The Bahamas: A spectacular collection of the world’s most stunning, unspoilt and untouched tropical islands. We are Bahamas island hopping by piloting our own plane on the ultimate adventure across the Bahamas Out Islands from Florida to Bahamas. Flying across turquoise waters, join us as we encounter tropical islands, exotic wildlife, white-sand beaches, colonial towns and a sense of voyage like no other. This truly is a Pilots Paradise.
Teaming up with another Professional Pilot, Oli from Pilots Paradise, we are bringing you the very best in Flying and Travel. From our base in Florida we have a short hop across the ocean to the Bahamas. We perhaps don’t realise how close the Bahamas actually is to the USA. These stunning islands are only a 1 hour flight from Florida to Bahamas. But it’s not just being accessible to Pilot’s that’s the main draw here, the convenience of speaking the same language and using the same currency are all factors which make the Bahamas the ultimate flying destination.
Bahamas Island Hopping: The only true way to “Island Hop” in the Bahamas is by Plane. Whilst the Bahamas is considered a Boaters Paradise, flying these remote Islands by plane offers the most flexible and expeditious mode of transport. We are navigating our way across 7 of the Out Islands: Eleuthera Island, Cat Island, Long Island, Staniel Cay, Exuma, San Salvador and Abaco Island.
The Out Islands are a collection of 700 beautiful coral lined islands, 100% unspoilt and untouched, they are scarcely populated boasting tropical islands with deserted beaches and exotic wildlife. This is the real Bahamas; Away from the hustle and bustle of the Bahamas Tourism capital in Nassau and Paradise Island, where cruise ship passengers are herded into duty free shops. The Out Islands is the authentic Bahamas Experience.
Flying to the Bahamas is by no means easy. This is an adventure that requires planning. The paperwork can be daunting; customs and immigration forms, flight plans and cruise permits can be an un-necessary diversion from your goal of flying from Florida to Bahamas. But it’s a well travelled path. The Bahamas tourism board and AOPA both produce comprehensive guide books to help you on your way. And now Oli through Pilots Paradise can offer you an all-inclusive package for flying to the Bahamas with expert briefings and filing of all the paperwork.
Bahamas Island Hopping Map
Day 1: Florida to Bahamas, Eleuthera Island
It was a gloriously blue-sunny day in Florida, the day before we would set off on our Bahamas Island hopping voyage. We had all the flight planning done, charts, manuals, flight plans, customs forms and export clearances. Our Archer PA28 light aircraft was fully fuelled and ready to go. But the weather forecasts weren’t looking good. A cold front was fast approaching the east coast of Florida, bringing with it severe thunderstorms and high winds! All the forecasts gave us a very small window to depart in the morning. We therefore had to get going at day break to beat the weather.
So we departed from Vero Beach Florida, with a spectacular sunrise emerging from those thunderstorms just over the coastline. But would they block our passage across to the Bahamas? After flying south towards Palm beach, we found the edge of the Cold Front and successfully continued with our ocean crossing.
Landing on schedule in North Eleuthra Airport, on Eleuthra Island. It’s a long old flight down to Eleuthra direct from Florida, taking just over 2 hours. Whilst there are many other Bahamas islands in closer proximity from Florida to Bahamas, Eleuthera is conveniently located closer to the heart of the Out Islands. So without doubt, for the best start to your Bahamas Island Hopping adventure: make the journey down to Eleuthera in one day if you can; and begin your Bahamas Out Islands experience without delay!
Once you’ve arrived at North Eleuthera and cleared customs, remember to close your flight plan with air traffic control! Taxi driver wait outside the FBO buillding at North Eleuthra airport and will drive you to the jetty for $10USD . From the jetty you will take the speed boat ride across to Harbour Island.
Dunmore Town, the original capital of the Bahamas, is where you’ll land at the government dock of Harbour Island. Dunmore Town has a beautiful collection of brightly coloured colonial style buildings featuring New England architecture. You’ll can to rent golf carts to explore the island because there are no cars! It will take you only a couple of hours to explore Dunmore Town and the outer edges of Harbour Island.
But the real gem of Harbour Island is the Pink Sand Beach. This pristine beach, picture postcard perfect, has a slight pink colour to the sand from the coral. Perhaps one of the most beautiful pink sand beaches in the World!
Read more about the hidden secrets of Harbour Island and the Pink Sands Beach.
The Pink colour of the sand is caused by it’s composition of broken shells, coral and microscopic shelled creatures known as Foraminifera. These Foraminifera have a particularly strong red or pink coloured shell. A popular activity on Pink Sand Beach is Horse Riding.
