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Bahamas, North America



When Christopher Columbus first set foot in the New World, he did so in the Bahamas, although the exact island he landed on is still a matter of debate. (San Salvador is the popular favorite, and a white cross marks the spot where he is supposed to have landed.) He didn't stay long, however, being intent on finding riches that this group of islands didn't seem to hold. Perhaps he was looking for the wrong things. These days, travelers are quite satisfied with the treasures they find in the Bahamas: brilliant turquoise water, sandy beaches, excellent fishing and surroundings that range from swank hotels to secluded coves. Those making landfall in the islands can choose from several distinct experiences. Visitors looking for the standard resort amenities should head to Palm Trees on the Coast. Nassau (on New Providence Island) or Freeport and Lucaya (on Grand Bahama Island). Splashy Nassau, the biggest city and main port, is awash in pink colonial buildings, bustling street markets, five-star resorts and opulent casinos. In Freeport and Lucaya, the Bahamas' second-largest port, options range from frolicking with dolphins to perusing duty-free goods in ample shopping complexes. Those more interested in deserted beaches, sailing and a generally slower pace will want to visit some of the many Out Islands, most of which are thinly populated or uninhabited.


The Lucayan Indians had the islands mostly to themselves until Columbus showed up in 1492 and claimed them for Spain. But the Spanish needed gold, silver and valuable trade goods, and the newly acquired Bahamian real estate provided few of those things. Soon the Spanish relaxed their hold on the islands. By the mid-1600s, England claimed the region, and British colonists began to settle on the islands. From that time on, the history of the Bahamas is closely intertwined with that of the U.S. After the Revolutionary War, British Loyalists moved to the islands from New England and the Carolinas, both to remain under British rule and to escape the patriots' reprisals. Later, slaves from the southern U.S. fled to the Bahamas in order to gain their freedom. During the Civil War, Confederates used the islands as a center for blockade running, and during Prohibition, the islands were a base for rumrunners. When the Bahamas became independent in 1973, it remained part of the British Commonwealth. Nevertheless, the country has been influenced by heavy doses of U.S. tourism and television, which is evidenced by the new architecture, clothing, music and restaurants. Some British influence is still seen in the bobby-style uniforms that the Bahamian police officers wear and the statue of a young Queen Victoria that stands at Parliament Square.


The northernmost island of the Bahamas lies in the Atlantic Ocean about 50 mi/85 km off the southeast Florida coastline--in the Atlantic Ocean, not the Caribbean as is popularly thought. The balance of the archipelago, about 700 islands and 2,000 islets called cays (pronounced keys), tumbles south and east toward Hispaniola. With a total landmass of more than 5,000 sq mi/13,000 sq km spread over 100,000 sq mi/260,000 sq km of water, the Bahamas chain is larger than any of the Caribbean island groups. Besides New Providence and Grand Bahama Island, only about 30 of the other islands are inhabited. As for topography, don't expect to see mountains and waterfalls--these islands are very flat. They are also largely dry, lacking any kind of streams or rivers. Because of this, no run-off sediment is deposited into the sea, resulting in the amazingly clear waters that surround the islands.

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The Bahamas offer a wide choice of attractions including beaches, shelling, golf, boating, fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, historical sites, gambling, nightlife, shopping, restaurants, sea kayaking and boat excursions. Visitors who want an island experience in a different country but want to minimize the unfamiliar will probably enjoy the Bahamas. The islands provide a taste of the tropics, but the use of English and the lack of poverty (relative to other countries in the region) will mitigate any culture shock.


