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Island flying adventures: The Bahamas and Caribbean

Time for a tropical vacation? Below is a list of beautiful islands to visit in general aviation-friendly Caribbean countries. BasicMed went into effect May 1, and The Bahamas is the first country outside the United States to accept BasicMed for U.S. pilots flying in its airspace.

  • A seaplane is a great way to get around The Bahamas, but there are also plenty of runways for wheeled aircraft. Photo courtesy Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.
  • A float plane is beached on the shore at the Abaco Inn, The Bahamas. The Abaco Inn is perched on a narrow strip of land mid-island on Elbow Cay and offers kayaks, snorkeling gear, boat dockage, bikes, beach coolers and towels, transportation to and from Hope Town, and an onsite restaurant with great conch or lobster sandwiches and crab cakes. Photo courtesy Abaco Inn.
  • Sailing the calm, shallow waters of the Abacos. Photo courtesy Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.
  • Bikes are a great way to get around the islands. Photo courtesy Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.
  • Captain Perry Thomas can take you deep sea fishing for mahi-mahi 5–8 miles off the Abacos in 3,000–9,000 feet of water. At those depths you might even hook a 900 pound blue marlin, [email protected]. Photo by Patricia Strutz.
  • Dive the Abacos and make a new friend. Photo courtesy Kay Politano of Above & Below Abaco.
  • Charter a sailboat or take sailing lessons in The Bahamas. Photo courtesy The Moorings.
  • The Bahamas are GA-friendly. A pilot secures his airplane on Staniel Cay in the Exumas. Photo by Bob Friel courtesy Bahamas Out Islands Promotion Board.
  • Steep sea walls and lush coral reefs make Turks and Caicos one of the world’s most renowned diving spots. Photo courtesy Turks and Caicos Tourist Board.
  • In Turks and Caicos, eating local means eating some of the freshest seafood anywhere. Photo courtesy Turks and Caicos Tourist Board.
  • Sunset in Turks and Caicos. Photo courtesy Turks and Caicos Tourist Board.
  • Stand-up-paddle with a friend in Turks and Caicos. Photo courtesy Turks and Caicos Tourist Board.
  • Swim with a giant whale shark off the coast of Isla Holbox, Mexico. Photo by Ben Thompson via Flickr.
  • You never know what you might see down the next narrow street in Old Havana, Cuba. Photo by Eliot Hess.
  • Now you too can walk the streets of Old Havana, Cuba. Photo by Eliot Hess.

The AOPA website has extensive information and assistance for pilots who would like to fly outside the U.S. Another excellent resource is Caribbean Sky Tours, with offices in Florida and Mexico. Join the Caribbean Sky Tours Pilots Association for $49.99 a year and enjoy access to a wealth of flight planning information specially tailored for flights to Mexico, The Bahamas, other Caribbean islands, and Central and South America. Services include eAPIS help, international fuel prices and weather, downloadable charts, country-specific regulations, procedures, forms, pilot guides, online forums, and member pricing on additional services to smooth your way in and out of international airports.

The Bahamas: The Bahamas actively encourage GA pilots to visit their numerous islands, surrounded by turquoise waters. And they’re so close: From Palm Beach International, it’s only 75 nautical miles east to Grand Bahama International Airport in Freeport. Another 87 nm east and you’re at Marsh Harbour International on Great Abaco Island. Marsh Harbour International is an airport of entry, so you can skip Freeport if you prefer. On the Abacos and other Out Islands, your phone and internet service can be spotty, but so what? You’re on island time! Walk, grab a taxi, or rent a golf cart to get around. Island-hop via ferry, your airplane, or boat rental—in the Abacos, you’re always within sight of land. You also can charter a sailboat or go deep-sea fishing. On Elbow Cay, stroll through Hope Town and visit the candy-striped lighthouse. From the Abacos you might explore Eleuthera Island or Norman’s Cay, where you can see a submerged Douglas C-47 Skytrain in the clear water. Land at New Bight Airport on Cat Island and get free pickup and pilot discounts if you stay at pilot-owned Fernandez Bay Village. They also serve great meals and have bikes, boats, and rental cars. Visit the Hermitage, swim in the blue holes, and snorkel with colorful fish before you depart for the Exumas, a 120-mile-long chain. Staniel Cay has a yacht club and resort where you can play with nurse sharks. Visit a nearby island with swimming pigs or the Thunderball Grotto, used in two James Bond films. On to Stella Maris on Long Island, where you can rent a house at the Stella Maris Resort Club and get a shuttle to the beach, or fly to the private Cape Santa Maria, a dirt runway reserved for guests of Cape Santa Maria Resort.

The contrast between deep, dark Atlantic Ocean waters and shallow, light turquoise waters of the Bahamas Bank is evident in this aerial of Eleuthera Island. Photo courtesy Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.

Turks and Caicos: Southeast of The Bahamas lies the British Overseas Territory of Turks and Caicos, an archipelago of 40 low-lying islands known for some of the world’s best diving. The more developed Providentiales is home to Grace Bay, consistently voted one of the world’s best beaches, and a long reef. North Caicos is the lushest island, with a protected lagoon and large flocks of pink flamingos, pelicans, and other birds. South Caicos is the fishing capital with a beautiful natural harbor and superb diving to breathtaking walls. Grand Turk, popular with cruise ships, is the capital island where Christopher Columbus first set foot in the New World in 1492. Learn more about flying there in AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman's feature, "The Meridian Club: Luxury, with a runway."

Holbox, Mexico: Isla Holbox is a small island off the Yucatan Peninsula just north of Cancun. This sleepy island with its dirt runway is where, in summer, you can board a boat that will take you offshore so you can swim right next to the world’s largest fish: a whale shark. Whale sharks can grow to 50 feet. Plankton eaters, they won’t harm you, but being underwater with a school bus-sized fish is the thrill of a lifetime. Other airports in the Yucatan allow you to visit luxury resorts or ancient Mayan pyramids.

Cuba: This nation, about 90 miles from Key West, is slowly opening up for GA travel. Walk through Old Havana, peer down the gritty side alleys, and marvel at the mid-century American cars. Learn how and read about AOPA Pilot Editor Ian Twombly’s Cuban adventure.

Crista Worthy
Crista V. Worthy
Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: Travel, Bahamas, Caribbean

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