Bahamas Travel Guide
The more than 700 islands and 2,500 cays (pronounced “keys”) that make up the Bahamas are often compared to shimmering jewels scattered across azure waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The illustration perfectly suits this stunning island chain that begins 50 miles off the southwestern coast of Florida and ends north of Cuba. Each of the country’s islands is a gem with its own unique, vibrant facets. You may opt to enjoy the pink sand beaches of Eleuthera Island, kayak in Lucayan National Park on Grand Bahama Island, go fly-fishing in pristine flats for bonefish, or explore the sea life of the Andros Barrier Reef off the coast of Andros Island—just a few of the offerings in this exquisite archipelago.
Christopher Columbus first made landfall in the Bahamas, setting off centuries of colonialism that would indelibly shape the region’s future. The name itself comes from the Spanish baja mar meaning shallow sea. Most of its population today are descendants of African slaves brought to the islands by European settlers and loyalists who fled America during the Revolutionary War. The Bahamas was a British colony from 1718 until 1973 when it became an independent British Commonwealth.
From the late 1600s to the early 1700s, pirates navigated the narrow channels and hidden coves of the Bahamas archipelago, pillaging Spanish, English and French ships and trade vessels for gold and goods. The Commonwealth’s capital city of Nassau was once overrun with pirates, including the notorious pirate “Blackbeard.”
Today, ships and boats still roam the waterways of the islands in search of different types of treasures—a secluded cay, the perfect entry point for snorkelling a coral reef, or pristine flats for fly fishing bonefish.
When To Visit The Bahamas
Bahamian weather is beautiful in every season, making it a year-round destination. The temperature averages between 75°F and 84°F in summer and winter. High season is winter from mid-December through mid-April, when there is the least rainfall and temperatures are comfortably warm throughout the day. Though hurricane season officially lasts from June through November, it’s uncommon for major tropical storms to batter the Bahamas. And when it does lie in a storm’s path, there is usually enough advance notice to change travel plans if needed. College students descend on the islands for spring break from March to the middle of April, but it is easy to find quieter islands or even low-key areas of the main islands if you want to avoid the partying. If you aren’t put off by a little rain and midday heat, consider the off season when prices are lower and the laid-back island vibe isn’t undermined by crowds.
Top Destinations & Adventures In The Bahamas
The pleasure of planning a trip to the Bahamas lies in contemplating its seemingly endless activities, underwater wonders, stunning beaches, and far flung destinations. Here are just some of the top destinations:
- Lucayan National Park
- Thunderball Grotto
- Christ Church Cathedral
- Hope Town Lighthouse at Elbow Cay
- Abaco National Park
- Andros Barrier Reef
- Kamalame & The Saddleback Cays
- Captain Bill’s Blue Hole
- High Rock
Top Adventures In The Bahamas
Scuba Diving & Snorkeling
In the crystal clear blue waters surrounding the islands of the Bahamas are stunning coral reefs, mysterious blue holes, dramatic underwater walls, canyons and caverns, and even shipwrecks to explore. Much of the beautiful sea life and miles of vibrant coral reefs are shallow and easily accessible by wading out from shore, paddling in a sea kayak or by small boat. Often, resorts and lodges will have snorkeling equipment on hand for guests. To explore a little deeper, you’ll want to scuba dive. The warm, calm waters of the Bahamas are perfect for both beginner and experienced scuba divers. Explore some of the famed shipwrecks in the Bahamas, dive with sharks, or investigate a coral cavern.
Fly-Fishing & Deep Sea Fishing
The crystal clear waters and vast white sands flats surrounding the Bahamas contain some of the most pristine bonefishing in the world. Anglers are drawn to the beautiful, expansive views and peaceful waters rich with the “Gray Ghosts of the Flats.” When fly fishing the Bahamas flats it’s not unusual for patient anglers to reel in a 5- to 7-pound bonefish with considerable fight for its size. Other common species on the flats include tarpon, permit, barracuda, mutton snapper and mangrove snapper. Deep sea fishing is also fantastic above the reefs, where anglers keep a watchful eye in the bright sunlight for snapper, marlin and tuna, among other game fish.
The turquoise surf beckons wherever you wander in the Bahamas. When you’ve had your fill of lying on white or pink sand beaches, the islands offer a wealth of watersports, from relaxed kayaking trips above shallow reefs to more adventurous windsurfing, parasailing, or jet ski excursions. Seasoned sailors navigate waters once traversed by explorers and pirates. For those without a sailing license or boat of their own, charter sailboats and catamarans depart frequently for island hopping, picnics on private islands, exploration of secluded coves, or taking in the sunset with cold cocktail in hand.
