Bahamas Tourism & Travel Guide
Planning a trip to The Bahamas? Confused where in Bahamas to go? How? What to expect?
Let me first give you a head start with what Bahamas is, because it is more complex as an island destination than some of the other nearby islands like Bermuda or one in the Caribbean. I say complex because Bahamas (also known as The Commonwealth of Bahamas) comprises of more than 700 islands and cays (i.e. coral reefs) and numerous rocks.
Overwhelmed? Well that's the fact. But don't be shocked, it's not that difficult to plan a vacation in Bahamas either. Only 30 islands (including cays) are inhabited. So your problem then gets limited to choosing from these, to be more precise, only from a dozen of these because they are the only best known island destinations in the Bahamas. And that dozen of islands collectively hold all facets of what Bahamas can offer to visitors.
Cruise ports of entry exist in several of these islands. A popular cruise port is at Nassau which is the capital of Bahamas located in New Providence island. Flights from various parts of US, Canada, UK and Europe operate regularly to Nassau and few other islands in Bahamas. In order to transfer from one island to the other, you can either take a fast air-conditioned ferry, a slow mail boat or a domestic flight depending on what is available.
But before getting to choosing an island within The Bahamas, let us first try to figure out where exactly Bahamas is and how are the islands distributed on the Atlantic. This is essential to get a sense of how far you will be traveling and what can you expect there.
Location of Bahamas
The country Bahamas is a cluster of islands on the Atlantic. It comprises of over 700 islands and cays, and numerous rocks with an area spanning 5,358 square miles. It is located off the coast of Florida (to the east of Miami) and stretches for 760 miles towards south east with a series of islands. The island of The Bahamas that is nearest to US East Coast is Bimini which is only 50 miles (or 75kms) east of Miami. To the south of Bahamas are Cuba and Hispaniola (i.e. Haiti and Dominican Republic).
Many cruise ships on the way to Caribbean islands and Bermuda, stop over for a night or two at Bahamas. So is Bahamas a Caribbean Island? No, it is an independent country on the Atlantic with parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy with the Queen of England being its monarch. Due to its proximity with the Caribbean islands, it is often thought as part of Caribbean.
Islands of The Bahamas?
Every island in the Bahamas is different and unique. Depending on your interest and what you want to do, you should choose an island, as the islands offer attractions of different types... you can imagine in terms of islands having different principal themes.
For example, Nassau in Providence island along with its satellite Paradise island (5kms off the coast of Nassau and joined by bridges) attract maximum tourist arrivals in Bahamas. These are touristy islands where you get great nightlife including popular restaurants, bars and Vegas style casinos, nice city life including duty free shopping, lavish resorts with great beaches, popular boat rides, snorkel tours etc.
However, if you want a secluded island free of touristy crowd, like to enjoy the sun and the beaches that mostly remain to yourself, do some excellent snorkeling in crystal clear water in exclusivity, and explore unique Bahamian village style life where golf carts are the main transport to get around on road and boats on water, then you need to visit an island like Elbow Cay in Abaco Islands
And, if you are a scuba diving freak, then to experience one of the most colorful marine life in the world you need to dive at a Blue Hole like in Exuma Cay's Angelfish Blue Hole. Or visit the Bimini Island
for a shark dive and see the mammoth hammerhead sharks right in front of your nose.
So, hopefully the above scenarios will trigger a thought in your mind that you need to ideally choose an island out of a dozen in The Bahamas to match your vacation interest. Otherwise close your eyes and go to Nassau / Paradise Island where most go, you can get most of all touristy attractions there plus some great opportunities to explore the amazing marine life.
But if you like to avoid a crowded destination like Nassau, and instead want to choose an island of your interest, then you must know more about the individual islands and what they offer.
Read: Insights into the islands of Bahamas
to know where these islands are located and what they have in store for you in terms of activities and attractions, hotels, dining, shopping etc.
Language and Currency
English is the official language all through Bahamas. However, many Bahamians speak a blended English known as Bahamian English which is a blend of British and African accent. People are usually friendly, polite and helpful.
The official currency in Bahamas is the Bahamian Dollar (BD) and one Bahamian Dollar is equivalent to one US Dollar (USD), and both currencies are wide used interchangeably. Often the balance is returned in BD. So, if you have lots of Bahamian Dollars accumulated before leaving for home, that might become useless in your home country. It's therefore wise to double check before you receive the change. ATMs in Bahamas dispense Bahamian currency.
