San Salvador Bahamas: Christopher Columbus First Landfall
“The beauty of these islands surpasses that of any other and as much as the day surpasses the night in splendour.” — Christopher Columbus
San Salvador is located in the far eastern Bahamas. It is small in size (63-square-mile) but not in scenery and is surrounded by superb beaches and reefs. It is an ideal place for snorkeling, diving and fishing.
Known to the Arawak Indians that lived there as Guanahani, the island of San Salvador (“Holy Savior” in Spanish) boasts the reputation of being the first place that Christopher Columbus landed upon when he discovered the new world, in October 12th, 1492.
Presently the island is home to over 1000 people. The average temperature is 80 degrees. The local resident population on San Salvador today consists of approximately 1000 persons who live in several small communities around the perimeter of the island. Unfortunately, Christopher Columbus and the Arawaks is no longer with us, thankfully San Salvador is.
History of San Salvador Bahamas
San Salvador is recognized — though there is some debate amongst researchers — as the location where Christopher Columbus first discovered the New World on October 12, 1492. Four separate monuments claim to mark the spot where Columbus first came ashore, though most regard Long Bay as the correct spot.
The island was originally known as Guanahani by its first known inhabitants, the Lucayan Indians. The island was later the headquarters of the buccaneer George Watling which carried his name (Watling Island) until 1925.
In 1951, the US Government built a missile-tracking base, a Coast Guard station, and a submarine tracking facility in San Salvador. When the U.S. military left the island in the late 1960s, they left an infrastructure of well-constructed buildings, an electrical power station, and a paved air strip. These facilities are now used by the Bahamas Government.
The island’s popular spot, Club Med resort Columbus Isle, opened in 1992–it features over 200 air-conditioned rooms.
Popular Attractions in San Salvador Bahamas
Historic sites and monuments in San Salvador include Columbus’s cross, the Olympic Flame monument, the ruins of Watling Castle, and one of the last Kerosene lighthouses still in operation — the Dixon Hill Lighthouse.
Columbus Monument, Landfall Park, Long Bay
After 33 days at sea, on 12 October 1492, Columbus landed at beautiful Fernandez Bay (Long Bay). Erected on Christmas Day in 1956 by Ruth Durlacher Wolper, this white cross commemorates the landfall of Christopher Columbus on San Salvador in 1492.
Watlings Castle, Sandy Point Estates
Located eight-five feet above sea level, these major plantation ruins, include buildings used for industrial or storage purposes, a main house, a cookhouse, and slave quarters.
Dixon Hill Lighthouse
Built on a former plantation owned by John Dixon, this 160 foot structure (163 feet above sea level) was constructed by the Imperial Lighthouse Service in 1887 and has a visibility of 19 miles. I presently maintains four-hour watches nightly, giving a double flash every ten seconds. This hand-operated, kerosene lit lighthouse (400,000 candles) is the last of its kind in the Bahamas.
These ruins feature a once majestic house, a prison and a kitchen. The plantation also features a cattle trough cut from solid rock.
New World Museum, Palmetto Grove
This museum — founded in 1958 by Ruth Durlacher Wolper — houses paintings of Columbus’ landfall, artifacts from an original Arawak settlement, and Lucayan pottery.
Mexican Olympic Monument
The Olympic Monument housed the Olympic flame in 1968 on its journey from Greece to Mexico for the 1968 Olympics held in Mexico City.
Chicago Herald Monument
The 1892 World’s Fair celebrated the 400th Anniversary of the “discovery” of the “New World.” In 1891, the Chicago Herald, erected this sphere hewn from native limestone to commemorate Columbus’ landfall.
Nao Santa Maria Monument
A Japanese effort to recreate Columbus’ Flagship, symbolizing Columbus’ intention to reach Asia.
Great Lake Preserve
In the centre of the island is the Great Lake.
