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Called the "top of The Bahamas," the Abacos comprise the northernmost portion of the nation. This boomerang-shaped mini-archipelago is 209km (130 miles) long and consists of Great Abaco and Little Abaco, as well as a sprinkling of cays. The islands are about 322km (200 miles) east of Miami and 121km (75 miles) north of Nassau.

People come here mainly to explore the outdoors. The sailing and fishing are spectacular, and the diving is excellent, too. There are also many lovely, uncrowded beaches. The Abacos are definitely a world apart from the glitzy pleasures of Freeport/Lucaya, Nassau, and Paradise Island.

Many residents descend from Loyalists who left New England after the American Revolution. Against a backdrop of sugar-white beaches and turquoise water, their pastel-colored clapboard houses and white picket fences retain the Cape Cod architectural style of the area's first settlements. One brightly painted sign in Hope Town says it all: SLOW DOWN. YOU'RE IN HOPE TOWN. The same could be said for all the Abacos.

The weather is warmer here than in southern Florida, but if you visit in January or February, remember that you're not guaranteed beach weather every day -- it can get chilly at times, and when winter squalls hit, temperatures can drop to the high 40s (high single digits Celsius) in severe cases. Spring in the Abacos, however, is one of the most glorious and balmy seasons in all the islands. In summer, it gets very hot around noon, but if you act as the islanders do and find a shady spot in which to escape the broiling sun, the trade winds will cool you off.

Some yachters call the Abacos the world's most beautiful cruising grounds. Excellent marine facilities, with fishing guides and boat rentals, are available here; in fact, Marsh Harbour is the bareboat-charter center of the northern Bahamas. Here you can rent a small boat, pack a picnic, and head for one of many uninhabited cays just big enough for two.

Anglers from all over the world come to catch blue marlin, kingfish, dolphinfish, yellowfin tuna, sailfish, wahoo, amberjack, and grouper. Fishing tournaments abound at Walker's Cay.

Finally, scuba divers can plumb the depths to discover caverns, inland blue holes, coral reefs, and underwater gardens, along with marine preserves and long-ago shipwrecks. Some scuba centers offer night dives.