Nassau, the nation’s capital, on New Providence Island, attracts the most tourists. This bustling cruise port is a mix of mega resorts, shops, restaurants, and entertainment complexes. Grand Bahama follows in second place. The other islands, affectionately called the Out Islands, cluster into groups, and each has its own distinct character and charm. Slung like pearls across the shallow Bahama Banks, the Abacos and Exumas offer some of the world’s best waters for boating and sailing. These peaceful islands are dotted with sleepy fishing villages and secluded beaches, and flourishing coral reefs rim many of their shores. The other islands all offer something for discerning travelers. From the big game fishing of Bimini, and the pink sand beaches of Harbour Island, to bonefishing, regattas, and uncrowded outer cays, it’s hard to beat the Bahamas. For those visiting around the New Year, don’t miss the throbbing drums and kaleidoscopic costumes of Junkanoo, the nation’s most popular festival.
Atlantis Paradise Island
Dominating the skyline on Paradise Island, this splashy, salmon-pink resort evocatively recreates the legend of Atlantis in a luxury hotel, entertainment complex, aquarium, and water park. Guests at the hotel score free entry into the popular 141-acre Aquaventure, a waterscape packed with high-speed slides, more than 20 swimming areas, and a long Lazy River Ride. In the marine habitat, hammerhead sharks and swordfish swim through sparkling open-air pools. Guests will also find many shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues on site. The fantasy sea theme continues throughout, capturing the imagination of young and old alike.
One of the most popular cruise ship ports in the Caribbean, Nassau still manages to charm visitors despite the crowds of camera-toting tourists. Visitors come here to bask on the white sands of Cable Beach; explore the shops, restaurants, museums, and candy-colored colonial buildings of downtown and Bay Street; and shop for souvenirs at the Nassau Straw Market. A short catamaran ride away from Nassau, animal lovers can cavort with dolphins on a day trip to Blue Lagoon Island, while Ardastra Gardens, Zoo, and Conservation Center also offers a slower pace, with its endangered and threatened species amid four acres of tropical gardens. Paradise Island, home to the perennially popular Atlantis resort, shimmers on the horizon about five kilometers offshore from Nassau.
Western Out Islands
The stuff of stories, or more specifically Ernest Hemingway stories, Bimini is known for fishing. With its position at the edge of the Gulf Stream, the island holds over 50 record-setting titles in sports fishing. Off-shore waters host massive tuna, marlin and swordfish, while the flats are home to bonefish and permit. The largest, yet most sparsely populated, of the Bahamian islands, Andros is ideal for travelers who really want to get away from it all. Hiking through the tropical foliage here, you might see one of 40 types of orchids that call Andros home, rare, endemic birds roosting in pine and mahogany trees, and mesmerizing blue holes. Visitors can dive along the third longest barrier reef in the world. The 365 islands and cays of the Exumas shelter the 176-square-mile Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, which protects animals such as the hutia — the only native land animal in the Bahamas. There are mooring points for boats, but fishing is prohibited within the park. Georgetown on Grand Exuma has many condo resorts and fishing lodges and many of the private islands in the Exumas host luxury resorts and homes of the rich and famous.
Grand Bahama, one of the islands closest to Florida, is a popular tourist destination. The only major town on the island, Freeport/Lucaya is a cosmopolitan gem surrounded by nature. Most major resorts are in the Freeport/Lucaya area, which also has a marina, a shopping village with upscale shops, and galleries interspersed with craft and souvenir vendors. Outside of town, Grand Bahama turns into a natural paradise with deserted beaches such as the wide stretch at Lucayan National Park, filmed as the backdrop for beach scenes in Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End.” Grand Bahama Nature Tours (grandbahamanaturetours.com) takes visitors kayaking through the mangroves of the park and out to the beach.