I visited the Bahamas just before the holidays — Here’s what it was like

Dec 21, 2020

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2020 definitely hasn’t been “business as usual.” So at first it seemed to me that spending the holidays as usual — gathered around my family’s South Florida Christmas tree — would be folly. Honestly, I’d rather not even try to force jollification in the midst of what is for me and for so many others a season of profound loss and uncertainty. Instead, deposit me on a beach in the Caribbean, where December 25 can come and go like any other day — mostly sunny with only a slight chance of showers, that is.

But I’m an only child and to skip spending the season with my parents (now in their ‘70s and 80s) who I adore and who live only an hour away just isn’t an option. As a travel writer who specializes in the Caribbean, the months since March have been tough, as the industry — and my work — ground to a halt.

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But now, with almost every island reopened to U.S. visitors, the invitations to travel have started to trickle in. And after tentatively taking my first steps back to work in November by accepting an assignment to Grenada (which has no recorded COVID-19 deaths), I’m less ambivalent about what, for me, is essential travel.

So when, just before the holidays, I got an invitation to travel to a new boutique property in the Bahamas as a guest of the hotel, I accepted. It seemed like the perfect opportunity not only to get back to work but also to top up my intake of Vitamin C (for Caribbean!) before honoring my Christmas commitment to my parents.

Truth is, I’d always anticipated that the Bahamas would be the first place I’d visit once borders opened. It’s the closest Caribbean country to the U.S. (Bimini is a mere 50 miles away), so my time spent inflight (the segment of travel that makes me most nervous) would be minimized.

Related: The Bahamas simplifies entry process for US travelers

Heading to Caerula Mar Club

The resort I stayed at, Caerula Mar Club, is on Andros, the largest yet least-populated island in the Bahamas’ archipelago of 700 islands, with only about 2,000 residents and not a single traffic light. So, there were no crowded beaches or jam-packed attractions to navigate. Our group of four were the only passengers on a 12-seater Makers Air charter plane from tiny Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport (FXE). And since Congo Town International Airport on Andros is only about a five-minute drive from the resort, I was spared a lengthy ride in an air-conditioned vehicle. Sold!

Photo courtesy of Caerula Mar Resort

But the Bahamas’ proximity to the U.S. doesn’t make it any easier for Americans to enter. Like the rest of the Caribbean, which has mitigated the spread of coronavirus through early lockdowns and efficient contract tracing, the country rightfully has strict entry protocols.

Visitors must present a negative result from a PCR test taken no more than five days before arrival and then apply online for a travel health visa. The fee ($40 per person for visits shorter than five days; $60 per person if longer) conveniently includes mandatory health insurance for COVID-related care for the length of your stay. Here in Miami, it’s relatively easy to find a testing site but, with case numbers rising, it can take longer than the usual two to three days to get results. Fortunately, mine came back within 24 hours, and once I uploaded them to the island’s website, my travel health visa was approved in a couple of hours.

But I knew there’d be much more to do to ensure I was traveling as safely as possible, with regard not only for my own health but that of everyone I’d meet along the way and in the Bahamas. I stocked up on N95 and fabric masks — they’re required in all public spaces on the island, and I’ve become quite the #facemaskfashionista since the pandemic — and stashed sanitizing wipes and multiple bottles of hand sanitizer in my carry-on.

Caerula Mar Club — which reopened in October after its February 2020 debut and subsequent pandemic closure — is the type of place sun-seeking travelers will undoubtedly gravitate to when they’re ready and able to travel. With just 18 rooms and four villas spread over palm-studded beachfront acreage, it’s small enough to please the crowd-averse traveler, but also large enough to deliver the space and seclusion we’ll all be craving along with the sun, sea and sand.

As soon as I arrived, I made a beeline for the beach, which was deserted except for tilting coconut palms and a necklace of broken pink shells at the shoreline. I removed my mask, gulped salty breaths of air and my shoulders dropped as I finally relaxed. It’s only when you get out of the country that you realize the default tension most of us in America are carrying like overweight hand luggage as we try to go about our business during a pandemic.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon

At Caerula Mar Club I was reassured by the low occupancy (there were only a handful of other guests during my stay) and by the ability to dine outside in balmy breezes (I haven’t eaten inside a restaurant at home since March).

With our masks on and walking at a safe distance from each other, I took a two-hour hike in search of the island’s legendary blue holes with guide Barbara Jane Moore, comfortable that I was protecting her health and she, mine. At sunrise, running the mile-long sweep where Caerula Mar sits, I had my gaiter at hand but never had to use it; the beach was mine alone. I craved “vitamin C” and being in the Bahamas was like getting a megadose, delivered intravenously.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon

Now I’m back in the United States and, although Florida doesn’t require it, I’m isolating at home before getting tested again. It’s a bummer to be confined to my condo, sitting at my desk and writing about the island lifestyle instead of living it in real time. But I consider my self-imposed quarantine, the COVID testing and all the precautions I took before and while in the Bahamas to be worth it — a small price to pay for a welcome respite from my stateside reality.

Featured image of Caerula Mar Club courtesy of the resort

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