Bahamas travel guide, including map of the Bahamas, top Bahamas travel experiences, and tips for travel in the Bahamas
Great things come in small packages, and the Bahamas is no exception to this rule. Whether you’re snorkelling in the translucent waters or discovering glimpses of the islands’ piratical past in deserted cays, this is the ultimate desert-island destination. The scatter of low-lying, coral-fringed islands is bedecked in vibrant colours, warmed by the Gulf Stream and seems to bask under endless sunshine.
There is history here. This was Columbus’ first landfall in the New World, but the Spanish never colonised the Bahamas: instead they enslaved any natives they found and shipped them off to Hispaniola. Barely habited, the islands later provided endless hiding places for privateers, whose exploits are commemorated in Nassau’s Pirate Museum. During the American War of Independence the islands were a safe haven for Loyalists: their mansions can still be seen on Loyalist Cay. And the islands boomed during America’s prohibition years, with the Bacardi rum distillery cheerfully establishing its reputation for producing one of the world’s finest spirits.
The Bahamians don’t dwell too much on their past. Affluent and lightly taxed, they have other interests. The main islands are Grand Bahama, with the towns of Freeport and Lucaya, and the busier island of New Providence, with the Capital, Nassau. These are where you’ll find the tax-exile banks, the lightly-staffed ‘head offices’ of major corporations and the real estate sharks circling islets - and waiting till high tide to take their brochure photos.
The other islands are known as the ‘Out Islands’, reached by yacht, launch or seaplane, and are far less developed. Each, the locals say, have a character all of its own. The larger ones are dotted with countless churches, mainly Baptist, but there’s a strong undercurrent of Animist beliefs that strengthens the further ‘out’ you get. On Cat Island, especially, it is said you can still see an obeah ritual, with distant West African roots.
Many of the smaller islands are home to a modest fishing village – if that. Countless little isles, fringed with palms, lie deserted. A relatively relaxed attitude to foreign ownership means some have been developed as private resorts, but it’s still easy to find an uninhabited desert island of your own.
Yachts and speedboats are a way of life, and the Bahamas have become a major stop on the cruise ship circuit, but none of that need trouble a visitor here. Settle in to a local bar, rich with the percussive sounds of calypso and rake ‘n’ scrape music, the islands’ signature genre, and enjoy a glass or two of local rum.
With its laid-back attitude and tropical picturesque beaches around every corner, the Bahamas is the ideal location to slow down and immerse yourself in beach life.
Visit the Bahamas during Boxing Day, and get involved in Junkanoo, the Bahamas’ most important national festival. Competing ‘shacks’ dress up teams in extravagant costumes to dance and perform raucous musical displays.
The high season usually extends from mid-December to mid-April and is slightly cooler than other Caribbean island groups, due to the proximity of North American cold-air systems.
The rainy season starts in late May and lasts until November, with the hurricane season extending from June until November.
Generally, humidity is high year-round, declining slightly from the north-west to the south-east.
There are six major airports in the Bahamas. The most important are Grand Bahama International Airport (FPO), on Grand Bahama Island, 3.2km north of Freeport, whilst Lynden Pindling International Airport (NAS) is 16km from Nassau on New Providence.
Public buses are operated by private companies on assigned routes from Freeport up to McLean’s Town at the eastern end of Grand Bahama. Buses depart frequently and cars can be rented from the airport. Taxis are widely available, and ferries link the islands together.
Although there are many hotels in the Bahamas, and many offer specials during the high season, accommodation is generally expensive. However, there are a few budget options in Freeport, although these are a distance from the beach. Camping is illegal on the beaches and no campsites exist in the Bahamas. Hostels are also available in the cities. Other forms of accommodation include condos, inns, cottages and resorts.
Seafood is the main speciality, ranging from red snapper to the widely-loved conch. Other delicacies include fresh tropical fruit from nearby islands and traditional Bahamian dishes such as johnnycakes (cornbread cakes) and grits (boiled and fried ground corn).
A trip to the Bahamas wouldn’t be complete without sampling the signature drink of the islands: rum. Local distilleries include Callwood and Cruzan.
Overall the Bahamas are safe and healthy, although medical insurance is recommended. The biggest health threats in the Bahamas are sun exposure, dehydration and contaminated water. Ask your hotel receptionist whether the tap water is drinkable.
While crime is less prevalent than on some other Caribbean island groups, keep a wary eye for hustlers and pickpockets. Drug-related crime is common in Nassau. Petty criminals target travellers so guard your possessions at all times.