is working there. You could say I have someone on the inside, someone in the know. Most of the Caribbean does qualify as third-world, but having no real interest in visiting the Bahamas until my friend moved there, I never really considered that it is a third-world nation. But there were signs of it everywhere.
Grand Bahama has good roads, and plenty of them. It has mulit-million dollar homes, including one owned by a guy who owns 250 Dunkin Donuts franchises. I saw it. It’s awesome. But the signs of a third-world nation with a corrupt government and lackadaisical island attitude are everywhere. Less than 100 feet from my friend’s apartment was an empty lot with an old TV and other household items that had been dumped there. Sights like this were everywhere.
Damage from hurricane Matthew in 2016 has largely been forgotten and ignored. Downed trees, destroyed rooftops, abandoned and uninhabitable homes, potholes, and piles of broken tiles and carpet litter the roadsides. No one (the government) has bothered to take action to clean it up or provide subsidies to help rebuild.
There are many positive attributes to this island though. The beaches are top-notch, partly because they were void of humans! My three friends and I had most beaches all to ourselves. The ones that did have a few people on them were still quiet with lots of distance between tourists. In one week, we managed to visit at least five beaches: Fortune Beach, Gold Rock, Paradise Cove, Lover’s Beach, and one near my friend’s apartment that I didn’t catch the name of.
At Paradise Cove, it’s possible to snorkel out to a reef and see an amazing array of wildlife, including sea turtles. Big ones! Paradise Cove also has a restaurant and sells sodas and beers, so you don’t have to pack a picnic if you don’t want to. There are no services at Gold Rock Beach, which is part of Lucayan National Park. Fortune Beach has a restaurant, but I’d recommend taking a picnic and snacks.
There are some fun bars and a pretty good nightlife in Freeport. I especially liked Bones Bar in the Pelican Bay Hotel. They have an excellent list of fresh squeezed cocktails, a beautiful view of the canal, and a friendly atmosphere, especially for expats. Margarita Villa Sandbar is another great hangout, with a good menu and sand on the floor. It’s right on the beach, has air-conditioning and two outdoor decks with a pretty nice view. We also had a good meal and a good time at Manta Ray Beach Hut & Bar where you can play a giant game of Connect 4 on the beach. This is a great place to go for cocktails or food and the sounds of sea and surf.
Seems like there’s always something going on in Freeport. Tuesday night bonfire on the beach, Wednesday night fish fry in numerous places, shark feedings every Friday night at 7:00 and 8:00 at Pier 1 restaurant which is famous for sushi. But as a tourist, there seems to be little to do besides go to the beach, go snorkeling, or go to the bars, except for the batoidea! The stingrays!
My friend who lives there discovered West End Ecology Tours run by Keith Cooper. Located on the West End of Grand Bahama, West End Ecology Tours offers more than stingray feedings. They offer fishing and birding excursions as well, but the stingray feeding was amazing. It also included snorkeling at a shipwreck which was filmed on a GoPro. Keith let’s his clients film their excursions with his GoPro and then he emails the footage.
Our excursion started at 2:00PM and ended around sunset. We watched the sunset on our way back from the cay where we fed the stingrays. It doesn’t take long to reach the shipwreck. The stingrays don’t come to the cay until dusk, but when they come, it’s extraordinary. It started with just one, then two, and suddenly there were five. Before we left, there were more than ten swimming around us.
When we arrived at the cay (key), everyone stayed on the boat while Keith got in the water and gave us a bit of education about the stingrays. He demonstrated how to interact with them, how to feed them, and how to react to them. Then we all got in the water and one at a time, we fed the stingrays with guidance from Keith. Overall, we were in the water with them for over an hour. Touching them, feeding them, watching them. These creatures are not at all what they appear to be. This extraordinary experience ranks pretty high on my list of top experiences.
Grand Bahama Island is close enough to the US to be a great long-weekend getaway, but unless you’re visiting someone who lives there, it’s probably not the best Caribbean island choice for a longer holiday. But if you do have someone there to stay with and visit, then lucky you. That’s a pretty good connection to have.