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Island jewels of the sea

If you don't know where your dreams begin and reality ends, you are probably in the Bahamas. And with thousands of breathtaking islands and cays, as well as secluded beaches fringed with coconut palms, you could be forgiven for not knowing the difference. Framed by a backdrop of mesmerising blue, the 700 islands of the Bahamas are scattered like jewels across the sea and offer endless possibility, from the hidden gems of the remote isles to the glamour and allure of New Providence Island.

 

Highlights of Bahamas

Nassau, Paradise Island

From a port-of-call for 17th century pirates to the blur of high-energy hustlers it is today, Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is a high-energy antidote to sleeping your days away on the beach. Old Town is a juxtaposition of abandoned buildings and pastel-coloured Caribbean structures. During the age of pirates, Nassau was at the epicentre, and the Pirates of Nassau Museum celebrates this history. Shop at the duty-free, jewellery, and perfume shops on Bay Street, or head west of the wharf to Pompey Museum, which describes the slaves' journey to the Caribbean from Africa. 

Cat Island

Unspoiled by mass tourism, Cat Island is an untainted, fishhook-shaped island with rolling hills, dense woodlands, and deserted pink sand beaches. The island is dotted with cotton plantation ruins and the remains of slave huts dating to the 1700s. Arawak Indian caves are ready to be explored, and this remote island is a stronghold for obeah, West Indian witchcraft, and home to the healing bush medicines.

Bahamas Caves

The Bahamas' range of caves are fascinating to explore. Underwater caves are veritable aquariums filled with nearly every type of marine life you can imagine. Inland caves vary from deep fracture caves to sinkholes to shallower passages. One of the most famous caves is Thunderball Grotto at Staniel Cay, where parts of the 1965 James Bond movie, Thunderball, were filmed. Don a mask and snorkel, then swim under the water to the beautiful grotto. The Bahamas is also home to some of the world's most famous (and dangerous) blue holes, including Dean's Blue Hole, the world's deepest seawater blue hole, set in a bay west of Clarence Town on Long Island, Bahamas.

Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park

Swim the brilliant turquoise waters of Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, located about 65 miles southeast of Nassau. This was the first land and sea park in the world and is the western hemisphere's second largest coral barrier reef. Famous for its pristine beauty and breathtaking scenery, there are 365 cays to explore. Swim with sea turtles or see the colourful coral reefs teeming with brilliant marine life. 

Beaches

There are two types of beaches in the Bahamas—activity beaches and deserted beaches. Either way, you are sure to find stretches of gorgeous soft sand rolling to crystal clear, shallow waters. Most (about 80 percent) of the beaches in the Bahamas are deserted, meandering swaths of virgin sand. Activity beaches are centred around the tourist towns and offer diving, fishing, sailing, restaurants, and beach bars. Some of the finest white sand beaches in the Caribbean are on Stocking Island, Exuma, ringed with pristine, clear waters and lined with tropical foliage. Cable Beach on New Providence Island is close to the glittering shoreline and offers easy access to casinos, water sports, and bars. For true isolation, head to Tahibit Beach, Elbow Cay, Abacos. This immaculate stretch of white sand and cool water is only ever seen by a handful of people. 

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Flight Information

There two main carriers offering flights to Nassau in the Bahamas from the UK.

Direct Carriers: Direct carriers from the UK are British Airways from London Heathrow up to 5 times per week.

Indirect Carriers: British Airways offer flights from most other regional airports such as Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh with a connection via London Heathrow, and American Airlines from most regional UK airports going via the States.

Health

Hepatitis A, Polio and Typhoid recommended.

What to pack

The Bahamas enjoy about 320 days of sun every year and with more beachfront than any other Caribbean nation—800 miles to be exact—your holiday is sure to involve sun, sea, and sand.

Passport;

Lightweight jacket;

Converter and adapter—the Bahamas’ power supply is 120 volts at 60 hertz;

Cotton T-shirts, vests, and shorts to keep you cool;

Trousers for evening and going anywhere besides the beach;

Camera and underwater camera for snorkelling;

Umbrella in the rainy season;

Snorkelling gear.

High-SPF sunscreen;

Sandals or flip flops;

Swimsuit;

Currency

Bahamian Dollars, the official currency, are pegged to the US Dollar, keeping them equal. US Dollars are also accepted throughout the islands. You can exchange your UK Pounds for Bahamian Dollars before you go. There is no restriction on foreign currency taken into the Bahamas.

