Tiamo is a solar-powered, eco-friendly resort consisting of a row of simple but elegent wooden cottages along a quiet strand of white beach on Andros island in the Bahamas.This is barefoot luxury at its most polished – as well as being kind to the environment.
Andros is one of the less well-known Bahamian islands. With an area of 2,300 square miles and home to only 8,000 people, it is one of the least explored places in the western hemisphere. However, what has made the island unsuitable for urban evolution makes it perfect for eco-tourism. (please click “more” for rest of review)
Black Seminoles in the Bahamas – buy it from Amazon
DVD – The Best Bahamas Beaches – buy it from Amazon
That the island, the largest in the country, is so undeveloped is down to its geography. Andros is, in fact, not one island but a tightly clustered archipelago. With its rocky shores and a web of creeks, it has never offered the kind of obvious harbour found on other Bahamian islands so, apart from the odd fishing lodge and luxury retreat, development has largely passed it by.
Not only are there vast swathes of pristine tropical forest and mangroves to hike through, but those creeks and rocky shores are home to deep blue holes you can snorkel over and one of the largest barrier reefs in the world. On South Andros, where Tiamo is located, the island even boasts its own indigenous species, a monster-like giant iguana that can be heard snapping over branches and snuffling though crisp leaves as it heaves its 3ft-long form along in the hunt for food.
Presumably one of the reasons the iguanas have survived here is that Tiamo is remote even by Andros’ standards. Set three, road-less miles from the nearest village (guests are transported by boat) and surrounded by palm trees, banana plants, orchids, herons, tiny tree frogs and some vicious mosquitoes, Tiamo sticks firmly to an earth-friendly philosophy. The resort relies on a vast solar power system for its electricity and has solar-heated rainwater showers (which work better than most British plumbing), a well for drinking water and surprisingly normal-looking compost toilets.
The run-off from showers and sinks is filtered and used to water the fruit and vegetables in the kitchen garden. And, keeping the community in mind as well as the land, the resort also supports local businesses, buying its fish from South Andros fishermen and encouraging development projects.
Not surprisingly, there are no TVs, only a single telephone and extremely limited e-mail access at Tiamo. (Guest instructions bark that “We are trying to keep you away from these things! If you must we can send a fax. And in only the most dire of situations – it better be good – we will send an e-mail for you.”)
Magellan MapSend BlueNav Local Chart (Andros Island and Approaches – buy it from Amazon
So far, so worthy. But, while Tiamo may serve as the ultimate blueprint for responsible, modern tourism, you don’t have to belong to the hair-shirt school of eco-warriors to stay here (fellow guests are more likely to be found in Helmut Lang shirts and designer shorts). Despite the full-on approach, it’s an idyllic retreat. Tiamo’s secluded wooden cottages wouldn’t look out of place on the pages of Condé Nast Traveller, with their massive beds, hand-painted “do not disturb” signs, brightly tiled mirrors and showers leaning towards safari-chic with their painted, corrugated-iron walls. In a clever twist on recycling, the wood left over from constructing the cottages went into building the resort’s funky outdoor furniture.
The main features of all the cottages, though, are their open porches. With fans rather than air-conditioning, the open sides are designed to help keep temperatures down in the steamy Bahamian sunshine. It seems to work. But, secured only with anti-bug netting, their real attraction is that they offer panoramic views of the forest and beach. It is the perfect place to do some surreptitious bird-watching. You might be lucky enough to see a haughty-looking yellow-crested night heron come perch on a branch four feet from your cottage. It will be after a Cuban tree-frog for dinner.
For guests, too, food is a big part of the experience. “Chef Eric” serves up delicious seared tuna with fresh salsa, spicy grilled chicken salad and perfectly pink lamb with cassava mash and roast pumpkin. The kitchen doesn’t escape Tiamo’s ethical policy, either. Though an attempt is made to give menus a local flavour, some Bahamian specialities such as conch, lobster and grouper are purposefully avoided because of the threat to stocks from over-fishing.
The one hint of trouble in paradise, the mosquitoes on Andros are so bad that it’s the first thing anyone mentions when you tell them you’re going there. Tiamo has a nightly ritual to deal with it, though; spritz yourself ferociously with (eco-friendly) repellent as you leave the main building and run back to your bungalow, squeezing through the net door as fast as you can.
Diseases aside, Tiamo isn’t boring at all. The scenery is spectacular – a Caribbean dream of white sand and sparkling, turquoise water. Even just listening to a wild lightning storm and rain pummelling down on the cottage roof is strangely exciting once you’ve started to unwind. But on most days free time is taken up with complimentary snorkelling excursions on the reef or around one of the small islands in the neighbouring creek. Without hundreds of other boats around, you can peacefully float over a chilly blue hole, peering at eerily graceful shoals of fish below – hundreds of mullet, grouper, damselfish and the fantastically named French grunt. If you’re lucky, you might also catch sight of a giant eagle ray gliding, ghost-like, above the sea bed.
Other popular trips include kayaking through mangrove swamps and out to other secluded beaches, hiking the trails around the resort (and through the Mars-like field of solar panels) or, if the other guests have pushed you into it, taking a trimaran down the creek. If all that doesn’t keep you entertained, Tiamo’s enthusiastic owners, Mike and Petagay Hartnell, will come up with an alternative. When one of the guests (Julianne Moore’s former babysitter) requested more regional music rather than the piped jazz that was playing one evening, the Hartnells shipped in a local band.
Cynics would say that by flying to the Bahamas you’re outweighing any of the “earth-friendly” measures Tiamo is trying to achieve. Staying put would be far better for the planet. But it’s hard to be negative when you’ve seen how well it compares to bigger, brasher, more destructive resorts. One new competitor on nearby Exuma was so rough with its ground-clearing before building started that it managed to contaminate local wells and is still disrupting the island’s power supplies.
Accepting, realistically, that many people are going to continue travelling rather than stay at home, how much better to encourage places like Tiamo that benefit the local community, leave the landscape as undisturbed as possible and, on top of that, happen to be a really special place to stay.
Two airlines offer direct flights between the UK and Nassau: British Airways from Heathrow (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) and Virgin Atlantic from Gatwick (08705 747747; www.virgin-atlantic.com). Fares on both start from about £400 return. From Nassau, twice-daily flights to South Andros’s Congo Town airport take 20 minutes and cost $120 (£67) return with Western Air (00 1 242 377 2222; www.westernairbahamas.com).
To reduce the impact on the environment, you can buy an “offset” from climate care (01865 207 000; www.climatecare.org). The environmental cost of a return flight from London to Nassau, in economy class, is about £15. The money is used to fund sustainable energy and reforestation projects.
Tiamo Resort, San Andros Island, Bahamas (00 1 242 357 2489; www.tiamoresorts.com). Doubles start at $490 (£272), full board.
Bahamas Tourist Board (020-7355 0800; www.bahamas.co.uk).