Pirate's Trap Beach in Staniel Cay, Bahamas

Pirate’s Trap Beach, a Short Golf Cart Ride From Embrace

Embrace Resort

Brings Sustainability to the Exumas

 

(Editor’s Note: In the 2.5 years we’ve been running GGT, we’ve never profiled a hotel. We’re featuring Exuma’s Embrace Resort because its founder, Nicole Ferguson, is working to build an ecotourism industry to serve small islands that have never had one. Aside from hosting our stay, we received no compensation for our services. But we do hope to ensure that eco-friendly independent entrepreneurs like Ferguson will be rewarded for their efforts, as we believe that they are the future of responsible ecotourism.)

 

To say that the 2-square mile island of Staniel Cay is tiny would be an understatement. With a population of just 110, Staniel Cay has had just one resort, one main restaurant/bar, and one marina for over 50 years now. But with the ongoing construction of the new Embrace Resort, that’s all about to change.

 

Located in the Exumas, this sleepy island is best known as a filming location for the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball. A mainstream tourist mecca this is not: Aside from picturesque Thunderball Grotto and the famous swimming pigs of Major Cay, there’s not much here to draw the cruise ship crowd. There’s no duty free shopping. No chain restaurants. No golf courses or spas. Nothing but the exquisite natural beauty for which the Bahamas are known. In short, it’s a potentially perfect ecotourism haven.

 

Embrace Resort on Staniel Cay in the Exumas

Embrace Resort Reception Area

 

Nikki Ferguson– a native of Staniel Cay and a relative of Captain Rolly Gray (a local legend in the sport of sailing)– sees endless potential for ecotourism in the Exumas. Which is precisely why she’s working with her daughter Natajia to build Staniel Cay’s first sustainable resort on her family’s ancestral lands.

 

The resort’s name, Embrace, is an acronym, with each letter representing one of the Bahamian islands (Exuma, Mayaguana, Bimini, Ragged Island, Andros, Cat Island, Eleuthera). When completed in 2014, the resort will feature seven villas of various sizes, each one symbolizing a different island and highlighting their unique character.

 

Bimini Villa at Embrace Resort, on the Exuma island of Staniel Cay

Embrace Resort’s Colorful Bimini Villa

 

Andros, the largest villa, features three bedrooms, two stories and an impressively modern kitchen. Bimini, the villa in which we stayed, has two bedrooms bathed in aquatic hues, with décor rooted in the island’s fishing heritage. The Exuma villa, which was about to begin construction when we visited, will feature memorabilia paying tribute to Rolly Gray’s life. The goal is for guests to learn about Bahamian history and culture, and to recognize the distinctive flavor each island possesses.

 

Designed by architect Gary Johnson, with advice from sustainability consultant Denaye Hinds of OBM International, the colorful villas are being constructed from pressure-treated pine and feature low-to-no VOC paints and dual flush, low water toilets. The construction crew is all native Bahamian, and all of the décor elements are being sourced locally, made from stuff like old fishing nets and found driftwood.

 

Hand-woven clutch purses by Ruth Island Creation, Staniel Cay

Hand-woven clutch purses by Ruth Island Creation

 

When we arrived, our cozy Bimini room featured a batik sarong hand-made in Andros, as well as gifts such as coconut bread, and hand-woven clutch purses by Staniel Cay’s Ruth Island Creation. Some of these items are available for purchase in the reception area, which will eventually feature a much larger gift shop.

 

Ferguson’s plans for Embrace Resort are impressive: By the official grand opening next year, its boutique-style offerings will include a full-service restaurant focused on Bahamian cuisine, a gazebo for weddings, a pool, and the island’s only fitness center, meeting space, and spa. An outer fence will provide an air of intimacy, with native plants used to create the feeling of being in a lush tropical garden.

 

Perhaps more importantly, the resort will provide jobs for 24 employees, more than 20% of Staniel Cay’s population. Embrace will also be working with organizations such as Cans For Kids, Go Green Bahamas, and the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park to host events for locals, educating them on sustainable tourism, recycling and waste management in hopes of nurturing a more eco-friendly community.

