On the 15-minute flight from Nassau to Andros, you pass over an enigmatic stretch of sea known as the Tongue of the Ocean, which even from a few thousand feet in the air seems to be an unusually profound shade of blue. Over a mile deep, this famous trench helps to account for the extraordinary fertility of the region’s marine life, which attracts scuba divers and fishermen from all over the world.
Andros is the least developed of the Bahamian islands and the contrast with the high-rise hotels and the mega cruise ships of Nassau could scarcely be more extreme. A hundred miles long and a maximum of 40 miles wide, it has a total land area larger than the rest of the Bahamas combined. Although regarded as one island, Andros is actually an archipelago, consisting of hundreds of cays connected by mangrove-lined estuaries and tidal swamps. Three main islands — North Andros, Mangrove Cay and South Andros — are separated by “bights” that connect the east and west coasts. The interior is almost impenetrable and is said to contain one of the largest tracts of unexplored land in North America. A local population of about 8,000 lives chiefly along the east coast, where a succession of small communities is linked by a single atrocious road.
One of National Geographic’s “Unique Lodges of the World,” Tiamo was designed to coexist with its pristine natural surroundings. A decade ago, its construction was completed without the use of large machines, and the necessary land was cleared instead by machete. There is no road access to the resort, and all supplies must arrive by sea. Today, the property’s 11 villas and two guest rooms are buried in thick indigenous vegetation. As we moored alongside the jetty, I gazed down into the water. It was teeming with fairly sizable fish, including a small lemon shark, 3 or 4 feet long, which cruised among the shoals in search of an unwary straggler.
Tiamo extends along an alluring stretch of fine white sand, from which a flight of steps leads directly to a wide deck surrounding an infinity pool. The principal public area of the resort, the Great Room, is an attractive airy space, with glass walls, a cathedral ceiling, white sofas and a central bar.
After check-in, we were escorted to our Pool Villa, one of five that are set on elevated platforms just back from the shore, with a view over the glassy surface of the South Bight. Out front we found a bright-blue plunge pool, which was overlooked by a screened porch appointed with a pair of wicker armchairs. The accommodations at Tiamo are comfortable but relatively simple in style, a design choice perhaps intended to reinforce the property’s eco-friendly credentials. Our bedroom had a steeply pitched ceiling with a fan, a wall-mounted air-conditioning unit and unassuming furniture. Perhaps its chief merit was an extremely spacious walk-in closet. The adjoining bath came with twin sinks and a walk-in shower but was inconveniently narrow for two people. Overall, we felt rather underwhelmed.
Given Tiamo’s isolation, the quality of the food assumes an unusual degree of importance. There is nowhere else to go. Fortunately, the head chef, Keith Rolle, is highly capable and we enjoyed a succession of delicious meals, with a consistent emphasis on fresh seafood. (The excellence of the restaurant may also be attributable to the priorities of Tiamo’s French owners.) For our initial lunch, conch ceviche with conch fritters and a brandy calypso sauce was followed by curry-sautéed grouper with grilled citrus romaine and fried wontons. Besides the sophistication of the cooking, we were also impressed by the efficient, friendly and obliging local staff.
Essentially it is an eco-resort, one that will appeal chiefly to divers and fishermen. Despite its spectacular stretch of white sand and calm turquoise sea, it is unsuitable for purely a beach vacation.
Located adjacent to the Great Room is the resort’s well-equipped PADI-certified dive center. A barrier reef runs 140 miles along the east coast of Andros, and its edge is just a 10-minute boat ride from Tiamo. The reef is renowned for its blue holes, a succession of marine caverns that were first made famous in the 1970s by the legendary diver and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau. On its far side, the seabed falls away into the 6,000-foot abyss of the Tongue of the Ocean. Aside from diving, other water sports include sailing — the resort has a number of small trimarans — water skiing and wakeboarding. Those in search of less demanding pastimes can snorkel or take out one of the resort’s transparent canoes. Alternatively, guests may sign up for a waterborne “safari” along the South Bight in search of dolphins and turtles. Andros is also famous as one of the best places in the world to fly-fish for bonefish; at Tiamo guides can be engaged for full- or half-day excursions.
Tiamo’s website gives the impression that it is a luxury property, but essentially it is an eco-resort, one that will appeal chiefly to divers and fishermen. Despite its spectacular stretch of white sand and calm turquoise sea, it is unsuitable for purely a beach vacation. Presumably out of respect for the environment, the resort seems unwilling to spray the dense vegetation for bugs, with the result that it has the worst sand-fly problem I have ever encountered. Despite applying industrial quantities of repellent, I found it impossible to avoid being eaten alive. The only place to enjoy the sun unmolested proved to be a floating raft offshore. Even on the elevated deck beside my plunge pool, I was quickly discovered and driven behind the screen of my porch. I find it baffling that the resort has failed to find an ecologically sensitive way to solve this problem. And rather than mine being a uniquely unfortunate experience, my fishing guide assured me that it was entirely typical and that Tiamo’s sand flies have long been notorious.
The sense of remoteness; the excellent restaurant; the hospitable local staff; the well-organized water sports.
The millions of sand flies; the inconvenient and rather old-fashioned baths.
The best months for bonefishing are generally reckoned to be from October to January.
The other Andros wilderness resort of note is Kamalame Cay, which is accessible from Fresh Creek Airport on North Andros island. From there, a deplorable road winds its way north to Staniard Creek, where a private ferry transports guests across a channel to a 96-acre island. A pod of dolphins accompanied us, cavorting just a few feet from the ferry’s bow.
Here, too, many guests come to scuba dive — there is a PADI-certified dive shop — or to pursue bonefish on the nearby flats. However, the resort is equally well suited to those solely in search of seclusion. And unlike Tiamo, Kamalame can boast a sophisticated overwater spa, one with glass panels through which to gaze at marine life during a treatment.
Having checked in at the Pineapple House reception area, we were driven in a golf cart to our Cottage Suite. This proved to be an attractive limestone structure overlooking a 3-mile stretch of white-sand beach and an expanse of calm sea. The octagonal air-conditioned interior featured a high peaked ceiling, a king-size bed, a small kitchenette and French doors that opened onto a wide veranda. The restrained décor was in a traditional island style, with pale lemon-colored walls, dark wood furniture, white cotton-covered armchairs, sisal matting, framed prints and well-stocked bookshelves. The bath was light and airy, though a little smaller than one might wish, with a shower over a soaking tub and a single vanity. This minor drawback aside, we were delighted by our temporary home. Kamalame Cay offers a variety of accommodations (for a maximum of 75 guests) that range from less expensive Marina Rooms, which are chiefly suitable for fishermen, to lavish four-bedroom villas ideal for families.
Meals are taken either in the atmospheric Great House or at the Tiki Bar & Beach Grill next to the swimming pool. (Room service is available on request; breakfast baskets are delivered each morning; and villa guests may engage the services of a private chef.) Menus feature local seafood, as well as imported meat and game, and the wine list is unexpectedly extensive. Throughout our stay, we were impressed by the quality of the cooking and the charm of the waitstaff.
When making our reservation, we had been unsure what to expect at Kamalame Cay, but we discovered an exceptionally stylish and well-run hideaway that was a real wrench to leave.
The end-of-the-world atmosphere despite proximity to Nassau; the exceptionally comfortable and distinctive accommodations.
The public areas can be rather dark.
This resort will appeal equally to fishermen, divers and those who simply want to relax in a serene and out-of-the-way location; a helicopter or seaplane transfer from Nassau is well-worth the expense, as the local roads and scheduled air services are dire.