The Bahamas (officially named The Commonwealth of The Bahamas), or The Bahama Islands, is an archipelago consisting of many islands located in the Atlantic Ocean east of Florida. The country is made up of about 2,000 islands if you include the cays, which are small islands that are formed on coral reefs. Not densely populated, the Bahamas is renowned for its natural beauty, unique culture, and is a popular tropical vacation destination.

 

Understand

The word Bahamas is of Spanish origin and means “Shallow Water”.

History

Where did Columbus land?

When Christopher Columbus first arrived in the West Indies in 1492, he landed on a Bahamian island he named San Salvador. The island now presently known as San Salvador (formerly called Watling Island) has long been thought to be the island where Columbus landed. But in truth, historians do not agree on the exact site of the landing. The possibility narrows between two islands: San Salvador itself and Samana Cay, about 80 miles southeast

Arawak Indians inhabited the islands when Christopher Columbus first set foot in the New World on San Salvador Island in 1492. British settlement of the islands began in 1647; the islands became a colony in 1783. Since attaining independence from the UK in 1973, The Bahamas have prospered through tourism and international banking and investment management. Because of its geography, the country is a major transshipment point for illegal drugs, particularly shipments to the US, and its territory is used for smuggling illegal migrants into the US.

Culture

The official language spoken in the Bahamas is English. The populace is predictably friendly and more religious than one might expect: the Bahamas have one of the highest ratios of churches per capita in the world, with Baptists being the largest single group. Local newspapers will reveal religious references by elected officials in a manner that exceeds what would be found in the United States. This devotion does nothing to prohibit the activities of visitors nor is it intended to. There is a very “libertarian” attitude about personal morals.

Festivals

The biggest event in the Bahamian calendar is Junkanoo, a street carnival held on Boxing Day (December 26) and New Year’s Day (January 1). Junkanoo groups “rush” through the streets of towns, especially Nassau, wearing spectacular yet disposable costumes of crepe paper and playing distinctive Junkanoo music, which combines African rhythms with loud brass and cowbells, fusing them together in a medley that veers on cacophony but is enjoyable to dance to. The costumes, made from scratch every year, are disposed of on the streets as the party ends and make a great free souvenir to bring home!

Climate

Tropical marine; moderated by warm waters of Gulf Stream. Hurricanes and other tropical storms cause extensive flood and wind damage. Can be cool if trade winds shift. During summer months, temperature in the Bahamas rarely goes above 90°F (32°C). The normal climate during winter is mild with temperatures around 60°F (16°C). The Northern and Western islands, Grand Bahama Island, Great Abaco, Andros and Eleuthera are somewhat cooler than the southern islands. The Bahamas hurricane season runs between June and November and rain storms are expected during this period.

Geology

The Bahamas archipelago are in fact the tops of banks that were formed some time between 90,000 and 120 years ago from coral reef formation. The well known pink sand beaches of the Bahamas get their vibrant appearance from the fractured pieces of seashell combined with the sand. The highest point in the Bahamas is Mount Alvernia on Cat Island, which is 63 meters (over 200 feet) high.

New Providence (Nassau, Paradise Island)

Dominated by the capital Nassau, and paired with smaller Paradise Island, home to the gigantic Atlantis casino resort.

Another island is the Grand Bahama, an ecological playground featuring an underwater limestone cave system. The centre of eco-tourism, offering nature tours, national parks and botanical gardens.

While there are other islands, these two represent where most land only tourists will be visiting.

Other destinations

Several cruise lines operate private island retreats in the Bahamas. Disney Cruise Line owns Castaway Cay, Norwegian Cruise Line owns Great Stirrup Cay, Princess Cruise Line owns Little Stirrup Cay, Carnival Cruise Line owns Half Moon Cay, and Royal Caribbean owns Coco Cay. To visit these islands you usually have to be a passenger on the cruise line that owns the island.

Dolphin Encounters is an all natural seawater dolphin facility with Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins and California Sea Lions located on Blue Lagoon Island, (Salt Cay), a private island retreat and tourist attraction 5 km (three miles) from Nassau, Bahamas.

Get in

Entry requirements

Citizens of the United States do not require a visa to visit the Bahamas.

