With 700 islands, 2,500 cays, and 500 miles of the clearest water in the world, the Bahamas have it all: glorious beaches, warm surf, fabulous coral reefs, and challenging golf courses. Whether you’re interested in sunbathing or shark-diving, there’s no shortage of activities in the Bahamas, and the destination is guaranteed to appeal to every traveler—you just have to know where to look. Read on for your ultimate guide to the islands, including the capital of Nassau as well as the out islands: Freeport, Abaco, Eleuthera, Exuma, Grand Bahama, and Paradise Island.
Planning Your Trip
- Best Time to Visit: The ideal time to visit is from mid-April to early July, after the peak tourist season is over, and before the start of the hurricane season.
- Language: English, Bahamian Creole
- Currency: Bahamian dollar; U.S. dollar widely accepted.
- Getting Around: When in Nassau, you will have no difficulty with finding a cab downtown, as it is the most popular island. We recommend booking Romeo’s Executive Limousine & Taxi Services for a long weekend in the nation’s capital, as the drivers are kind, knowledgeable, and charming.
- Travel Tip: If you’re visiting in January through May, or October through November, be sure to check out the Tea Party at the Government House, hosted by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. And sign up for a People to People experience at any time of year to have dinner in the home of a local family—another opportunity provided by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.
Things to Do
Unsurprising for an island nation named for its turquoise surroundings (the name ‘Bahamas’ comes from the Spanish term for clear waters, “Baja Mar’), many of the most popular activities correspond to exploring the Caribbean Sea. On the Out Islands (the Abacos, Eleuthera/Harbour Island, Long Island, Cat Island, and The Exumas, among others) you’ll find pristine diving and fishing sites and a more authentic West Indian character. The most exciting dining and drinking options exist in the nation’s capital of Nassau—we suggest strolling Downtown and visiting the various rum bars and local restaurants for a taste of Bahamian culture.
- From swimming with sharks at the Bimini Scuba Center Bimini to exploring the Sir Nicholas Nuttall Coral Reef Sculpture Garden off the coast of New Providence, excellent snorkeling (and, for the more adventurous: diving) opportunities abound throughout the island nation.
- Sunbathe at some of the world-famous beaches in the Bahamas—whether you’re interested in the pink sands of Harbour Island or the Palm-tree lined coast of Andros, there’s no shortage of pristine coastline to satisfy even the most discerning sun-worshippers
- When in the Bahamas, do as the pirates once did, and drink rum! From tasting tours at John Watling’s distillery (order the Rum Dum) to Bahama Papas at the Poop Deck (pair it with conch), you will find that rum is almost as prevalent in the Bahamas as sunshine.
What to Eat and Drink
From Bahama Mamas to Bahama Papas, and Rum Dums to Rum Punch, the Bahamas is legendary for its rum cocktails. Rum has been the drink of choice on the island for centuries—as it has on many Caribbean islands. Thanks to the plentiful sunshine that allows tropical fruit to flourish throughout the Bahamian islands, the local juice is Mother Nature’s perfect mixer (or chaser) for visitors imbibing. Rum is part of the nation’s history, and nowhere is this more apparent than at the historic John Watling’s Distillery in downtown Nassau.
If you’re more of a beer drinker, head over to Pirate Republic Brewing. Wine-lovers should visit Bahama Barrels, the first-ever winery founded in the Bahamas. Scenesters should visit Sip Sip in Harbour Island for the legendary Sky Juice.
Of course, it’s not all about the drinks—even the heartiest rum-lover needs nourishment every once in a while. Thankfully, the food scene in the Caribbean has been flourishing in recent years. Classic Bahamian cuisine includes rock lobster, rum cake, guava duff, and baked macaroni and cheese, and, of course, conch. Make sure to try a conch dish; this chewy mollusk is prepared as chowder, stew, salad and, fritters. Conch in all its variations is a must-order on the island, though we particularly recommend the cracked conch, either as an appetizer or an entree. Most resorts have fine-dining restaurants serving anything from continental cuisine to sushi, but try to seek out small local places where you can sample authentic island cuisine. You’ll notice American South influences in Bahamian dishes like boiled fish and grits. Bahamian specialties are spicy and center on seafood and local produce: We suggest an afternoon spent with Tru Bahamian Food Tours to experience it all.
