San Salvador Island

Overview

Introduction

Located on the outer reaches of the Great Bahama Bank, tiny San Salvador may be the place where Christopher Columbus first set foot in the New World in 1492. There's a certain amount of evidence to support the theory, but some promote Samana Cay, an island some 65 mi/105 km farther south, as the landing spot—so far, there's no conclusive proof that can decide the issue.

Even if you accept San Salvador as the island, there's a certain amount of uncertainty about exactly where the explorer came ashore: There are monuments at four different spots that claim to be the landing site. One, marked with a white cross, seems to be the favorite. Otherwise, there's not much to see on the island, although the diving and sportfishing are excellent.

San Salvador has almost as much water inland as there is terra firma—brackish lakes joined one to the other by narrow, man-made waterways. The island, though hard to get to, will be enjoyed by those who want to swim, snorkel, dive, fish, relax, ride bikes and meet friendly locals. Wall diving and snorkeling opportunities abound.

The island's one and only sizable community is Cockburn Town (pronounced CO-burn). It is the capital of both San Salvador and Rum Cay, which lies 30 mi/48 km offshore and caters to fly-in divers and anglers. Club Med's Columbus Isle is still going strong on San Salvador and draws a large European contingent.

On San Salvador, follow the road called the Queen's Highway along the shore. It circles the island, crossing the airfield and passing the remains of old plantations. The ruins of Watling's Castle can be visited at Southwest Point. Local legend holds that the ruins were the home of John Watling, an extraordinarily bloodthirsty—yet pious—English pirate who made the island his base of operations during the late 1600s. (The island was originally named for Watling.) Historians, however, say the site is more likely the ruins of an 18th-century Loyalist plantation.

On the northeast tip, near Beckley Hill, is the Dixon Hill Lighthouse, a rare kerosene-powered lighthouse. Its hand-operated beacon must be wound four times a night.

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