 

Embrace Resort Owner Nikki Ferguson in Staniel Cay

Embrace Resort Owner Nikki Ferguson

 

If anyone can do it, it’s Nikki (who, along with Natajia, also runs 3N’s Vacation Services). Strong, smart, and quick with a smile, she seems to know everybody in the Exumas. Her grandparents’ house, the oldest on the island, is now a small museum devoted to Staniel Cay history. Her father helped put the original pigs on Major Cay decades ago.

 

So, whatever you need in Staniel Cay– from a golf cart for putting around the island to a luxury yacht rental– she’s the person who can help you get it. As we learned on our last night in the Bahamas, she’s also an amazing cook, serving up scrumptious grilled conch, fish and lobster with vegetables, the mere memory of which makes my mouth water.

 

Green Global Travel With Embrace Resort Owner Nikki Ferguson in Staniel Cay

Saying Goodbye to Our Gracious Host at the Staniel Cay Airport

 

Unless you’ve been to a tiny island like Staniel Cay in a developing region like the Exumas, it’s difficult to understand the incredible long-term impact the development of a boutique eco resort will have on the area. Aside from giving travelers an option other than the stodgy Stanley Cay Yacht Club where they can eat/drink/stay, aside from giving locals a place to work (and socialize), aside from building a community understanding of sustainability, Embrace Resort will also be the island’s first Bahamian-owned hotel, from the first female entrepreneurs in Staniel Cay’s history.

 

With Embrace, Nikki Ferguson and her family are trying to lead the way towards a brighter, more sustainable tourism future for the southern Exuma islands. And, after spending 3 days immersing ourselves in the sun, fun, and rich local culture of Staniel Cay, we can’t wait to go back next year and see their vision brought to fruition. –Bret Love; photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

 

If you enjoyed our story about Embrace Resort, you might also like: 

ARUBA- Our Favorite Eco Attractions

BAHAMAS- Top 10 Attractions

BARBADOS- 7 Must-See Sights

BERMUDA- Photo Essay

CURACAO- Top 5 Eco Attractions

DOMINICA- Kalinago Territory

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC- Outdoor Adventures

67 Responses to BAHAMAS: Embrace Resort Brings Sustainability to the Exumas

  • It’s very nice that hotels are now starting to be aware of sustainability issues. I hope more hotels would follow Embrace’s initiative, esp in highly touristy places.

    • The problem in high tourist-traffic areas is that the companies who own hotels there want to make as much money as possible, so sustainability isn’t usually their first concern. But hopefully more independent entrepreneurs will see that there is a market for catering to eco-tourists who prefer small, intimate boutique hotels, and are willing to pay handsomely for that feeling of exclusivity.

  • Darla says:

    During our last trip to the Bahamas my husband and I did a day trip to the Exumas, and we both agreed, by far, it was the most fun we had on our trip the entire time we were there. The islands are small and pristine, the water around them is immaculate, and you’re sure to find a friendly face. It really does feel like stepping into a postcard out there.

    • Absolutely! I’d love to go back and explore more of the Exumas, as we only had time to make it to 4-5 of the 360+ islands. Mary’s dream is to go to the Bahamas and rent a boat so we can go island-hopping.

  • No duty free shopping? No chain restaurants? Sounds like bliss! Embrace’s colorful villas sound pretty inviting, too.

    • Yeah, the only downside was that, because Nikki’s place isn’t finished yet, there’s really only one place on Staniel Cay to eat. For a person like me, who loves diversity and has some strict dietary restrictions (no gluten), it was a little frustrating having to order the same thing for breakfast every day. But hopefully the opening of Nikki’s restaurant will provide more options for everyone.

  • Andrea says:

    I’ve always wanted to visit the Bahamas – this looks amazing!

    • You should totally go! Though I didn’t love Nassau, I really enjoyed my time on Eleuthera back in 2006 and this trip to the Exumas. And with hundreds of islands to explore, you could visit them multiple times and still not see all there is to see.

  • Ben West says:

    Go Nikki! I totally agree with Terry’s comment above. It sounds like absolute bliss.

  • Jenna says:

    Looks like Nikki has created a really great hotel, and the fact they are and eco resort focusing on sustainability makes it even better. Would love to visit one of these days!

