Bahamas in brief
The Bahamas is a chain of over 700 islands, starting just off the Florida coast and arcing down over 100,000 square miles of beautiful blue seas to the Turks and Caicos. Most are deserted, and of the 40-odd that are inhabited, only around half have developed tourist facilities.
The beaches are glorious – invariably of fine white sand, lapped by the clearest blue waters. Once you’re in, you’ll find the water temperatures are balmy – even in the coldest months it’s usually at least 21�C. Activities in and around the sea are understandably popular, especially the sailing, diving and deep-sea fishing, which are legendary.
The three busiest in terms of tourists are New Providence Island, Paradise Island and Grand Bahama, all of which have great hotels, restaurants, casinos and nightclubs. The Out Islands on the other hand (which include Andros, the Exumas, the Abacos, Bimini and Eleuthera), are harder to get to and therefore less crowded. This is where you’ll stand the best chance of finding your own deserted beach.
New Providence Island is home to Nassau, the sophisticated, bustling capital, and the highly developed resort of Cable Beach. Paradise Island (half an hour away, linked by road bridge) is where you’ll find the swankiest (and most expensive hotels), the glitziest casinos, the ritziest nightlife and the widest range of entertainment – all at a price, of course. Somewhat cheaper, Grand Bahama has well-developed facilities, especially round the tourist hot spot of Freeport/Lucaya. There’s good hiking here, and some of the Bahamas’ best beaches, along with great golf courses and top diving. It’s a good choice for families.
Andros, the largest island, receives less tourists and isn’t as developed – but is a big draw for divers thanks to the world’s third largest barrier reef lying just offshore. It also has a range of accommodation choices from large resorts to small guesthouses. North and South Bimini, close to the Florida coast, are best known for their good yachting, scuba diving and game fishing (Hemingway lived here, in Alice Town).
The Berry Islands, too, are particularly popular with fishermen. The Abacos are a cluster of small islands that are a favourite haunt of the yachting fraternity. Thanks to New Englanders who came here after the American Revolution, quaint villages such as Hope Town have lots of pretty, pastel-coloured clapboard houses and picket fences.
Even more popular with yachties are the Exumas, most of which are uninhabited. Eleuthera has the barrier reef to dive, plus masses of deserted beaches. Neighbouring Harbour Island has more New England style houses and beautiful pink sand (it’s the coral and shells that turn it that colour). The southern Bahamas are remote and undeveloped but have good beaches, diving and fishing.
If you have time, the Bahamas is a great place to island hop and get a flavour of the different atmospheres. The James Bond lifestyle is here if you want it (many of the 007 movies contain scenes filmed here), complete with powerboating, water-skiing, jetskiing and gambling. On the other hand, you can just kick back and go for a lazy life – beachcombing and sunbathing. It’s up to you. Just choose your pace, then choose your island…
Sandy beaches of the Bahamas lined with tall swaying pine trees. Rum punches and sparkling, turqouise water. Posh resorts with golf courses, giant pools, spas and vegas-type entertainment. Gridlocked traffic on small winding streets, casinos hopping with action; cruise-ship passengers strolling through the bustling straw markets. These are some of the images of Nassau, the tourist center and capital of the Bahamas Island.
But Nassau located on the island of New Providence is just one of 700 islands that make up the island nation known as The Bahamas. Only a handful of the islands are inhabited and most of its renowned reefs are pristine and untouched. Mostly flat and sandy the outer islands are laid back and unhurried where you can meet friendly local people, retired captains and sailors, old fishermen, and the artist seeking inspirtation in its incredible sunsets.
The Islands of The Bahamas
The Abaco Islands are a sailing and boating universe. The major islands of this small archipelago are Great and Little Abac
Andros Island As the largest and least-explored island in The Islands Of The Bahamas, Andros offers a wide variety of activities for everyone
The Bimini Islands Being the closest of The Islands Of The Bahamas to the coast of Florida has made The Bimini Islands a popular destination for Americans.
Eleuthera / Harbour Island Miles of glistening pink and white sand beaches, serene colonial villages make Eleuthera Island an island of the most casual sophistication
The Exuma Islands The population of The Exuma Islands is only about 3,600, most of whom rely on farming, fishing and tourism for their livelihood.
