5 Days in Bermuda on a Budget

Last year, we were lucky enough to visit Bermuda, a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic. This came about because of a competition we won, giving us flights and 5 nights in this stunning location (the only thing I have ever won, or will probably ever win again). Before October 2015, Bermuda had not been on my radar at all. Everyone has of course heard of the Bermuda triangle and for me it conjured memories of watching The Sword in the Stone as a child, when Merlin jets off there at the end of the film. But it never felt like a real place, just a far away and mysterious island that I’d likely never see.

But as I started researching our unexpected destination, I realised it was very real, with so much to offer! The first thing I learnt (because it was the answer to the competition question) is that Bermuda is actually an archipelago made up of 181 islands. This seemed unlikely and even when we were there I still didn’t believe it until we climbed to the top of Gibbs lighthouse. Apparently every rock with any bit of vegetation counts, no matter how small.

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View of NE Bermuda from the top of the Gibbs lighthouse

So we arrived fresh from our British Airways flight to be picked up by a taxi from the Bermuda Tourist Board and taken to our hotel on the opposite side of the country, a 1.5 hr drive. We stayed at Cambridge Beaches Resort and Spa which has an over 13’s policy, and our Water View room was about the same size as our 1 bed flat back home in London…

So we felt slightly fraudulent, in a beautiful room with a stunning view, surrounded by people who’d paid thousands of pounds to be there, drinking our free welcome bottle of wine on the terrace too scared to go and find out the prices at the bar! We did take a walk around the resort though in time to see the sunset.

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Anyway, getting to the point of this post, how do you survive in Bermuda when you are on a tight budget? Well, it’s very hard. I should explain, last year James and I were both students with no holiday plans because we couldn’t really afford it. Then we won a trip to a very expensive place… The whole island has a dress code. Beach wear is only acceptable at the beach, and most restaurants request sports jacket and summer dress type attire. At any other time in our lives, this would have been amazing. Just not last year.

So the first morning, after an enormous breakfast, we went to the hotel reception and bought a 3 day pass for the islands public transport, costing $44 each. This seemed like the best way to get around and included all buses and ferries. There are several ferry routes around the islands and this is by far the fastest and most convenient way to travel and lets you see a lot more of Bermuda than by road. I had our day all planned out. We took the hotel shuttle bus to the Royal Naval Dockyard and caught the ferry to St. George’s. This was the first settlement back in 1609. Walking around the pretty town you get a real sense of Britishness. The streets are cobbled with little shops everywhere. We went for lunch at a place we’d seen in the hotel welcome pack, Wahoo’s Bistro and Patio. It had a lovely view over the water and we both ordered the cheapest thing on the menu at $22 each. The waitress didn’t seem impressed with us. After eating, we ended up in the town square just as some locals were starting a re-enactment of the tradition of dunking. A woman had been accused of nagging her husband and was sentenced to 10 dunks (I know…). She was placed on a seat at the end of a large see-saw contraption and James was roped in to help hold the other end with 3 other unsuspecting bystanders. The whole spectacle was very amusing and drew quite a crowd. James and the others let go of their end to dunk her, then grabbed it to pull her up again.

From St. George’s, we got the bus to the Crystal Cave in Hamilton parish. This is an absolutely must do itinerary item for any trip to Bermuda. There are two caves you can visit, which we did, costing $30 (or $22 for 1 cave). Crystal cave is probably the most visited and slightly more impressive although Fantasy cave has some rare stalactite formations which was fascinating. The water was so turquoise and clear. You aren’t allowed to swim here though. Because we went in May, slightly before high season, we almost had the caves to ourselves. It was so cool and peaceful and the guides are very knowledgeable on the geology of the area. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

Close to the caves there is the Blue Lagoon. This took a bit of exploring to find, it isn’t signposted at all. Google maps to the rescue! Thankfully this is free to visit and very pretty. Here, you are allowed to swim but we hadn’t brought any swim stuff and didn’t fancy stripping down in front of the few people around. There were some fish in the water and it could make for an interesting snorkel perhaps. From here, we got the bus back to our hotel, stopping at the supermarket down the road to pick up some dinner. This was our attempt to save money and we certainly felt like proper students having our picnic on the balcony.