Where to Stay
Hotel options in the Bahamas range from all-inclusive resorts with such a dizzying array of food and entertainment options you’ll never need to step foot off the property, to quiet and homey guesthouses. Resorts like those on Cable Beach are great options for families and you can often get steep discounts if you book your flight and room together as a package deal. For a more authentic, Bahamian experience, look for a smaller inn or a private guesthouse, particularly in the Out Islands. Try the welcoming Seascape Inn, Compass Point, or Dillet’s Guest House.
The most popular destination is Nassau/Paradise Island, located n New Providence Island and just 35 minutes by air from Miami. For visiting out islands, there are ferry services (including Bahamas Ferries) which take guests on day trips from Nassau to nearby islands (including Bimini, and Abaco). For further island destinations, check out Pineappleair, Southern Air, Bahamasair, and Bahamas Air Tour.
- Lynden Pindling International Airport: Located in the capital city of Nassau, it is the largest international airport in the Bahamas. A hub for Bahamasair, it also services many international airlines. There is no need to rent a car, as cabs are plentiful and the airport is only located eight miles from downtown Nassau.
- Grand Bahama International Airport: Grand Bahama Island is home to the popular Bahamian city of Freeport. The Grand Bahama International Airport services local airlines (including Flamingo Air and Sky Bahamas Airlines), as well as international carriers: Delta and American Airlines.
- Exuma Airport: The Exuma Airport has expanded in recent years, and now receives direct flights from Florida and North Carolina (as well as Nassau, of course). Located 15 miles northwest of George Town (the largest settlement in Exuma), guests can either rent a car or book a taxi, as it is a 30-minute drive to your final destination.
- Governor’s Harbour Airport: This airport in Eleuthera receives daily flights from Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and Nassau via international airline carriers including United and American Airlines. For travelers that are not based in Florida, it is easier to travel to Nassau first and then hop on a connecting flight via Bahamasair, Southern Air, or Pineapple Air to their final destination in Eleuthera.
Bahamas Culture and History
The Lucayan Indians lived throughout the Bahamas from 900 to 1500 A.D. but were wiped out by slavery and disease within 25 years of Europeans’ arrival. In 1648, a group of English Puritans landed, seeking religious freedom. The Bahamas became a British crown colony in 1718 and remained under British rule until July 10, 1973. Approximately 80 percent of Bahamas residents are of West African descent, ancestors of slaves brought to work the cotton plantations. Bahamian culture combines influences from Africa and Europe and is related to Caribbean Creole culture as well as the Gullah culture of the southern U.S.
Check out our article on the top cultural events, festivals, and concerts in the Bahamas, as well as our monthly Caribbean event calendar for more information.
- Though the cost of travel in the Bahamas spikes in the wintertime, the tropical climate remains relatively consistent year-round. The trade winds keep the archipelago cool even in the summertime, so economical travelers should consider visiting in the off-season.
- Be sure to check out if you’re visiting during any of the key festivals and events occurring on the Bahamian archipelago during your vacation, as these are often celebrated with street parades that are free to attend.
- Check to see if the service fee is included in your hotel or restaurant bill, otherwise, a 10 to 15 percent tip is customary.
- For larger groups, consider booking an all-inclusive resort to cut back on additional expenses while traveling. Resorts like those on Cable Beach are great options for families and you can often get steep discounts if you book your flight and room together as a package deal.
- The best activity to do in the Bahamas (going to the beach, of course), is not only blissfully relaxing but also free of charge. Those seeking solitude head to Treasure Cay in the Abacos, a stunning, almost empty, 3.5-mile flour-white strip. Gold Rock Beach is part of Lucayan National Park, a protected area that contains some of Grand Bahama’s wildest and most gorgeous beaches.