Ecotourism in the Bahamas: San Salvador’s Lagoon

  • Ethan Gelber
  • 23 May 2012

There’s an island in the Caribbean skirted by beaches of fine white powder that give way to pristine waters of disarming blue. Yes, that may sound like the description of a lot of Caribbean islands, but few are as distinctive as San Salvador, one of the many beachheads of the Bahamas and site of a surpassingly beautiful and uncorrupted body of water known as the Lagoon.

The Lagoon of San Salvador island, Bahamas

An animal sighting on the Lagoon of San Salvador island, Bahamas. Is it a bird, a fish? Photo courtesy of Lagoon Tours Bahamas Ltd.

Also called Pigeon Creek, the Lagoon is San Salvador’s only tidal basin, a point of natural interest that some locals are lobbying to have declared a national park. Home surf of healthy populations of turtles, starfish, sharks, stingrays and plenty more fish, as well as herons, egrets, terns and a bounty of other birds, this unique interface of land and sea all hemmed in by a profusion of mangroves shows off San Salvador Island – and all of the Bahamas – at its best.

A Watertop View

The best way to take in the Lagoon is of course by water vessel, ideally a flat-bottom boat or skiff under the expert guidance of Lagoon Tours Bahamas Ltd., the Lagoon-tour pioneer and still the only company committed to this area as an ecotourism attraction.

“Lagoon Tours Bahamas Ltd. has been servicing guests to San Salvador and sharing its natural beauty for over 11 years now,” reported J. M. Johnson, the company’s operations manager. “This company has done a lot over the last decade to expand the tourism market to new areas of interest, mainly ecotourism, and has even been featured throughout the country by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism for the work being done.”

The mangroves of the Lagoon, San Salvador island, Bahamas

Meandering through the mangroves on San Salvador island, Bahamas, is one of the Lagoon tour's greatest pleasures. Photo courtesy of Lagoon Tours Bahamas Ltd.

The focus of the Lagoon tours is, of course, the Lagoon itself; however, general information about San Salvador is also shared, from the island’s size (12 miles by 6 miles) and population (1,200 people), the ages of old cemeteries and the locations of the 300-year-old homes of pirates to the history of different landmarks, like the cross of Christopher Columbus found at Land Fall Park, and the means by which materials and supplies are brought in.

“Our guides start to share with guests from the minute they introduce themselves, beginning with their names and the fact that they love questions,” continued Johnson. “Then, in the Lagoon, everything that guests may encounter is explained – from the species of birds to the types of fish and rays. The names of the cays and even the species of plants are covered: we leave no stone unturned so that when guests leave they have a better understanding of not just our island but its ecology, the Bahamas and the culture of the people. Fifty percent of all the information we give is in direct response to our guests. In fact, we love to say ‘Lots of questions and you will have a great excursion’ and, jokingly, ‘No questions and this could be the worst experience of your life. So lots of questions please!’ ”

Southern stingray in the Lagoon of San Salvador island, Bahamas

Visitors to the Lagoon of San Salvador island, Bahamas, frequently spot Southern stingrays. Photo courtesy of Lagoon Tours Bahamas Ltd.

Mingled with the Sea

In the midst of such unharassed nature, the water could not be more inviting, all the more so given its colour, clarity and warmth. Locals can’t help but brag about this greatest of their environmental gifts, water some claim to be the most pellucid in the Bahamas.

“San Salvador has the most amazing colours that you can find anywhere in the world, with water shades of blues and turquoise that can only can only be found in the Bahamas,” promised Johnson, who added that throughout the year, visibility is usually about 20 feet. Unless high winds or rough seas disturb the water’s surface, the bottom can almost always be seen, whether its two or 22 feet down.

Mother Nature being who she is, no promises can ever be made, but one thing is usually certain: everyone gets their feet wet, even during the winter months. “Swimming in the Lagoon is recommended and encouraged if the water temperature is to your liking,” assured Johnson. “Our job is to allow you to enjoy as much as the island has to offer, naturally as well as visually and physically. We want you to have a total experience.”

Taking It All In

That there are Lagoon tours on San Salvador still catches a lot of visitors by surprise. The island was at first only known for its great diving – it has been named one of the best diving spots in the world, perhaps the top spot for hammerhead shark sightings – but now captures the imagination of anyone mentally picturing a stretch of white sandy beach untouched by footprints. As word of the Lagoon and its beauty spreads, though, the island has become a magnet for ecotourists as well.

Starfish bed of the Lagoon of San Salvador island, Bahamas

The starfish bed of the Lagoon of San Salvador island, Bahamas, is the definition of paradise. Lagoon Tours Bahamas Ltd.

“All of our tours – from bird watching to nature walks – all revolve around the natural beauty of San Salvador. We create nothing, just take you to see what nature herself has sprouted up in our little paradise,” added Johnson. “Because the island is small and naturally peaceful, I feel it’s great for anyone looking for peace, rest and relaxation away from big cities or the huge resorts of Nassau… the Atlantis’ of the world. The beaches here are second to none. It’s a bird-watchers paradise with over 17 species of sea birds alone, as well as other terrestrial birds, even rare ones such as the Bahama Woodstar (a hummingbird). San Salvador has great history, lots of old ruins and plenty of historic sites as it is the first landing place of Christopher Columbus on his first voyage to the new world.”

Whatever the draw, Lagoon Tours Bahamas Ltd. guarantees peace and tranquillity on San Salvador. And what could be better than that when visiting a small, secluded island that leaves everyone feeling like they’ve found their own little piece of paradise? Like Robinson Crusoe, albeit only for a little while.

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Ethan Gelber

In addition to his freelance travel writing (Lonely Planet author, ex-AFAR Ambassador, Huffington Post Travel blogger and more), Ethan has agitated tirelessly for responsible/sustainable travel practices, family travel, keeping things local, and quality and relevance in publishing and destination marketing. Among many other things, Ethan is editorial director of the Family Travel Association, a co-founder of OutBounding, and tackles content projects for HomeExchange.com and RW Social, which produces the NY Trav Fest. Previously, Ethan was Chief Communications Officer of the WHL Group, for which he founded and edited The Travel Word (this now-independent blog); publications manager of the French government tourist office (Atout France) in NYC; and helped manage a Paris-based bicycle tour operator.
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adventure travel, Bahamas, beaches, birds, Caribbean, ecotours, islands, lakes, local knowledge, marine conservation, North America,

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