Elbow Cay, Bahamas

Living in Elbow Cay

Iyna Bort Caruso

When a small airport opened up in the late 1950s in the Bahamas’ Marsh Harbour, the repercussions were felt throughout the region. Once-remote places suddenly became accessible. Outsiders got to discover new places, yet in small enough numbers not overrun them. Some visitors bought second homes, a few even became year-round residents. Beautiful Elbow Cay, a 20-minute ferry ride from Marsh Harbour, was a beneficiary.

Elbow Cay is in the Abaco Islands, a 120-mile-long chain that itself is set in the archipelago of more than 700 islands that makes up the Bahamas. Despite accessibility, it is still a place that feels unchartered. It’s not a destination of mega-resorts, nor a cruise ship port. Electricity didn’t make its way here until 1975.

Coastal Living Magazine described Elbow Cay as New England meets the tropics. There’s a reason for that. The island was originally settled by those still loyal to the British crown after U.S. independence. The earliest settlers received land grants in Elbow Cay for their service by King George III. Its colorful history includes a lucrative “wrecking” era when businesses thrived by salvaging the cargo of sunken ships. The opening of a lighthouse in 1863 all but put wreckers out of business.

The 120-foot high lighthouse still stands. It’s not only one of the last hand-cranked lighthouses in the world but its red-and-white striped design has made the structure one of the most photographed in all the Bahamas. The lighthouse is located in Hope Town, on the northern end of the island, and the cay’s largest settlement. Golf carts are a main mode of transportation, though prohibited from the village itself.

Elbow Cay is a destination of colors, from the pinks of the bougainvillea to the pastel-painted homes, many of which adhere to traditional Bahamian architecture styles. Clapboard cottages, seaside estates and hillside compounds offer buyers a tropical escape and an opportunity for rental income.