For those seeking adventures on land, the Bahamas offers near endless secluded beaches to explore and lovely mangroves to wander through, many of which are within the country’s 25 national parks and nature preserves. With the highest point in the Bahamas topping out at 206 feet, hikes on the islands are fairly easy-going. You’ll need to wear rugged, closed shoes, use sunscreen and bug repellent, and remember to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated beneath sunny skies.
The Bahamas’ distinctive topography, tidal flats and mangroves are year-round homes, winter homes, or important migration points for 300 species of birds. Indigenous birds include the Bahama Yellowthroat, the Bahama Warbler, the Bahama Swallow, the Bahama Woodstar and the endangered Bahama Oriole, which can only found be found on Andros Island. The tidal flats of the islands are home to shorebirds and wading birds, such as herons, terns and egrets, among others. The best islands for birdwatching are Andros, New Providence, Grand Bahama, Eleuthera, Abaco and Inagua, which features the breeding ground for a flock of more than 80,000 flamingos, the national bird of the Bahamas.
The official language of the country is English, but most locals speak a distinct creole dialect.
Bahamians are renowned for their friendliness and hospitality. The culture is also famous for its storytelling and folklore traditions, with some visitors lucky enough to enjoy a local sharing a tale.
West African, English, Caribbean and American influences abound in the food, drink and music of the Bahamas. The traditional music of the islands is a mix of African rhythms, Calypso music and English folk songs. “Goombay” is the word for both a specific type of goatskin drum and a rolling percussive music unique to the Bahamas.
A vibrant street carnival brings music and dancing to the streets across the islands on the day after Christmas (Boxing Day) and on New Year’s Day. The Junkanoo festival features people in bright, elaborate costumes that can take an entire year to create, made from cardboard, wire and crepe paper. The tradition probably came from slaves on British plantations, who were allowed time off for the holidays, but developed new forms of celebration because they were forbidden from practicing African rituals.
Food & Drink
Seafood features prominently in the local Bahamian cuisine, which has been influenced by culinary traditions from the American South, Europe and the Caribbean. Dining experiences range from elegant restaurants to beach-side food shacks. Conch (pronounced “konk”) is a mild, firm white-meat mollusk that is the national food of the Bahamas and a staple of the Bahamian diet. During your visit you are likely to enjoy conch fritters served with hot sauce and conch chowder. Other common dishes include stone crab claws, rock lobster, pigeon peas and rice, and a rich, spicy fish stew. To begin your day like a local Bahamian, enjoy a breakfast or brunch of boiled fish with grits. Johnny Cakes, a pan made bread, are popular as a side for any meal.
You’re likely to enjoy plenty of fresh, tropical fruit wherever you go. Many restaurants, hotels, resorts and lodges on the islands also feature cuisines from around the world.
After a long day in the hot sun and surf, you can relax with an island-made Kalik or Sands beer, or John Watling’s Rum. Switcha is a popular non-alcoholic Bahamian beverage, essentially a lemonade that is often made with limes. Specialty cocktails such as a Bahama Mama, the Goombay Smash and the Yellow Bird usually involve some combination of rum and fruit juice with various mixers, but be prepared for each local bartender to put their own spin on the concoctions.
Getting Around The Bahamas
Grand Bahama Island, Nassau/Paradise Island, and the Exumas have international airports. These are the entry points for many visitors, who then take connecting flights or ferries if they are traveling to other islands. The further down the archipelago you travel, the quieter the islands become and the more sparse the transportation options. However, every island has taxi services or busses at the ferry terminals or airports, with many hotels, resorts and lodges offering their own transportation services to travel hubs, activities and sights.
People drive on the left side of the road in the Bahamas, as they do in the United Kingdom. On the islands with a larger population and influx of tourists, the roads can be very congested. On the “out islands” the roads can be narrow. It is generally recommended that travelers use taxis, buses, or transportation provided by their hotel or lodge.
What Are You Waiting For?
The Bahamas boasts gentle trade winds, beautiful blue waters and an easy-going island spirit. But the diversity of wildlife in sea and on land, along with the wide variety of possible excursions and activities makes the island chain an exceptional getaway. Angler, beach bum, thrill seeker, nature lover—everyone who visits this subtropical paradise will easily fill their days with wonderous adventures they’ll remember for a lifetime.