It’s hard to resist the allure of the Bahamas. Astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent a year above Earth, called it “the most beautiful place from space,” and up close, the Bahamas are nothing to scoff at either. You could spend a lifetime’s worth of vacations exploring the 700+ islands, spectacular turquoise waters, and pristine white sand beaches and still not run out of things to see and do.

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There are, of course, giant resorts and beaches with swimming pigs, but the true and best version of the Bahamas lies in the lesser-known Out Islands, also known as the Family Islands. This is where you’ll find Cat Island, an off-the-beaten-path paradise filled with secluded beaches and great diving locations that’s still just a short 35-minute flight from Nassau. Here you’ll quickly stop overplanning your schedule and leisurely enjoy island time, be warmly welcomed by the friendliest locals, and relax more fully than you ever thought possible surrounded by unspoiled nature. At 48 miles long and with a population of just around 1,700, the island provides ample opportunity to truly get away from it all. If you need to do a control-alt-delete on your life, there’s truly no better place to do it than on Cat Island.

Despite its name, Cat Island is not overrun by felines (though you can visit Japan for an actual cat island). It was previously called San Salvador, and there is some debate whether Christopher Columbus landed here or on another Bahamian island when he first visited the western hemisphere. The island was renamed in 1926, allegedly after Arthur Catt, a pirate who frequently hid his treasures on its shores. During the American Revolution, Loyalists fled to the island, and remains of plantations still can be found scattered around.

Where to Stay

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You won’t find giant hotel chains on Cat Island, and that’s part of its charm. Airbnb has a number of gorgeous and affordable options. For the ultimate in relaxation, rent a villa located on a long, quiet stretch of beach, where your neighbors (if any) are few and far between and the sound of crashing waves drifting through the windows will be better than any sound machine you have at home.

For a cozy experience, Rollezz Villas Beach Resort offers a set of seven beach bungalows steps from an incredible white sand beach. The hotel is run by Yvonne and Carl Rolle, a Bahamian couple who will welcome and treat you like the best type of family. Get your fill of conch at the restaurant on site, and let the staff help plan your daily activities, which can include fishing, various water activities, or taking a boat to a remote bay to enjoy a private lunch on a sandbar.

Greenwood Beach Resort is another boutique oceanfront hotel to try. The mere 16 rooms present a surfer chic aesthetic — buoys serve as decor, a handmade directional signpost points to cities all around the world, and former guests contribute to a basket of multilingual sunblock bottles for current guests to use. Greenwood also provides scuba diving classes and certification, and the owners will take you out to some of the best diving sites along the island.

What to See and Do

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Locals will tell you that everywhere on Cat Island is beautiful, and they’re not wrong. If for some inexplicable reason you need a break from the endless beautiful beaches, visit Mount Alvernia, which, at 206 feet above sea level, is officially the highest point in the Bahamas. Climb up the surprisingly steep stairs, past hand-carved Stations of the Cross, to the top of the hill to see The Hermitage, a medieval-style monastery. In 1939, Monsignor John Hawes, a Roman Catholic priest who was also a sculptor and architect, hand-built the miniature monastery as a quiet retreat from worldly society. As you take in the 360-degree views, you’ll easily see why he chose this spot.

When on an island, you must eat seafood. For some of the freshest, head to The Fish Fry, a street in New Bight lined with small, colorful open-air restaurants serving lobster, cracked conch, and other local delights. Wash it down with a cold bottle of Kalik, a Bahamian beer.

In the evenings, find a bar or venue to listen to some rake-and-scrape, traditional Bahamian music that originated on Cat Island and typically involves an accordion, goatskin drum, and saw. Every June, Arthur’s Town hosts the Cat Island Rake-n-Scrape Festival, which showcases artists from all over the country. In 2019, the festival runs Thursday, June 6 through Monday, June 10.

Culture-seekers should sign up for the People-to-People Experience, where you’ll be paired with a Bahamian ambassador who will show you their favorite sights, give you a glimpse of local life, or even open up their dining room for a home-cooked meal. You’ll be hard-pressed to find warmer, more generous people than Bahamians.

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Perhaps the best thing to do on Cat Island, however, is simply nothing at all. Sit on a beach, take a deep breath, and let the island’s natural beauty and laid-back vibe give you some well-deserved R&R. It won’t be long before you understand why they say it’s better in the Bahamas.

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(Photos via the author)

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