Untainted by tourism, lovely Cat Island is the sixth-largest island in The Bahamas. The fishhook-shaped island -- some 77km (48 miles) long and 1 to 6.5km ( 2/3-4 miles) wide -- lies about 209km (130 miles) southeast of Nassau and 523km (325 miles) southeast of Miami. (Don't confuse Cat Island with Cat Cay, a smallish private island near Bimini.)
Cat Island, named after the pirate Arthur Catt (and not wild packs of marauding cats), is located near the Tropic of Cancer, between Eleuthera and Long Island. It has one of the country's most pleasant climates, with temperatures in the high 60s (low 20s Celsius) during the short winters, rising to the mid-80s (low 30s Celsius) in summer, with trade winds making the place even more comfortable. It is also home to some 2,000 people, among the friendliest in all of The Bahamas.
Many local historians claim that Cat Island residents were the first to see Columbus. Some believe that the explorer was welcomed here by the peaceful Arawaks. Regardless of whether Columbus stopped here, the island has a rich history of adventurers, slaves, buccaneers, farmers, and visionaries of many nationalities. But even now, Cat Island remains mysterious to some. It's known as a stronghold of unfamiliar-to-most practices such as obeah (West Indian witchcraft) and of having miraculously healing bush medicines.
With its pristine virgin beaches, the island is beautiful to see, yet little-visited enough that it remains relatively inexpensive and untainted. The north shore is wild and untamed. A straight asphalt road (in terrible shape) leads from the north to the south of the island. Along the way, you can select your own beach -- and chances are you'll have complete privacy. These beaches offer an array of watersports, and visitors can go swimming or snorkeling at several places. Boating and diving are among the main reasons to go to Cat Island, and diving lessons are available for novices. Fernandez Bay is a fit-for-a-postcard white-sand beach set against a turquoise-blue sea and lined with casuarina trees.
Arthur's Town, in the north, is the island's major hub. It's also the boyhood home of legendary actor Sidney Poitier. He has many relatives still living on the island, including a few amazing look-alikes. Poitier shares memories of his childhood home in his book This Life.