Escape The Cold: Check Out The Bahamas
With more than 3,000 islands and cays as well as some of the clearest ocean water on the planet, the Bahamas has for decades remained one of the world’s premiere travel destinations. Bahamas means ‘shallow water’ in medieval Spanish. Christopher Columbus was the first European to set foot on the island in 1492 as he was in his discovery of the New Lands. The warm weather, beautiful beaches, spectacular coral reefs and scenic golf courses are some of the reasons why the Bahamas have such a high number of tourists returning after their first visit. Indeed, it would probably take a lifetime of vacations for one to fully appreciate all that the islands have to offer.
It’s proximity to the United States (about 30 minutes’ flight from Miami, FL), the fluency in English of almost the entire population and the good infrastructure all combine to make the Bahamas a convenient welcoming destination. Predictably, New Providence Island (home to the capital city, Nassau) and the nearby Paradise Island attract the bulk of visitors. However, the outlying islands such as Eleuthera, Abacos, Cat Island, Long Island and Exumas are excellent locations for diving, fishing and experiencing raw West Indian culture.
- Beaches – Bahamas has numerous picturesque, white sand beaches. The famous Cable Beach in Nassau is 6 miles long and lined with casinos, shops, bars, restaurants and water sports equipment shops. Cabbage Beach on the nearby Paradise Island gets very crowded during the peak season. If you are looking for solitary serenity, Treasure Cay has a beautiful 3.5 mile long white beach that is remarkably empty. An alternative for those seeking peace and quiet is Gold Rock Beach which falls within the protected Lucayan National Park. On Harbor Island, there is Pink Sand Beach where you are unlikely to stay for a day without witnessing a wedding.
- Ardastra Park – This is a zoo and conservatory that is home to about 50 animal and bird species some indigenous to the Bahamas and others shipped in from different parts of the world. Indigenous species include the Bahamas parrot, hutias (resemble guinea pigs) and several snakes. Exotic species include caimans, monkeys, ocelots and jaguars. But visitors will have no doubt on the one resident species that attracts the most attention – a group of flamingoes that have been trained to march majestically on the zoo attendants’ command.
- Andros Island – The Bahamas has hundreds of islands but Andros deserves special mention. Unlike the considerably overdeveloped New Providence Island, Andros has a natural raw, rough and wild edge to it that on face value, would not seem prepped for conventional tourism. But despite this, Andros sees a respectable number of birdwatchers, divers and beach enthusiasts. It’s most dominant feature is the dense and imposing primeval forest.
- St Augustine’s Monastery – At first glance this Benedictine monastery looks less like a religious building and more like an impregnable fortress. It stands atop a rocky outcrop on Bernard Road. Designed by architect-cleric Father Jerome and built in the late 1940s, the monks are happy to provide guided tours of the monastery including the key elements of past and present monastic life.
- Pirates of Nassau Museum – An enchanting museum where visitors can go on walks through that take them on a journey of past pirate life including all the sounds and images from that bygone era. There is an excellent souvenir shop and a Pirate’s Bar.
- Bahamas Historical Society Museum – Though this museum is not outstanding for the depth and breadth of documents and artifacts, it is an important stop for visitors keen on understanding the Bahamas history from as far back as the Lucayan Indian era.
- Water Tower – The Water Tower is right behind the miniscule Fort Fincastle and was built in 1928. A climb to the top of the 126 foot tower provides a panoramic view of downtown Nassau and the greater New Providence. You can climb the more than 200 steps of the narrow, spiraling staircase in order to get to the top. But since not every has the strength or fitness to do that, you can take the elevator.
- Junkanoo Festival – Junkanoo is a week-long street parade that bears a close resemblance to the Mardi Gras Festival in New Orleans. It is the Bahamas most popular event and runs from 26th December (Boxing Day) to 1st January (New Year’s Day). Revelers are clad in colorful, bright costumes and dance to the rhythmic music comprising drums, cowbells and brass horns. There is a summer version of the event known as the Junkanoo summer festival. The summer edition is more than a month long beginning in June and culminating in July. Though the summer event runs over a longer period, it is smaller and is considered a warm up for the December parade.
- International Film Festival – Bahamas plays host to an annual International Film Festival in December each year.
- Kite boarding and Kayaking – Swimming and diving are the staple of the Bahamas beach experience. However, there are several places to go to for other types of water sports such as kite boarding and kayaking. One of the more popular locations for such activity is the Exumas.
How to Travel There
With Miami about 30 minutes away and with 2 of its own world class airports (Freeport and Nassau), Bahamas is easily accessible by air from virtually anywhere on the planet. Proximity has meant that close to 80% of tourists come from the United States. The Bahamas are a major stop for Caribbean and Trans-Atlantic cruise ships so this is another way to get here.
When to Go
The Bahamas is within or in close proximity to the path of Atlantic hurricanes and this poses a significant risk especially in the summer and autumn months. As such the winter and spring months between November and May are the best times to visit.
Unless you are fairly affluent, the Bahamas is one place you want to go on vacation with a clear budget. The price of almost everything ranges from low cost options to expensive world class alternatives. For instance, when it comes to accommodation, you can choose to stay in the expansive, all-inclusive mega resorts out of which you never need to step out or you could go for the homely, quiet guest houses. The hotels and resorts at Cable Beach are ideal for families and groups – you can get a substantial discount by booking your room and flight as a single package.
While guesthouses and smaller inns may lack the amenities and uber-luxury characteristic of the multi-national resorts, they are miles ahead in providing a more authentic experience of day-to-day Bahamas life.
For the number of islands, the beautiful beaches and its sheer variety, the Bahamas is the perfect island destination.