How to reach Bahamas
Depending on where you are, you can reach an island in Bahamas by cruise or flight. If you then need to transfer to another island in Bahamas, you can take either a domestic flight or a ferry. There are numerous cruise ports / marinas as well as airports in Bahamas scattered across many islands.
Bahamas is quite close to the US East Coast. It's located off Miami, Florida towards east. The nearest island of Bahamas known as Bimini is only about 50 miles from Miami. Nassau, the Capital of Bahamas (located in New Providence island) where most cruise ships dock is about 165 nautical miles from Miami. So as expected, most cruise lines including NCL, RCL, Carnival, Princess etc offer multi-night cruise packages to the islands in Bahamas starting from ports in Miami or Fort Lauderdale in Florida, and also from port in Orlando (Port Canaveral) and even from places like Baltimore etc.
From the UK, Canada etc most tourists fly into Bahamas, many of course fly from The USA as well in order to save time. It takes about 9 hours of direct flight from London, UK. British Airways has flights on several days of the week.
From The US, it can take less than one hour to several hours depending on where you are flying in from. Some of the popular airlines that operate between Bahamas and US/Canada include American Airlines/American Eagle, Airtran, Bahamasair, Silver Airways , Delta Airlines, US Airways, Spirit Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue, Sky Bahamas etc and more. All these airlines have regularly scheduled passenger flights to different islands of The Bahamas.
Getting Around Bahamas - Transport Options
There are many airports, cruise ports, ferry docks and marinas scattered across the islands of Bahamas. While there are international flights and cruises operating to several islands including Nassau and Grand Bahama, many out islands are inter connected with domestic flights of Bahamas Air, by fast air-conditioned ferries operated by Bahamas Ferries as well as by slow mailboats. Nassau is of course the main hub for all such domestic flights, fast ferries and mailboats.
Once you reach an island, you can get a choice of bus (in Nassau and Grand Bahama only), taxis in many, car rentals, scooter rentals etc. There are also ferry boats between Nassau and Paradise Island.
Top Things To Do
Bahamas …the jewel like cluster of 700 islands are full of the perfect beach experiences. There are many uninhabited islands, undiscovered creatures and mysterious treasures inside Bahamas all of which pique the curiosity of explorers and adventurers.
However the 12 major inhabited islands i.e. Nassau and Paradise Island, Grand Bahama, Exumas, Andros, Eleuthra, San Salvador, Harbour Island, Long Island, Cat Island, Bimini, Berry islands are full of enough attractions and activities to keep you occupied for a lifetime.
Nassau and Paradise Island
and Grand Bahama
are the major tourist hubs in Bahamas and most cruise ships leaving for Bahamas have these islands as their destinations. There are glamorous beaches, exciting casinos, huge water parks and glitzy resorts and restaurants on these islands thus making them perfect vacation destinations for families, couples and groups looking for a fun time.
There are beautifully coordinated marine life and fauna interaction activities operated from these islands like the sharks encounter at Stuarts Cove and the Dolphin encounters at Blue Lagoon Island. Huge local markets showcasing the straw craft of Bahamas and duty free shopping hubs are other attractions on these islands besides the presence of umpteen kayaking, snorkeling and boat touring opportunities.
The other islands of Bahamas are known as the Out Islands that represent the true Bahamian life in its unspoilt, laid back style. In the out islands there are not many glamorous resorts and five star amenities. What you do get however is priceless... nature at her undiluted best.
The profusion of endangered Iguanas still living on Columbus’s first discovered island... San Salvador
is one such natural wonder. The 3rd biggest living organism in the world... the Andros Great Barrier Reef is another natural wonder. The pink sand beach of Harbour Island
has got its own international fan following and the Crab festival at Crab Land commands massive media coverage.
Hope Town in Elbow Cay
is known for its loyalist settlements and Big Major Cay in Exuma
is known for its enthusiastic swimming pig settlements.
The national parks of Bahamas like the Lucayan National Park and its music festivals like Junkanoo should definitely be a part of any Bahamas vacation bucket list.
The waters around the islands teem with coral reefs, blue holes and grottos and ship wrecks that are dream destinations for nature lovers, snorkelers and divers. The natural beauty of Bahamian land and waters has inspired the shooting of James Bond and Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
There is so much to discover, experience and love in the Bahamas that it’s natural to feel confused when it comes to choosing the ‘top experiences’. Go through the following link to know the best of cultural, historical, natural, gastronomical and adventurous experiences that these wonderful islands offer!!!
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