How to get your currency

People usually use the US Dollar when on holiday in the Bahamas. The easiest way to get money when you're there is to withdraw cash from a cash machine after arrival. Cash machines offer the best exchange rates, but you will be charged a transaction fee from the bank you are using, as well as from your home bank. The major commercial banks are available throughout the larger islands and tourist areas for exchanging currency or withdrawing cash, but they are not as prevalent on the remote islands. Avoid exchanging cash at bureau exchanges or hotels, where the transaction fees are the highest. Major credit cards are widely accepted on the main islands, but you may have difficulty on the more remote isles. Most establishments only accept credit cards with chip and pin.

Currency code

BSD

Tipping

Most restaurants in the Bahamas add a 15 percent service charge, so check your bill before double tipping. It is customary to leave a bit extra if the service was very good. At a bar, tip one to two Dollars per drink. Tip one to two Dollars per bag for porters. For taxi drivers, round up to the nearest Dollar for short trips, or give a Dollar or two for longer trips. Most people in the service industry in the Bahamas are not paid very well and rely on tips for the bulk of their earnings.

Bahamas Specialities

Unsurprisingly, given the Bahamas’ ocean location, the cuisine is heavily seafood oriented. The flavours of this Caribbean cuisine are subtly spicy and uniquely flavoured with local seafood and produce. Conch, a firm white meat from a large ocean mollusc that features in many dishes, is a local favourite, as are land crabs, crawfish, and fresh fish.

Conch Chowder
Conch chowder is a Bahamian favourite. Combine tomatoes, potatoes, sweet peppers, onions, carrots, salt pork, bay leaf, thyme, and salt and pepper with a pound of conch meat. Variations include adding clams, potatoes, or tomato paste to make the broth thicker.

Souse
Souse (pronounced sowse) is a simple soup unique to the Bahamas. Water, onions, lime juice, celery, peppers, and meat such as chicken, sheep’s tongue, oxtail, or pig’s feet are mixed together and boiled.

Boiled Fish and Grits
A take on the American Deep South’s favourite breakfast, the Bahamas love boiled fish and grits. Fish (usually grouper) is mixed with grits, a type of coarsely ground corn kernels, and boiled with water or milk for breakfast.

Peas ‘n’ Rice
Peas ‘n’ rice are to the Bahamas what potatoes are to Ireland. Peas are used in many dishes, including pea soup with dumplings and split pea soup, but peas ‘n’ rice is by far the most popular way of eating them. Like potatoes, peas ‘n’ rice can be prepared a variety of ways. A popular method is to cook pigeon peas or black-eye peas with salt pork, tomatoes, celery, uncooked rice, thyme, onion, green pepper, salt, and pepper. Locals often sprinkle hot sauce over the top.

Johnnycakes
Johnnycakes date back to the days of the islands’ early settlers. They are a type of bread with butter, milk, flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder mixed together, then pan fried. Johnnycakes were popular with fisherman who could make the dish on their ships.
 

Street Food

Like in most Caribbean countries, street food plays an important role in life in the Bahamas. Not only does it add employment for the local economy, it provides tourists with a way of tasting authentic Bahamian cuisine. Queue with the locals at street vendors for some typical Bahamian cuisine. Be careful to only order street food from vendors whose food is clean and fresh, as well as cooked right in front of you.

Fresh or Fried Conch
Conch is a typical Bahamian favourite and can be served in a variety of ways. Often it is fresh or fried (cracked conch). For fresh conch, the meat is scored with a knife and lime juice and spices are sprinkled over the meat. It is usually eaten with slices of onion and fire-hot sauce. For cracked conch, the meat is pounded flat, dipped in batter, then deep-fried and served hot.

Conch Fritters
Conch meat is mixed with finely minced sweet peppers, onions, tomato paste, flour, egg, and milk, shaped into balls and fried, then served with hot sauce.
 

Average Prices

Prices in the Bahamas are relatively high due to most goods being imported and the addition of duty taxes and freight charges. A meal for two at a mid-range restaurant will cost about 75 Bahamian Dollars, but you can also go for fast food or to an inexpensive restaurant and only pay about 10 Bahamian Dollars. A 1.5-litre of water from a grocery store costs about two Bahamian Dollars and a bottle of low-range wine at a grocery store costs about 15 Bahamian Dollars.