When it comes to street names, Bahamians are very creative: Bar 20 Corner, Dog Flea Alley and Dumping Ground Corner are streets in Nassau. Hard Bargain and Snug Corner are the names of settlements on Long Island and Acklins Island. Conch (a mainstay staple) and love vine (a bush tea) are both believed to have aphrodisiac effects. One local belief says that if you get sand in your shoes during your visit, you will return and eventually stay. According to the World Health Organization, the Bahamas is the most smoke-free nation in the world (only 19% of the men and 4% of the women are smokers). The potable water in New Providence is shipped from Andros, with two vessels going back and forth between the two islands. The flamingo is the national bird of the Bahamas, and the southern island Inagua is home to the world's largest breeding colony. The ratio of flamingos to people on that island is 61:1. The name Bahamas derives from the Spanish baja mar, which means "shallow sea." Geologically speaking, the islands were born of the sea and are made of limestone, which is primarily formed of cemented skeletal remains of trillions of marine organisms. The highest point in the Bahamas--at 206 ft/63 m above sea level--is the peak of Mount Alverina on Cat Island. Eleuthera, not Hawaii, is the original home of the pineapple. Several companies in the Bahamas will provide everything you need to get married underwater. In some ceremonies, a bottlenose dolphin serves as the ring bearer. The hibiscus blossoms that you see all over the islands only last a day, opening in the morning and withering away at nightfall.



Nassau has some fine examples of colonial architecture, and Harbour Island and Hope Town are little gems of New England-style architecture. Other remainders of the past are the forts in Nassau and the Hermitage atop Mount Alvernia on Cat Island. When visiting Nassau, don't miss the impressive aquarium of the Atlantis hotel. The Ardastra Gardens are a placid presentation of Caribbean wildlife and feature a show of marching flamingos.


A number of islands have attractive nature preserves that lend themselves to a variety of eco-tours, including horseback riding in the Lucayan National Park in Grand Bahama. The wonderful reefs, drop-offs, blue holes and caves in the Exuma National Land and Sea Park will fascinate experienced divers, and birding enthusiasts will be amazed by the 50,000 flamingos that live in the Bahamas National Trust Reserve in Inagua. Each island has a different character, and the attractions are diverse. In the same way that both Grand Bahama and Andros are a paradise for divers, the steady breezes and the charming natural harbors of the Abaco Sound are a sailor's delight. The Exumas are considered the apogee for all boaters.

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The barrier reef near Andros is the third longest in the world. Thrilling scuba activities include the "over the wall" dive and blue-hole diving in Andros, and wreck, cave, night and shark diving in Grand Bahama. Swimming, snorkeling, shelling and sunbathing are great activities on any of the islands. The Bahamas are also popular with golfers. Paradise Island, New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco, Eleuthera and Exuma are home to magnificent 18-hole courses, where many tournaments take place. Tennis can be played at most of the major resorts. Boats can be chartered for fishing trips, as well as for excursions to the Out Islands. There are many fishing tournaments year-round. Andros is known for its excellent bonefishing, and Bimini is home to plenty of game-fishing tournaments. Sailing races from Miami to Nassau have been organized semiregularly since 1934.

Local Tours

If you want to see Nassau from a bird's-eye view, a helicopter tour can be arranged. And to get an idea of the exotic marine life under the water without getting wet, glass-bottomed-boat tours will take you to the reefs in Nassau and Lucaya.


Day by Day It's difficult to give an exact itinerary that will please everyone. Look for the island that caters to any special interest you have. Whether it's scuba diving, fishing or extreme relaxation, find the best locale and don't budge for a week. First-time visitors looking to get a taste of all that the Bahamas offer should spend the first three nights either in the Nassau area (Nassau, Paradise Island or Cable Beach) or on Grand Bahama Island (Freeport or Lucaya). From there, go to one or more of the Out Islands for the remainder of your trip.

Destinations in Bahamas

Nassau Located on the island of New Providence, Nassau is the capital of the Bahamas. You'll find the islands' best sightseeing and historic buildings there. Also expect to find a crowd: Nassau is a very busy place, thanks to the high volume of cruise-ship passengers. In addition to the attractions in Nassau proper, there are a number of tourist sites on Paradise Island, a spot of land off Nassau that has been transformed into a high-rise gambling and leisure haven. It's connected to the capital by two arched one-way bridges. To have a good time in Nassau, approach the port with an open mind. Even though it's an international city and commercial center--and firmly a part of the present--it still maintains its old-world island flavor. Things may take a little longer than you're used to. Slow your pace as you explore Nassau's rich history, tranquil beaches and turquoise waters--one of the best commodities of the Bahamas.