  • Jessica says:

    An island that offers nothing for the cruise ship crowd sounds heavenly to me. I love the female entrepreneurship here. Just think of the doors that will open for others.

    • Indeed! The statistic that the finished resort will eventually employ 24 people– more than 20% of the island’s entire population– was really remarkable to me. Then those people have more money to spend at other local businesses. If successful, Embrace could be a HUGE economic stimulus for the southern Exumas.

  • Melanie Murrish says:

    What a great role model!

  • Gaelyn says:

    So wonderful to find, and support, an eco-minded business. Looks absolutely gorgeous. Love their choice of bright colors.

    • Honestly, if we could, we’d stay in nothing but little independent eco-resorts like this every time we travel. It’s so much more fulfilling to get to know the people who own the place, eat and drink with their friends on the island, and see its sights through their eyes. I really wish we knew more people like Nikki all around the world.

  • Vera says:

    I have never been on an island holiday before – maybe I should start here:)? Sounds fantastic!

  • Jennifer says:

    Way to go Nikki! It sounds like Embrace is going to be a beautiful resort that truly is the definition of sustainable tourism. I hope we get to experience ourselves someday.

    • It was really interesting to see/stay in a resort that was still being built. We had to use our imagination to picture what it would look like with restaurant, spa, pool, and lushly landscaped native garden. I can’t wait to see the finished product, but the completed villas we saw were all awesome.

  • It’s great to see more and more hotels and resorts focusing on sustainable travel.

  • That looks like an awesome place, and hopefully others will follow her example. I want to go!!!

    • I think if Nikki’s project proves successful on a financial level, it will encourage others to follow suit. That’s why we want to support and encourage the project as much as possible.

  • I was in the Bahamas way way too many years ago and so glad it’s moving in the right direction for eco tourism. Since back then it wasn’t eco friendly at all.

    • Parts of it still aren’t, honestly. That’s why we loved Staniel Cay so much: It was VERY different from the larger, more mainstream accessible islands we’ve visited. There’s still a lot of work towards sustainability to be done, but Nikki and her daughter are leading the way.

  • I want to go! This sounds like an incredible place – and an inspiration.

    • What amazes me about it is that Nikki and her daughter are basically funding all of this themselves with no outside investors. I think independent entrepreneurs (and especially female entrepreneurs) are the future of ecotourism, especially for people like us who prefer small boutique eco-hotels to massive all-inclusives.

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  • Dale says:

    I was just talking with a friend yesterday about the growing interest in responsible eco-tourism and that businesses everywhere are making their changes to satisfy this need. I can only hope that some of them can do as great a job as the Embrace resort has done here.

    • Yeah, it’s important that we, as travelers, vote with our wallets to encourage businesses to make that change. They might not become more eco-friendly out of the goodness of their hearts. But if their bottom line is at stake, they’ll adapt or die off…

  • Rachel M says:

    An awesome post for what looks like an awesome place. If i ever get to travel to Bahamas, i’l be sure to check the place out.

    • Thanks, Rachel! The Bahamas is considered ranked among the world’s top ethical travel destinations in terms of eco-friendliness, human rights, and general well-being of its people. So it’s definitely worth adding to your travel bucket list.

  • Thomas says:

    Living so close and yet so far away. Would really like to check out Embrace Resort. Seems like they have it together and are really looking to help the planet and tourism. Congrats Nikki!

  • Great news for the Bahamas and for travelers!

  • Thanks for the informative post. It sounds like a peaceful and beautiful stay. Eco-resort is quite progressive for such as small island. Great photo of what appears to be a very beautiful beach. I’d be interested in what scenes were shot on the island.

    • Hey Mr. TWS! I think the progressiveness of the Embrace initiative is what makes it so impressive. People in small towns (not just the Caribbean, but everywhere) can be resistant to change, and especially when it comes to something like sustainability, which challenges the way they’ve been doing things for decades. Our dive guide mentioned that some locals don’t obey fishing bans in the marine park, and that he’s had his life threatened a few times for calling people out on breaking the law. But ultimately, Nikki and her daughter are creating a long-term sustainable infrastructure that should help her employees feed their families for generations to come.

