Bermuda prides its isolation,
located far north of the Caribbean Sea, about 650 miles off the coast of North Carolina, an archipelago of 120 islands and islets blessed by the
Gulf Stream with alluring translucent water and pink sand beaches that once led Mark Twain to comment, "You go to heaven if you want to-I'd rather stay here in Bermuda." Geographically, many are surprised to learn that Bermuda lies closer to Nova Scotia than to any island in the Caribbean.
Besides ample opportunities to relax, Bermuda is also a paradise for scuba divers who may explore
300 shipwrecks that dot the nearby reefs. There are eight golf courses and despite the fact that many are private, visitors often arrange to play them or take advantage of the public courses.
For history buffs, there's St. George's and the
Royal Naval Dockyard, a 19th century fortress featuring the Maritime Museum, the Commissioner's House and the Bermuda Arts Centre. Other
island highlights are the Botanical Gardens, the Underwater Exploration Institute and the Crystal Caves.
Densely populated, Bermuda strictly regulates automobiles to one car per household, and tourists cannot rent cars so the most popular method of getting around is via moped, while others are well served by taxis and buses.
In 1997, when China claimed Hong Kong, Bermuda became the largest
British colony, and by the end of the 20th century, nearly half of the companies listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange were established in Bermuda, thanks to major tax breaks. Tiny Bermuda is now the biggest and most prosperous of all of Britain's remaining colonies and draws mainly US tourists at 86% with 4% from Britain and 7% from Canada. Significantly, it enjoys a 42% repeat-visitor rate.
The islands are
divided into parishes, named for shareholders of the Bermuda Company, which was formed by English investors in the early 1600s to develop Bermuda. From west to east, they are as follows:
Sandys Parish, named for Sir Edwin Sandys, occupies the far western part of the archipelago. It encompasses the islands of Ireland, Boaz, and Somerset. This parish centers in Somerset Village, on Somerset Island and Sandys Parish is often called Somerset. Many head straight here for the rolling hills, verdant countryside, and serene bays. Highlights are Somerset Long Bay, with the largest and finest public beach, which the Bermuda Audubon Society is developing into a nature preserve, and also Mangrove Bay.
Southampton Parish, named for the third earl of Southampton, is a slim strip of land
that opens at its northern edge onto Little Sound and on its southern shore onto the Atlantic
Ocean. Stretching from Riddells Bay to Tucker's Island, it's split by Middle Road. This is the place to enjoy dining at waterfront restaurants as well as staying at big
resort hotels with pink, sandy beaches. Horseshoe Bay is one of Bermuda's most attractive public beaches.
Warwick Parish, named in honor of the second earl of Warwick, lies in the heart of Great
Bermuda Island, known for its elongated stretches of rosy sand. Warwick Long Bay, one of Bermuda's top
public beaches, lies along the south shore. Horseback riding is popular here.
Paget Parish, named after the fourth Lord Paget, lies directly south of the capital city, Hamilton, separated from it by Hamilton Harbour. Here is the site of the 15-hectare (37-acre)
Botanical Gardens. South-shore beaches, best in the chain of islands, draw huge crowds.
Rated one of the finest parishes to visit, there are superb accommodations here, including Elbow Beach Hotel and Hamilton is an easy commute. Public transportation being a priority, this is a fine place to stay with convenient
ferry connections and bus schedules. There are docks at Salt Kettle, Hodson's, and Lower Ferry, and you can even "commute" by ferry to Warwick
Parish or Sandys Parish to the west.
Pembroke Parish, named after the third earl of Pembroke, houses one-quarter of Bermuda's population and is home to the city of Hamilton, Bermuda's capital, the first destination that most cruise-ship passengers will see. When the hulking
cruise ships ocupy the harbor, crowds crush into stores and restaurants. Shopping and strolling along Front Street is recommended here.
Devonshire Parish, named for the first earl of Devonshire, lies east of Paget and Pembroke parishes, near the geographic center of the archipelago. It's green and hilly with one of Bermuda's oldest churches, the
Old Devonshire Parish Church, dating from 1716. Golfers play at the Ocean View Golf Course. Here you can chat with fishermen at Devonshire Dock and visit the arboretum on Montpelier Road.
Smith's Parish, named for Sir Thomas Smith, faces the open sea to the north and south.
Flatts Village was a smugglers' port for about 200 years. People gathered at the bridge to watch hangings but if the offense was grave, victims were drawn and quartered! Smith's Parish is usually considered a day trip with a visit to Spittal Pond Nature Reserve.
Hamilton Parish, named for the second marquis of Hamilton, lies directly north of Harrington Sound, opening onto the Atlantic with
Bermuda Aquarium and the
Crystal Caves its major attractions the. Scuba diving is fashionable here. Crawl Hill offers the best panoramic view of the north shore. At Bailey's Bay, Tom Moore's Jungle consists of wild woods with most
visits for sightseeing only.
And finally, St. George's Parish at Bermuda's extreme eastern end encompasses several islands. Settled in 1612, the town of
St. George was once Bermuda's capital.
Bermuda International Airport (BDA) services British Airways, many US carriers and Air Canada via Toronto or Halifax. Travel times - from London: 7 hours. New York: 90 minutes. Toronto: 2.5 hours. Halifax: 2 hours.
The hottest part of the year is May through mid-October, when temperatures hover between 75F/23C and 85F/29C. During the winter months, temperatures average a balmy 70F/21C while summer months are somewhat drier, but rainfall is spread relatively equally throughout the year.
Dining experiences include local, Indian, Italian, French, Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, British, North American, Thai, and Mediterranean dishes. Tipping is 15%, which is usually added to the bill, and the language is English.
Courtesy of the Caribbean Tourism Organization
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.