There are many other hidden secrets on Harbour Island. Scope out the Lone Tree, Haunted House and Queen Conch (for some the best local conch dishes).
Day 2: Schooner Cays and Cat Island
NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly described the Bahamas as “the most beautiful place on earth viewed from Space“. I can see why.
The Schooner Cays are a stunningly beautiful collection of white sand bars and turquoise blue waters. Flying over these Cays is like flying into another world. It’s strange because the cloud cover was fairly thick over Eleuthera Island, behind us, and then all of a sudden as we flew over the Schooner Cays the blue sky opened out in front of us, revealing this hidden gem. Without a doubt, you should plot your flying route across the Bahamas to overfly this amazing area of natural beauty. For the exact location of the Schooner Cays see pin #2 in our Bahamas Map.
From the Schooner Cays our flight path took us over Little San Salvador Island where the Atlantic Ocean was crashing onto the coral reef, and then onto Cat Island with our landing at Hawk’s Nest airfield.
Cat Island is the unspoilt, authentic small island experience. Cat Island is an experience rich in Culture, History and Nature. We visited Plantation ruins (pictured above) which are crumbling next to the Bahamas Turqoise waters and overgrowing with vegetation, it’s as if the island is slowly reclaiming its’ land. Another impressive landmark on Cat Island is the Bahamas highest point, Mt Alvernia. Where sitting atop is the Hermitage (pictured below). Taking the pilgrimage up the hillside of Mt Alvernia you pass father Jerome’s hand-carved stone crosses, which mark the route to the Hermitage; a miniature abbey featuring a small chapel, bell tower and living quarters. From her you can look out in 360 degree wonder, as the highest point int he Bahamas, surveying the scenery of Cat Island.
Read more about exploring Cat Island.
For Nature Lover’s the Family run tours by Danny (Cat Island Experience) will take you into Fruit Bat Caves. But of all the things to experienc on Cat Island, nothing quite compared to a Junkanoo Parade in New Bight Village. Organised especially for me and Oli by the Governor of Cat Island! What an amazing experience.
This is the real, authentic Bahamas Out Island experience.
Day 3: Long Island
Long Island emerges on the distant horizon from our cruising altitude en-route from Hawk’s Nest on Cat Island. The billowing white cumulonimbus clouds part as we make landfall, greeting us with spectacular views of Cape Santa Maria. Home to the peaceful Cape Santa Maria Resort, with it’s picture postcard perfect white-sand beach and calm turquoise waters.
Christopher Columbus landed on these rugged northern shores of Long Island Bahamas. The Columbus Monument on the clifftop overlooks the pounding ocean which erodes at the feet of their limestone walls. Overflying this northern part of Long Island Bahamas, you get a good vantage of the route which Columbus would have sailed along from his first Bahamas landfall on San Salvador to the East. You begin to picture Columbus arriving and setting anchor in the Cove and beginning their exploration of this uncharted world.
Long Island, is a true adventure playground. With only 3,000 inhabitants on Long Island, it’s sparsely populated. You will find you have beaches all to yourself. Travelling from North to South you can visit the stunning beaches on Cape Santa Maria, Plantation ruins, Mangroves and the worlds second deepest blue hole at Dean’s Blue Hole – a mecca for free divers.
Read more about why you should visit Long Island.
Day 4: Staniel Cay
Half way through our Island Hopping tour, and Day 4 took us on a flight from Stella Maris (Long Island) to Exuma’s Staniel Cay. Overflying the full length of Great Exuma, we passed many private islands which reportedly belong to Hollywood superstars.
Staniel Cay is situated in the rich turquoise blue waters which have become all too familiar during our time here in the Bahamas. We took out a boat out for the day, in true James Bond style, visiting the Thunderball Grotto – made famous by 2 James Bond films, Thunderball and Never say Never Again. But Staniel Cay’s most famous attraction has to be the Swimming Pigs. Also known as the Exuma Pigs, these swimming pigs will greet you beside your boat, in the hope you bring them food to feed them!
A short boat ride south of Staniel Cay and we reach the secluded Bitter Guana Cay, home to the Bahamas Rock Iguana which is an endangered species. Wading through the crystal clear water, having jumped off our boat, we approach the empty beach. But then with a rustling in the undergrowth that surround the beach, the Bahamas Rock Iguanas appear.
Read more about how to visit Staniel Cay.
Day 5: Exuma
We’ve flown from Staniel Cay in the very north of Exuma, down to Georgetown in the south of Exuma. The long thin chain of the Exuma islands provide incredible flight seeing on this route. We visited the Tropic of Cancer Beach, located on the Tropic of Cancer! It’s a white sand beach with the most beautiful and vivd blue colours; every shade of blue.
