History/ Culture

The Past is Present Here in The Abacos

History & Culture of Abaco Islands

With just under 100 miles of sheltered waterway known as the Sea of Abaco, The Abacos have long been known as the boating capital of the Bahamas where one can enjoy pristine beaches, discover bountiful reefs and explore the surrounding cays and barrier islands.

Located in the northern Bahamas, The Abacos comprise of the main islands of Great Abaco and Little Abaco, together with the smaller Elbow Cay, Lubbers Quarters Cay, Green Turtle Cay, Great Guana Cay, Man-o-War Cay and Walker’s Cay, amongst others. The 130-mile chain of islands and cays stretches in a curve from Walker’s Cay in the north to Hole in the Wall in the south.

The islands were first inhabited by the Lucayan Indians until 1783 when about 1,500 Loyalists left New York for Abaco where they planned and built the town of Carleton, which is present day Hope Town. Disputes within the community caused groups to leave and new settlements were born including Marsh Harbour, Green Turtle Cay, Man-o-War Cay, and Sandy Point.

In the 1800s industries such as fishing, wooden boatbuilding and wrecking (salvaging damaged ships while they were sinking) became the mainstays of the local economy and as a result the Abacos took on the characteristics of many beloved New England communities and remain that way to present day. Like Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, the small colonial towns in the Abacos transport visitors back in time with a unique blend of New England and Caribbean architecture.

In 1864, one of the most recognizable landmarks in Abaco was built, the Elbow Reef Lighthouse, but perhaps what may surprise you is that it was not a welcome addition by many of the locals as wrecking was a profitable business. Despite protests, the candy cane striped landmark was built and is still operational to this day, making it one of the last manual lighthouses in the world.

By 1900, Hope Town was the largest town in the Abacos, with a population engaged in fishing, sponging, shipping and boat building. The boats made in Abaco became renowned for their design and the builders developed a reputation for their superb construction skills. This traditional is still alive today on Man-o-War Cay and can be seen in the signature wooden sailing dinghies built by Joe Albury and the worldwide recognizable quality of Albury Brothers Boats.

Today, the main center of Abaco is Marsh Harbour, which is home to Abaco Beach Resort. The island town places visitors at the center of the surrounding islands and cays making it the ideal location for those looking to island hop via the convenient ferry system or personal boat. Although the town is the third largest in the Bahamas visitors can rest assured that they’ll be on island time from the moment they land, as the town only has one traffic light! The unhurried destination boasts a number of local shops, restaurants and watering holes easily accessible on foot or via bicycle.

Whether snapping a photo in front of the Elbow Reef Lighthouse, marveling at the time-honored traditional boat building on Man-O-War Cay or taking a stroll down Bay Street in Marsh Harbour, history is alive and well here in the Abacos and waiting for visitors to be a part of it.