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Bahamas

Photo by Chelle Koster Walton

Bahamas Itineraries

Exploring Nassau and Beyond

Grand Bahama Island Off the Beaten Path

Grand Bahama Island: Metro Vibes, Culture and Natural Beauty

Nassau Bahamas: Sidetrips to the Out Islands

Nassau for Families

Perfect Day in Exuma, on the Bahamas

Bahamas culture and history wrapped in beaches

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The Bahamas, an archipelago of 700 diverse islands plus several thousand rocks and cays, lie off the southeast shore of Florida. They are surrounded by the clearest ocean water on the planet. To many travelers, “Bahamas” means “Nassau.” Period. And to be fair, the nation’s history-rich capital on New Providence Island is the archipelago’s most-visited destination. But it’s really the starting point for diverse island explorations and experiences.

Sure, get your feet wet in the transparent, gem-toned waters around Nassau. But even first-timers should balance their city-mouse Nassau visit with a country-mouse stay in one of the Out Islands or Grand Bahama Island. An island-hopping vacation takes time, but is well worth experiencing the Bahamas’ rich variety.


Nassau: Bahamas’ Center of Commerce and Culture

Nassau is the capital of the island nation and the center of its history and culture. But don’t forget its beaches and water sports, the number one reason it attracts visitors.

Get started with these itineraries:

Exploring Nassau and Beyond … Bahamas’ center of commerce and culture

Nassau for Families … Pirates, snorkeling and one big sandbox (aka the beach)


Grand Bahama Island

Grand Bahama Island (GBI) is home to Freeport, which developed an early reputation for gambling junkets and cruise ship visits. Today the adjacent town of Lucaya draws the resort crowd, and one casino remains at a Lucaya resort.

It’s a good time to visit as the island works through its identity crisis. It’s much more affordable and less crowded than Nassau and it’s fairly easy to get to with direct flights from many U.S. airports.

Besides its major resorts, Lucaya also boasts its Port Lucaya shopping and entertainment center and tour boat harbor. But beyond the twin cities of Freeport and Lucaya stretch more than 90 miles of untouristy, authentic Bahamian fishing villages, often deserted beaches, and “the bush,” as Bahamians call their outback. So GBI visitors have the opportunity to experience both urban and Out Island temperaments at one destination.

Get started with these itineraries:

Grand Bahama Island Off the Beaten Path … Road trip to the East End

Grand Bahama Island: Metro Vibes and Natural Beauty … Diving, deserted beaches and beyond


Bahama Out Islands

Of the major Out Islands, Abaco rises to the top of most-visited list. Great Abaco Island forms the core of the island group that includes historic Green Turtle Cay, Elbow Cay (home to charming Hope Town), Man-o-War Cay, and Great Guana Cay. Island-hopping is a favorite pastime in this boating mecca. Each island – except Man-O-War, which is a dry island – attracts day-trippers with salty bars, restaurants, snorkeling, and beautiful beaches.

Exuma, too, is famous for its island-hopping islands and cays – many of them deserted or owned by celebrities such as David Copperfield, Faith Hill and Johnny Depp. Explorers find rare iguanas, swimming pigs, the dramatic Thunderball Grotto snorkel site and a national sea and land park.

Compact George Town occupies the main Great Exuma Island, where most of the resorts are boutique. Larger destination resorts are spread out over the 37-mile long island.

Next comes Eleuthera in the popularity contest. Much of its repute comes from chi-chi Harbour Island, known for its celebrity clientele and pink beaches. Eleuthera mainland has a raw beauty that runs for 110 miles of sparsely populated beaches and tropical forest.

The other major islands offer special gifts to visitors. On Andros, it is superb diving and bonefishing and a way of life little changed over the decades. Long Island has its caves, basket-makers, historic churches, and bonefishing resorts. Cat Island boasts the highest elevation in the Bahamas – 206-foot Mount Alvernia, home to a historic site where a priest built his Hermitage in the 1940s.

Bimini fans love it for its party scene and fishing so awesome Hemingway frequented the two islands. The smaller islands and island groups appeal to true adventurers out to scuba, snorkel, fish, and sail far removed from the crowds. San Salvador Island holds a Club Med but also a monument honoring Christopher Columbus’ first landfall in the New World. The Berry Islands, Inagua, Crooked and Acklins Islands, and Mayaguana see few tourists in their small settlements.

Get started with this itinerary:

Nassau Bahamas Sidetrips … add some local culture and history to your Bahamas trip


The Bahamas is like its own separate Caribbean with great diversity of tourism offerings, but a shared culture that celebrates its annual Junkanoo holiday festival and music, vibrant art, colonial architecture, and a hardy seafood-based cuisine.


When To Go

Nassau is a year-round destination thanks to mild climates and sea breezes year-round. Cruise ships come in to port throughout the year. See “High & Low Season” and “Weather & Climate” to help you decide what time of year is best for your visit.

High and Low Season

High tourist season kicks in around Christmas (during the popular island Junkanoo festivities) and peak during spring break through Easter. Hotel rates are highest then, and traffic is at its peak.

Summer tourism remains strong with cruise ship traffic, yachting tourism, and family travel, but prices are generally lower for accommodations. Fall months are the slowest.

Weather and Climate

Nassau weather tends to be warmer than its Florida counterparts in winter, despite its location just offshore, thanks to its insulating surround-waters. It also stays cooler in the summer, thanks again to insulation and also trade winds.

Nassau does experience seasonal changes. Winter temperatures can dip into the 50s, but average around 70 degrees. Those temps, however, mean warmth to visitors from colder climes up north.

Summer brings temperatures in the 90s and also the threat of tropical storms. The most pleasant climes occur late spring — March and April — and early fall — late October through November.

