Bahamas holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
British English, the official language of the Bahamas, is spoken, particularly by those within the tourist industry. Due to the wide ethnic mix of the Bahamian community, many other languages are in use as well, with the most prominent Bahamian Creole, a dialect originating with the freed slaves who flocked to the islands in the early 19th century.
The official currency in the Bahamas is the Bahamian dollar (B$), which is tied on a par with the US dollar (US$), which is also accepted. On the main island of New Providence, ATMs and currency exchange facilities are easily found, as is the case on Grand Bahama Island, but are rare or non-existent in the Out Islands. In the Bahamas, a mix of cash and credit cards is the best idea, although on New Providence, most large outlets and restaurants accept credit card payments.
An extensive list of nationals who do not need visas to enter the Bahamas includes citizens of the UK, the USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Nationals of countries not on the list should apply for a visa at their nearest Bahamian embassy or, if there is no Bahamian diplomatic post, at the nearest British embassy.
The climate of the 3,000-plus islands, cays and islets forming the Bahamian archipelago is sub-tropical to tropical. Typically, weather here ranges from hot to very hot, although occasional cold snaps relate to similar untypical cold spells in nearby Florida. Humid summers and warm winters are typical, with summer daytime highs of between 23 and 31°C and winter lows of between 17 and 25°C. The wettest months are June and August, and sea temperatures are 23°C in January and 28°C from June through September. The hurricane season runs from June through November.
Lynden Pindling International Airport is located on New Providence Island, close to Nassau, and is the main air arrivals hub for the archipelago. Flights from the USA operate as domestic flights due to US pre-clearance facilities, although there’s no such convenience for flights from the UK. Flights run to the archipelago’s smaller airports and to the international airport at Freeport on Grand Bahama. Direct British Airways flights land here from London-Heathrow. Jetblue flies from New York, Orlando, Boston and Fort Lauderdale, and American Airways flies from Dallas, Baltimore and Atlanta.
UK visitors are served by British Airways flights from London-Heathrow, with routes for US travellers including New York, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia and Charlotte. Jetblue flies from Orlando, Boston and Fort Lauderdale, and American Airways flies from Dallas, Baltimore and Atlanta. American Eagle offers flights from Miami. Freeport’s Grand Bahama International Airport offers USA routes including Miami, Baltimore, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Fort Lauderdale and Charlotte. There are no direct connections with the UK at present. Flight time from London to Nassau is 9 hours.
For UK travellers, the only direct flight to the Bahamas is with British Airways. One way to avoid the UK’s soaring flight taxes is to take a budget flight to Milan and pick up a seasonal Blue Panorama flight to Freeport. Taxis on the islands are expensive and buses are unreliable, making hire car or mailboat the best ways to get around.
Many people arrive in the Bahamas by cruise ship or even yacht. If a Carribean cruise is out of your budget, you could consider a side trip to the Bahamas during a holiday on the US eastern seaboard as the islands are just less than 3 hours by express ferry from Fort Lauderdale and slightly longer from Miami.
Inter-island travel is by domestic flight from Nassau or Freeport to any of the 60-plus airports on the outlying islands. A fun and cheaper alternative is by mailboat, which cover all the islands on a rotational basis, but are best avoided during the height of the hurricane season. Bus travel is by jitney (minibus) on the main islands and taxi or hire car are other options. Less than half the roads are paved and traffic on the islands drives on the left.
There are around 60 small airports located on the outlying islands, with 33 having paved runways. Domestic flights mostly operate from the airports at Nassau and Freeport. National carrier Bahamasair offers routes to 19 airports, including Cat Island, Abaco, Andros, Eleuthera and San Salvador. Fares are expensive so many people opt for boat or private charter plane.
Bus travel in Nassau and Freeport, and around New Providence and Gran Canaria islands, is by minibus, or jitney. Cheap and relatively comfortable, jitneys wait until they’re full before departing, routes are complex and the service is run by multiple companies. Jitneys stop running between 18:00 and 19:00. Larger buses travel across the two main islands, with service finishing at the same time. Bus services on the rest of the islands are limited or non-existent.
