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Bahamas

Photo © Baxters

Travel Guide Caribbean Bahamas

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Introduction

Here's a lucky shot of a hummingbird in a hibiscus at the Versailles Gardens in the Bahamas

Here's a lucky shot of a hummingbird in a hibiscus at the Versailles Gardens in the Bahamas

© All Rights Reserved stevedana

With their pristine waters, picture-perfect beaches and classy resorts, the Bahama Islands remind you of a finely sculpted replica of paradise. Their waters are ideal for fishing, swimming with dolphins and scuba diving; their beaches are gorgeous and draw thousands of visitors to relax under the warm Caribbean sun; and the stylish capital, Nassau, is dotted with five star resorts. For visitors seeking a more private escape, one of the Bahamas' many uninhabited or sparsely populated islands offer a unique adventure. Indeed, it is no surprise that the Bahamas are widely considered one of the world's finest holiday destinations.

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Brief History

Taino people moved into the uninhabited southern Bahamas from Hispaniola and Cuba around the 7th century AD. These people came to be known as the Lucayans. In 1492, Christopher Columbus made his first landfall in the New World on an island named San Salvador, which is generally accepted to be present-day San Salvador Island, (also known as Watling's Island) in the southeastern Bahamas. The Spaniards who followed Columbus depopulated the islands, carrying most of the indigenous people off into slavery. The Lucayans throughout the Bahamas were wiped out by exposure to diseases to which they had no immunity.

It is generally assumed that the islands were uninhabited until the mid-17th century. In 1648, the Eleutherian Adventurers migrated from Bermuda, and in 1670 King Charles II granted the islands to the Lords Proprietors of the Carolinas. In this era the Bahamas became a haven for pirates, including the infamous Blackbeard. To restore order, the Bahamas were made a British crown colony in 1718 under the royal governorship of Woodes Rogers, who succeeded in suppressing piracy.

During the American War of Independence, the islands were targeted by the American navy. The capital of Nassau on the island of New Providence was occupied by US Marines for a fortnight. In 1782, after the British defeat at Yorktown, a Spanish fleet appeared off the coast of Nassau, which surrendered without a fight. It was recaptured by American Loyalists the following year. The Peace treaty of Paris ended the global conflict, which recognized British sovereignty.

After American independence, some 7,300 loyalists and their slaves moved to the Bahamas from New York, Florida and the Carolinas. These Americans established plantations on several islands and became a political force in the capital. The British abolished the slave trade in 1807, which led to the forced settlement on Bahamian islands of thousands of Africans liberated from slave ships by the Royal Navy. Slavery itself was finally abolished in the British Empire on August 1, 1834.

In the 1950s the British made the islands internally self-governing in 1964. In 1973, the Bahamas became fully independent, but retained membership in the Commonwealth of Nations. Based on the twin pillars of tourism and offshore finance, the Bahamian economy has prospered since the 1950s.

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Geography

The Bahamas is an archipelago in the Caribbean consisting of 2,000 cays and 700 islands. The country lies between latitudes 20° and 28°N, and longitudes 72° and 80°W. The closest island to the United States is Bimini, which is also known as the gateway to The Bahamas. The island of Abaco is to the east of Grand Bahama. The southeasternmost island is Inagua. The largest island is Andros Island. Other inhabited islands include Eleuthera, Cat Island, Long Island, San Salvador Island, Acklins, Crooked Island, Exuma and Mayaguana. Nassau, capital city of The Bahamas, lies on the island of New Providence.

All the islands are low and flat, with ridges that usually rise no more than 15 to 20 metres. The highest point in the country is Mount Alvernia, (formerly Como Hill) on Cat Island. It has an altitude of 63 metres. To the southeast, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and three more extensive submarine features called Mouchoir Bank, Silver Bank, and Navidad Bank, are geographically a continuation of The Bahamas, but not part of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.

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Regions

The Bahamas is divided into 31 districts. In the interest of brevity, only the most prominent islands and island groups are listed below.

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Cities

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Sights and Activities

Inagua National Park

The Inagua National Park is a national park of about 750 square kilometres big. It is known as the world's largest breeding colony of West Indian (roseate) flamingos. Lake Rosa dominates the beautiful park and the sight of reflecting roseate spoonbills, reddish-pink egrets and beautifuly coloured Louisian hersons is just fantastic. To add, there are about 50,000 pink flamingos. You are not allowed to visit independently and visitors must take a tour led by a guide. Before that, you have to get in contact with the Bahamas National Trust office in Nassau to arrange and pay for your visit prior to leaving for Inagua. Visit the Bahamas National Trust Office webiste for more information.

