bahamas island
Long Bay in San Salvador, The Bahamas.
Caribbean Video

The Bahamas’ Undiscovered Island

By: Alexander Britell and Guy Britton - March 18, 2023

At two o’clock in the morning the land was discovered, at two leagues’ distance; they took in sail and remained under the square-sail lying to till day, which was Friday, when they found themselves near a small island, one of the Lucayos, called in the Indian language Guanahani.” – The Journal of Christopher Columbus, Oct. 11, 1492

There is no one on this beach. 

Nearly 530 years later, and, walking these sands, it should not seem so different as it was to those sailors from Spain, wide and open, a blend of green brush and white beach. 

It’s hard not to feel something when you walk on Long Bay in San Salvador, to consider the moment when the world as we knew it was irreparably, inevitably changed; when the New World began, along with all of the evils and goods that would unfurl themselves over the next few weeks and years and centuries. It’s not hard to imagine that this beach looks just about identical to how it might have in 1492, save for the presence of a large white cross and an Olympic flame from the 1968 circuit. 

It was called Guanahani then, and it is called San Salvador today, and half a millennium later, it is a jewel on the edge of The Bahamas. 

San Salvador is about an hour-long flight from Nassau, a little longer from Miami; there are about 1,000 people living on this 63-square-mile island on the eastern edge of the Bahamian archipelago. 

long bay
Long Bay in The Bahamas, where Columbus and his crew made the first landfall in the “New World.”

It is, simply, a beautiful place; you circumnavigate the island on a single coastal ring road, a way to explore its empty, white-sand beaches, its blue holes and its green hills. 

Even most who travel frequently to The Bahamas have not been here; fewer have heard of it. This is the kind island whose name is, unfailingly, followed by “where?” 

But if you get here, you find a truly special place, where the sandy beauty is surpassed by one of the most remarkable, untouched undersea worlds in all of the wider hemisphere, a place for hammerhead sharks and friendly Nassau groupers and myriad species of tropical fish. 

The most unexpected thing in San Salvador happens when you land on the island’s full-service international runway, not the sort of lightly paved one you might imagine on a frontier island. 

That’s because, while you’d never even know it was here (and you can’t even spy it from the main road), there is a Club Med resort, one that welcomes regular jets from Paris each week. 

But it’s not the best place to stay. 

There are a handful of boutique hotels here, some for those in search of old-fashioned beach dreams, and others for diving. 

the beach at the sands in san salvador
The beach at The Sands Hotel.

If you’re looking for the former, it’s unquestionably The Sands Hotel, a 20-room hotel on a spectacular stretch of beach with some of the nicer interiors you’ll find anywhere in the Out Islands: replete with full kitchens, stunning perches right over the water and bright, airy, Bahamian-cool designs. 

you are right over the water.
All of the rooms at The Sands are right at the water’s edge.

There’s a lovely oceanside pool, and, most welcome, a delightful little tiki bar with about four seats and the ability to keep you for hours. 

It’s a family-run place, warmly and expertly stewarded by the Fergusons, who are passionate about delivering the real San Salvador experience. It’s one of the most relaxing hotels in the Caribbean, and that is without hyperbole.

The tiki bar at The Sands. It is your kind of tiki bar.

If you’re looking to dive, there’s the Riding Rock Resort, the venerable dive resort that’s been family-owned and operated since the 1960s, with 32 rooms, 20 of which overlook the ocean, and an experience tailor-made for divers (and snorkelers) looking to enjoy one of the great diving destinations on earth. 

The Riding Rock resort, the island’s top dive resort.

And if you’re exploring the island, you will be drawn to J – Jermaine Johnson, the island’s chief tourism executive, who is a walking encyclopedia of San Salvador and its greatest ambassador. 

The generous Johnson has made it his duty to show travelers the full San Salvador experience, including the Columbus history, the one that has, to put it kindly, become rather controversial in the modern day. 

Watling’s Blue Hole in San Salvador.

Here on San Salvador, though, the feelings are different toward the Genoa native. 

“We love Columbus,” Johnson says. 

Indeed, every Oct. 12, San Salvador celebrates “Discovery Day,” with a homecoming party and an island-wide celebration, with many scattered San Salvadorans returning home from near and far (and Nassau) to their roots. 

bahamas island
The embers of the early evening in San Salvador.

Johnson knows the prevailing moods on Columbus, but he’s also aware of the significance of his island on the history of the planet. 

When Columbus stepped foot on these shores, the timeline changed, history changed. It also meant, Johnson says, an irrevocable destiny for everyone here, an indelible stamp on the map of time.

“If Columbus doesn’t come to this side of the world, we don’t exist,” he says. “There are Europeans who, if Columbus had not come here, would still exist. We don’t have the luxury of that lineage.” 

This little island is the home of a temporal twist of fate, an historical giant on 63 square miles hidden away in The Bahamas. 

And you feel it, there’s something here, something drawing you, something keeping you. 

There’s no shortage of controversy, to be sure, of Columbus’ arrival. How, others ask, can you “discover” a place if there were already people living there?

But the objection is simple. 

San Salvador, you see, is still undiscovered. 

Popular Posts belize hotel mayan world

At the Falling Leaves Lodge in Belize, a Portal to the Maya World

SAN IGNACIO — There has been some form of settlement on this site for more than 3,000 years, here on a leafy hill above the town of San Ignacio, Belize. In other words, this is no ordinary hill. This is Cahal Pech, […]

In San Ignacio, Belize, The Art of Adventure (And Pupusas)

pupusas belize

The sizzle is calling you. In the early morning, corn tortillas stuffed with cheese and beans and meat sing a particularly strong siren song.  It could be that perfect blend of dough and heat, or the aroma. It might just […]

Delta Is Adding More Nonstop Curacao Flights, Citing “Booming Demand”  

the beach at the avila hotel in curacao

Curacao is hotter than ever, with a wave of new hotels and record-breaking tourism numbers. And just a few months after Delta made its long-awaited return to the island, the carrier is adding even more flights.  The reason? What Delta […]

Related Posts st maarten residential resort

New St Maarten Residential Resort Project Launches Sales 

St Maarten’s new luxury residential resort project has officially launched sales, Caribbean Journal Invest has learned.  The project, which will include a total of 280 units, is targeting a completion date in 2028.  The resort is set in the existing […]

Your Own Little Beach Bar in Aruba 

surfside aruba beach bar

A bucket of Brights, a few chairs and the perfect beach afternoon. At Aruba’s Surfside Beach Bar, the formula is simple and flawless.  If you’ve been to the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba, you know the island does not lack […]

It's Getting Even Easier to Fly to Costa Rica

a room at the nayara gardens resort with a balcony

It’s getting easier than ever to fly to the eco-tourism hotspot of Costa Rica, and now American Airlines is set to launch another expansion to the Central American country.  This summer, American Airlines is planning to double its nonstop flights […]


Sign up for Caribbean Journal's free newsletter for a daily dose of beaches, hotels, rum and the best Caribbean travel information on the net.

No. Thank You