Ocean adventures and the Bahamas just go together. The Bahamas are 700 islands and 2,000 islets (called cays or keys) scattered across more than 100,000 square miles of the western Atlantic Ocean. From a point roughly 70 miles east of West Palm Beach, Florida, this great archipelago extends 750 miles southward to the northern Caribbean, almost to the island of Hispaniola. With great weather all year, warm waters, fine beaches, and teeming coral reefs, the Bahamas offer endless delights for outdoor enthusiasts, especially divers and sports fishermen.
The islands in the Bahamas are generally low and flat. The highest point in the entire archipelago, on Cat Island, is only 206 feet above sea level. Of the islands and islets making up the archipelago, only about 30 are inhabited. Some are so tiny, they’re just boulders that appear and disappear with the rise and fall of the ocean. Some are long and thin, stretching for many miles. Others are home to thousands of people. The vast majority of the islands are deserted, with pristine beaches and tropical forests untouched by humans.
Tourism has brought prosperity to the Bahamas, but the great natural beauty of the islands has managed to remain unspoiled. In earlier days, unrestricted exploitation inflicted a lot of damage on Nassau and New Providence. All that has changed and today the people of the islands feel strongly that the unique beauty of their archipelago should be preserved: conservation is the new watchword of the Bahamas, and many conservation groups operate in the archipelago.
The more well-known cities and places in the Bahamas are Nassau, the largest city in the country, located on New Providence Island; Paradise Island, a long, narrow barrier island connected to Nassau by a toll bridge; Freeport, the second largest city, on the Grand Bahama Island. Grand Bahama has become something of an environmental headquarters of the islands. Beyond the cities lies another world: the Out Islands of Abaco, Andros, the Berry Islands, Bimini, Cat Island, Crooked Island, Eleuthera, the Exumas, Harbor Island, Long Island, and so on.
In a nation completely surrounded by the clearest of waters in the world, there are plenty of water sports and waterborne adventures – including swimming with pigs! Before you immerse yourself in all the water adventures, remind yourself that the Bahamas offer plenty of opportunity to explore different habitats and spot rare birds. There are three endemic species – the Bahama woodstar hummingbird, the Bahama swallow and Bahama yellowthroat warbler. Other prized birds include the white-tailed tropicbird, Bahama pintail, Bahama parrot, great lizard-cuckoo, loggerhead kingbird, Bahama mockingbird and the stripe-headed tanager, to name but a few. The birds cannot be found on all of the Bahamian Islands, so a birding guide can ensure you make the best use of your time.
When to Go
The Bahamas are blessed with beautiful sunny weather and relatively constant temperatures year-round. The high season for travel runs from the middle of December to mid-April, when people in the northern hemisphere try to escape the chilly temperatures back home. Airfares are highest during these months. Fares drop during the May to September period, called the ‘shoulder season’ in the industry, and you can get the best prices during the low season from October to mid-December. It is good to remember that flying on weekends ordinarily adds a few dollars to the fare.
Planning Your Trip
Flight connections to the Bahamas are very easy to get, with daily flights to and from numerous American cities and several flights per week from Canada, the UK and Europe. The archipelago is also very accessible by sea, with cruise ships calling in at Nassau and Freeport every week, plus hundreds of marinas scattered throughout the islands.
It is invariably cheaper to buy package deals covering transportation and accommodations from a tour operator or travel agent than it is to buy your own ticket and accommodation separately. If you are going as a normal tourist, package holidays are worthwhile if you plan to visit the larger, busier resorts or known resorts in the Out Islands. If you’re looking to head off the beaten track, then you’re better off booking your own way.
In addition to the sun and sand holidays offered by tour operators, you can arrange with companies that specialize in diving and kayaking expeditions and eco-tours.