National Dress

Bahamians do not have a national costume. They dress in modern clothing similar to what we might wear in the summer, for example light, linen or cotton tops, shorts, jeans, etc. You will see colourful costumes at the annual Junkanoo Festival, held in the dark morning hours of 26 December and again at the same time on the first day of the New Year. Brightly coloured Junkanoo costumes consist of crepe paper meticulously glued to fabric, cardboard, or wood to create headdresses, shoulder pieces, and skirts. 

Customs & Traditions

Customs and traditions in the Bahamas have been shaped by African culture with a European colonial influence. Etiquette is actually quite similar to the UK, most notably in terms of politeness and consideration for others.

Customs you will notice while on holiday in the Bahamas include:

•    Wear appropriate clothing when away from the beach. Shorts and shirts are fine, but don’t wear a swimsuit to a restaurant.
•    Many Bahamians are devout Christians, so Sunday is typically reserved for church and prayer.
•    Bahamians drive on the left side of the road, but as most vehicles are imported from the USA, they are typically left-hand drive.
•    You should greet people with a handshake, a smile, and direct eye contact. Not maintaining direct eye contact is viewed as suspicious behaviour.
•    Bahamians tend to move to a first-name basis slowly.
•    The legal drinking age in the Bahamas is 18.
•    Importing, possessing, or dealing unlawful drugs is a serious offence with heavy penalties in the Bahamas.
•    While time is generally more fluid in the Bahamas than it is in the UK, if you are invited to a Bahamian’s house you should arrive no more than 15 minutes late. Make sure you dress as you would for going to the office; dressing too informally can be misconstrued as disrespect.
•    Bahamians have a good sense of humour tending towards self-deprecating. They like to make fun of themselves as well as tease others. This should be seen as harmless teasing and Bahamians like it when you join in.
 

Wildlife

The Bahamas is home to a varied array of animal species on land and sea. The clear waters of the shallow islands means a walk in a tidal pool will reward you with crabs, starfish, beautiful shells, and colourful fish. There are 27 national parks protecting marine and land animals in the Bahamas, including the world's longest underwater cave systems, the world's largest breeding colony of West Indian flamingos, and the most successful marine fishery reserves in the Caribbean.

Bahamian Pigs
For a truly unique experience, head to Big Major Spot Island to swim with the pigs. The legend goes that the pigs survived a shipwreck many years ago and managed to swim to shore, making their home in the tropical foliage and white sand beach, which locals have now named Pig Beach. As soon as the pigs hear boats coming, they thunder over the sand and plough into the sea, ready for visitors to splash in the water with them and, they hope, give them scraps of food.

Bird Watching
There are many tropical birds to see throughout the islands of the Bahamas. Several species are only found here, including the Bahama yellowthroat, the Bahama swallow, the Bahama nuthatch, the Bahama warbler, and the Bahama parrot. Waterfowl and wading birds can easily be spotted throughout the islands, as can Caribbean coots, Bahama pintails, egrets, and herons. See the Bahama parrot at Abaco National Park. This is one of the most important bird parks in the Bahamas and home to diverse species of birds. You can also go bird watching at Black Sound Cay National Reserve and Tilloo Cay National Reserve.

Horseback Riding
Horseback riding is available on Paradise Island, Grand Bahama Island, and the Abacos. Choose from carriage rides, saddling up and traversing the silent woods, or galloping across deserted stretches of beach.

Scuba Diving and Snorkelling
If you like warm seas, soft white sand, colourful reefs, and an abundance of tropical marine life, then you are in for a treat. The Bahamas is a scuba diving paradise. The 760-mile arc of islands offers a diverse range of beautiful reefs, turquoise pools, and clear shallows. You can choose to snorkel in the shallow waters that rim the islands or head deeper into the sea to see sharks, dolphins, sting rays, loggerhead turtles, and coral teeming with brilliantly-coloured fish.

Pink Flamingos
The pink flamingos of Inagua National Park cut a shimmering slash of pink across Lake Windsor at Great Inagua Island. The brilliant, crimson pink flamingos stand about five feet tall with black-tipped wings. Around 70,000 of these remarkable birds nest on the salt ponds of the island, making a spectacular scene for the few that make the trek to see them. 

Bahamas