Lucayan National Park

Lucayan National Park is a small park at just 16 hectares and is located at the island of Grand Bahama. In the northern parts of the park there are trails to a limestone plateau where you'll find caves that open to the longest underwater cave system in the world. There are options to walk along the boardwalks in a mangrove swamp. From here, you can reach Gold Rock Beach, a nice beache fringed by dunes.

Andros Island

Andros is the biggest island of the Bahamas but it is also one of the least discovered. The island has a rather wild landscape with small palmtrees, swamps and several other species of trees. The forests are very impressive and the locals believe mytical creatures, called 'chickcharneys' live in the woods. Andros is not really dedicated to mass tourism at all, but there are many people visiting the islands, especially those keen on diving, birdwatching and those wanting to enjoy some secluded beaches.

Crooked Island

Crooked Island is believed by experts to be the second New World landfall of Christopher Columbus. Nowadays, it still is a quiet and beautiful place. The island's shoreline has deep inlets and pretty beaches. Birdwatching is particularly rewarding here and species include herons, ospreys, egrets, mockingbirds, finches, wild canaries, hummingbirds and flamingos. To add, there are at least 28 endemic subspecies of butterflies. Other features include the Bird Rock Lighthouse, bat caves, the Great Hope House (which is abandoned) and the shallow waters of Bathing Beach. This latter one is referred to as the 'world's largest swimming pool'. Crooked Island also has history regarding its pirate and plantation past.

Pink Sand Beach

Pink Sands Beach chaise lounge

Pink Sands Beach chaise lounge

© All Rights Reserved jlamarre

There are several beaches with pink sand on the Bahamas island of Eleuthera and its neighbouring islands like Harbour Island. On this latter island is the famous Pink Sand Beach, a 5-kilometre stretch of beach on featuring pink sand and clear waters which has often been cited by various travel magazines as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. At least it is one of the most popular ones of the Bahamas and Harbour Island, unlike its big brother Eleuthera, is more crowded and developed. Still, it is quite an experience and sight and something different again from the ubiquitos white sand beaches.

Other sights and activities

  • Bimini Road - archaeological site
  • Bimini Island - particularly good for deepseafishing
  • New ProvidenceBacardi Distillery
  • Paradise IslandAtlantis it's also called, off the coast of Nassau
  • Long Island - relatively quiet and great white sandy beaches and turquoise waters

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Events and Festivals

  • Junkanoo is a street parade with music, which occurs in many towns on the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands every Boxing Day (December 26), New Year's Day and, more recently, in the summer on the island of Grand Bahama. Nassau still has the best and biggest one though!

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Weather

The Bahamas have a pleasantly warm but humid climate. Compared to Caribbean islands more to the south, there are some differences regarding temperatures, mainly because it is somewhat colder during the wintermonths of November to April. Generally though, temperatures are high, with summer maximum temperatures averaging around 30 °C and minimum temperatures around 24 °C. During the wintermonths temperatures are about 5 °C lower. The rainy season lasts from May to October, with September and October being the wettest months. This is also the time (especially from August to October) when hurricanes are a possibility.

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Getting There

By Plane

Bahamasair is the national airline of the Bahamas and is based at Lynden Pindling International Airport (NAS) near the capital Nassau. It doesn't have that many international services, but at least Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Providenciales and Havana are served. Several airlines offer flights mainly to the United States and Canada as well as several islands in the Caribbean. British Airways has flights to and from London, as well as the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands. Other airlines serving the airport are Air Canada (Toronto and Montreal), American Airlines (Dallas), Cubana (Havana), Copa Airlines (Panama City), and Air Jamaica (Kingston).

Througout the Bahamas there are quite a few more airports with direct international connections:

  • Grand Bahama International Airport (FPO), Freeport, Grand Bahama - flights to/from Fort Lauderdale, Miami, West Palm Beach, New York, Atlanta, Charlotte, Toronto, Baltimore, Louisville, Richmond, Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Providenciales (main island of the Turks and Caicos Islands), and seasonal to Milan
  • Marsh Harbour Airport (MHH) on the Abacos - flights to/from Miami, Orlando Jacksonville, West Palm Beach, St. Augustine. St. Petersburg (Florida) and a few other smaller Florida cities
  • Treasure Cay Airport (TCB) on the Abacos - flights to/from the Florida cities mentioned above as well
  • Andros Town International Airport - on Andros, only Fort Lauderdale
  • San Andros Airport (SAQ) - also on Andros, only Fort Lauderdale
  • South Bimini Airport (BIM) - only Fort Lauderdale
  • New Bight Airport (TBI) on Cat Island - only Fort Lauderdale
  • Governor's Harbour Airport (GHB) on Eleuthera - Fort Lauderdale and Miami
  • North Eleuthera Airport (ELH) - Fort Lauderdale and Miami
  • Exuma International Airport (GGT) - Toronto, Miami, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Charlotte, Philadelphia
  • San Salvador Airport (ZSA) also known as Cockburn Town Airport on San Salvador island - Fort Lauderdale, Toronto, Montreal, Paris (latter three with charter flights).

