Paradise Next Door
Bermuda, our island neighbor, beckons with culture, history and natural wonders.
Crystal clear turquoise water, pink sand, calypso bands and cool drinks of rum and exotic juices —check. Cricket games, British pubs, afternoon tea, office workers dressed in colorful shorts — check. Bermuda packs all of these, and much more, onto one tiny island.
Actually, though it’s commonly called an island, Bermuda is an archipelago of 138 islands covering just 21 square miles. No matter where you go in Bermuda, the azure ocean waves are no more than half a mile away.
Here West Indian and British roots combine with African and Portuguese influences to create a culture found nowhere else. The vibe is cosmopolitan and tranquil (a recent Bermuda Tourism Authority ad promised “proper fun”). And despite its undeniably Caribbean soul, Bermuda actually lies off the coast of North Carolina, far from the Caribbean Sea. Just a two-hour flight from Boston, it’s a popular getaway for East Coast residents, and a cruise destination from several eastern ports.
Reefs and Wrecks
Bermuda is ringed by colorful coral reefs, crushed reef particles and pink shells create its famous pale pink sands. These reefs, among the world’s most northerly, buffer the island from ocean currents, creating ideal conditions for swimming, diving, snorkeling and kayaking.
Bermuda owes its reputation as a popular diving destination to those reefs, where, over centuries, hundreds of ships met untimely ends. Today, their remains create a veritable underwater nautical museum, and a wonderland for divers. Bermuda is sometimes called the shipwreck capital of the world — in fact, the island was first settled by survivors of a British ship that sank here while trying to reach Virginia. Divers (and snorkelers too, as some of the wrecks lie just 30 feet down) flock to Bermuda to explore more than 300 known shipwrecks, such as the Mary Celestia, a side-paddlewheel steamer that once smuggled arms and supplies to the South during the Civil War.
The hundreds of square miles of reef are also home to some of the most varied marine life in this part of the world and underwater caves await exploration. Divers and snorkelers of every level find plenty of options, and visibility can reach up to 150 feet in the clear, warm waters.
Bermuda earns similar accolades from boating and sailing enthusiasts. The options are boundless — join a glass-bottom boat tour, take a sunset cruise, learn to sail or charter a boat of your own, with or without a crew.
Back on Land
With no rental cars allowed, Bermuda visitors turn to alternate methods of transportation; mopeds are the choice for many. Bicycles are another option and a perfect way to experience the Railway Trail, a trail following the tracks of Bermuda’s defunct train line. It extends almost the entire length of the island (you’ll need to walk your bike in some spots) and takes cyclists and walkers (no motorized vehicles allowed) along rocky coastlines, past all kinds subtropical trees and flowers and over the world’s smallest drawbridge.
The trail also passes by some of Bermuda’s best historical attractions, including Fort Scaur. Built by the British Navy, set on the highest hill around — but hidden from approaching boats — it was part of a ring of fortifications around the island, intended to protect Bermuda’s Royal Naval Dockyard from an American attack. Cannons, underground passages and a dry moat remain. Overlooking the Great Sound, filled with small islands and sailboats, the fort offers dramatic views (and a free viewing telescope).
Further down the trail is Gibbs Hill Lighthouse, one of the world’s oldest cast-iron lighthouse. Climb the 185 winding steps to be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the ocean, colorful houses in Easter egg hues, sailboats and yachts, and, if it’s spring, maybe a glimpse of migrating whales far out at sea.
Below the Surface
Some of the island’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders are found, unexpectedly, underground. Bermuda is a spelunker’s paradise, offering one of the highest concentration of limestone caves in the world. Millennia in the making, their stalactites and stalagmites of every shape and size create a strange, surreal world.
Among the most dramatic and best known are the Crystal Caves. Guided tours explain their mysteries to those willing to descend the steep stairs and explore this other dimension. Formations resembling chandeliers and frozen waterfalls are all subtly lit to reveal their intricate structures. A floating walkway over a clear cerulean underground lake allows visitors to see the stunning landscapes below the surface.
Another unique Bermudian experience is the glow worm mating ritual that illuminates the ocean at night. Every month, glow worms come up from the sea floor and circle around the water’s surface after sunset, releasing a bright green bioluminescence that illuminates the water. Some call it nature’s fireworks. The show is often visible from shore, but a glow worm cruise offers some of the best views. The timing must be right — mating season is May through November, several nights after the full moon — to see this mesmerizing performance, seldom seen anywhere else in the world.
Even shopping in Bermuda is a unique experience, as a few hours spent exploring the sherbet-colored storefronts, restaurants and clubs lining Hamilton’s busy Front Street will prove. Here you’ll find earrings and necklaces made from the island’s pink sand, local scents from the Lili Bermuda boutique and a rainbow of Bermuda shorts at the English Sports
Shop, a century-old Bermudian institution.
It’s a short drive from there to the Bermuda Botanical Gardens, a feast for the senses. This lush 35-acre park bursts with indigenous colors and scents: blooming subtropical flowers, shrubs, fruit trees and banyan trees, even an aviary. The art museum on the grounds — the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art — displays all manner of works by Bermudians or inspired by the island.
More of the heart and soul of Bermuda awaits at the historical town of St. George’s: the landing point of the island’s settlers 400 years ago and the oldest continuously inhabited English settlement in the Americas. Its maze of narrow cobblestone streets is lined with buildings centuries old, and their names tell its stories: Silk Alley (or Petticoat Lane), Shinbone Alley, Featherbed Alley and Printer’s Alley.
DID YOU KNOW?
Bermuda Gombey dance is a colorful blend of West African, British, Native American and Caribbean cultures. Bermuda’s Gombey tradition dates back to at least the early 1800s. You’ll likely see Gombey troupes dancing up and down streets while you’re here, but they’re especially prominent on Boxing Day.
Each part of the Gombey costume has its own function and meaning (though some folklore traditions may evolve over time). Gombey troupes can often be recognized by their own unique spin on the traditional Gombey costume.
Explore idyllic Bermuda! Visit your local AAA Travel office or call 800-750-5386 and speak with a AAA Travel Agent who can craft your ideal getaway.