Grand Bahama Island Endless beaches, emerald green water, enchanting marine life are just some of the island’s attractions that make this a unique destination.
Nassau and Paradise Island Pristine beaches, duty-free shopping, posh resorts, casinos, exciting attractions, historical landmarks are all waiting for you
The Out Islands Just about everything you can find on the larger islands, you can also find on The Out Islands. You just won’t have as many witnesses.
Think of the Bahamas as a tropical nexus: 700 islands and 2,000 islets scattered over 100,000 square miles of the Atlantic destined from its birth to become a major resort destination.
Its mainland geography reinforces this distinction: exquisite white- and pink-sand beaches, lush tropical landscapes, unsullied waters, year-round sunshine, and enough distraction — both active and passive. And landscapes — from raging urban nightlife to placid coastal retreats.
To split a geographical hair, The Bahamas is not part of the Caribbean, as many people think. Rather, it is part of the North American plate and is bordered to the east by the Atlantic Ocean and to the west by the Gulf Stream. No matter – we’ll fudge it and say vaguely that the islands are ‘in the West Indies,’ lumping them in with all the islands between North and South America. Politically, The Bahamas is considered part of the Caribbean – not least by its own government.
The Bahamas archipelago consists of some 700 islands and nearly 2500 small islets or cays sprawled across roughly 100,000 sq miles (259,000 sq km) of ocean. The islands stretch 750 miles (1200km) south from Walker’s Cay, about 75 miles (120km) east of Palm Beach, Florida, to the Ragged Islands, which lie 50 miles (85km) northeast of Cuba. In all this vastness, the islands together add up to no more than 5385 sq miles (13,940 sq km) of land, about the size of the US state of Connecticut.
Virtually all the islands are surrounded by coral reefs and sandbanks; nearly all are low lying, either pancake flat or gently undulating. Many islands are pockmarked by giant sinkholes called blue holes – water-filled, circular pits that open to underground and submarine caves and descend as much as 600ft (180m).
The islands become more arid and less vegetated as you move south, where hardy drought-resistant scrub and cacti predominate. There are over 1370 species of trees and plants found on the islands, including the Bahamian mahogany and 120 other natives. Pine forests rule the northern and western islands, characterized by a shrubby understory of palmetto, cabbage palm and fern.
Many of the leeward (western) shores are fringed by mangroves – the only tree able to survive with its roots in saltwater. Flowers abound every month of the year. Many are associated with trees, such as the Pride of India, a large tree that when in flower becomes a cloud of lavender. Another beauty is the blue mahoe, an endemic form of hibiscus that blazes from yellow to red.
The archipelago has only 13 native land mammal species, all but one being bats, all being endangered. The most common is the leaf-nosed bat. The only native terrestrial mammal is the endangered hutia, a cat-sized brown rodent akin to a guinea pig. Wild boar roam the backcountry on some of the larger islands. Feral cattle, donkeys and horses, released after the demise of the salt industry, outnumber humans on the southern islands. The Bahamas have plenty of slithery and slimy things, including 44 species of reptiles.
The islands’ symbol could well be the curly-tailed lizard, a critter found throughout most of the islands and easily spotted sunning on rocks, its tail coiled like a spring over its back. Humpback and blue whales are often sighted in the waters east of the islands. Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphins frequent these waters, as do the less often seen spotted dolphins.
Upon visiting the Bahamian archipelago in the 1760s, George Washington referred to it as the ‘Isles of Perpetual June.’ Indeed, the sun shines an average of 320 days a year. In general, the islands are balmy year round, with cooling, near constant trade winds blowing by day from the east. Daily high temperatures rarely drop below 60°F (16°C) in winter (December to February) or rise above 90°F (32°) in summer (June to August). The northern islands receive much more rain than their southerly neighbors.
The rainy season runs from May to November, usually bringing short, heavy showers, though occasionally manifesting in protracted rains over several days. Summertime sometimes brings squalls and hurricanes, though the latter are rare.
