Bermuda, a fish hook-shaped British island territory in the North Atlantic, off the eastern U.S. It’s a unique family destination with pink-sand beaches and a blend of British and American culture. Adding to the allure and mystique are 300-plus shipwrecks and a network of caves. The island is small (just 21 square miles), consequently few vehicles are allowed. Bermudians ride motorbikes to get around, but visitors are better off hiring private tour guides.
My first glimpse of Bermuda was the azure blue ocean and white frilly waves dancing on pink-hued sand, giving the beach a freshly scrubbed look. With ocean water so clear, it’s no wonder people come from all over the world to explore Bermuda’s reefs and 300-plus shipwrecks.
A sense of mystique permeates Bermuda. Partly because of the Bermuda Triangle (Florida and Puerto Rico form the other two vertices), but also its location. “There’s a misconception that Bermuda is in the Caribbean, and that it’s for newlyweds and those nearly dead,” laughs Bermudian Jill Dill.
During my visit just before the peak season (April – October), I explored the entire island, which is easy to do. It takes about 30 minutes to drive through Bermuda’s nine parishes.
Though you can rent mopeds, know that Bermudians drive on the left side of the road, English style. Better options are buses, taxis and tour guides. Hidden Gems of Bermuda and private tour guides offer an insider’s look at Bermuda.
Larry Rogers, of Island Tours and Executive Transfers, is a jolly Bermudian who shares history and interesting facts laced with ‘Larry-isms” during his tours. For example, bus stops have either blue or pink poles indicating directions to up country or down country. “Pink points toward Hamilton (the capital), so remember “in” from pink,” says Rogers.
As we drove on narrow roads past homes and buildings with white cone-shaped, ridged roofs, he explained that the only source of fresh water in Bermuda is rainfall, collected on roofs and piped down to tanks.
Exploring Bermuda’s Caves
Without a doubt, one of our favorite activities was exploring Bermuda’s caves. Situated on privately-owned land open to the public, the 12-acre Tom Moore’s Jungle – also known as The Walsingham Nature Reserve – is popular with both locals and tourists and is a definite must-see. You can explore on your own, but guides share area information. Longtail Tours Guide Lynn Thorne led us to jungle lagoons, caves, and a sheltered beach. “Mangroves are integral to protection from coastal erosion,” said Thorne.
She plucked leaves and berries for us to taste, such as New Zealand spinach, allspice and rouge plants. She showed us the Blue Hole Lagoon (pictured above), a pond, and the Walsingham Cave, where we took a dip in the cool water. Be sure to wear footwear to scoot down the rocky ledges if you plan to swim.
Near the jungle is Crystal Caves, a major tourist attraction only accessible on 30-minute guided tours. Mark Twain was among the cave’s first visitors after it was discovered by two boys playing cricket in 1907. Visitors walk on floating pontoon pathways to see fascinating formations with names like Grinch and lighthouse.
“Kids imaginations are outstanding,” said tour guide Mike Musson. “Some see Spongebob Squarepants features like the pineapple and squidward’s house,” he said.
Town of St. George
The town was first inhabited by shipwrecked survivors of the Jamestown bound Sea Venture in 1609. Accessible via bridge or boat, a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage site is a step back in time. Buildings are painted in bright colors of blue, pink and green, and narrow streets wind through the European-style town comprised of 18th century homes, colonial landmarks, shops and restaurants (try the schnitzel sandwich or the local white fish at Wahoo’s Bistro & Patio). Kings Square, the pretty waterfront, is center stage for humorous historical re-enactments of public punishment in 17th and 18th century Bermuda. During the interactive show, a “wench” is dunked in the bay.
On the day we visited St. George’s, the town crier (wearing a kilt and white knee socks) stood watch during a funeral service at St. Peter’s Church, the oldest operating Anglican Church outside the British Isles. Beyond the downtown area are beaches and historical sites, such as Fort St. Catherine & Museum, dating from 1614. Bermuda’s largest fort has a well-preserved interior and houses historic exhibits and artifacts, including huge cannons.
Capital City of Hamilton
Hamilton features upscale shops, fine restaurants, art galleries and museums. At the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art, a sitting statue of Mark Twain greets visitors. The museum features art, literary works, and exhibits about Bermuda’s rich sailing history.
“The Bermuda triangle sail was created here in Bermuda,” said Tom Butterfield, museum director. “Our local pirates had the fastest boats.”
More sailing history is showcased at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute, featuring interactive exhibits about shipwrecks and sunken treasures. Displays include coins encrusted with coral, gold toothpicks, belt buckles and china. Another kid-friendly attraction is the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo, containing interactive exhibits about the island’s formation.
Gibbs Hill Lighthouse
Enroute to see a shipwreck in Daniel’s Head on the west end, we visited the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse, one of the oldest cast iron lighthouses in the world. The 185 steps lead to the top platform for expansive views.
From there it’s a short drive to Crystal Clear Kayaks. Guided tours start in the bay, home to numerous sea turtles, and, unless it’s too windy, you can paddle to the Vixen shipwreck. On the day we went kayaking, we saw several turtles poking their heads up, but, unfortunately, it was too windy to reach the shipwreck, although we could see it in the near distance.
Royal Navy Dockyard
This is a fun place to peruse shops, grab a bite to eat (Frog & Onion makes a tasty beef pie), and putt a round at Bermuda Fun Golf, designed after famous golf courses. There’s also a ferry that travels between the Royal Navy Dockyard and Hamilton.
Spicelands Equestrian Centre
On my last day in Bermuda, I explored rural landscapes and empty beaches on a guided horseback riding tour. Gypsy, my gentle horse, snacked on plants along the way to Warwick Long Bay and Jobson’s Cove beaches. Since it was spring time and the beaches were deserted, we walked our horses through the flat ocean water. In the busy summer season, tour guides don’t bring riders directly onto the beach.
Where to Stay
Situated on the east end of the island near the airport, the Grotto Bay Beach Resort (the island’s only all-inclusive resort) is built around a cluster of caves. It’s also the launch pad for sailing excursions on the Ana Luna departing from Castle Harbor.
I was warmly welcomed to Grotto Bay by June-Ann Furbert, resort manager for 42 years. Along the way to lunch at the oceanfront restaurant she showed me two onsite caves: Prospero’s Cave is open for swimming, and Natura Cave Spa has massage tables by cave pools. During my signature massage I almost fell asleep to the soothing sound of dripping water.
Guest rooms are spacious and offer views of the ocean and well-manicured gardens. My comfortable room overlooked the bay and was near the swimming pool and poolside restaurant. Two additional restaurants are located in the main building at the top of the hill.