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Beaches & Outdoor Pursuits

Golf and tennis fans should go elsewhere, but if you're seeking some of the best bonefishing and scuba diving in The Bahamas, head to Andros.

Saving Andros for Future Generations -- The Andros Conservancy and Trust might be called the guardian angel of Andros. This nongovernmental organization was created to preserve and enhance the island's natural assets. In 2002, The Bahamas National Trust began to take on its concerns. Today, nearly 120,000 hectares (296,526 acres) of Andros have been preserved as wetlands, reefs, and marine-replenishment zones -- doubling the size of the country's national park system.

All this development falls under the general authority of the Central Andros National Park. A great deal of self-policing is involved, with bonefishermen keeping watch over the flats, crabbers protecting local breeding grounds, and divers helping to preserve the reefs. This park is only just emerging, so there are no organized tours, no guides, no nature walks -- yet. It is still a national park in the making.

Hitting the Beach

The eastern shore of Andros, stretching for some 161km (100 miles), is an almost uninterrupted palm grove opening onto beaches of white or beige sand. Several dozen access points lead to the beach along this shore. The roads are unmarked but clearly visible, and the clear, warm waters offshore are great for snorkeling.

Fishing

Andros is often called the bonefishing capital of the world, and the epicenter of this activity is at Lowe Sound, a tiny one-road hamlet that's 6.5km (4 miles) north of Nicholl's Town. Anglers come here to hire bonefish guides. Cargill Creek is one of the island's best places for bonefishing; nearby, anglers explore the flats in and around the bights of Andros. Some excellent ones, where you can wade in your boots, lie only 68 to 113m (223-371 ft.) offshore.

Whether you're staying in North, Central, or South Andros, someone at your hotel can arrange a fishing expedition with one of the many local guides or charter companies. In particular, Small Hope Bay Lodge, in Andros Town (tel. 242/368-2014), is known for arranging superb fishing expeditions for both guests and nonguests. It also offers fly-, reef, and deep-sea fishing; tackle and bait are provided.

Snokeling & Scuba Diving

Divers from all over the world come to explore the Andros Barrier Reef, which runs parallel to the island's eastern shore. It's one of the world's largest reefs, and unlike Australia's Great Barrier Reef, which is kilometers off the mainland, the barrier reef here is easily accessible, beginning just a few hundred yards offshore.

One side of the reef is a peaceful haven for snorkelers and novice divers. The fish are mostly tame here. A grouper will often eat from your hand, but don't try it with a moray eel. The water on this side is from 2.5 to 4.5m (8 1/4-15 ft.) deep.

On the reef's other side, it's a different story. The water plunges to a depth of 167km (104 miles) into the awesome Tongue of the Ocean (TOTO). One diver claimed that, as adventures go, diving here was tantamount to flying to the moon.

Myriad multicolored forms of marine life thrive on the reef, attracting nature lovers from all over the world. The weirdly shaped coral formations alone are worth the trip. This is a living, breathing garden of the sea, and its caves feel like cathedrals.

For many years, the U.S. Navy has conducted research at a station on TOTO's edge. The Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC), as the station is called, is devoted to underwater weapons and antisubmarine technologies. It's based at Andros Town and is a joint U.S. and British undertaking.

Among other claims to fame, Andros is known for its blue holes, which drop into the brine. Essentially, these are narrow, circular pits that plunge as far as 60m (197 ft.) straight down through rock and coral into murky, difficult-to-explore depths. Most of them begin below sea level, though others appear unexpectedly -- and dangerously -- in the center of the island, usually with warning signs placed around the perimeter. Scattered at various points along the coast, you can get to them either in rented boats or as part of a guided trip. The most celebrated one is Uncle Charlie's Blue Hole, mysterious, fathomless, and publicized by the legendary underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau.

The other blue holes are almost as incredible. Benjamin's Blue Hole is named after George Benjamin, its discoverer. In 1967, he found stalactites and stalagmites 360m (1,181 ft.) below sea level. What was remarkable about this discovery is that stalactites and stalagmites are not created underwater. This has led to much speculation that The Bahamas are actually mountaintops and all that remains of a mysterious continent that has long since sunk beneath the sea (perhaps Atlantis?). Most of the blue holes, like most of the island's surface, remain unexplored. Tour boats leaving from Small Hope Bay Lodge will take you to them.

For good snorkeling, head a few kilometers north of Nicholl's Town, where you'll find a crescent-shaped beach, along with a headland, called Morgan's Bluff, honoring the notorious old pirate. If you're not a diver and can't go out to the Andros Barrier Reef, you can do the second-best thing and snorkel near a series of reefs known as the Three Sisters. Sometimes, if the waters haven't turned suddenly murky, you can see all the way to the sandy bottom. The outcroppings of elkhorn coral are especially dramatic.

Since Mangrove Cay is underdeveloped, rely on the snorkeling advice and gear rentals you'll get from the dive shop at Seascape Inn (tel. 242/369-0342; www.seascapeinn.com). A two-tank dive costs $125 for hotel guests; nonguests are not served.

Small Hope Bay Lodge lies not far from the barrier reef, with its still-unexplored caves and ledges. A staff of trained dive instructors at the lodge caters to both beginners and experienced divers. Snorkeling expeditions can be arranged, as well as scuba outings (visibility underwater exceeds 30m/98 ft. on most days, with water temperatures 72°-84°F/22°-29°C). You can also rent gear here. To stay at the all-inclusive hotel for 7 nights and 8 days (rates include meals, tips, taxes, airport transfers, and three dives per day), you'll pay $2,245 to $2,420 per person, with reduced rates of $1,320 for children. All guests are allowed, at no extra cost, to use the beachside hot tub and the sailboats, windsurfers, and bicycles.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.