Events and Holidays

In the Bahamas, Cricket Season runs March through November at the Haynes Oval Nassau Cricket Club, across the street from Arawak Cay. Matches take place every Saturday and Sunday throughout the season. A restaurant and bar at the Cricket Club looks out on the oval.

Rugby Season starts the end of September and continues through April at Winton Rugby Field off Prince Charles Drive.

March
Nassau Race Week , three days. Sailing and partying go together, including a Miami to Nassau race.

May
Junkanoo Summer Festival Experience a taste of this holiday parade tradition on the beach.

August
Emancipation Day Bahamians celebrate their freedom from slavery on Aug. 3 with Junkanoo, religious services, games, music, and the “climbing the greasy pole” competition.

October
Regatta World Championship, 10 days starting mid-month.

November
Christmas Jollification, three days late in the month. Get jolly on holiday food and music and Bahamian arts and crafts.

December
Bahamas International Film Festival, one week mid-month. Films from the world over, workshops, and awards.

Beat Retreat, one day mid-month. The Royal Bahamas Police Force Band presents its drill display to traditional and Bahamian Christmas music.

Junkanoo, holiday time. It begins with Junior Junkanoo and National Junkanoo Competition Finals along Bay Street and in Rawson Square and reaches fever pitch on Boxing Day (Dec. 26) and New Year’s Day.

Time Zone

Nassau is located in the same time zone as the U.S. Eastern time zone and observes Daylight Savings Time (DST) same as in that U.S. zone.

DST happens in the spring (early March, on a Sunday morning at 2AM). It’s when clocks are advanced one hour so there is more daylight later into the evening. In the fall (late October or early November on a Sunday morning at 2AM), clocks shift back one hour to standard time. The entire Bahamas participates in this ritual of ‘springing forward’ and ‘falling back.’

To check the local time in Nassau, click here.

What it Costs

The Bahamas in general require a fair amount of cash to visit. Nassau is no exception, but if you avoid Atlantis resort and search for local places, you can find value.

You are, of course, paying for exceptional beaches, but also for food and supplies that are mostly imported. So look for local seafood at meal time. Potter’s Cay in Nassau, under the bridge to Paradise Island, offers it fresh and as inexpensive as you’ll find on the island.

For accommodations, places such as Coral Harbour Beach House & Villas or Nettie’s Different of Nassau are good alternatives to Paradise Island and Cable Beach high-end lodging.

Get outside of downtown Nassau to find cultural and natural attractions that won’t break the banks, such as  Clifton Heritage National Park, and The Retreat National Park.

As far as shopping, duty-free stores promise great savings, but not as significant as on other Caribbean islands. So if you’re cruising, hold onto your dollars for other destinations. On Nassau, buy cheaply at Nassau’s Straw Market. For authentic Bahamian crafts, seek out Doongalik Studios Art Gallery and Plait Lady.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality, and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in $US, which is on par with the Bahamian dollar.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person

Sleep
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double

Eat
$ => Up to $15 for average entree at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$ => $16-22 for average entree at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$$ => $23 for average entree at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person

Currency Converter

The Bahamian dollar is exactly on par with the U.S. dollar and everyone accepts both. To avoid receiving change in Bahamian dollars, carry lots of small denominations.

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Fly the Friendly Skies

Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.

But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.

That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings.

Bahamasair is the main carrier to and around the Bahamas, but American, Delta, Silver, and other domestic airlines depart from major U.S. cities – mostly in Florida – to the islands. A number of smaller airlines travel from Nassau to Grand Bahama Island and the Out Islands.

Have Car, Will Travel

Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.

There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ‘em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.

Did You Know: Budget Car Rental offers drivers residing at the same address (i.e. unmarried partners or BFFs) complimentary extra driver coverage. Other car rental companies charge upwards of $10/day.

Exchange Rates and Currency

The Bahamian dollar is exactly on par with the U.S. dollar and everyone accepts both. To avoid receiving change in Bahamian dollars, carry lots of small denominations.

Transportation

Nassau lies 184 miles east and slightly south of Miami, an easy destination to reach from Florida and several U.S. airports. Historically, by-boat ranked as the primary mode of transportation in the Bahama Islands, and that hasn’t changed much over the centuries.

Getting There

Nassau International (NAS) Nassau/Paradise Island is only two-and-a-half hours by air from New York, little more than three-and-a-half hours from the Midwest, and less than 45 minutes from Miami. The following airlines provide service to Nassau from the U.S: Air Canada, American Airlines, Bahamasair, Continental, Delta, JetBlue Airways, US Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and a number of charter airlines.

Cruise lines that visit Nassau Harbour include Carnival, Disney, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean.

Getting Around

Taxi service and rental cars are available at the Lynden Pindling International Airport west of Nassau. Traffic downtown Nassau is a little crazy, but outside of town and Cable Beach, it’s fairly easy going. Just remember to drive on the left, which becomes tricky at the main roundabouts on the island, but you’ll get the hang of it after awhile.

A high bridge connects downtown Nassau with Paradise Island for a toll of $1 each way. A ferry travels between the two islands for $3 each way per person.

The best way to get around downtown Nassau  is by foot. Horse-drawn surreys do tours around downtown for up to three people and 25 minutes.

Transportation to other Bahama islands gives you the option of flying, fast ferry boats or slow mail boat.

Background

Twenty-one miles long, Nassau offers a lot of diversity that cruise-ship passengers and resort-ridden visitors often miss. Bahamians are friendly people who deeply appreciate when you show interest and gratitude for their culture, beauty and food, so do try to dig beneath the beaches and casino level of tourism. Once you have been deemed “semi-Bahamian,” you know you fit it.

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