Freeport Bahamas was a total impulse buy. Amidst the worst winter Toronto had seen in decades, I yearned for a quick escape to anywhere that could meet my basic criteria of sun and warmth – two things that seemed, at best, a distant memory.
Often when this feeling hits, I’m quick to peruse travel sites and quicker still to conclude that everyone and their mother must be feeling the same way – a fact not overlooked by airlines - because the prices are insane. Usually, this is when I concede, turn up the thermostat and attempt to evoke my own in-home tropical environment.
Luckily the stars aligned for me this time. I found an unfathomable price for a three-night trip to Freeport, on Grand Bahama Island. Some higher being must have sensed just how desperate I was; so off I went.
Having traveled to a few Caribbean islands, including others in the Bahamas, I didn’t know exactly what I should expect from Freeport. I had never really heard anyone talk about going there before, which made me just the slightest bit wary.
Thankfully, I was very pleasantly surprised. My time in Freeport was enjoyable, fantastically low maintenance, and exceeded my modest expectations tenfold. Recognizing that I’m probably not the only North American who is mortified by cold weather, I wanted to share the top ten things that made my trip so great well enough in advance so you too can get the hell out the next time snow (or a devastating ice storm) hits your city:
1. It’s closer than most Caribbean islands
(If you’re from the Southern Hemisphere, please jump ahead to #2). Our flight from Toronto to Freeport was about three hours, only slightly longer than traveling to Florida. This was a determining factor as I only had a long weekend to spare and didn’t want to waste it traveling. With such a short flight, Freeport allowed me to make the most out of my short vacation.
2. The airport is convenient
Don’t get me wrong, Freeport’s airport is tiny and doesn’t have a lot going on. But what it lacks in features, it makes up for in convenience, sparing your sanity with short walking distances and a quick customs process. As we only took carry on (which I strongly recommend), we landed on the tarmac and were hailing a cab around 20 minutes later. But best of all is the airport’s close proximity to downtown as many of the hotels are located less than 10km away. This means you can enjoy your vacation that much sooner.
3. Freeport is chill and relaxing
Freeport is not as developed as other spots in the Caribbean and has a healthy local-to-tourist ratio, as well as a relaxed, low-key, island vibe. I was there in early January and sometimes found myself alone on the beach for extended periods at a time, which was particularly tranquil. If you want to mix in more of a lively atmosphere, check out one of the all inclusive resorts like the Wyndham or the newly opened Memories.
4. But if you can’t sit still, there are things to do on the island
Port Lucaya Market in the centre of town is a short walk from most hotels on this side of the island. It’s an enjoyable excursion, where you can peruse local shops and stalls and dine at an eclectic array of restaurants. Lucayan National Park is a nature lovers paradise in Freeport. With many Mangrove lined trails to hike, secluded caves to explore, and a quiet and undeveloped beach to discover, this 40 acre park is a great place to spend a day in Freeport. Garden of the Groves is another favourite for nature buffs on Grand Bahama Island, boasting lush vegetation, pristine grounds, and tranquil ponds. It’s also a premiere spot for bird watching featuring a wide variety of indigenous and migratory species.
5. It can be a bargain
I found Freeport less expensive than other Caribbean spots and compared to Nassau, it’s an absolute steal. I stayed at the Grand Lucayan, a resort on the beach near Port Lucaya. While the hotel has all inclusive options, the room by itself can go for as low as $100USD a night and can often include some nice perks in the offseason like a free round of golf at their private course or up to $200 in resort credits for dining at one of their three restaurants – a fantastic deal as the hotel rooms are well maintained and the grounds are beautiful. Another economical option is the charming Pelican Bay Hotel, a smaller property on the marina that provides guests boat access to Taino Beach, one of the premiere beaches on the island.
6. Freeport has several great dining options
I was pleasantly surprised by the food in Freeport. Flying Fish, across the street from the Grand Lucayan, is a top notch restaurant run by two Canadians with a nice view of the marina. We stopped in twice during our brief stay and both meals were fantastic, infusing fresh and local ingredients with imaginative cooking concepts. Port Lucaya market also has some nice eateries including a Zorba’s Greek Restaurant and Italian inspired Cappuccino’s. If you’re looking for something a bit more local, check out Robinson’s Seafood Delight for their delicious cracked conch or go all out at the weekly fish fry at Smith Point where you can pig out on delicious traditional Bahamian staples.
7. Nightlife options exist if you’re done with relaxing
While Freeport can feel pretty subdued by day, it comes alive in the evenings. Port Lucaya is usually busy at night, particularly during the tourist season. Count Basie is a lively open square with frequent music and entertainment, boasting a number of bars including Rum Runners and Corner Bar. Bahama Mama’s is also a popular spot in the market where tourists and locals alike get tipsy on creatively imagined shots. If you feel like dancing hit up Neptune’s Cocktail Lounge for their dance floor and happy hour specials. There’s also good night time options outside of the market area such as Margarita Villa Sandbar, a relaxed bar on Churchill beach. Finally, Freeport also has a small casino, Treasure Bay, which offers the usual slots and table games and offers quasi gamblers like myself an exciting evening.
8. Freeport has pretty great weather year round
Thanks to its location, Grand Bahama Island has a tropical climate which equates to pleasant weather throughout the year. The ‘winter’ season between October and May is a bit cooler but dry while the summer months are quite hot and see more rain. Despite this, Summers in Freeport can be less wet than other spots in the Caribbean, and the rain usually comes down heavily over a short period of time before returning to sunny skies.
9. Grand Bahama Island boasts some of the most beautiful beaches
Gold Rock Beach in Lucayan National Park is a nationally protected beach and is one of the most peaceful on the island. It’s a gorgeous white sand beach with few tourists and fewer shops so bring your own drinks and snacks. Taino Beach is near the more developed part of Freeport so it attract more people and has a range of water activities to partake in. Lucaya Beach near Port Lucaya Market services the guests of the many hotels on the strip is dotted with shops and restaurants. Deadman’s Reef is a more remote beach with a reef close by the shore that is home to diverse aquatic life and at least a few snorkelers. Several tour companies on the beach will set you up and give a brief tutorial which is perfect for first timers.
10. There’s Wifi everywhere so you’re always connected
This was an unexpected perk on Freeport. It seemed that everywhere we went on the island, the free WiFi followed. Many of the hotels in Freeport have complimentary internet throughout their grounds so you can usually find a connection even when you’re strolling along the beach. This was a far cry from our experience at resorts on other islands where Wifi can cost up to $20 per day per device. All of the restaurants that we visited around Port Lucaya Market also offered free WiFi so throughout our trip we were able to keep up with our important internet activities – Facebook status updates, highly competitive Words with Friends games, and, of course, envy-inducing Instagram pics.
Have you visited Freeport or any other great spots in the Bahamas? Share your tips in the comment section!
Photos courtesy of Lauren Barth; Flickr, Geoff Livingston