      As for the movie, look for a future post on the Thunderball Grotto that will go into more details!

  • This place looks great! Haven’t been to the Bahamas, yet. It’s on my list, though. I will make sure to check this place out once I finally get there.

    • It’s great, just stay away from the big tourist traps like Atlantis. Stayed there during my first visit to the Bahamas in 2006, and it remains one of the worst hotel experiences I’ve ever had on my travels. Embrace really proved that big is very rarely better when it comes to resorts.

  • What a wonderful-looking resort! And with heart, too…

    • I think that can really be attributed to the people behind it. From the owners, to the construction crew, to the lady who made the woven wallets, everyone we met seemed so warm and welcoming, proud and passionate about the work they were doing and truly appreciative that we were there to tell the world about it. It was a very touching weekend, on an emotional level.

  • No cruise ships, no chain hotels or restaurants?! Wonderful!

    • I could not agree with you more. We had a whole impassioned conversation with Patrick of Uncommon Caribbean one night about how cruise ships and chains are the worst thing to happen to Caribbean tourism. That culture’s dominance in big cities like Nassau only makes a remote paradise like Staniel Cay seem that much more impressive.

  • Micki says:

    I love to see sustainable resorts like these. And that water is absolutely stunning!

    • Yeah, the water in the Caribbean never ceases to mystify me, even after more than a dozen trips to the region. The bird’s eye view shots we got of the Exumas from the plane ride in (which we shared on our Facebook page yesterday) show an amazing range of blues in palettes that almost look painted onto the ocean. So beautiful!

  • Love that pink building!

    • I’m not normally a big fan of pink myself. But in the Bahamas (and the Caribbean in general), these sorts of cool tropical colors definitely seem to work well. That being said, I’m still partial to Bimini Blue. 😉

  • Anna says:

    Very cool! It looks so beautiful! I love the name of the hotel too!

    • It is beautiful, but I can only imagine it will be even moreso once they finish construction of the resort. We’re hoping we’ll get a chance to go back at some point to see the final product of the Fergusons’ efforts.

  • Laurence says:

    I lived on a tiny island for a while, and can well appreciate the challenges of putting this sort of operation together. Kudos to Nicole for getting it to work so well 🙂

  • What an amazing location – going to have to go and watch Thunderball now! 😀 It’s really great to see so many new sustainable resorts popping up around the world. I think the new availability of places like these is making people re think the way they travel.

    • That’s true. And the more people start traveling sustainably, the more demand there is for eco-friendly hotels and resorts, the more companies will adopt sustainable tourism practices. That’s why we work so hard to encourage people to make smart choices when they travel, because we think consumers can drive the market.

  • Christoffer Moen says:

    It’s wonderful to hear Embrace has taken an eco-minded approach. I’m rooting for them to flourish and in the long run, inspire others to follow suit.

  • Abby says:

    Gorgeous, gorgeous project inside and out!

  • You’re lucky being in the US and so close to wonderful spots like this in the Caribbean!

  • Travelogged says:

    Embrace Resort sounds like a fabulous place to stay!

  • Hi Brett & Mary and all those who commented!

    Again it was a joy to have you as our VIP guests. It was truly a pleasure meeting you and spending the weekend with you and the group. Thank you so much for an epic write up!

    To all those who commented your comments truly were heartfelt and touched us! We’re really humbled to know that there are those of you out there who truly understand what we hope to accomplish as resort and also as people. We appreciate you taking the time out to comment and support us as we try to make our small carbon print even smaller by taking the opportunity to be a sustainable resort. We do sincerely hope that we are a beacon to other resorts and businesses in our area and the Bahamas at large.

    We hope to one day serve each of you!

    Sincerest Regards,

    Nikki
    EMBRACE Resort Owner

    P.S. We’re happy you like the bright colors! 🙂

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  • Jeff says:

    That top photo is incredible with the pink sand and super blue water. I’ve only been to a few destinations in the Caribbean but am looking for some other options that are suitable for slow, location-independent style travel.

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  • I would like to know more about the pigs. How do they cope being at the beach? Do you need volunteers there?

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