Natural beauty, amazing resorts and fun activities are in abundance in the Bahamas. This chain of sixteen main islands (and thousands of islets and cays) was named Baja Mar by the Spanish, meaning shallow sea, but the land is actually made up of mountainous plateaus that rise from the depths of the Atlantic.
The nearly - 300,000 residents of the Bahamas are generally of West African descent, the ancestors of slaves brought to work the cotton plantations. Most white residents are descendants of English settlers seeking religious freedom from their original colony in Bermuda. When slavery was abolished and the cotton plantations collapsed, Bahamians turned to the sea for their livelihoods.
In addition to crystal blue seas and pristine beaches, the Bahamas in known for the laid-back attitude of its people. There's always time to worry tomorrow, but for today enjoy the sunshine while Africa drum rhythms, Caribbean Calypso, English folksongs and Bahamian Goombay ring through the air.
Places to go
The Bahamas is made up of sixteen separate islands to the southeast of Florida. The most popular tourist destinations of these sixteen are Nassau/Paradise Island, Grand Bahama, and San Salvador -- which also holds the distinction as the first island in the New World on which Christopher Columbus set foot.
Nassau/Paradise Island is a contradiction of itself. Nassau, the capitol of the island group, is home to colonial fortresses, rambling Victorian homes and gardens, and the Queen's Steps, a climb up 65 stairs (in honor of Queen Victoria's 65-year reign) that will reward you with a stunning view. For historical perspective, don't miss the Changing of the Guards at the Government House and the Royal Bahamas Police Force Band performing at 10:00 on alternate Saturdays.
Across the bridge, Paradise Island, by contrast, is home to sprawling resorts and casinos. Watersports, golf, tennis and shopping are just a few of the many activities you can enjoy on this side of the island. Cobblestone streets lead you to turquoise waters rimmed by no less than seventeen beaches. The Atlantis Sports Center, Cable Beach Golf Club, Ocean Club Golf Course and The Tennis Center cater to the more athletic vacationer, or those who want to work off the delicious dinner they had the night before at one of the island's award-winning restaurants.
And don't forget the casinos! The Atlantis Casino features 78 gaming tables including blackjack, baccarat, roulette, craps, let it ride and Caribbean stud poker. Slots are open 24 hours at the Crystal Palace Casino, and gaming tables are open 24 hours on weekends and holidays, and until 4 a.m. on weekdays. Gaming lessons are available daily.
Grand Bahama is home to Freeport/Lucaya, a city designed to be a sportsman's paradise. Championship golf, tennis, scuba diving and fishing are just a few of the many activities offered here. The eastern edge of the island offers nearly deserted beaches. In between, you can enjoy shopping at the International Bazaar, explore underwater caves, swim with dolphins or walk with wild flamingos. At the end of the day, relax in a native Bahamian invention: the hammock.
Where To Stay - Luxury Living
Destination Club Homes
Many of the destination clubs have one or more homes at the Abaco Club on Winding Bay. The Ultimate Resort home in Abaco is a sprawling 4,511 square foot, 4 bedroom, 4 bath "cottage". The LUSSO Collection has two 4 bedroom (pictured above), 2,800 sq ft homes and Private Escapes, Exclusive Resorts and The Oyster Circle all have homes here. The Solstice yacht (pictured above) spends the winter based in Nassau and the summer based around New England. BelleHavens 3 bedroom residence, in Grand Isle Resort on Great Exuma, overlooks the Greg Norman-designed golf course.
Private Residence Clubs
February Point on Great Exuma Island offers 1/4, 1/8, and 1/12 deeded interests in 3 and 4 bedroom villas. We also have a full list of Bahamas shared luxury homes.