Hiring from reliable major international car hire chains is recommended as vehicle maintenance and insurance through these providers is a step up from that provided by local firms. Booking in advance is the best way to get a good deal, although offices can be found at airports and in Nassau and Freeport. Rental charges here are expensive and off the beaten tourist track, the less-used roads are in poor condition.
Nassau is the capital of the Bahamas and home to 70 per cent of the population of the entire archipelago. The city holds historic colonial buildings along Bay Street, its main thoroughfare, and the Straw Market, which offers intriguing souvenir shopping for traditional items woven from straw as well as batiks, wood carvings and more. Boats run from Nassau’s port to exquisite Blue Lagoon Island for swimming with dolphins and a day relaxing on a quiet beach.
Nassau’s harbour is the launching pad for a fast speedboat ride to the Exumas Islands, an hour away and an eco-tourist’s dream destination for its indigenous wildlife, including friendly iguanas, deserted beaches and tropical jungles. Grand Bahama Island is a nature-lover’s delight and great for water sports, horseback riding safaris, birding and getting away from it all on a tour of one of the island’s three national parks and their diverse ecosystems.
Set on small Paradise Island which is linked to New Providence is Aquaventure Water Park, a top-of-the-rage watery experience that is great for families. Its Thrill Ride holds over 20 million gallons of water, fairytale towers and high-speed slides, and there’s a two-kilometre river ride complete with rapids and 20 swimming areas. For young kids, there’s a water-play castle, and its 11 swimming pools are surrounded by tropical beauty.
Nassau’s Bennet’s Hill and its fort give a breathtaking view and are accessed by the most-visited attraction in the city - the Queen’s Staircase. The 65 steps were hacked out of the solid limestone cliff by slaves in 1795, using axes and other sharp hand tools. Almost 100 years later, the staircase was dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Victoria.
Historic Nassau was the heart of the British colonial presence on the island, with its three massive forts major landmarks and tourist sights. The largest and best-preserved is Fort Charlotte, built in 1789 and boasting a dry moat, a drawbridge, dungeons and massive ramparts set with cannons. Having never fired a shot in anger or defence, the fort nowadays gives the best view of the harbour.
Bennett’s Hill holds Fort Fincastle, built in 1793 and boasting eight cannons which once protected Government House, Paradise Island and the town’s eastern approaches. Fort Montague, constructed in 1742, contains a terraced freshwater cistern, barracks and yet more cannons. An imported but nonetheless important monument is the Cloisters, a magnificent ruin of a French monastery, brought to the US and thence to Paradise Island by an American millionaire.
The Pompey Museum of Slavery and Emancipation in Nassau is set in the lovely, colonial Vendue House on Bay Street and tells the tale of slavery on the island from its own history of use as a slave market. Nassau’s Pirate Museum is totally interactive, great for children of all ages and harks back to the early 18th century when the harbour was a haven for Blackbeard and other infamous pirates. A replica of a pirate ship, mock battles and theatrical shows add to the fun.
Christchurch Cathedral in Nassau is the fourth church on the site, with the first two, of wooden construction, destroyed by the Spanish and the third replaced by the present building in 1754. The original giant limestone blocks were held together by their weight, using very little cement, although enlargement over the centuries has seen the use of more conventional techniques. In complete contrast, the unbelievably huge Atlantis Casino and Resort towers over the town from its beachside position and is a monument to modern day entertainment and consumerism.
At nightfall, the laid-back Bahamian capital city turns into buzzing nightlife central, glowing in the dark with a myriad lights. The two major Nassau casinos are hubs, one set on Paradise Island and the other towering over Nassau’s waterfront. The Crystal Palace Casino, a mini Las Vegas-style extravaganza, is located in the Wyndham Nassau Resort on Cable Beach and has its own theatre offering nightly Bahamas-themed shows. Atlantis Paradise Island Resort and Casino is party central, with innumerable bars, restaurants and a comedy club in ultra-glitzy surroundings.
