The Bahamas – A tropical paradise
The Bahamas lie about 50 miles off the coast of Florida, an archipelago of around 700 islands, of which around 30 are islands in the sense of a land mass and the rest are mostly coral cays that poke out of the Atlantic ocean just a little above sea level. The highest peak on the islands is Como Hill on Cat Island which has a height of just over 200 feet (60 metres) or so, while the biggest structures on the islands are the high rise buildings in Nassau and on Paradise Island.
What brings people to The Bahamas is the attraction of the crystal clear water, brilliant white sandy beaches and year round sun with temperatures mostly hovering between 70⁰ F and 80⁰F (24⁰C to 28⁰C), sometimes hotter and most rain and storms just in the summer months (May to August). This makes it an ideal holiday destination year round and being so close to Florida, it attracts yachts, luxury cruisers and big game fishermen too with many people also coming to Nassau heading to the gambling casinos and to play golf.
Most tourists coming to The Bahamas arrive here on cruise ships and in Nassau Harbor it is not uncommon to see 3 or 4 cruise liners in port here at any one time with 1000's of passengers coming on-shore. This means that Nassau can get extremely busy when this happens.
Around 3.3 million people fly here into The Bahamas each year, landing at Lynden Pindling International Airport in Nassau with flying time from Miami in Florida being around 35 minutes and from New York around 4 ½ hours.
A Little History –
On this website, we talk a lot about history and if you read some of the other Travel Guide information about the USA – particularly about Florida and New Orleans, but also New York, Boston, Nova Scotia and Quebec in Canada as well as other islands in the Caribbean – you will see how the history of one location inter-links with these other locations too. People leave or depart from one location and arrive in another – and this can well be life changing for both the people directly involved and for generations to come as well as the broader community.
History always involves people and often the migration of people, sometimes as individuals and families but also as groups and even masses of people too, and we can still see this happening today in many parts of the world.
From the 1500's to the 1800's this was the case of African slaves who were forcibly transported from West Africa to the New World of the Americas on slave ships. Within the Americas – North, South and Central as well in the Caribbean, there was also movement of slaves, both African Slaves and Indian slaves too from one location to another, as they were bought, sold, escaped, traded, transported, used to settle debts, bartered or set free.
Many of the slaves who worked on plantations in the Caribbean were also brought to New Orleans or other slave markets, or were re-located when their plantation owners moved too, and where a slave from the Caribbean was sold in a slave market they often, depending on age and health commanded higher prices than new slaves brought directly from Africa due to their work experience.
Children were also born too, sometimes born into slavery from birth, other times granted their freedom, depending on the situation and status of their mother and father.
A large percentage of the world's population have a mixed heritage, and in the Caribbean that could well be a mix of backgrounds – from traders, sailors and Pirates to American, British, Spanish, African, Lucayan, Carib, Taino or other nationality.
The story of The Bahamas has all the overlays of discovery, conquest, slavery, pirates, privateers, sailors, hurricanes, ship wrecks, plantations, wars and treaties.
In 1492 Christopher Columbus stepped ashore on Watling Island (San Salvador Island) in The Bahamas encountering the Lucayan people who had lived on the islands from about the 11th Century. The name Bahamas is thought to be derived from a Lucayan word – 'Ba Ha Ma', although its meaning is subject to conjecture.
The Spanish established their first settlements in Hispaniola during the 1500's and they took hostages of local Lucayans to work as slaves in their mines and plantations. Many died from smallpox.
When Columbus landed in the Bahamas, he had by Public Proclamation claimed ownership to all the lands that he came upon (See History of the Caribbean section on this website)in the name of King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I of Spain who had funded his voyage.
While making a proclamation was one thing, actually establishing a settlement would have further strengthened the claim to ownership that was made, and in the Bahamas, the Spanish didn't do this. The Lucayan people, according to Spanish Law had no rights or claims to the land here.
It would be 156 years between the discovery by Columbus and the first settlement being established in the Bahamas in 1647-1648 – but it was not Spanish who did so, it was a group of Englishmen called the 'Eleutherian Adventurers', led by a William Sayle (1590-1671), who had settled on the island of Bermuda where he was made Governor in 1643 remaining Governor there until 1658.