A Brief History of the Bahamas
Eighty-five percent of the Bahamian population is of African descent. Many Africans arrived in the Bahama Islands when they were a staging area for the slave trade in the early 1800’s. Others arrived with thousands of British loyalists who left the American colonies at the time of the Revolutionary War.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus made his first landfall in the New World on the island of San Salvador in the eastern Bahamas. After observing the shallow sea around the islands, he said “baja mar” (low water or sea), and effectively named the area The Bahamas, or The Islands of the Shallow Sea.
Non-Arawak people – perhaps from Cuba – lived in The Islands Of The Bahamas as early as 300 to 400 AD. They were later followed by Lucayan Indians. Neither group of people left a written history, but what they did leave – drawings, pottery, tools and bones – gives insight into their daily lives. There were about 40,000 Lucayans when Columbus arrived, but this population soon dwindled to nothing after being enslaved.
In 1647, a group of English and Bermudan religious refugees, the Eleutheran Adventurers, founded the first permanent settlement in the area and gave Eleuthera Island its name. The islands became a British crown colony in 1717.
At the time of the American Civil War, The Bahamas prospered as a center of Confederate blockade-running. After World War I, the area served as a base for American Prohibition rum runners. During World War II, the Allies centered training there for the area. Bahamians gained “internal self -government” in 1964 and full independence within the Commonwealth on July 10, 1973.
You don’t need a weather forecast in the Bahamas. Temperatures in the Bahamas average around 68F (20C) during the winter season, and 86F (30C) during the summer. Humidity is fairly high, particularly in the summer. The Bahama rainy season is May-October, when the showers are usually short but heavy. June-November is the official hurricane season.
The weather of the Bahamas, although somewhat unstable, is very nice. You might want to schedule your vacation outside the hurricane season, of course, but the rest of the year is really delightful. The weather is pleasant in the winter season although cold fronts from the North American continent can bring strong north winds, some rain and surprisingly low temperatures. The summer months are warm and humid, there can be occasional thunderstorms.
Bahamas weather year round
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Getting around in Nassau/Paradise Island, Grand Bahama Island and most of the Out Islands is easy. The various modes of on-Island transportation include: rental cars, taxis (which are plentiful) buses (called jitneys) which for a small fare can take you to and from many locations, motorbikes (mopeds), bicycles, surreys (horse and carriage rides used in conducting short tours around Nassau), water taxis (in Nassau they operate between Prince George Wharf and Paradise Island) and in some of the Out Islands they operate between cays.
Driving Tip: Right is Wrong. Drive on the LEFT side of the road
When renting a motor vehicle remember always to drive on the left. Though it takes some getting to used to (particularly when you are driving down deserted roads in the family islands) accidents are rare.
Also remember that a percentage of Bahamian drivers drive very badly. It seems the latest fad is to stop in the middle of the road to talk to your friend who is walking down the street, or to stop in your lane to talk to the person in the opposing lane, rather then driving onto the side of the road. Also watch out for reckless taxi and bus drivers, who are incapable of reading speed limit signs or using signals when they cut you off.
Lastly, when you are about to drive across a pedestrian crossing a Bahamian (or tourist) will run to the curb to cross the street, and a few will slow down as they cross the street. So take your time, and be careful.
Look to your RIGHT (if not both ways) when crossing
Since people drive on the left in the Bahamas, be extra careful that you look right when you are crossing a road. Many tourists have unfortunately attempted to cross roads without looking in the direction a car is coming from – their right. Even better – look both ways.
Bahamas Travel Tips – Do’s & Dont’s
Do negotiate your taxi fare (or ask the driver to turn on the meter) before climbing in.
Don’t be surprised if you’re called “Darling” or “Honey” in the Bahamas. It’s as common a greeting in the Bahamas as “Mon” is in the Caribbean.
Don’t plan to sunbathe nude or camp on beaches: These are illegal activities in the Bahamas (though topless bathing is tolerated in some areas).
Don’t worry about changing money if you’re a U.S. citizen. The U.S. dollar is on par and accepted along with the Bahamian dollar.
Do experience the less touristy side of the Bahamas: Travel between islands on a mail boat. Your companions will be Bahamians (and sometimes their goats and chickens).