Tonight we are staying at the Grand Isle Resort & Spa at the stunning Emerald Bay, which we flew over (pictured above). The Grand Isle Resort is a luxury beach resort and a Golfer’s paradise; The Emerald Bay Golf Course is a championship 18-hole golf course designed by Greg Norman, and the longest golf course in the Caribbean.
Read more about Exuma and visiting Emerald Bay.
Day 6: San Salvador
Day 6 we flew from the Exumas across to San Salvador Island.
San Sal, as the locals call it, is the landing site for Christopher Columbus in 1492 on his voyage to discover the New World. As the most easterly of the Bahamas Islands, it was always going to be the first of the islands to be discovered by these pioneering European explorers. A white cross marks the spot that Columbus stepped foot on San Salvador.
Day 7: Schooner Cays & Abaco Island
We had another chance to take in the astounding views across the Schooner Cays on our flight from San Salvador to Abaco Island. One of our longest flights in the Bahamas, it took us 2 hours and 15 minutes to make the journey.
Abaco Island is one of the larger Bahamas Out Islands and has the 3rd largest town at Marsh Harbour, which we flew into. Marsh Harbour is an international airport with aircraft handling, FBO services, AVGAS fuel and customs for the entry and exit process.
Adorned with beautiful beaches, the largest number of marinas – sailing is big here, and a rich cultural history that can be found at Hope Town. We drove along to Treasure Cay further up the north coastline of Great Abaco Island. The drive from Marsh Habrour to Treasure Cay is only about 30 minutes by road. However Treasure Cay actually has it’s own airport you could fly into, instead of Marsh Harbour. Treasure Cay Airport has Customs for entry and exit but has no refuelling facilities.
Why go to Treasure Cay? Stunning beaches set along side the Treasure Cay Resort, which has it;s own private marina. But the magic of Treasure Cay is over on Green Turtle Cay, which you can reach by ferry or boat excursion. And their hidden gem; Swimming Pigs! Yes, along with Staniel Cay, No Name Cay is home to it’s very own “Piggyville”, another collection of Bahamas Swimming Pigs.
How to Fly from Florida to Bahamas
Island Hopping the Bahamas by Plane is the best flying adventure I’ve ever had! It’s by no means a walk in the park. It requires thorough planning and good Airmanship to navigate these remote areas safely. On top of all the normal preparations for private flying you’ll need to consider;
- ICAO Flight Plan to cross international airspace. (Remember to Close your Flight Plan after landing!)
- Customs and Border crossing procedures and fees
- Passports and E-APIS crew and passenger information submitted to US authorities
- Plan to arrive in the Bahamas at an Airport of Entry (AOE)
- Bahamas C7A Cruising Permit (which is stamped on each Island you arrive at)
- Aircraft Equipment: Airworthiness Certificate, Registration certificate Radio License, Registration Marking, ELT, Life vests for all passengers and a Life Raft whilst not mandatory is highly recommended.
Another consideration will be Airports and handling facilities. Firstly you need to make entry into the Bahamas and land at an Airport of Entry (AOE).; For example you cant fly direct from Florida to Staniel Cay because Staniel Cay Airport is not an AOE, they have no Customs & Immigration office.
A second consideration are the airport which have refuelling facilities. A lot of the airports do not have refuelling. Even if it says they have refuelling in documents or charts it’s always prudent to phone ahead to the FBO to check before departing if they actually have enough fuel. So consider this in your planning for your Florida to Bahamas routing.
It’s not just arriving in the Bahamas which may feel daunting. Leaving has a whole process of it’s own and you’ll have to depart from an Airport of Entry (AOE) equipped with Customs and Immigration.
- Leave a copy of your C7 General Declaration
- Return the Bahamas Immigration Card copy
- Pay the Bahamas Government Departure Tax ($29 per person)
- File your international flight plans (Remember to Close your Flight Plan afterwards!)
- Most of important of all; is to get in radio contact with Miami before penetrating the ADIZ zone, or risk being shot down!
- Your landing back in to the USA has to be at an Airport of Entry, which has US Customs and Immigration facility. We used Fort Pierce, closest for Vero Beach.
During our trip we worked closely with the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and their Aviation department. They run a very informative Flying Ambassadors program, see here. The Bahamas Flying Ambassadors are a group of seasoned private pilots with experience of flying into and around the Bahamas Islands. You’ll find their contact details on the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism Flying Ambassadors webpage.
For more Photos from our Flying tour of the Bahamas visit us on Facebook.
We are immensely grateful to be supported by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism who are working with us to help provide you with the very best insight into the out Island of the Bahamas.