The Eleutherian Adventurers came and settled on the Island naming it Eleuthera and then also settled on New Providence Island, where the settlement grew into the town that they called Charles Town (in honour of British King Charles II), with the name of the town changed to Nassau in 1695.
While Charles Town and Nassau had come under attack from the Spanish, the town survived and became a haven for pirates. This including Edward Teach (1680-1718), better known as Blackbeard, who commanded ships that he captured and as many as 300 men during his piracy days. He died in a final battle with the British Navy in North Carolina. The days of piracy, what are known as the 'Golden Years of Piracy' lasted from around 1689 to 1718, at which time the collective efforts of the Spanish, British and American forces united in their fight against pirates, capturing or killing any that they found. In Nassau there is a Pirate Museum at the corner of King and George Streets.
During the 1700's and 1800's The Bahamas became a haven for people escaping from wars and political changes happening in the American colonies and other islands in the Caribbean. This included British Loyalists and their slaves escaping from Patriot attacks in the Revolutionary Wars (American War of Independence 1775-1783); African slaves who escaped or had been freed by their slave masters (manumitted) in Virginia or other American colony or been freed by British forces intercepting slave ships off the coast of the Bahamas. In Florida during the Seminole Wars (1817 -1858) some of the Creek Indians and runaway slaves (See Florida to read more) also fled to the Bahamas too. To see some of the documents and photos from the days of slavery, look for the Pompey Museum of Slavery in Bay Street in Nassau.
Conflict always results in people either fighting or fleeing to places of safety and in the lead up, during and after the American Civil War (1861-65) The Bahamas were also seen as one of the safe havens for those fleeing the conflict or given their freedom from slavery following the war.
During the 1800's the Spanish, French, British, Dutch Colonial powers continued to vie with each other for control over different islands and territories in the Caribbean and some of their former colonies also fought for their independence. The Bahamas however remained in British hands, only gaining its independence in 1973, but remaining as part of the British Commonwealth of Nations, with the British Queen also being the Queen of the Bahamas too, with a Governor General as her representative in the Bahamas.
What to see in the Bahamas -
As you would expect, most activities in The Bahamas involve the water and beaches. There are beaches all around the islands, and the closer you are to Nassau, the more people and the further away you travel, the less people and activities you will find. Nassau is located on New Providence Island and almost directly opposite is Paradise Island. You can either get there by ferry or cross over the Sir Sidney Pointier Bridge by taxi or car.
Nassau has a very English feel to it, with colonial architecture, traditional English street names and one of the places you might see is the Governor General's residence on Duke Street and the National Art Gallery on the corner of West and W. Hill Street.
The most famous of The Bahamas beaches is Cable Beach on New Providence Island which has a long stretch of white sand and lots of activities next to it but there are many other beaches too.
Probably the most important decision you will make here is choosing where you want to stay, though most activities and shopping won't be too far away. Most people will want to stay on Paradise Island or next to Cable Beach, though if your main interest is shopping, stay in Nassau itself.
You could also head to Grand Bahama Island to play golf or dive on the reefs that lay offshore, but the island is a 30 minute flight distance away from Nassau.
On New Providence and Paradise Islands there are lots of different boat tours that will take you to fish, to snorkel, dive and just look at the islands and enjoy just being out on the water. There is also sailing, kiteboarding, kayaking, parasailing, paddle boarding, speed boat rides, jet skis, while on land you can walk, ride a Segway, scooter, hire a beach buggy, take an island tour, head to Blue Lagoon Island to swim with dolphins, or visit the Ardastra Gardens Zoo on Chippingham Road, to see Flamingos, parrots, Lemurs, pigs, rabbits and learn about their conservation activities. You can of course also go shopping and there are a number of shopping malls in Nassau and on Paradise Island – Mall of Marathon (cnr. Robinson and Marathon Rd), Straw Market (W Bay St.), Festival Place (Woodes Rodgers Walk) near the Cruise Terminal, all in Nassau and Paradise Shopping Plaza on Paradise Island.
There are a number of wrecks off the island coasts here – both original wrecks and also man-made ones – making this an interesting dive-site.