The main tourist areas offer a variety of restaurants and foods, including seafood, steak and international cuisine (mainly American, Continental, Italian, French and Asian). If you want to sample traditional Bahamian food, look beyond the upscale resorts. Among the local specialties are fish chowder (usually made with grouper, tomatoes, dark rum and lime juice) and conch salad (uncooked conch marinated in hot sauce and served with peppers and onions). Our favorite places to eat serve local specialties, including conch fritters, chowders, salads, pea soup with dumplings, fried fish with johnnycake (sweeter than on the Caribbean islands) and grouper cutlets. The "lobster," a clawless variety of giant crawfish, is delicious. Try the guava duff or soursop ice cream for dessert. Among the excellent tropical fruits are sugar apples, kinip (also spelled guinop, it's much like a lychee), wild sea grapes and mangos. Kalik is the Bahamas' national beer, and there are lots of fruity, rum-based drinks such as the Goombay Smash and the Bahama Mama. You'll also find a number of excellent British ales to sample. Various nonalcoholic malt drinks are also worth a try.


Many items sold in the Bahamas are duty-free, including perfumes, leather goods, sweaters, linens, crystal, china, photographic equipment, liquor, telescopes and binoculars. The islands have a good selection of jewelry from around the world (including Colombian emeralds) as well as imported woolens, Swiss watches, English china and other foreign

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luxury items. Duty-free shopping isn't always a bargain. Check prices at home first to make sure the savings justify the hassle of transporting the items. Local goods include liquor, handicrafts and art. Androsia batiks, with their vivid colors and striking designs, are great souvenirs. Straw markets in Nassau, in Freeport's International Bazaar, Port Lucaya Marketplace and on several islands sell assorted goods woven from straw. You'll find everything from hats and handbags to dolls. The straw baskets from Harbour Island are generally of high quality. If you don't see what you want on display, ask for it--sometimes the weaver will make it to order. Bargaining in the local markets is not as prevalent as in some of the Caribbean countries, but it doesn't hurt to try. Shopping Hours: Monday-Saturday 9 am-5 pm in Nassau and Lucaya. Some shops open a few hours on Sunday when ships are in port. Hours vary on the other islands.


Personal Safety

Crime exists in the Bahamas, especially in the Nassau and Freeport areas, but observing a few commonsense precautions should keep you out of trouble: Don't accept any offers on the street for guide service or go to remote beaches alone--tourists are easy targets for crime. When in doubt, ask responsible hotel personnel for guidance. The urban areas of Freeport and Nassau are considered relatively safe during daylight hours, at least in the spots frequently visited by tourists, but be careful about visiting other parts of town alone, and don't wander off the beaten path after dark. Most thefts occur from hotel rooms or at the beach or swimming pool, so keep your valuables in the hotel safe and don't leave items such as cameras unattended. Though crime may occur on the Out Islands, it is relatively rare. Only book with recommended Jet Ski or parasailing operators--some companies have no insurance. For the latest information, contact your country's travel-advisory agency. Canadian Travel Advisory Line--Phone: 613-944-6788. Toll-free: 800-267-6788. U.S. Department of State, Overseas Citizens Services--Phone: 202-501-4444. Toll-free: 888-407-4747.


You can drink the water, but it may taste a bit mineral-laden. On some islands (including New Providence), the taste is bad enough that most people stick with bottled drinks. Sanitary conditions in most restaurants are acceptable, but use your best judgment. If lots of people are eating there, it should be safe. Mosquitoes and large sand flies can be a problem throughout the islands, so take along repellent. Medical facilities are good: There are hospitals in Nassau and Freeport and clinics on most populated islands. A hepatitis A vaccination is recommended. For more information, contact your country's health-advisory agency. Health Canada--Phone: 613-957-2991. U.S. CDC International Travel Information--Toll-free: 877-394-8747.