Bahamians are obsessed with all things pleasurable, lively and lovely, and the nightlife reflects their love of music and dance. From steel bands through traditional sounds and songs, to contemporary rock, pop and jazz, the music goes on until dawn at clusters of bars along Cable Beach and clubs around town. A typical night out here begins in the mid-evening after a leisurely meal and a few drinks in a hotel venue set on a strip containing a choice of music bars, lounges and dance clubs. When and where it ends is up to you.
Grand Bahama Island’s nightlife offers a slightly different flavour, with the most popular bars, lounges and clubs set in Port Lucaya Marketplace and including the hottest venue, Shenanigan’s. Local talent showcases traditional music, fire-eating skills, performances on instruments unknown outside the Bahamas and dances first performed during the black days of slavery. From riotous parties to local fish fries on the beaches, the variety of nightlife here is amazing.
Eating out in the Bahamas encompasses everything from cosmopolitan international gastronomy to local foods unique to the islands. Suiting all occasions, tastes and pockets, the choice ranges from fine French dining through world-class sushi and other Asian delights, to the Bahamian seafood specialities such as crawfish, conch, land crabs and various fish species. The conch mollusk is an all-time favourite, served every which way including raw and spiced. Conch chowder, conch fritters, conch salad and even conch burgers are must-trys on a Bahamian holiday.
A typical meal here begins with souse, a soup made from pigs’ feet, sheep’s tongue, oxtail or chicken along with onions, lime juice, peppers and celery. Split pea and ham soup is another option. Fish ’n grits is the Bahamian breakfast, with the fish cooked with salt pork, green peppers and onions, and served with grits. Curries based on goat or mutton feature here and are delicious when washed down with the locally-brewed Kalik beer. Most Bahamian dishes show an American South influence, with subtle spiciness and unique flavours.
Coconuts are used in many ways, as drinks, in desserts such as tarts, puddings, trifles, ice creams and custards, and in many main course recipes. The exception, guava duff, is a Bahamian speciality made with pulped guava flesh and served with a sugar, butter, rum and vanilla hard sauce. The indigenous bread, Johnnycake, dates from the early days of settlement and is sweet, pan-cooked and made with flour, butter, sugar, baking powder and salt. Bahamian food is found in little local restaurants, with the hotels mostly serving international cuisine.
Bahamian beaches are reputed to be the best in the region, boasting kilometres- long pure white or pink powdery sand and warm, azure waters. Oddly-named Cabbage Beach is found on Paradise Island and is the best Nassau beach for swimming, walking, sunbathing, waterskiing, parasailing and snorkelling. Great Exuma Island’s Coco Plum Beach is breathtaking and often deserted, and Eleuthera’s Alabaster Beach lives up to its name. Grand Bahama’s Lucaya Beach is known for its water sports and its most spectacular, secluded beach is Gold Rock Beach.
For a secluded, romantic break, the Out Islands of the Bahamas are the perfect choice. Great Exuma and Eleuthera are beautiful, small islands with accommodation from luxury resorts to quaint lodges and endless remote beaches backed by palms. Considered by many to be the ’real’ Bahamas, they’re far enough off the tourists trail to allow for a laid-back, do-as-you-please break in breathtaking surroundings.
Family holidays of all types are well-catered for here, with the large resorts and luxury hotels offering entertainment programmes, supervised kids’ clubs, organised activities and shallow pools for children, as well as children’s menus and special treats. Parents needing a night out or short break can take advantage of child-sitting services. The smaller hotels are perfect for families looking for quality time together, and outdoor sports and glorious beaches make up for a lack of internet access and computer games. Good family-oriented accommodation is found all over the islands.
For holidaymakers needing an adrenaline fix, outdoor and adventure sports are in plentiful supply in the Bahamas. Diving and snorkelling here aren’t just restricted to the usual reef sites. The Lost Blue Hole, a natural rift in the ocean floor, is a thrilling experience for expert divers and the Shark Arena and Runway gives a chance for accompanied dives among feeding sharks. Eleuthera Island offers both land and undersea caving and great surfing, and unspoilt South Andros Island is perfect for wilderness hiking among forests containing wild boars and huge iguanas.