The Bahamas has more than 700 islands and cays; remote workers and students can live on 16 of them, including Eleuthera (shown here).

Sylvain Sonnet | The Image Bank | Getty Images

Word that Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce had been seen on the marina of this tiny speck (5 square miles) of an island for a vacation was met with bemusement by the tourists who had gathered to watch the magnificent sunset at the bar, and with dismay by locals, worried that their little speck of paradise was turning into the next Saint Barts.

“I hear she’s staying right up the street,” a woman sitting alone at the bar told us. She was cheerfully downing perfectly chilled prosecco in a champagne flute.   

The locals seemed unimpressed.

“It’s the two percenters who are coming, and the ultra-rich,” one shopkeeper told us, noting that business had been brisk among the wealthier Americans, Canadians and Brits that are the backbone of the economy here.   

Maybe too brisk.  

“We have 20 billionaires on this island alone. The traffic is getting to be unbearable,” she said, eyeing me suspiciously.  

I straightened up and tried looking like a two percenter, but I wasn’t sure what they looked like.

Traffic? What traffic? I looked out the window of her shop. Most people were driving around in golf carts. With a population of only 1,800, Harbour Island and its one and only town, Dunmore Town, makes Saint Barts (population 11,000) look like midtown Manhattan.

The woman herself, she explained, had moved to Eleuthera, a 10-minute water taxi ride away, where the hoi polloi rarely come, apparently.

All of which begs the question: Why on earth would anyone, let alone Taylor Swift and a bunch of billionaires, come to this tiny speck?  

Why are there so many huge yachts sitting in Valentines Marina?

You can’t fly here

Harbour Island is barely an island. It’s an island off an island, in this case Eleuthera, some 60 miles northeast of Nassau. You can’t fly in. You have to fly to Eleuthera, take a taxi to a dock a few miles away, and take a water taxi to Harbour Island.  

This inaccessibility, apparently, is a major selling point for the tiny group of people that can fit on the island, and afford to pay the steep (Saint Barts-style) prices.

The operative word is “tiny.” The largest hotel has 41 rooms; the dozen or so other hotels have less than that.  Altogether, there can’t be more than 250 hotel rooms on the entire island.  It’s unlikely you’ll see a big global chain set up shop here. I’s doubtful the infrastructure could support a large hotel.  Not surprisingly, there seems to be a brisk business renting out the few houses on the island.

Walk around the town for a few days, though, and you can see why a small group of travelers keep coming back and seem very uninterested in making it bigger:

  • Pink Sands Beach: This is one of the great beaches of the Caribbean, indeed of the world. It really is pinkish, thanks to the decaying shells of microscopic sea creatures. It stays white, hundreds of feet offshore, no seaweed, no rocks, no anything, just blue water. It’s flat, and the sand is compact so you can walk without sinking in.  It’s so compact that people ride horses up and down the whole three-mile stretch.
  • The restaurants: How is it possible that an island with a few hundred visitors can support so many great restaurants? There’s local places Queen Conch or Ma Ruby, which serves terrific Caribbean food and is known for its “Cheeseburger in Paradise” (It’s served on a brioche-style bun, and supposedly earned the praises of Jimmy Buffett). There’s terrific Italian food at Aquapazza, and classic Caribbean meat and fish dishes at Latitude 25 at the Coral Sands Hotel, or at the classy Dunmore Hotel, or at Malcolm 51 at the swanky all-cottage Pink Sands Resort, or the Rock House, or The Landing, or at Valentines. And still you can’t a get reservation on many nights.
  • The houses: You’d think an island with so many wealthy visitors and residents would be stuffed with giant McMansions and multi-acre compounds. They are certainly here. The boat captain we hired for a day cruise quipped that “the millionaires live on the north side, the billionaires live on the south side, and everyone else lives in the middle.”  People like Bill Gates, Ron Perlman, Mickey Drexler, Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg, and Wayne Huizenga are said to have homes here. But Dunmore Town is full of modest, one and two-story homes that are ablaze with color: blues, yellows, reds, a veritable explosion of pastels, along with purple morning glories everywhere.
  • The churches:  Walk around on a Sunday and you can hear singing.  It’s a religious country:  90% belong to some religious denomination, though it’s largely Protestant (Baptists and Anglicans), with Roman Catholics and a smattering of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Greek Orthodox, and others.  We attended the Lighthouse Church of God to hear Pastor Samuel Higgs and guitarist Rocky Sanders and a heavenly group of singers rock the house with old-school gospel music. Mick Jagger and Lenny Kravitz have also stopped by. Higgs and Sanders played clubs in Europe before coming back to the island.
  • The people: The Bahamian people are famous for their warmth and friendliness, and it comes out in abundance on a small island like this. Just say “good morning” to anyone, and they will stop and say, “Good morning!  How are you?”  They’ll smile, and they mean it.

 The two percenters: Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em

 While the locals may be complaining about traffic and rich people, don’t expect the government of the Bahamas to shut the door. Tourism accounts for 50% of the GDP of the country, and employs nearly 70% of the workforce.  Thanks to that infusion of cash, per capita income is the third largest in the Western Hemisphere (behind the U.S. and Canada).

Luxury travel may be booming, but travel to the Caribbean in general remains strong. Arrivals were up 14.3% last year, according to a recent report by the Caribbean Tourism Organization reported by Caribbean Journal.  

And while the locals may complain, any small island or city would kill to get the kind of intense loyalty places like this seem to engender.

The woman at the bar at Valentines said she had been coming here for 20 years, and had her honeymoon here.  She had flown into Eleuthera on a private plane with her husband (who owned car dealerships in the Midwest), her children, and friends of theirs. They had chartered a boat to spend a few weeks in the Bahamas, and would be going south to even smaller islands.

Why was she sitting alone at the bar?

Her family, she said with a smile, was off looking for Taylor Swift.

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