Dos and Don'ts

Don't confuse reggae music with calypso. Though it's now heard everywhere in the Bahamas, reggae initially developed in Jamaica. The more traditional style in the Bahamas is calypso (though it hails originally from Trinidad). The album Junkanoo by the Baha Men (available internationally) is a good introduction to Bahamian calypso music. Do negotiate your taxi fare (or ask the driver to turn on the meter) before climbing in. Don't be surprised if you're called "Darlin'" or "Honey" in the Bahamas. It's as common a greeting in the Bahamas as "Mon" is in the Caribbean. Don't plan to sunbathe nude or camp on beaches: These are illegal activities in the Bahamas (though topless bathing is tolerated in some areas). Don't worry about changing money if you're a U.S. citizen. The U.S. dollar is on par and accepted along with the Bahamian dollar.

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Do experience the less touristy side of the Bahamas: Travel between islands on a mail boat. Your companions will be Bahamians (and sometimes their goats and chickens). Don't expect to find full banking services on all islands. Make sure you have enough cash or traveler's checks if you go beyond Nassau or Freeport and Lucaya. If you pilot a yacht, do be sure to use a reliable, current navigation handbook.



Official Name: Commonwealth of the Bahamas. Passport/Visa Requirements: Canadian and U.S. citizens need proof of citizenship (either a passport or a certified copy of a birth certificate accompanied by a photo ID). For stays longer than 21 days, a visa is required of Canadian citizens. All visitors are required to show proof of onward passage and proof of sufficient funds. Reconfirm travel document requirements with carrier before departure. Population: 299,697. Languages: English. Predominant Religions: Predominantly Christian (Protestant, Roman Catholic). Time Zone: 5 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (-5 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is observed early April-late October. Voltage Requirements: 120 volts. Telephone Codes: 242, country code.


Currency Exchange The Bahamian dollar is on a par with the U.S. dollar, which is universally accepted. Travelers using U.S. dollars will not need to exchange money. ATMs are widely available, although the ones that dispense U.S. currency frequently run out of cash. U.S. currency machines can be found in Baystreet, in the Welcome Center on Prince George Dock, in Cable Beach, at the Casino of Atlantis and Crystal Palace Casino in Cable Beach. All others dispense Bahamian dollars. When using ATMs, check which currency the machines dispense: You may end up with more Bahamian dollars than you need.

Currency Exchange Rates

US Dollar $10 $20 $30 $40 $50 $60 $70 $80 $90 $100 Bahamian Dollar (BSD) 10.00 20.00 30.00 40.00 50.00 60.00 70.00 80.00 90.00 100.00 US Dollar $200 $400 $600 $800 $1000 $1200 $1400 $1600 $1800 $2000 Bahamian Dollar (BSD) 200.00 400.00 600.00 800.00 1,000.00 1,200.00 1,400.00 1,600.00 1,800.00 2,000.00

Taxes There is no sale tax in the Bahamas. A 6%-12% tax is added on the room rates. Tipping Tip hotel and restaurant employees 15% if a service charge hasn't already been added to the bill.

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On average, the sun shines 358 days a year in the Bahamas. Because of the Gulf Stream, winters in the Bahamas are fairly mild, about 10 degrees F/5 C warmer than in nearby Florida. The summers can be humid, rainy and warm (day temperatures reaching into the low 90s F/33 C), but are moderated by trade winds. High season is from November to mid April, when the weather is generally good. Hurricane season is June-November, and most rain falls at that time. There really is no bad time to go, but take along at least a sweater during the winter. Average day temperatures in fall and spring are in the 70s-80s F/23-32 C, with nights in the 60s F/15-22 C. Winter temperatures can be about 10 degrees F/5 C cooler.

