Bahamas Travel Guide

Graced with extensive beaches bleached white by the year-round sun and surrounded by sparkling turquoise waters filled with varied and colourful sea life, the islands of the Bahamas are a major destination for divers, sailors and sun-worshippers.

Although often thought to be part of the Caribbean, the Bahamas is actually an archipelago of 700 islands with thousands of small cays strung out in the ocean, starting 55 miles (89km) from Miami in the Atlantic Ocean.

The islands' first inhabitants were the Lucayan Indians who lived here from the 9th century until after Columbus discovered the islands in 1492, making his first step into the New World. The resulting exploitation led to the native population being virtually wiped out. For two hundred years, until independence in 1987, the Bahamas was a British Crown Colony and a strong British influence can still be seen in the architecture and culture.

The population of the Bahamas now consists mostly of Bahamians of African descent, who are mainly descended from freed slaves. The strong African cultural influence is evident in everyday life, and in events like Junkanoo, a traditional street festival held every year on Boxing Day. The laidback attitude of life in the Bahamas is infectious, as is the party atmosphere that comes to life in the lively bars and nightclubs of Nassau and Freeport. There is also a strong American cultural influence, particularly in the capital, Nassau.

Due to its proximity to the US, the Bahamas has become an offshore banking and financial centre. Tourism, however, remains its most important industry. The long stretches of empty beaches, clear waters, and activities such as swimming with dolphins, hiking and bird-watching in Bahamas National Trust Park, scuba diving in spectacular coral reefs, and enjoying world-class resorts with facilities such as golf courses, casinos and spas have made the Bahamas an immensely popular destination throughout the year.

Best time to visit the Bahamas

The tropical savannah climate of the Bahamas ensures that the weather is beautiful all year round, with relatively stable temperature and pronouced wet and dry season. It can get very hot in the late summer months of July and August, and hurricane season in the Bahamas runs from June to November.

In the Bahamas, hurricane season is considered the off-season so many hotels and resorts do major construction projects then and this often means a cheaper stay for visitors. The best time to visit the Bahamas is between December and April, when temperatures range between 75F and 85F (24C - 29C) and there is little rain.

What to see in the Bahamas

-Explore ancient, underwater caves at Lucayan National Park.

-Go bird-watching on Half Moon Cay.

-See the world's deepest blue hole at Long Island.

-Explore the markets and restaurants of Freeport.

What to do in the Bahamas

-Mingle with the extraordinarily wealthy on the Berry Islands.

-Go sport fishing for sailfish and marlin in the Bimini Islands.

-Hug a friendly bottlenose dolphin at Dolphin Encounters.

-Go scuba diving in the coral reefs near Andros Island.

Getting to the Bahamas

There are plenty of cheap, direct flights to the Bahamas from the US that come from most major airports on half a dozen airlines. There are also direct flights to the Bahamas from the UK. The flight takes about nine hours, excluding layovers.

Read

Thine is the Kingdom by Garth Buckner, Island Boy by Eric Minns, Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway, and The Story of the Bahamas by Paul Albury.

Listen

Alphonso 'Blind Blake' Higgs, and 'Who let the dogs out?' by the Baha Men.

Watch

Thunderball (1966) and After the Sunset (2004).

Drink

Bahama Mama cocktail, Sky Juice, Goombay Squash

Eat

Local seafood like crayfish and conch are set to tantalise the palate of even the most discerning visitor.

Buy in the Bahamas

Pearl jewellery and woven baskets are great souvenirs from the Bahamas.

Pack for the Bahamas

Visitors should be sure to pack lots of sunscreen for the Bahamas, as the sun can be quite intense.

What's on in the Bahamas

Boxing Day is lively and colourful as locals celebrate Junkanoo each year with parades and music, while the annual Long Island Regatta is also one of the main events in the Bahamas' yachting calendar.

Some random facts

-Bahamas has the clearest waters in the world, with visibility of over 200 feet (61 meters).

-The ratio of flamingos to people on Great Inagua is 61 flamingos to one person.

-Paradise Island was originally called Hogg Island.

A final word

Sparkling beaches, friendly people and the crystal-clear waters of the Bahamas make it an ideal island holiday destination.

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