Airplane camping on the Bahamas Out Islands?

Discussion in 'Cool Places to Fly' started by Blue172, Jan 26, 2020.

  1. Blue172

    Blue172 Filing Flight Plan

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    So I am starting to plan my annual once month "airplane road trip" and this year we plan on heading from Wyoming to the Bahamas in late April and heading out as far as we can get; with the goal of reaching Mayaguana, the most easterly island in the Bahamas.

    We are already aware of the $300 Bahamian government credit incentives for out islands resorts and will surely be using those to stay at a fancy resort during the trip... but we are having problems finding information on the many dirt strips on some of the smaller islands; and what the rules are and local tolerance for setting up to camp under the wing or on the beach to truly enjoy the desolate nature that some of the out islands have to offer.

    We are flying a 172 with 180 HP and CS prop and STOL wing with oversized 800 tires so we are well setup for short and soft field operations and have good experience with moderately short backcountry strips. We will have the plane loaded with camping and adventure gear like surf mats, pack rafts, spearfishing and snorkeling gear, as well as transportation options so we are ready for whatever conditions we find.

    Any information on airplane camping, resources to get information on the smaller dirt strips; must see islands/bars/ or low cost hotels are all very appreciated.

    Also... if someone out there would like to join us; having another plane to join us would make this safer as well as potentially more fun... PM if you want to discuss it.
     
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  2. Bill Watson

    Bill Watson Pattern Altitude

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    If you really like to camp under the wing, I don’t think you will have any trouble at any of the airports that don’t have a customs office. The customs supported airports have fences and locked gates and such. But given that just about each of the out islands has a customs supported airport, you could end up avoiding the ‘best’ airport to fly in to.

    I would suggest that the ‘out islands’ are pretty out there to begin with and your best options lie in searching VRBO and such for accommodations at various price points. Since the airports themselves are not particularly nice spots, getting a place to stay can eliminate the need for a car or bike to get to a nice almost deserted beach. There are lots of almost deserted beaches in all of the out islands.

    I fly to the islands to Bonefish with my non-fishing mate. She likes remote spots and I like Bonefish flats and there are plenty of both all over the islands.

    I’ve been trying to take advantage of the $300 promos for years but I’ve never managed to do it. The resorts are not where we want to be, at least for the 3 day minimum stay that is usually involved. And airplane gives you access to just about anywhere you may want to go and there’s little reason to stay at the more expensive resort properties given that level of access.

    Lot’s of ‘out’ out there, the challenge is finding places to eat and drink when you just want to sit down and be served. Options are limited but always interesting and fun.

    The other great part about flying is that you can carry your own supplies. Everything gets expensive ‘out’ there and sometimes quite limited. Load up on everything stateside, start your journey using VRBO but keep things open. If you see somewhere you want to go, ask around and you will tend to find another layer of rooms and accommodations available. All clean and serviceable and relatively cheap.

    The airports are all better than they look relative to runway quality. But tie downs are limited and crude - bring stuff and don’t necessary expect to be able to drive stakes into the limestone. Camping wise, the wind can really blow out there, sometimes for days at a time. Could drive one a little crazy listening to it shake the tent all night. But as long as the wind is blowing things are nice. Wind comes down and the no-see-ums come out, just sayin’.

    Stateside, try to use customs at Fort Pierce. Make sure you follow the eAPIS procedures AND call ahead before taking off for your return stateside.

    I love flying the out islands of the Bahamas! Enjoy.


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  3. Computerjim

    Computerjim Pre-Flight

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    Lots of good advice in the above comment. I would add that you should avoid The Abacos and Grand Bahama. They are still in recovery mode from last fall's hurricane. Most of the islands have very shallow soil, especially around airports and the wind always blows. Plan on a way to secure your tent without pegs. A lot of the out island airports are private, don't plan on using the without prior permission. Gas and provisions are spendy, mostly do to the 35% import duty the Bahamas charges, but that is how they pay their taxes. No income and low property taxes. I normally travel to the islands from FBO's from Ft Lauderdale south to Tamiami to minimize time over water. Bring cash, a number of places don't take credit cards. Relax and enjoy your trip.
     
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  4. Chip Sylverne

    Chip Sylverne Final Approach

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    Fear is the poison of our lives.
    This adventure is sooo on my bucket list.
     
  5. unsafervguy

    unsafervguy Pattern Altitude

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    my advice if you are going WAY out island, get some local knowledge. there is still drug trade going on on some of the out islands and you do not want to drop in to places where you are really not wanted.
     
  6. Bill Watson

    Bill Watson Pattern Altitude

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    Personally I haven’t heard any stories or incidents over the past 10 years. Have you? Always curious and cautious...