What to Wear

Although many locations are generally informal, Queen Victoria's influence is still felt. Unless you're at the beach or the pool, walking around in a swimsuit isn't appropriate. Casual, summer-weight clothing should be worn. Make sure you take comfortable footwear for walking--the sidewalks get hot enough to make you uncomfortable in thin-soled shoes. Jackets and ties for men and dresses or nice slacks for women are typical attire in the casinos and some better restaurants. Very few restaurants require jackets these days, apart from a few pricey spots in Nassau. When you make dinner reservations, ask about the dress code.


Air Nassau's International Airport (NAS) is 14 mi/23 km west of town, and Freeport's Grand Bahama International Airport (FPO) is 5 mi/8 km from the tourist area of Freeport. Taxis are available at both, and there is frequent air service between islands. Bus There are private minibuses and jitneys on New Providence and on Grand Bahama that can be less expensive than taxis: The trip from Freeport to Lucaya costs about US$1 by jitney, and a taxi costs about US$7. (To let a jitney driver know you want to get off, holler, "Bus stop!") Car Rental cars are available on some of the islands, but if you can make do without one, we'd recommend doing so. If you decide to rent a car, note that driving can be confusing: Driving is on the left, but most cars are U.S. models with the steering wheel also on the left. Be aware that the accident rate is very high throughout the Bahamas: Speed limits are laxly enforced and road conditions are bad. (For this reason, we also don't recommend renting motorbikes or scooters.) Ferry The Bahamas Fast Ferry runs between Nassau, Harbour Island and Eleuthera. Passage can also be booked on mail boats for travel between various islands and Nassau. It takes a lot of time to see the islands this way, and it's by no means luxurious, but it's a great way to get to know Bahamians. Space is first-come, first-served. Inquire about schedules at the dock master's office at Potter's Cay in Nassau (don't forget to take along seasickness medicine). Ship There is frequent boat service between Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Freeport. Cruise lines visit Nassau, Freeport and Lucaya and private islands (often owned by the line) on various itineraries. Taxi Taxis are the main form of transport on most islands, making it sometimes expensive to get around: To get from one end of Eleuthera to the other, for example, would cost about US$100. Ask what the fare will be before setting off. Water taxis (small motorboats) are a common form of transportation on many of the Bahama Islands. They are sometimes a much faster way to get around than by road.

For More Information

Tourist Offices Nassau: Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, P.O. Box N-3701, Nassau, Bahamas. Phone 242-302-2000 or toll-free 800-224-2627. Fax 242-302-2098. Grand Bahama: Grand Bahama Island Tourism Board, P.O. Box F-40251, Freeport, Grand Bahama Island. Phone 242-352-8356. Fax 242-352-2714. Canada: Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, 121 Bloor St. E., Suite 1101, Toronto, ON M4W 3M5. Phone 416-968-2999 or toll-free 800-677-3777. Fax 416-968-6711.

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U.S.: Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, 150 E. 52nd St., 28th Floor N., New York, NY 10022. Phone 212-758-2777 or toll-free 800-422-4262. Fax 212-753-6531. Out Islands Promotion Board, 1200 S. Pine Island Road, Suite 750, Plantation, FL 33324. Phone 954-475-8315. Fax 954-475-8354. Bahamian Embassies Canada: High Commission for the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, 50 O'Connor St., Suite 1313, Ottawa, ON K1P 6L2. Phone 613-232-1724. Fax 613-232-0097. U.S.: Embassy of the Commonwealth of Bahamas, 2220 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20008. Phone 202-319-2660. Fax 202-319-2668. Foreign Embassies serving the Bahamas Canada: Canadian Consulate, Shirley Street Shopping Plaza, Nassau (mail address: P.O. Box SS-6371, Nassau, Bahamas). Phone 242-393-2123. Fax 242-393-1305. U.S.: U.S. Embassy, Mosmar Building, Queen Street, P.O. Box N-8197, Nassau, Bahamas. Phone 242-322-1181. Fax 242-328-7838. Tourist Offices Bahamas Tourism Office There is a Tourism Office in Festival Place at the port in Nassau and one at the port on Grand Bahama Island. Brochures and information on the island are available there and at all hotels. For other information, contact the main office of the Bahamas Tourism Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Phone 954-236-9292. Toll-free 800-224-3681.

