A sort of Bahamian Plymouth Rock, Eleuthera Island (pronounced E-loo-ther-uh) was the first permanent settlement in The Bahamas, founded in 1648. A search for religious freedom drew the Eleutherian Adventurers from Bermuda here, to the birthplace of The Bahamas. The long, narrow island they discovered and colonized still bears the name Eleuthera -- Greek for "freedom." Locals call it Cigatoo.

These adventurers found an island of white- and pink-sand beaches framed by casuarina trees; high, rolling green hills; sea-to-sea views; dramatic cliffs; and sheltered coves -- and these beautiful sights are still here, unspoiled, waiting for you to discover them. More than 161km (100 miles) long but a mere 3km (1 3/4 miles) wide -- guaranteeing that you'll never be far from the beach -- Eleuthera is about 113km (70 miles) east of Nassau, a 30-minute flight. The population of 11,000 is largely made up of farmers, shopkeepers, and fishermen who live in old villages of pastel-washed cottages. The resorts are built around excellent harbors, and roads run along the coastline, though some of them are inadequately paved.

Eleuthera and its satellite islands, Spanish Wells (on St. George's Cay) and Harbour Island, offer superb snorkeling and diving amid coral gardens, reefs, drop-offs, and wrecks. Anglers come to Eleuthera for bottom-, bone-, and deep-sea fishing, testing their skill against dolphinfish, wahoo, blue and white marlins, Allison tuna, and amberjacks. Charter boats are available at Powell Point, Rock Sound, Spanish Wells, and Harbour Island. You can also rent Sunfish, sailboats, and Boston Whalers for reef fishing.

Eleuthera rivals the Abacos in popularity among foreign visitors, though boaters are more drawn to the Abacos and the Exumas. Along with the Abacos, Eleuthera has the largest concentration of resort hotels outside of Nassau/Paradise Island and Freeport/Lucaya. It's also got a wealth of sandy beaches.

With the exception of Andros Island (which has four airports), Eleuthera has more airports (three) than any other island in The Bahamas, ensuring that most points along its surface are relatively easy to access. Best of all, it has one long, completely interconnected highway, stretching 177km (110 miles) from the island's northern to southern tip, thereby avoiding the complicated ferryboat crossings that hinder development in, say, Andros and the Abacos. There's not a traffic light anywhere on the island, a fact that makes locals inordinately proud. An offbeat adventure involves driving the island's entire length, along a sometimes bumpy road with nary a dividing line. Everywhere, you'll confront a landscape of rocks, sand, scrub, and sea views.

We love gorgeous Harbour Island, with its charming Dunmore Town, even more than New Plymouth or Hope Town in the Abacos; it's almost a Cape Cod in the Tropics. Of the 10 destinations recommended in this area, Harbour Island gets our vote as the number-one choice.

Spanish Wells is another small island settlement just off Eleuthera's north end. Spanish galleons put sailors ashore to fill the ships' casks with fresh water after long sea voyages -- hence the community's present-day name.