Don’t expect to find full banking services on all islands. Make sure you have enough cash or traveler’s checks if you go beyond Nassau or Freeport/Lucaya.
National Symbols of the Bahamas
The Bahamian Flag
The colors of the Bahamian flag are black, gold and aquamarine. The black represents the Bahamian people, the gold represents the sun and the aquamarine is a symbol of our crystal clear waters.
The National Flower
The yellow elder (Tecoma stans) is a tubular yellow flower with ultra-fine red stripes on each petal. It grows wild in The Bahamas, but is usually improved through cultivation. The Yellow Elder Tree may reach a height of nearly twenty feet. The blooming period is from October to December, diminishing by March.
The National Tree
Lignum Vitae or ‘tree of life’ (Guaiacum sanctum) is a very heavy wood characterized by clusters of small blue flowers at the branch tips.
The National Bird
New Year’s Day (January 1)
Good Friday (Friday before Easter)
Easter Monday (March/April)
Whit Monday (7th Monday after Easter)
Labor Day (1st Friday in June)
Independence Day (July 10)
Emancipation Day (1st Monday in August)
Discovery Day (October 12)
Christmas Day (December 25)
Boxing Day (December 26)
The traditional culture of The Bahamas lives away from the American-influenced urban centers of Nassau and Freeport. The islands’ folkways stem in large part from the tales, bush medicine, music and religion brought over by African slaves. A popular ‘folk’ religion is obeah, a system of beliefs governing interactions between the living and the spirit world. It’s a less sinister cousin of Haitian voodoo and Cuban santera.
The vast majority of Bahamians, however, belong to mainline Christian denominations (though many Anglican priests hedge their bets and mix a little good-willed obeah into their practice). Most islanders are steadfast in their religious beliefs: many taxi drivers and office workers keep a Bible at hand. Church affairs make headline news, while major international events are relegated to the inside pages. The country claims the greatest number of churches per capita in the world.
English, the official language and that of business and daily life, is spoken by everyone but a handful of Haitian immigrants, who speak their own Creole. Most black Bahamians speak both standard English and patois. While The Bahamas has yet to produce a writer of world renown and its visual arts scene has been slow to take shape, the islands have a vibrant musical culture.
The country has produced several traditional forms of music, including goombay, a synthesis of calypso, soca and English folk songs; and down-home, working-class ‘rake ‘n’ scrape,’ usually featuring guitar, accordion and shakers made from the pods of poinciana trees.
Bahamian kids play basketball with a passion. They live on the basketball court, and most towns have a small court with makeshift stands. Bahamians follow the US basketball (and baseball) leagues with intense fervor.
Shopping in Bahamas
Many items sold in the Bahamas are duty-free, including perfumes, leather goods, sweaters, linens, crystal, photographic equipment, liquor, telescopes and binoculars. The islands have a good selection of jewelry from around the world (including Colombian emeralds) as well as imported woolens, Swiss watches, English china and other foreign luxury items. Duty-free shopping isn’t always a bargain. Check prices at home first to make sure the savings justify the hassle of transporting the items.
Local goods include liquor, Androsia batiks, handicrafts and art. Straw markets in Nassau (which recently burned down, but is operating again), in Freeport’s International Bazaar and on several islands sell assorted goods woven from straw, everything from hats to dolls.
The straw baskets from Harbour Island are generally of high quality. If you don’t see what you want on display, ask for it – sometimes the weaver will make it to order. Bargaining in the local markets is not as prevalent as in some of the Caribbean countries, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
Shopping Hours: Monday-Saturday 9 am-5 pm in Nassau. Some shops in Nassau close at noon on Thursday. Hours vary on the other islands.
Banking Hours: In Nassau and Freeport/Lucaya, Monday-Thursday 9:30 am-3 pm; Friday 9:30 am-5 pm. Hours vary in the Out Islands.
The Bahamas’ prime attraction? Variety
The cities of Nassau and Freeport offer all the colonial chic you can handle. Copious resort beaches, rum-fueled clubs, whirling roulette wheels, and the chance to swim with dolphins off Grand Bahama Island top the list of attractions. The resort weary, meanwhile, can head to the Out Islands, where you can fish, sea kayak, scuba, and hike—provided you can break from your island revelry.