By Boat

Discovery Cruise Line operates a daily (except Wednesdays) cruise ferry between Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale in Florida and Freeport on Grand Bahama. It leaves at 9:30am from Fort Lauderdale, arriving in Freeport around 1:30pm, and returns from Freeport at 5:15pm, arriving in Fort Lauderdale around 10:30pm. So a one-way trip takes around 4 hours to the Bahamas, and about 5 hours back, which barely leaves you 4 hours at Grand Bahama Island. There are options to spend the night though and take a ferry the next day back to Florida. Services on board include three buffet meals and a Las Vegas style casino! A return ticket costs around US$140.

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Getting Around

By Plane

Bahamasair has about a dozen of domestic destinations, like Rock Sound and Crooked Island. If you want to do a lot of island hopping, you have to go back to Nassau every time in almost all cases, except a few direct connections like the ones between North Eleuthera and the two other airports on Eleuthera: Rock Sound and Governor's Harbour, or flights from Grand Bahama to islands/airports like Bimini, Walker's Cay, Treasure Cay, Marsh Harbour, North Eleuthra, Moore's Island and Great Harbour Cay. A few other ones exist as well (like San Salvador to Arthurs Town, Deadmans Cay and Long Island), but like mentioned before, most of the other connections go through Nassau first. Otherwise, chartered airplanes fly directly between the islands, but at a cost of course. Apart from the airports mentioned above, there are a few more with scheduled domestic flights. All the above have some domestic connections as well. The extra airports on top of the ones mentioned above which only have domestic scheduled flights are Arthur's Town Airport (ATC) on Cat Island, Colonel Hill Airport (CRI) on Crooked Island, Rock Sound International Airport (RSD) on Eleuthera, Inagua Airport (IGA) on Inagua, Deadman's Cay Airport (LGI) on Long Island, and Mayaguana Airport (MYG) on Mayaguana.

There are several dozens of other smaller airports, with occasional scheduled flights, but mostly with chartered flights and/or private jet excess.

By Car

Getting around by car is a good way to cover a lot of most islands, including the smaller ones. Many international car rental companies offer rental cars at airports, and in Freeport and Nassau. You have to be at least 25 years of age and national driver's licences are valid for three months. Driving is on the left side of the road and most roads are in relatively good shape. Scooters, bicycles and motorcycles are for rent as well in most places.

By Bus

Jitneys (minibuses) provide inexpensive connections in and around Freeport and Nassau. On Paradise Island there is a bus service that stops at most hotels. But on other islands, there is no public transport, other than taxis. On New Providence taxis are metered.

By Boat

1. Bahamas Ferries has car and passenger services from the capital Nassau to destinations on Eleuthera, Exumas, Andros and Abacos. Fast daily ferry services travel between Nassau and most of the main islands. The main connections are:

  • Nassau to Abacos - about 4 hours between Sandy Point, Great Abaco and Nassau
  • Nassau to Eleuthera - two-hour run from Potter’s Cay in Nassau to Harbour Island. It also runs a ferry from Potter’s Cay to Governor’s Harbour
  • Nassau to Exumas - Departs the Bahamas Ferriesdock at Potter’s Cay for the overnight journey to the Exumas. The scheduled 12-hour trip can stretch closer to 14 depending on the weather.
  • Nassau to Andros - There’s a two-hour ferry run by Bahamas Ferries from Nassau to Fresh Creek on Andros

Other services with Bahamas Ferries include Cat Island - Nassau, Driggs Hill - Nassau, Current - Nassau, Fresh Creek - Morgans Bluff, George Town - Nassau and Spanish Wells - Nassau. The latter leaves Nassau at 8:00am and arrives in Spanish Wells around 10:00am, and is often advertised as a possible daytrip as well.

2. Pinder’s Ferry operates small boat running twice a day between McLean’s Town, Grand Bahama and Crown Haven on Little Abaco.

3. On the Abacos, the Albury's Ferries operates regular ferries between Marsh Harbour and Great Guana and Scotland Cay, Man-O-War Cay, Hope Town and Elbow Cay. Also on the Abacos, there is the Green Turtle Ferry
Service between Treasure Cay Airport and Green Turtle Cay.