Night time will mostly centre on your hotel if you are staying in The Bahamas and the bigger hotels have restaurants, nightclubs and other activities to entertain you. You could also stay in one of the casino hotels too or head out to one of the many restaurants.
Besides Providence Island and Paradise Island there are other islands too, the most popular being Grand Bahama Island, which is over 200 kilometres (130 miles) from Nassau. There are flights and also ferries from Fort Lauderdale and Miami in Florida to Grand Bahama Island, as well as cruise ships that call here too. The flight from Nassau to Grand Bahama Island is about 30 minutes.
Ferries do operate between different Bahamas Islands on different days and schedules, so if intending to travel by ferry from island to island or from Florida, you need to check schedules to see that they fit with your plans too. See www.bahamaferries.com and www.bahamashutleboat.com Remember to bring your passport too, or if a US Citizen check to see what identification documents you need.
On Grand Bahama Island there are the towns of Freeport and Lucaya – with hotels, bars, shopping, restaurants, golf courses, beaches, diving and other water activities to enjoy.
Off shore there are also some wrecks to see – Sugar Wreck, Jose and Hesperus being the most easily seen in reasonably shallow water. There are also deeper wrecks for divers with experience.
There are many other islands too, including -
- Long Island where there is the remarkable Dean's Blue Hole – a sinkhole in the ocean that is about 200 metres deep, as well as Hamilton's Cave on-shore. The beaches and cliffs are also known for their beauty.
- Eleuthera Island – is where Club Med is located. The island is also where the Eleutherian Adventurers first landed in 1648. Lots of beaches and reefs around the island. The best pineapples come from here. The New England colonial style architecture also adds to the attraction of this island.
- The Abacos Islands – this is a chain of islands roughly 120 miles long. Treasure Cay Golf course is here, with colonial small towns – with the quaint names of Green Turtle, Marsh Harbour and Elbow Cay where there is a Lighthouse. This island is famous for its wooden boat building.
- Andros Island – one of the biggest islands in The Bahamas with 5 national parks located here. There is a big wetlands area with Blue Holes too, where the mystical creatures, the Chickcharnees live. The island is considered the Bone fishing Capital of the world. A silver coloured bonefish lives in shallow water and is very fast in the water and special techniques are used to lure and catch the fish.
- Bimini Island – there is North Bimini and South Bimini Islands and the islands were the favourite island destination for the writer Ernest Hemingway who spent time here.
- Ragged Island – is also famous for its Bone Fishing.
- Cat Island – is named after the pirate, Arthur Catt, who sailed with Blackbeard. The highest peak on the island is 206 feet above sea level and here on Mt Alvernia there is the historic Hermitage Monastery, built from stone. The actor, Sidney Pointier also grew up here.
- The Exumas Islands – this is a whole group of tiny uninhabited islands and islands with small populations, the biggest island being Great Exuma Island, where Georgetown is located and its golf course, marinas and slipways. The Exuma Cays land and Sea Park is also located here with its pristine waters, fish, reefs and blue holes.
- Berry Islands – are a group of 30 island cays with great beaches and reefs where you can dive and experience caverns, the reef wall and also wrecks too.
- Little Shrimp Island and Great Shrimp Island – are islands privately owned by the cruise Company, Royal Caribbean. The islands enable cruise passengers to step ashore to experience an 'uninhabited island' with its pristine sand and waters.
As you can see there are many islands to choose from and of course many cays too – and if not deserted many of the islands have populations of less than 300 or so people. In many ways the best way to enjoy the Bahamas is by going either on a cruise where you have all the comforts, entertainment and food or by taking a smaller charter boat – either crewed or bare-boat where you and your friends take charge of both sailing the boat or driving the cruiser.
All of the main islands have great marinas and facilities catering to both local and visiting boats and of course there are day-tours out of the main marinas by operators to take you diving, snorkelling, bone fishing and just dropping off on a deserted island where it is just your group, the boat, beach and water. This is paradise!
The Bahamas have attracted tourists for well over 100 years and the fabulous beaches and island lifestyle will continue to attract multi-millionaires but also families, honeymooners, travellers and people of all ages who want to enjoy a good holiday in a tropical paradise.
I hope you have a fabulous time here in the Bahamas.