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  7. GBSoren

    GBSoren Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I took my wife an 2 kids on an out Island Bahama's trip over Christmas, we stayed at "resorts", did not camp. We flew from KFPR to MYEH to get thru customs, MYEH has the least expensive avgas in the Islands too. Then down to Arthurs Town on Cat Island, that airport is deserted, they do have some tied downs on the nw end of the ramp, in the weeds. Cat Island is VERY....laid back, to the point it was difficult to find places that were open to eat.

    After 4 days on Cat we flew down to Long Island, Deadmans Cay. That airport is much more active so you wouldn't be able to camp there. Long Island was also much more vibrant that Cat (we enjoyed it more). Maybe not exactly what you're looking for.

    If you have room, bring plenty of food along. We brought canned ham, spam, chips and essential. Food on the Island can be quite expensive. Also, and I can't stress this enough, bug spray! The "no see ums" are horrific! I react to the bites much more than any other member of my family, welts that last for weeks! The problem is deet is only marginally effective on them so you need to use it early and often.

    The flying is breathtakingly beautiful, and once thru customs with you ferry permit in hand it's pretty simple. MYEH is a good option coming and going, you must leave from a port of entry back to the US too, you have to pay a $29/person "departure fee", but the process is pretty easy.

    Have fun and enjoy the journey!
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2020
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  8. Bill Watson

    Bill Watson Pattern Altitude

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    We’ve traveled to Long and Cat a number of times and would suggest they are great places to experience the out island experience.

    We flew into New Bight on Cat several times where there’s daily flights to and from Nassau (as there are to at least one airport on each island chain). Cat is a good example where going to a self contained ‘resort’ is a good way to go. One or two meals a day plus self service honor bar (very common) is kind of standard. Some places are more ‘resorty’ and some are just a handful of cabins or duplex’s - all on semi-secluded beaches (our preference). On our first trip there we accidentally ran into an AOPA group and joined up with them for some side trips. Staniel Key is good place to fly in for lunch. Now we go back to Cat to meet the same visitors at the same little resort each year since I know where the Bones are. We always rent a car ($60 - $90/day) but any of the ‘resorts’ will pick you up, drop you off and otherwise get you where you want to go, assuming you know where you want to go. But like all the islands, they are long with lots of places to explore - in a car -. A car is the best way to explore most islands.

    There’s just a little bit more stuff on Long Island but not much. Car is very handy. We fly into Deadman’s and stay at a very beautiful VRBO that comes with car or rent a car and stay at a more rustic cabin with an equally spectacular view. Long Island is long. One can fly from end to end but a car is still needed for all the interesting places to hike, explore or fish. But there are also a couple of all inclusive resorts on the north end. Boaters focus on Deadmans. I won’t say where the best Bone fishing is.

    Exuma has even more stuff, mainly because there are more boat people out there. Only been once but again VRBO has lots of options with lots of ‘out’ places.

    Marsh Harbour on the Abacos got slammed. Cherokee Sound had become our favorite place of all. Mind numbingly quiet and peaceful. But we’ll have to wait for some of that to come back.

    A tour of the out islands, especially an air tour is a glimpse into a lot of half realized successful and unsuccessful development attempts, following a decade or two of development driven by the drug trade. It’s so beautiful and filled with great people. Logistically it’s the end of the line and besides tourism, there’s little industry outside of salt mining. Puts most visitors in a dream state that you don’t want to leave.

    (Skip the big islands of Andros unless you like Bonefishing)


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  9. unsafervguy

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    I haven't heard any lately about any runwayed islands, but my Bahamian friends tell me there are still islands you do not want to get near by boat. But they are way out islands.
     
  10. Brad W

    Brad W Pre-takeoff checklist

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    sidebar.... camping by aircraft is very appealing to me.
    I understand there's much more wide open places out west where folks with tundra tires might do it...but I'm very interested in this discussion...and also wondering if there are any places in the SE that aircraft camping is kosher.
     
  11. k9medic

    k9medic Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I own a house in the Abacos. There are not any islands really where you could land on the beach and pull up and camp.
     
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  12. Blue172

    Blue172 Filing Flight Plan

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    Thanks for all the great information so far... a lot of really helpful comments!

    Planning for this continues... I really wish I had a real bush plane for his trip as landing out on some of those deserted beaches and islands would be exactly what I have an interest in; and have seen videos of others doing just the same.

    Still looking for more info on deserted or little used strips, camping, and other suggested resorts and bars so please keep it coming
     
  13. Skyrys62

    Skyrys62 En-Route

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    For those that have been, or heard... how is the security of the airports? Meaning can you leave stuff locked in your plane without worry?
    Is there any scamming, or stealing from rooms on the islands?
    I have only been to Bahamas on a cruise, then scuba diving, and touring. Went off by ourselves to a beach area and we were the only ones there..until we ventured out in the water a little bit. Then several locals appeared out of literally no where. So, we went back to our beach spot, as we had camcorder and other gear. It left a minor bad taste of it all, so wanted to ask.
     