To add, there are watertaxis between Nassau and Paradise Island regularly making the crossings. Several other offshore islands and their neighboring cays are served by private water taxis. Also, there are about 20 mailboats serving many islands, including the Outer Islands further away to the south and southeast. Although less comfortable, they are a great but slow alternative to the normal ferries and watertaxis.

Cruiseships plying the routes in the territorial waters of the Bahamas include:

  • MS Oasis of the Seas - Currently under construction, SM Oasis of the Seas is called to be the largest passenger cruise ship in the world. She will have 16 passenger decks, with 2,700 rooms and 28 state-of-the-art loft suits, which will host around 5,400 passengers. She also introduces the neighbourhood concept, similar to a theme park planning with seven districts to entertain different audiences: the Boardwalk, Royal Promenade, Central Park, Vitality, Pool and Sports Zone, Entertainment Place and Youth Zone. The main attractions featured are the amphitheatre, a carrousel and a zip-lining. Oasis of the Seas will be operating in the Caribbean, has been registered in Port Canaveral in Florida, and belongs to Royal Caribbean International.
  • MS Monarch of the Seas - Built in 1,991, SM Monarch of the Seas carries up to 2,800 passengers and at some point was considered the biggest in the world. She features two outdoor swimming pools and a basketball court, twin cinemas, a rock climbing wall and a spectacular sea atrium with glass elevators. The Monarch sails half-week Bahamas cruises from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and is one of the three Royal Caribbean International's Sovereign class cruise ships.
  • MS Liberty of the Seas - The Liberty, a 4,370 passenger ship, currently sails the Caribbean from Miami, Florida. Finished in 2,007, she is one of the Freedom class and belongs to Royal Caribbean International. Amongst her main attractions, the full-size boxing ring, a surf park, volleyball/basketball court, an ice skating ring and an interactive water park. All rooms on board have been provided with flat panel TVs and the entire ship offers Wi-Fi access.
  • MS Freedom of the Seas - For several years, the MS Freedom of the Seas was the biggest cruise ship ever built, with 18 total decks. She could host 4,300 passengers plus 1,400 crew members and normally covers the Caribbean sailing from Miami Dade port. She features the first ever built Surf Park at sea, a massive rock-climbing wall, the H2O ZoneSM water park with ground geysers and cascading waterfalls. Freedom of the Seas is operated by Royal Caribbean International and belongs to the Freedom class.

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Red Tape

Most nationals from western countries do not need a visa. For further details have a look at the MFA Bahamas website.
Foreign embassies and consulate can be found over here.

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Money

See also Money Matters

When eating out, the standard tip is 10%.

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Language

The official language of the Bahamas is English. Bahamas Creole is also widely spoken.

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Health

See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to the Bahamas. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering the Bahamas) where that disease is widely prevalent.

It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to the Bahamas. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
In 2008 and also in 2006 there have been reports of travellers who got malaria while staying on the island of Great Exuma, a very rare incident anywhere in the Caribbean. Cases have not been reported since then and you will be fine. It's not necessary to take malaria pills, just use repellent and where long sleeves after dark.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet cafes are not common on the islands, but in Nassau you can try Cybercafe, in the Mall at Marathon. On the Outer Islands, your hotel may have a computer with Internet access for guest use. If you're traveling with your own computer, internet access via Wi-Fi hot spots is increasingly common at hotels, even in the Out Islands. Some restaurants, cafes and foodchains like McDonald's offer free wifi most of the times as well.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The country calling code to The Bahamas is: 1-242. To make an international call from The Bahamas, the code is: 011

If you bring your own cell phone, be sure to switch off roaming to avoid high internet costs. It's also better for lower call rates to buy a local SIM card (make sure your phone is unlocked), and internet charges are much lower in that case as well. Sim cards and airtime credit for topping up can be purchased online at Ezminutes.com or at the local shops. To apply the phone card credit, dial *44 followed buy pin number.

Another option would be to buy a simple local phone which usually comes with some value on the card for calling and internet as well. Rates are between $0.15-$0.33 per minute for local calls and incoming calls and about a dollar more for outgoing calls within North America, more for Europe and other areas.

Post

The Bahamas Postal Service provides services in the country. Most of the kiosks selling postcards also sell the stamps you'll need to mail them, so you probably won't need to visit the post office. If you do need a post offices, general opening times are 9:00am to 5:00pm, though sometimes shorter hours are kept o the Outer Islands. If you want to send a package, it's better to use companies like UPS, DHL or FedEx, as they are fast and reliable.

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Quick Facts

Bahamas flag

Map of Bahamas

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Capital
Nassau
Population
298,000
Government
Constitutional Parliamentary Democracy
Religions
Christianity (Protestant, Catholic)
Languages
English, Creole
Calling Code
+1242
Nationality
Bahamian

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