Caribbean: The Bahamas, an Overview
Tossed across the lower Atlantic between Florida and Cuba like candy from a parade float, the 700 islands of the Bahamas -- 30 are inhabited -- offer a merry mix of buzzing playgrounds, tranquil escapes, and ample underwater delights. In fact, the water is so beautifully clear that divers experience visibility of up to 200 feet! This former British colony blends stiff-upper-lip English formality with we-be-jammin' attitude as easily as beachside Bahama-mamas weave windblown hair into beaded braids.
In a Word: Coral
Snorkelers and divers alike will swoon over the prismatic pleasures that await them in the coral reefs, blue holes (caves), wall dives, and shipwrecks off the Bahamas. The biggest eyefuls are off Andros (home to the third largest Barrier Reef in the world, with 140 miles of coral and cathedral-like caves with stalactite and stalagmite parishioners), Bimini (remnants of the lost City of Atlantis lie offshore), Eleuthera/Harbour Island (Devil's Backbone is three miles of pristine reef -- and the graveyard for dozens of vessels, including a train!), and the Exuma Islands, site of the famous Thunderball Grotto, where the movie Thunderball was filmed.
Why We'd Go: 5 Features You'll Never Forget
- Nassau/Paradise Island: Nassau, the capital city of the Bahamas, is located on the northeast shore of the island of New Providence. Paradise Island is just an eyebrow-arched bridge away. Compact and lively, Nassau offers easy access to the activity-and-water-sport buzz at Cable Beach (located west of Nassau); shopping (the Straw Market at Market Square and the duty-free heaven that is Bay Street); casinos; and nightlife. Knot Note: Nassau is extra-crowded during March and April, when rowdy spring breakers invade. It is also one of the busiest cruise ports in the world.
- Grand Bahama Island: This fourth-largest island in the chain is only a 35-minute flight from Miami and exudes an airy, spread-out feel compared to Nassau. Its allure is a mellow mix of entertainment, back-to-nature treats, and beautiful beaches. Meet the West Indian Flamingo, the islands' national bird, at Rand Nature Centre or explore huge caves at Lucayan National Park; take diving lessons; browse the duty-free bounty at International Bazaar in Freeport; and, when the sun sets, dance beneath the stars -- or just sit back and sip a Kalik beer as you watch calypso players, limbo, and fire dancers at the Yellow Bird Showroom.
- Island escapes: Just as Nassau, Freeport, and Paradise Island put the "art" back in party, the Out Islands put the "ah" back in Bahama. These isles do have a bit of shopping and nightlife -- but their real appeal lies in and under the sea. Succumb to the stunning pink sands and charming gingerbread houses of Harbour Island; dramatic views and soft white beaches of Long Island; sailing and bird watching around the Abaco Islands; the land and sea parks of Exuma and Pelican Cays; and sport fishing off the Bimini and Berry Islands.
- Dancing with dolphins: Have you ever dreamed of swimming with Flipper? This is your chance: The Bahamas offer four dolphin encounter opportunities. Guaranteed interaction with these friendly and intelligent mammals can be found at The Dolphin Experience in Freeport, (242) 373-3943, the largest dolphin research observatory and training center in the world, or at Dolphin Encounters at Blue Lagoon Island on Nassau, (242) 363-1003. Two programs in the Out Islands, Small Hope Bay on Andros, (242) 368-2014, and Bimini Undersea on Bimini, (800) 348-4644, offer excursions to see dolphins in the wild, but there are no guarantees that you'll see one, or have a chance to play!
- Local flavor: If you like to eat, you'll love the Bahamian cuisine. Begin by combining homegrown resources such as guava, mangos, papaya, pineapple, and plantains with the daily catch of conch (believed to be an aphrodisiac), kingfish, wahoo, and grouper. Add a dash of Caribbean spice -- curry, ginger, thyme, and saffron -- wash it all down with pineapple wine from Eleuthera, and you've got thousands of happy taste buds. Don't miss a chance to try island classics such as johnnycakes (a pan-fried bread), chicken souse (a spicy chicken soup), or guava duff (a sweet, pudding-like dessert).
When to Go: Bahamas at its Bests
- Best weather: December to April
- Best prices: June to December; exact dates vary by hotel
- Festivals: Don't miss Junkanoo, a uniquely Bahamian costume parade in which people dance to copper cowbells, goombay drums, and whistles from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. on December 26 and January 1.
Photo: Bahamas Ministry of Tourism