Other Luxury Accommodation
If a resort hotel is more your speed, the islands of the Bahamas have no shortage from which you can choose. Many have accommodations just as luxurious as the properties described above. The Four Seasons Great Exuma at Emerald Bay offers the level of grandness and service discerning travelers have come to expect from the Four Seasons, and the resort features its own on-grounds Casino at Emerald Bay, open from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily. The Old Bahama Bay Resort and Yacht Harbor, a Conde Nast Award winner, is a boutique hotel featuring all beachfront suites, a full service marina and kids activities through Club OBBY. The One and Only Ocean Club on Paradise Island, is also a Conde Nast Award winner and a Travel and Leisure Award winner, and was originally a private estate.
The rich culture of the Bahamas allows visitors to enjoy a diverse set of activities, including several festivals throughout the year. Junkanoo, celebrated from December 26 through January 1, will remind visitors of Mardi Gras or Carnival with its wild and colorful parades. The best parades can be seen on Nassau, Grand Bahama Island, Eleuthera/Harbour Island, Bimini and The Abacos on Boxing Day and New Year's Day from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m.
The Junkanoo Summer Festival, held from early June to late July, offer celebrations on Nassau/Paradise Island, The Abacos, The Exumas and Grand Bahama Island. Visitors can enjoy all-day block parties on Nassau Tuesdays and Thursdays, cultural activities on Arawak Cay on Saturdays, and Royal Poinciana Tea Party on the verandah of the historic National Art Gallery on Sundays.
Many other festivals and celebrations are held throughout the year and truly give travelers a glimpse at life on these islands beyond the beaches. The South Andros Coconut Festival, Inagua Heritage Festival and Donkey Derby, Hermitage Homecoming, and Farmer's Hill Homecoming are just a few of many held throughout the year.
Looking for great shopping? You'll find it on the bigger islands. Cole's of Nassau has three locations offering designers like Manuel Canovas, Cerrati 1881, La Perla, Lilly Pulitzer, Gottex, Emilio Pucci, Roidal, and Calvin Klein. Coin of the Realm has a large collection of conch pearls and other fine jewelry, as well as collector-quality Bahamian, Spanish and ancient Greek and Roman coins. Enjoy an authentic Cuban cigar at Cigar Stogies on Paradise Island -- but American travelers should remember they cannot be brought back into the US. Solomon's Mines offers luxury items such as fine jewelry, china, leather goods, crystal and skin care products, as well as Bahamian-made Beach Treasures jewelry.
Fly into Lynden Pindling International Airport on Nassau or Freeport International for the most flight options and expedited customs service. The Grand Bahama International Airport is privately owned and offers nearly as many flight options as the government owned facilities. Don't forget your passport! Many of the smaller islands have airports appropriate for charter private flights, or you can enjoy the sea and take a boat. Many major cruise lines hold the Lucayan Harbour Cruise Facility as a port of call.
Only 55 miles from southern Florida, the weather in the Bahamas is temperate year-round. Temperatures range from 80-90 degrees F (27-32 degrees C) in the summer and 70-80 degrees F (21-27 degrees C) in the winter. Hurricane season runs June through November, but most storms bypass the islands, circling below the chain before continuing northwest to the US.
The Islands of the Bahamas Official Ministry of Tourism site offering information on what to do, local customs and vacation package booking.
Bahamas On-Line Offers a calendar of events and a list of restaurants and bars on multiple islands.
Lonely Planet Bluelist: Bahamas Best of the Bahamas lists by travelers who've been there, done that, reviewed by other travelers who've done the same.
The Nassau Guardian, Local newspaper -- check out what's going on outside the resorts.
The Bahamas Department of Meteorology Weather forecasts, hurricane predictions and satellite images.
Bahama Saga: The Epic story of the Bahama Islands by Peter Barratt
A historical account of the colonization of the Bahamas, from the original Lucayans through emancipation and independence, this book is a sweeping view of Bahamian history.
Bahama Mama's Cooking by Jan Robinson
Enjoy a taste of the islands before you get there with recipes from this cookbook, including pineapple mango bread, conch ceviche, and the pepper pot.
Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway
Set between the Bahamian island of Bimini and Cuba, the novel, published posthumously, describes the Bahamas from the perspective of a man who loved the place enough to call it home.