Island Hopping: Through the Eyes of an Out Island Flyer

Northern Exumas
source: out island flyers
The Bahamas is a unique rarity in that one can "island hop" almost endlessly. Instead of a solid landmass of an island like Cuba, Jamaica or Hispanola, the Bahama islands are an archipelago consisting of approximately 700 islands and atolls, many of them uninhabited. In wintertime you will witness the influx of sailboats and yachts migrating south from the east coast of the United States. Boaters refer to it as "cruising" and it's somewhat similar to what retirees on land do in motorhomes. However, if given the choice between sailboats and motorhomes, I'd most certainly opt for the aquatic version; peacefully floating at a remote anchorage while watching the sun sink over the water with a cocktail in hand. That's how I originally arrived in the Bahamas, and if you're on a budget with plenty of time, I believe there's no better way to travel.

However, if you have the resources, the most efficient way to cruise the Bahamas is by airplane. If you're lucky enough to own an airplane, cruising the Bahamas by air is the way to go and it's becoming an increasingly popular way to explore this magnificent corner of the planet. I'm fortunate to have several pilot friends with their own planes and have been able to island hop on several occasions. Flying through the Exumas in a small plane at low altitude is like nothing you've ever experienced. It's simply breathtaking. 

One of the major perks of traveling in on your own plane is the ability to pack food, fishing gear, friends, kids, dogs and anything else you think you might need to survive a few days in a remote location. There are numerous locally owned cottages and small resorts throughout the islands so you'll usually be able to find a place to lay your head, however several years ago I met Formula One race car driver Eddie Irvine on a remote island in the Exumas who used his airplane as a camper. So if it comes down to it, and with a little creativity, one could be fairly self-sufficient while cruising by air.

I can't imagine any other country of this size having more airstrips than the Bahamas. You can find a list of the airports/airstrips throughout the Bahamas on Wikipedia. I believe it's missing a few private ones, but unless you get friendly with some of the multi-billionaire private island owners, you probably wouldn't be landing there anyways. Most of the smaller strips have no control tower, so it's up to the pilots to stay in communication with each other. Up until several years ago on Norman's Cay, the only "air-traffic control" was a small hand-held radio perched on the shelf behind the bar of the Beach Club. You don't see that too often in the world anymore. 

The Old Runway at Norman's Cay
source: out island flyers

I have a pilot friend and avid Bahamas island-hopper who runs a Facebook page highlighting the allure of small aircraft travel in this region. Throughout the countless air-miles he's logged, he has been able to capture the beautiful, rugged and sometimes very short runways throughout the islands. Some of these runways are best suited for experienced bush pilots as oftentimes there's bumps and potholes, and you certainly don't want to overshoot or you'll end up in the ocean. 

Here's a sample of some of these islands and runways. You can really get the sense of the remoteness of these islands and the never-ending potential to explore, and if this doesn't make you want to run out and get your pilot's license, I don't know what will. 

You can follow Out Island Flyers on Facebook for more beautiful photographs. 

Pigeon Cay - Seaplane ramp
source: out island flyers

Shadow landing on Little Darby Cay. Over Yonder Cay in the distance
source: out island flyers

The old airstrip at Norman's Cay. Runway was recently extended and the wind-blocking Casuarinas were cut down

Little Farmer's Cay
source: out island flyers

Norman's Cay Cut - The plane that missed the runway
source: out island flyers

Children's Bay Cay - Seaplane ramp
source: out island flyers

Fowl Cay, Exumas
source: out island flyers

Flying the friendly skies
source: Mariah Moyle

Caravan Cay
source: out island flyers
Sandbar at Saddleback Cay
source: out island flyers

For more information please see the Private Pilot Guide  of the Bahamas, and a handy book to keep in your airplane is the Bahamas Pilot's Guide