When beach lovers dream of the perfect stretch of powdery sand, lapped by seas in sublime shades of blue, they’re probably dreaming of the Bahamas. Encompassing 700 islands and more than 2,000 small cays sprinkled across the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, this tropical paradise lies only 80 kilometers from Florida at its closest point. Once a haven for pirates and Loyalists, the islands are now a playground for the rich and famous and anyone who enjoys world-class fishing, boating, diving, snorkeling, and sailing.
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.
1.Atlantis Paradise Island
3. Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park
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.
3. Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park
In the remote eastern edge of the Bahamas, the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park is a “no-take zone” and marine protected area, the first of its kind in the Caribbean. The park boasts some of the most striking seascapes in the Bahamas, with luminous water in electric blues and bone-white sand. The area is popular with divers and boaters, who come here for the quality anchorages, abundant marine life, and crystal clear waters. On a good day, divers and snorkelers can enjoy 30-meter-plus visibility. Most people visit this underwater wonderland on private boats or live-aboard dive charters. No fishing or shelling is permitted within the park boundaries.
The Exuma Cays are also beautiful. Some are home to movie stars, such as Johnny Depp and David Copperfield, while others are home to exclusive resorts. Great Exuma, the largest of the Exumas, Little Exuma, and Staniel Cay are popular with boaters, who come here to enjoy the convivial restaurants. Don’t miss Staniel Cay’s famous swimming pigs and Thunderball Cave, featured in the namesake James Bond film.
The northernmost of the Bahamian islands, Grand Bahama is a popular destination for package tourists and cruise ships. The capital, Freeport, is the second biggest city in the Bahamas, though Port Lucaya has now replaced it as the tourist hub for shopping, dining, and entertainment. Port Lucaya Marketplace sells jewelry and straw goods as well as other souvenirs, and the marina is a social hot spot for tourists and boaters. Despite the island’s large all-inclusive resorts and hotels, it’s still possible to escape the crowds. Grand Bahama is home to one of the world’s longest underwater cave systems, and nature-lovers can spot many native bird species in the three national parks.
5. Harbour Island
Pretty Harbour Island, northeast of its big sister, Eleuthera, is one of the oldest settlements in the Bahamas, as well as the site of the first Bahamian parliament; English Loyalists settled here in the 1700s. Famous for its pink sand beaches and chic resorts, the island, which is affectionately known by the locals as “Briland,” has long been a hideaway for the rich and famous. Golf carts rule the streets here, and visitors feel as though they’ve stepped back in time as they cruise past the cute, pastel-colored Loyalist cottages lining the streets of Dunmore Town, the island’s only settlement. Popular things to do include diving, snorkeling, fishing, and basking on the beautiful pink sand beaches. Harbour Island is a fun day trip out of Nassau on the Bahamas Fast Ferries Catamaran.