29 dive destinations, 700 islands, 1000+ regularly dived sites. Unspoiled reefs, a plethora of wrecks, guaranteed shark encounters, the chance to swim with wild dolphins, spectacular walls and blue holes and fantastic caves.
Our scattering of more than 700 islands covering 100,000 square miles is THE place to head for if you are looking for true diving excitement. Add the vibrant local culture, the hustle and bustle of casino towns such as Nassau, tourist hotspots such as Freeport and the idyllic beauty of the Out Islands and you have a holiday experience not to miss.
On all the islands divers can find well-established, well-run dive centres that while at the cutting edge of diving still cater for small groups. Some centres have over 40 years diving experience and with over 1000 regularly dived sites and thousands more to be discovered, you’ll find it impossible to sample all of the aquatic wonders to be found in the Islands of the Bahamas.
Snorkeling is the best way for the inexperienced to become acquainted with the stunning beauty of the Bahamian reefs. Equipment and instruction can be found at almost any hotel, and reefs teeming with colorful marine life can be found on every island.
With over 50 fishing records to their credit, The Islands Of The Bahamas are considered one of the premier destinations in the world for sportfishing. Deep-sea fishing and bonefishing are the two standouts, with events held nationwide throughout the year. Experienced guides and fishing lodges are plentiful in the isles and are fully outfitted to make sure you have the very best fishing experience possible. From chartered boats to flats fishing, The Bahamas have just about every type of fishing for first-timers and fanatics.
Sailing & Boating
There’s plenty of excellent pleasure cruising to be done in The Bahamas; the islands offer gorgeous waters and a seemingly endless array of uninhabited cays inaccessible by any other means (save swimming . . .). Even around the most popular islands you can drop anchor at some remote spot and enjoy sunny, silent swimming and snorkeling far from the shore.
If you want someone else to do the sailing for you, cruise in a glassbottom boat during the day, dance under the stars on a dinner cruise, or charter a crewed boat for a couple of days of quiet and careless escape.
Competitive sailing, like competitive fishing, finds an ideal location in The Bahamas. Whether you’re just watching or want to participate, a regatta is a beautiful and thrilling way to pass the day. Each major island holds its own regatta, usually in late summer; the best are to be found on Exuma, Long Island, Nassau/Paradise Island, and Freeport/Lucaya.
The regattas tend to spawn parties, barbecues, and other congenial, inclusive gatherings–hang around a regatta long enough and you’ll find yourself with ten new playmates by sundown.
The Bahamas are also the site of quite a few noncompetitive sailing events, which bring boat enthusiasts and the just-curious together to bask in the warmth of camaraderie.
Golf has found its ideal location in the consistent sun of The Bahamas, and the islands regularly host world-class tournaments in each. There is no season to limit play here, just year-round blue skies and warm weather.
Both 9 and 18-hole golf courses abound; whatever your handicap, you’ll be able to find the right course for you.
Anyone in search of the perfect beach might very well start with the Islands of The Bahamas, whose relatively small land mass belies the sheer quantity of its beachfront. With the vast majority of the islands shaped like slivers, one imagines two gorgeous stretches of beach separated by the most perfunctory of inlands. And indeed they are gorgeous and unbelievably white, with sand so fine it feels soft to the touch.
Those in search of something really special should check out Harbour Island’s rose-colored sands, off the coast of Eleuthera. The beaches of The Bahamas are often coupled with shallow transparent water for hundreds of yards out to sea, rising gently to sandbars before finally dropping into the depths.
Beaches are of two types in The Bahamas – the activity beach and the deserted beach. On an activity beach, of which Cable Beach in Nassau is the prime example, you’ll find tons of things to do, and every service will be at your fingertips. Water-skiing, windsurfing, diving, fishing, sailing, parasailing, seaside restaurants, beach bars, local entertainment – if you can think of it, you’ll probably find it here.
