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Finding paradise

Tropic of Cancer Beach beautiful but a challenge to reach

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It's quite possibly the hardest-to-find strip of sand in the Caribbean.

It's Tropic of Cancer Beach in Exuma, Bahamas, an elusive powder-white crescent that we sought directions for three times, yet ended up passing by twice before finally locating it with gasps of equal parts relief and slack-jawed awe.

Yes, this beach's initial cachet is its famous name.

The Tropic of Cancer, that imaginary line at 23 degrees latitude that marks the northern-most point of the tropics, runs right along the edge of where scrubby dune meets pristine sand. As a helpful visual, someone has painted a line on the walkway down to the beach complete with Tropic of Cancer lettering and the latitude and longitude particulars.

But beyond the catchy moniker, Tropic of Cancer Beach could quite possibly be the most beautiful and peaceful find in the world.

We shuffle through the thick sand, marvel at the colours of the water -- think melted gemstones from diamonds to the darkest sapphire -- swam, lounged and gabbed about how lucky we were to find this slice of paradise.

Which brings us to the protracted tale of just how difficult Tropic of Cancer Beach is to find.

First of all, guide books wax poetic about it, proclaiming it to be the prettiest beach in the Exumas. Therefore, you have to go. Anticipation builds and a day trip is planned entirely around this must-see-and-experience place.

But no map of Exuma we have has the beach on it. So down we go to the front desk of Grand Isles, the family-friendly luxury condominium resort where we are staying.

The clerk first tells us that there's no sign on the main road identifying Tropic of Cancer Beach. It keeps getting stolen. Seems everyone wants to have a sign with the famous Tropic of Cancer name on it. She tells us from the bridge that connects Great Exuma to Little Exuma go five miles and turn onto the dirt road with the abandoned car seat at the corner.

We climb in the rental car and set off, me and my wife in the back seat, our friend driving and his wife riding shotgun. First stop, the Exuma Tourist Office in the capital of George Town to pick up a map that has Tropic of Cancer Beach on it.

No such luck. But we're tipped off that the turnoff also has a utility pole with a bunch of blue reflectors on it.

We set off again, over the bridge, counting the miles, looking for that abandoned car seat and the utility pole with all the reflectors. We only stop when we hit the end of the road, which is at the tip of the island, and can go no farther.

The car is turned around and we stop at the first place we can for directions -- Santana's Grill Pit -- a roadside shack restaurant with signs for cold Kalick (Bahamas' national beer) and the best cracked conch (the national dish).

Cook-bartender-waitress Macy Rolle throws her head back in laughter and tells us everyone drives right on by the turnoff and ends up here begging for directions.

We order Kaliks -- it's almost 11 a.m., after all -- and sit down facing the ocean to get directions. Head back the way we came about a mile and a half and take the second right after the Church of God that's under construction.

While we finish our beers, a couple from Northern California skids in, asks for the same directions and order Kaliks. We get to talking and it dawns on us that maybe it's Santana's that keeps swiping the Tropic of Cancer Beach sign. After all, the steady stream of lost tourists isn't exactly hurting business.

We pile into the car, drive away and, yes, there it is: the turnoff with the abandoned car seat and utility pole with all the reflectors. The stone and sand path in front of us can hardly be called a road, but we nonetheless make it the few hundred yards in the car to a pavilion with an ever-so-small sign finally identifying Tropic of Cancer Beach.

Just so you don't think we spent the entire time in the Exumas haplessly searching for an elusive beach, we had more than ample time to explore surrounding waters and islands, eat and drink at places ranging from authentic beach shacks to gourmet restaurants and be spoiled at Sandals Emerald Bay Resort, where we moved after two days at Grand Isle.

Serendipitously upgraded to a butler room at couples-only Sandals, we started to act like rock stars. We kept our around-the-clock roster of butlers -- Bernard, Valentino and Deepak -- busy packing coolers and towels for our excursions, making dinner reservations, setting up couples' massages at the spa, reserving prime cabanas beside the pool and fetching champagne and snacks whenever the mood struck us.

The best excursion was the Full Day Adventure Tour with Four C's Adventure Tour that took us through shallow waters in a kaleidoscope of colours past private islands owned by country singers Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, actor Nicolas Cage, musician David Copperfield and the late actress Jessica Tandy.

Stops included Big Major Cay to feed the swimming pigs -- yes, swimming pigs -- from the boat, snorkelling at the grotto where parts of the James Bond movie Thunderball were filmed, padding across a sandbar in the middle of nowhere, swimming with nurse sharks at Compass Cay and lunch at Staniel Cay Yacht Club, where the rich and famous stop for a bite when they tire of spending time on their mega-yachts.

-- Postmedia News


-- Grand Isle Resort offers family-friendly accommodation in one-, two- and three-bedroom villas overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Emerald Reef Golf Course.

Overnight rates start at $345 US.

-- Sandals Emerald Bay Resort has 245 rooms and oceanfront suites surrounding elaborate pool complexes and five restaurants and just as many bars.

The airlines package Sandals in all-inclusive flight and accommodation deals.

-- Four C's Adventure Tours' full-day cays excursion, complete with swimming pigs, is US$160.

-- General information at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 20, 2012 D4

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