Visitors do not need to complete the Customs form.

Travellers returning to the United States from the Caribbean must display their passport to get back into the States. This applies to minor children as well as adults. US immigration pre-clearance facilities are available at Nassau and Freeport.

By plane

The largest airports in the Bahamas are at the capital Nassau, on New Providence, and Freeport, on Grand Bahama. Smaller airports are scattered amongst the other islands. The Bahamas has six international airports the largest being the Lynden Pindling International Airport located on the west side of Nassau.

By boat

The Bahamas are a popular port of call for cruise ships plying the Caribbean. The capital, Nassau, on New Providence Island is one of the world’s busiest cruise ship ports, and is well served by ships that originate from Florida. Freeport on Grand Bahama Island is a growing destination as well.

Most island groups have customs and immigration available for those arriving by yacht. The customs fee for a private yacht is $150 for 35′ and under and $300 for over 35′.

Royal Caribbean has their own island in the Bahamas called Coco Cay. This island is leased by Royal Caribbean, rather than being fully owned such as Disney’s ownership arrangement for Castaway Cay. It is strictly for Royal Caribbean cruisers. The island has 25 little shops for souvenirs and their own private beaches, as well as water games in the middle of the clear crystal blue ocean. They have a bbq and main picnic area with the cruise employees as well as the people that Royal Caribbean hire to live and work on the island. Royal Caribbean is busy all year round because of the hot climate in the Bahamas, that they have frequent travelers through all the months of the year.

Disney’s Castaway Cay, formerly known as Gorda Cay, is a privately owned island near the island of Abaco, close to Sandy Point. This island differs from most of the leased cays in the fact that it is privately owned by The Walt Disney Company and has its own dock so that tendering is not necessary. Castaway Cay has separate areas for families, teens and adults. The island also contains a fiber optic network which connects to the ship.

 

Sleep

Accommodation on the Bahamas is expensive, and there is virtually no backpacker/hostel-type lodging. The cheapest hotels start at around US$ 70, and most hotels cost US$200-300/night, with the very best resorts easily pushing up above US$500. Deals may be available in the summer off-season though.

Be aware the Bahamas charge a “Service Fee or Resort Fee” to every person staying overnight. Hotels collect the fee of $18 per night per person as well as a $6 per person one time bellhop fee. This is an addition to the rate of the room and is not optional and cannot be waived. Often tourists first hear about this when checking into their hotel for the first time.

The Bahamas Government levies a Hotel Guest Tax which is payable by each guest. This tax is 10% of the hotel rate, it submitted monthly to the Bahamas Government by the hotel operator.

Hotels in the Bahamas may levy a number of other charges upon guests in addition to the standard bill, including; gratuities-maid/bellman), a hotel ‘Levy’ (Promotion Board), cable, telephone, water & sewerage, energy surcharge, pool/towels.

Most hotels and resorts in the Bahamas are located in New Providence (Nassau) and neighboring Paradise Island. The rest of the country remains rather off the beaten track for tourism, and places like Eleuthera, despite being 100 miles long, has only three hotels.

Stay safe

By the middle of the year 2007, the country had already recorded 42 murders. The murder count for 2010 was 96. Police statistics will show that most murders are linked to domestic violence or gang related disputes, mostly fueled by competition in the illegal drug trade. In 2011 the Commissioner of the Royal Bahamas Police Force stated that the vast majority of murder victims in New Providence (Nassau), were already well known to police. A report done by an international body stated that The Bahamas ranks amongst the top for crimes committed against women. However, to maintain good local and international relations, the police have increased their presence and the judicial system vowed to bring about “swift justice”.

Visitors should exercise caution and good judgment when visiting The Bahamas. Violent crime has increased in the recent past, and the American Embassy has received several reports of sexual assaults on American tourists, including teen-aged girls.

Firearms

It is illegal to import a firearm or ammunition into The Bahamas or to possess a firearm in the country without appropriate permission. Tourists who arrive by private boat are required to declare firearms to Bahamian Customs and leave firearms on the boat while in The Bahamas. Penalties for illegal possession of a firearm or ammunition are strict, and can involve heavy fines, lengthy prison terms, or both.