  14. GBSoren

    GBSoren Pre-takeoff checklist

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    We've been to Eleuthera, Cat and Long Island's, we've never had a problem at any of them. From what I've been told, most of the crime in the Bahamas happens in the higher population centers. Arthur's Town airport has no security, gates are always open. We did stop at the police station and told them we had a plane there, they said they'd patrol by and keep an eye on it, but assured us nobody would bother it. Governors Harbour and Dead Mans Cay are the other two airports I've stayed at, both of those are gated. I think for the most part the out Island are very safe and have very low crime rates, but we all know stuff can happen.
     
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  15. wrbix

    wrbix Pattern Altitude

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    Any PIREPS for Mayaguana?
     
  16. Bill Watson

    Bill Watson Pattern Altitude

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    That’s been our impression and experience in the out islands.

    We leave stuff in our plane without concern. After a dozen stays at various places, we find that we stop locking our room doors at many of them, depends.

    That’s us, YMMV, but we generally feel safe at any of the out islands.


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  17. k9medic

    k9medic Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Until the hurricane there was a gate in Treasure. Now, completely open.

    Have not had an issue so far.


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  18. Blue172

    Blue172 Filing Flight Plan

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    Security is one of the reasons I like to sleep under the wing! I have never had a problem but arrived at an un-gated airport to take off one day and saw some locals looking under the cockpit cover...

    Mayguana looks like a blast; easy walk to both sides of the island from the airport; the remains of a US space program facility, and 4 abandoned planes including an old drug running DC-3 that was left on the runway after the contraband was unloaded onto a boat... engines still running from what I have heard.

    Why no one salvaged that Bird and flew it away I have no idea.
     
  19. Bill Watson

    Bill Watson Pattern Altitude

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    Was that a Bahamian AP?


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  20. Blue172

    Blue172 Filing Flight Plan

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    No not at all... that was good old west coast USA.
     
  21. Bill Watson

    Bill Watson Pattern Altitude

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    When I first started flying the Out Islands, I had my plane doors locked, canopy covers (always a good idea due to wind driven salt and sand damage), cockpit carefully emptied out, and even a prop lock.

    Now I leave it unlocked even if we leave stuff in it (we often do), just as I do at some US airports. The ‘scruffy looking’ guy who often shows up to help you with your bags is greeted with friendliness and respect, his help accepted, and I make sure I tip him even if he becomes scarce after your bags have been handled. It took awhile to realize that he is formally or informally employed by Bahamian Customs to help get your baggage through the gate, baggage that is barely looked at except for things that look like big ticket imported goods that are subject to duty. Tipping. It’s not generally expected or looked for but always appreciated. As it is anywhere else, tippers are remembered.... but tipping is not necessary in the Bahamas.

    The main thing is to chill out ASAP upon arrival. Life is slower because there is no reason for it to be otherwise. Impatience is rude. That is the charm of the Bahamian Out Islands. If you find yourself impatient upon landing because you got caught behind 6 passengers from a commuter filling out their customs forms, you need to work on your chill.


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  22. k9medic

    k9medic Pre-takeoff checklist

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    On caveat to the “6 people in front of you...”

    Before Dorian - Nothing ticks me off more than dragging my family and all sorts of items (most of the time boxes of stuff for the locals) across the tarmac to have a pilatus pull up to the front door of the customs office to drop off 6 drunk golfers for the weekend. None of which have their forms filled out.

    Meanwhile, I have all of my forms filled out and know they customs lady by first name... last flight over she asked where my dog was by name.




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  23. wrbix

    wrbix Pattern Altitude

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    We travel almost everywhere with our canine boys - talk to me about dogs in the Bahamas travel please.
     
  24. Bill Watson

    Bill Watson Pattern Altitude

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    LOL!

    My Bonefishing tends to take me to the ‘outer’ out islands. I’m going to guess that drunken golfers would only be encountered on Abaco and possibly Exuma. Hard to imagine golfers on any of the others.


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  25. k9medic

    k9medic Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Yes, back when the Treasure Cay golf course was still operational it was a bit of a pain when that happened.


    For animal travel in the Bahamas, it’s pretty simple. You have to have a permit for the visit. Each visit.

    It used to be an absolute pain in the butt because you had to mail and fax things. Now there’s a guy by the name of Wellington who does a little side business under the website Bahamas pet services.

    You email him stuff and he hand walks it down to be signed for a very small fee then emails it back to you.

    I get multiple permits for the year.


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