Useful Information about San Salvador Bahamas
Geography of San Salvador
Set on the Atlantic side of the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas, about 200 miles southeast of Nassau, about a 1-hour flight from Florida. Located on the west coast of San Salvador, is the island’s capital, Cockburn Town (pronounced Ko-burn), where one can find local government offices, police, a post office, a government clinic, and an electrical utilities company. San Salvador mostly consists of dune ridges, with troughs forming brackish (“high salt”) lakes that make up nearly a third of the total area. Reefs surround the island, with a large break near Cockburn Town. This ‘opening’ in the reef provides access to the island for boats to the main marina.
San Salvador Climate
The island is cooled in the summer when temperatures range from 22 to 32 degrees C, and warms it in the winter when temperatures range from 17 to 27 degrees C, due to the moderating effect of the Antilles Current flowing past San Salvador. Annual rainfall for San Salvador averages 100 cm. Cold fronts from the north bring winter rains, and summer rains result from convection. The major rainy season is from September to November, caused by tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes.
Getting to San Savador
Spirit Airlines flys directly from Ft. Lauderdale to San Salvador International. That means you can avoid having to stopover of going through Nassau to get to San Salvador! You can also get there from within the Bahamas via the nation’s national embarrassment, Bahamasair. There are a wide variety of Bahamian private charters companies who will also take you there. Club Med also has flights into San Salvador from Paris, New York and Miami.
Diving in San Salvador
Dive sites are mostly on the lee side of the island and rough seas are very rare due in part to the protecting reefs. High Cay, Low Cay, and Middle Cay are popular spots for both reef and wreck diving. Typical water visibility is 100 and more.
Popular cave diving spots include Movie Caves, near Fernandez Bay Sandy Point Cave, near Grotto Beach Double Cave, near Sandy Point; Popular reefs include Pillar Reef, near Riding Rock Point . Sponge World, near Rocky/Polaris point , Vicky’s Reef, near Cockburn Town; popular walls ( beginning at a depth as low as 40 feet) include the Cockburn Town Wall, near Cockburn Town , Devil’s Claw, near Long Bay , Grouper Gully, near Fernandez Bay , Hole In The Wall, near Long Bay , Riding Rock Wall, near Riding Rock Marina , Shark Alley, near Long Bay , Stewpot, near Riding Rock Marina; famous wrecks include Brig Enterprise Wreck, near Green Cay, sank 1832 , Columbian Wreck, near North Point, sank December 25, 1980 , Frasgate Wreck, off Bonefish Bay, sank January 1, 1902 , Hinchinbrook Wreck, near High Cay, sank July 19, 1913 , Schooner Wreck, near East Beach , Unknown Wreck, near Low Cay , Yacht Wreck, near Nancy Cay, sank 1977.
San Salvador Beaches
Popular beaches include Bonefish Bay, at Club Med; Long Bay, at the Columbus Monument site; Grotto Beach, at Sandy Point; Snow Bay where the sand is fine like snow located near the entrance to Pigeon Creek; Dim Bay Beach, near the Chicago Herald Monument; East Beach, a three-mile beach near United Estates, a great site for snorkeling; and North Victoria Hill, a two-mile beach located three miles north of Club Med.
San Salvador Restaurants
Columbus Isle at Club Med features a pricey, but fantastic buffet that is all you can eat. 3 Ships Restaurant and Bar in Cockburn Town is a local favorite. It is open for breakfast and lunch, and occasionally dinner.
New Columbus Tavern in Victoria Hill features typical Bahamian fare — like Crack Conch, BBQ Ribs, steamed fish, and pizza — and yes they deliver! Riding Rock Inn serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Harlem Square Club provides Bahamian and American cuisine with disco on weekends; The Seafront Restaurant at Riding Rock Inn Resort specializes in scrumptious Bahamian and American cuisine. Conch chowder is featured daily, along with specials for lunch and dinner.
Banking in San Salvador
A local branch for the The Bank of the Bahamas is open Monday thru Friday, 10 am to 2 pm.
San Salvador Phones and Power
Electricity and telephone service is available to all but the smallest of communities on the southeastern side of the island. The United Estates settlement, located on the northeastern side of San Salvador, is the largest community on the island, and is also the site of the Dixon Hill Lighthouse, a major navigation aid in this section of the Atlantic.