The Bahamas may just be the quintessential paradise we all dream of, and not just because of that famous song by the Beach Boys. A few years ago, I was working on a big project in Nassau. I’d flown down there several times, and on this particular trip I asked some of my colleagues for recommendations about where to go or something new to do. They said I had to check out Staniel Cay.
Huh? Staniel what?
About 250 miles southeast of the coast of Florida, just south of Nassau, you’ll find a small, remote island of the Bahamas. It’s called Staniel Cay. And it’s freaking incredible.
The island’s area is less than 2 square miles, and it has less than 150 total permanent residents. It’s ridiculously small. “Small” as in…about six bungalows near the water, a dirt strip of a runway, and untouched mangrove jungles. Really freaking small.
After a little bit of research, I was totally committed. All in. What’s even better, I decided to fly my wife out, too, so after a few days of work we could go check out Staniel Cay together. We are so lucky to have gone. The bungalows are usually reserved a year in advance, so how we ended up getting one for two nights is chalked up to the grace of God.
We left Nassau after my project wrapped and hopped on a small charter plane from Flamingo Air. Seriously. Small, again, as in six seats. Six. They give you a boarding pass on a laminated pink flamingo with a number on it, 1-6. No name, no nothing, just a laminated piece of paper that is so beat up it’s clearly recycled for each of the hundreds of passengers who brave the journey.
And just like that, our adventure began.
It started by launching out over Nassau and cruising at low-altitude over the islands of the Bahamas. Clouds whipped past us like wisps of cotton stretched thin, the way you might pull a cotton ball for your kid’s third-grade diorama. We avoided a few of them that looked sturdier than our tiny plane could handle.
It was beyond awesome hanging there above the dark blue oceans, looking out over blue skies as far as the eye could see, looking for leaping dolphins or circling shark fins in the waters that shimmered and flashed in the tropical sun. Before we knew it, the nose was dipping back towards Earth and the little dirt runway of Staniel Cay raced up to meet us.
We disembarked and looked around. The island is lush. It has a pure, Garden of Eden vibe with heavy tropical air, the buzz and squawks of wildlife hidden in the forest, and vibrant green vegetation. Palm trees and flowering bushes from bougainvilleas to hibiscus gave the already-thick air a perfumed quality that was immediately intoxicating.
Walking up to the bungalows, we approached a makeshift reception area. I was giddy to get our room and to get the small boat that comes with the package. I couldn’t have been more typically-American, the way I wore my impatience like a headband, front and center. The receptionist said to me in an amused, soothing tone, “Hey, you’re here now. What’s the rush?”
She was right. We’d made it, and I took her words to heart for the remainder of the trip.
My wife and I took the 18-foot boat out immediately after dropping our bags in the room, and set out exploring the mangrove forest surrounding the island. We heard the rustling of giant pigs, and watched iguanas crawl lazily along the limbs of the mangroves, sure-footed and dragging their long, heavy tails behind them. Sometimes they’d plunge into the water and swim around, legs paddling easily.
The island had several caves you could swim into, with plenty of fish darting through the clear blue waters. Of course, I had brought my rod with me, and I attempted to fish for some of the small bonefish I’d seen in the flats.
I didn’t get any, but it was awesome getting lost and exploring in our boat, with nowhere we had to go and nowhere to be. As many resorts and islands as I’ve been fortunate enough to visit — including all-inclusive resorts, weddings, parties, and celebrations — this particular trip was the first time I perfectly felt and understood the meaning of “Island Time.” Being able to spend it with my wife, strengthening our bond and literally piloting our ship together through clear waters…I couldn’t ask for anything more.
After exploring and floating around, we pulled up to a shallow reef, about 10 feet deep, where we decided to anchor up. It was a perfect place to swim and splash around, dive and explore.I swam down and saw a bunch of little snapper and rockfish, as well as some other fish I couldn’t identify right away. It was only as I swam up that I noticed a bigger silhouette.
My first thought was that our boat was casting an odd shadow somehow. That’s how big it was. But my deeper and quicker gut instinct told me this was a presence, an actual something off to my left. It was a massive barracuda, lurking just off the reef in about 5′ of water. I shot to the surface and told me wife, “Watch this.”
I grabbed my rod and cast out to the reef to hook one of the little snapper or rockfish. I had one within about 30 seconds and reeled it in as fast as I could. The barracuda hadn’t moved more than a couple of inches. “Are you ready for this?” I asked my wife. She was.
With the snapper on my line, I cast out to within 10 feet of that massive creature. Its response was immediate, a torpedo-like thunderbolt ripping through the water. The snapper was shredded in half by the speed and ferocity of its razor teeth, and my line was cut in half like rice paper. The whole thing took less than a breath.
And then my wife hit me.
“I can’t believe you were swimming with that thing in the water!” she said. If you don’t know, the barracuda’s razor teeth are matched only by its wicked aggression. I knew my line would be snapped and never hoped to actually catch it, but it was a rare, awe-inspiring moment to see the raw power and sheer force of such a fish. For me, it was great to see the emotions battling on her face as she swallowed her initial fear for my well-being and began to comprehend the awesome majesty of this magnificent creature.
We left Staniel Cay with amazing memories. We caught some snapper and little fish, but we didn’t do a ton of aggressive fishing. Staniel Cay was about the bigger picture, the relaxation and communal spirit between beautiful scenery. It’s a small island adrift in a vast ocean stretching out unimaginably far, and in the most wonderfully cliche way it was a place to feel at once incredibly big and awfully small.
We took the boat over to one of the mangrove forests tucked back in the island and got lost, saw sharks and turtles and fish everywhere. It’s one of our favorite places we’ve ever visited. You don’t go for the fishing, although you definitely can fish; it’s almost better to just sit there and be a part of it all.