Additional Reading Bahamas Handbook (Etienne Dupuch Jr. Publications). This reference book, revised and published annually, contains articles about the country's history, business, investing, real estate, politics and personalities. The Bahamas: Portrait of an Archipelago by Larry Smith and Michael A. Toogood (MacMillan). A collection of photographs. The Story of The Bahamas by Paul Albury (MacMillan Education). An in-depth look at the country's history. The Land of the Pink Pearl by L.D. Powell (Media Publishing). Fascinating history of Bahamian life in the 1800s. Historic Nassau by Gail Saunders and Donald Cartwright (Macmillan Education). A stimulating illustrated description of Nassau's architecture and history. Reminiscing: Memories of Old Nassau by Valeria Moseley Moss (R.G. Lightbourn). Author's observations of life in Nassau in the first half of the 20th century. Out-Island Doctor by Evans W. Cottman with Wyatt Blassingame (Landfall Press). Inspiring autobiography of a schoolteacher-turned-paramedic who moved from the U.S. to the Bahamas in the 1960s. Recommended Guidebooks Frommer's Bahamas 2005 by Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince (Frommers). Fodor's Bahamas 19th Edition (Fodor's).


The highlight of the year is the annual Junkanoo Parade on Boxing Day (26 December). Though many Bahamian towns put on a party, you'll find the biggest and best in Nassau. Elaborately costumed dancers parade through the streets to cacophonous music. Beware, the fun starts at 1 am. New Year's Day is a public holiday to recover from the celebrations of New Year's Eve. A reprise of the Junkanoo Parade occurs on 1 January, but with new costumes. Each of the islands has its own signature festival. Throughout the year spectacular sailing regattas of Bahamian sloops

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take place on various islands. Fishing tournaments, such as the Annual Wahoo Championship Series (between November and February) in Grand Bahama and the Billfish Championship (April-June) in the Abacos, are also popular events. In June the pineapple is the Queen of the festival in Eleuthera and the crab the King in Central Andros. The Berry Islands are home to the Lobster Festival in July. The country's most important event takes place the third week in April. The National Family Islands Regatta has been an annual event in Great Exuma's Elizabeth Harbour for almost 50 years. Bahamian independence from Great Britain is celebrated on 10 July, when fireworks and parades are the order of the day. The first Monday in August marks Emancipation Day, when Bahamians celebrate the end of slavery in 1834. Discovery Day on 12 October is a public holiday commemorating Christopher Columbus' arrival in the islands. Eleutherans reveal the strength of their ties to England by celebrating Guy Fawkes Day (in honor of the 1605 capture of Guy Fawkes, who attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament) on 5 November. And then the Christmas season starts, bringing yet another Junkanoo to look forward to.

Copyright (c) 2005 Northstar Travel Media, LLC. Intelliguide Professional. This Intelliguide Professional report has been prepared for you by No single factor in any report should be the determining factor in your decision to visit a destination. Northstar Travel Media can make no representation or warranties regarding the accuracy of any media report. We recommend that you contact your travel consultant, at the number located at the beginning of this report, about the availability of a good travel insurance policy for each and every trip. Travel insurance protects you against any number of mishaps, from lost baggage and unexpected cancellations to sickness or injury. Remember that your own medical insurance may not be valid outside of your home country. Travel is by its very nature an adventure into the unknown. In all instances, no matter how safe you may perceive a destination, any destination, use your good judgment. Take precautions. The more information you have, the better. The destination intelligence in this report is supplied and monitored by Intelliguide Professional. While we make every effort to be as thorough and accurate as possible, mistakes can and do occur. Please use the information provided as a basis for further research and not as a definitive report on your destination. All information is provided "as is" and without any representation or warranty.

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