This cluster of islands on the southern fringe of The Bahamas is one of the last frontier outposts that can be reached relatively quickly from the U.S. mainland. Their remoteness is one of the most compelling reasons to visit -- that, and a chance to see life in The Bahamas the way it used to be. Some of the islands are proud to proclaim that "we are as we were when Columbus first landed here" -- an exaggeration, of course, but one that contains a kernel of truth.

The Southern Bahamas have a colorful history. In the 18th century, Loyalists from the Carolinas and Virginia came here with slave labor and settled many of the islands. They had thriving cotton plantations for about 20 years until blight struck, killing crops and destroying the industry. In 1834, the United Kingdom Emancipation Act freed slaves throughout the British Empire. When the Loyalists moved on to more fertile ground, they often left behind emancipated slaves, who then had to eke out a living as best they could.

With some notable exceptions, such as Long Island, tourism developers have stayed clear of these isles. However, they offer enormous potential, as most of them have excellent beaches, good fishing, and fine dive sites.

If you're considering visiting any of these islands, be forewarned that transportation is inconvenient and that accommodations are rather limited. For these and other reasons involving the scarcity of tourist facilities, yachters and other boaters comprise the majority of visitors, since they can eat and sleep aboard their vessels.

Many changes are in the wind for the Southern Bahamas. Right now, however, there's almost no traffic, no banks, no lawyers. There are, however, mosquitoes, so bring a good insect repellent and a long-sleeved shirt for protection.