On the other hand, you won’t be able to find any of that on the deserted beaches – but then, that’s the whole idea. About 80 percent of the beaches of The Bahamas, if not more, are isolated: meandering ranges of virgin sand, warm under your bare feet. There won’t be any motorboats or crowds, so you can enjoy the most subtle nuance of the surf’s music in peace.
Look to either side of you – the only colors in the world will be infinitely varied shades of blue, green and white. Bring along some chilled coconut water and fresh, sweet mangoes and make a day of it, or a week of it, or . . .
Best Bahamas Beaches
Guana Beach – considered by some guidebooks to be one of the Bahamas’ best. It’s a white sand beach, all seven miles of it, and there are lovely palm trees at the edge. Just what you’d expect in a beautiful tropical beach!
Treasure Cay Beach – boasts the endorsement of National Geographic magazine as a superb beach – one of the best in the world. It’s another white sand beach. The sand is pure and clean, sparkling white, and there are over three miles of beach to enjoy.
Dining in Bahamas – Restaurants
The main tourist areas offer a variety of restaurants and foods, including seafood, steak and international cuisine (Continental, Chinese, Japanese, Polynesian). English-style pubs and U.S. fast-food joints are also prevalent. If you want to sample traditional Bahamian food, look beyond the upscale resorts.
Among the local specialties are fish chowder (usually made with grouper, tomatoes, dark rum and lime juice) and conch salad (usually uncooked conch marinated in hot sauce and served with peppers and onions). Our favorite places to eat serve local specialties, including conch fritters, chowders, salads, pea soup with dumplings, fried fish with johnnycake (sweeter than on the Caribbean islands) and grouper cutlets.
The “lobster,” a clawless variety of giant crawfish, is delicious. Try the guava duff or soursop ice cream for dessert. Among the excellent tropical fruits are sugar apples, kinip (also spelled guinop, it’s much like a litchi), wild sea grapes and mangos.
Kalik is the Bahamas’ national beer, and there are lots of fruity, rum-based drinks such as the Goombay Smash and the Bahama Mama. A number of excellent British ales can also be found. Various nonalcoholic malt drinks are worth a try.
Tip hotel and restaurant employees 15% if a service charge hasn’t already been added to the bill.
Casinos and Nightlife
Want to make a few thousand dollars in one night, or dance the night away, or you just want to show off your newly acquired bronze tan – the Bahamas nightlife offers more then a few places to do it. As you might have already heard, gambling is legal in the Bahamas. That is gambling is legal for everybody, but Bahamians. Bahamians caught gambling are subject to fines of up to $500.
The odds are a lot better for tourists: those caught gambling are rewarded with a complimentary drink.
The Bahamas sports four large casinos: two on New Providence: one at Cable Beach and the other on Paradise Island, and two on Grand Bahama: one in Freeport and the other in Lucaya.
All nightlife places offer a wide variety of games, including roulette, black-jack, baccarat, dice, slot machines, the wheel of fortune and of course the ‘big six’.
For those who don’t trust their luck, the casinos also offer brilliant shows with a native flair, the most popular of which is Paradise Island’s Le Cabaret Theater.
In between casinos are hundreds of bars of every color, flavor and description, as well as night clubs which play everything from funky disco of the seventies to the latest rave hits of the nineties, till the wee hours of the morning.
For those who want a taste of the islands, almost every hotel offers local island entertainment that involves the guests, where visitors are invited to do the limbo, the dollar dance and the electric slide to the latest innovations in island music. Don’t leave until you learn the dollar dance.
And for those who want something more romantic, nothing beats a moonlight stroll on the beach.
Gambling in the Bahamas
Non-residents 18 years and up can legally gamble in the Bahamas. There is one casino located on Cable Beach in Nassau, one in the Atlantis hotel on Paradise Island, and one in Freeport/Lucaya on Grand Bahama.
Sports betting is allowed on any sport (other than horse racing) which takes place within or outside The Islands of the Bahamas – however it legally cannot take place by phone or any other telecommunication device, or on behalf of another person.
Despite the fact that it is illegal to gamble Bahamians do so (on the side) anyway. Playing the U.S. lottery, betting on football games, etc. is very common.