Days 2 and 3 we spent diving. We chose to book with Dive Bermuda because we have a friend that works there. This was our treat, it wasn’t cheap. We spent $300 each for 4 dives, not including equipment rental because we’d taken our own, again to save money. That was a fun bus journey at 8 am! At $75 per dive, this is about double what we’d pay in the UK and if I’m totally honest, I wasn’t too impressed with the quality of the diving. We did two wrecks, each one barely a mile offshore directly out from the dive center. Considering there are roughly 700 wrecks around the island, we felt a bit cheated just being taken to the closest ones. The water was 21-23 °C and there wasn’t half as much life as we were expecting. The corals weren’t too inspiring either. Having looked forward so much to this part of our trip we were quite disappointed. The dive center itself was very well run and the staff were great, we just wish they’d taken us to some more interesting wrecks. I suppose that’s partly our fault for not researching it better and requesting where we wanted to go. Apart from the visibility, I definitely prefer UK diving. The most interesting thing we saw was an octopus.

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After our first day of diving, we went for a walk along the famous Horseshoe Bay beach. If you keep going, you get to some rocks which you can climb to get to Angle beach, then Jobson’s cove and eventually Warwick Long Bay. The further east you go, the pinker the sand gets and the less people there are. I spent several minutes trying to get a photo portraying the accurate sand colour.  If you look closely, it’s actually individual grains of pink sand mixed with white sand. There is an artist who collects the pink grains and makes beautiful pieces of jewellery with it.

It was also this day that we climbed the lighthouse. I hadn’t previously checked the opening times and we were lucky to arrive 10 minutes before closing (5pm). If I remember rightly it was only $3 each to go to the top, by far the best value attraction we found. It was cloudy that evening so the view wasn’t as stunning as it could have been but even so, it’s pretty impressive being able to see all four corners of the country.

On our last full day, we had planned to rent bikes and cycle the length of the old railway. I’d read this is an amazing way to see the island, but we felt like this would be a lot of effort after an already very active 3 days. So instead we got the ferry back to St. George’s and walked around the forts that are dotted at that end of the island. We started at Gate’s Fort, and made our way along the north east coast to Fort St. Catherine. On the way we stopped at the famous glass beach of Building Bay. There wasn’t as much glass as I’d expected but it was worth a visit nonetheless. The whole coastline there is simply stunning. Green grass giving way to unbelievable blues of the ocean, every step of the way. Every now and then there are little paths leading to the rocks. The whole journey took us about 4 hours but we were taking our time and made a few stops. At Fort St. Catherine, we stopped for a drink at a beach bar. We didn’t go inside the fort because we didn’t feel it would be a good use of our last dollars. It’s the only fort on the island you have to pay for. Our last stop before heading back to St. George’s was Tobacco Bay, again a famous place. Of all the beaches we’d seen, it was the noisiest. There was a beach hut playing music and it seemed like a tourist attraction more than a beach. It was pretty though.

Our last night in Bermuda we were taken out in the capital, Hamilton, by our friend, Matt. It was messy and I’ll not elaborate except to say that going out with the locals always guarantees a good night. I spent the following morning on a sun lounger waiting for our flight and feeling very sorry for myself.

All in all, we enjoyed our trip to Bermuda but won’t be going back until we’re in a position to not worry so much about spending. My lasting impression of this place is that it’s the best possible combination of England and America. Everyone is super polite, there’s a real sense of pride about being Bermudian, and all the houses are painted in bright colours like a picturesque countryside village. Our taxi driver told us its a requirement to repaint your house every 5 years so they always look pristine! But then at the same time, everyone has an american accent and there’s something distinctly non-British about the place that I can only attribute to the american influence. The whole country felt almost too perfect to be true. I remember clearly saying to James it felt like we were in a film set. We did find out that there is actually quite a high crime rate, but this never affects the tourists and walking around we just did not see anything at all that hinted at it.

This is not a typical backpackers destination. We took £600 worth of dollars with us and came back with about $5… and we were being mostly very frugal and careful. Not including what we spent on diving. But if you like beaches and golf, its a wonderful place. Thinking back now I have mixed feelings. I’d like to go back someday but I feel like we went at least 10 years too early to really make the most of it. But it is a beautiful country and we were so grateful for the chance to visit.

 

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