The Lost Girls Guide To The BahamasBahamas, Country Guides — By Alex B on February 10, 2012 at 12:00 pm
By Nadia Pidgeon
Exclusive to the Lost Girls
There is something about the gin clear waters and white (or sometimes pink!) sand beaches of the Bahamas that evoke peace and tranquility. But the Bahamas is not just for sun bathing and relaxing. With over 600 islands there is a little something for everyone in this tropic paradise.
There is rich history among the islands. Columbus reportedly made his first land-fall on the Bahamian island of San Salvador in 1492. Due to European exploration and the resulting slave trade, the native Lucayans were lost and the majority of Bahamians are now of African decent. Near San Salvador, the sleepy island of Eleuthra developed the first written Constitution in the new world when the Bahamas gained their independence in 1973
• Practicalities •
History keeps Bahamians driving on the left hand side of the road but due to their proximity to the USA, they accept both Bahamian and US currency at a rate of 1:1 and will usually provide US change to tourists. As with any country with a large class division, crime is high but tourism contributes to a majority of national income so tourist remain safe. The Bahamian men are friendly and forward but generally harmless. Additionally, the Bahamas has state funded medicine. In the event you are ill during your stay, clinics will see you quickly and efficiently and, while you will need to pay, the fee is more than reasonable.
The Bahamas has a tropical climate with a colder, windier winter and a warmer, more humid summer. If you plan on water activities, the winter months may be chilly and require wetsuits though winter sailing is superior. The summer months can be very hot and humid and some of the islands have brown outs during peak air/con times which may be a consideration in choosing accommodations.
• Where To Go •
New Providence Island is in the Central Bahamas and the location of the nation’s busiest airport and it’s capital city, Nassau. There are several large hotels on New Providence including the Hilton, located in the center of town. Here you will find a tourist shopping paradise and the straw market selling traditional Bahamian souvenirs. Head out of the tourist area and check out Potters Cay, under the bridge to Paradise Island. These fish shacks have the freshest seafood in town. Don’t be intimidated by the local vibe, they love tourist to come check out their local hang-out. Try the Conch Salad (pronounced conk) and don’t forget the Sky Juice, but watch out! The Sky Juice can sneak up on you. The biggest tourist destination of the Bahamas is Paradise Island, which is accessible via the toll bridge from New Providence. But be prepared to pay. Here you can find the mega Atlantis Resort, Casino, and Marina. Highlights are an impressive aquarium which has everything from sharks to manta rays to moray eels, several Dale Chihuly glass sculptures, and a water park guaranteed to satisfy the kid in all. Do not expect an authentic Bahamian experience here, but this is big resort at its finest.
Just off shore of New Providence and Paradise Island is Rose Island. This is a small, relatively uninhabited island and day trips are readily available. If you decide to stay in the resort area, plan a day to spend on Rose Island with a picnic, snorkel, and a Frisbee in order to get a little taste for the real Bahamas.
South of the capital is a chain of some 365 small cays named the Exuma Cays (locals get irritated when tourist fail to pronounce Cay as “key”). The Exumas have a rich history and a great deal of pirate lore. The word “Bahamas” comes from the Spanish word “baja mar” meaning low sea. It is nearly impossible to navigate the waters of the Bahamas with anything deeper than a six foot draft and this was an advantage to pirates. There is a fascinating story about two female pirates in this area, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, which makes for great reading during your trip. The Exuma Cay Land and Sea Park covers only a portion of the Exumas but the protected area has resulted in great diving and snorkeling sites. Here you can find some of the most pristine and beautiful beaches in the world but you must have a boat to gain access. Be sure to check out the park headquarters on Warderwick Wells Cay which is both beautiful, pristine, and informative. Take a little hike over to Butterfly Beach, arguably one of the most beautiful beaches in existence. The park has protected land animals such as the near extinct Exuma Iguana. You cant find them anywhere else. . .
Prefer to fly into the Exumas? Check out Norman’s or Staniel Cay. Norman’s Cay is a beautiful spot in the Exumas that has a small resort and a great little beach bar called McDuffs. This is what a beach bar should be, and bring your musical talents because the piano and guitars wont play themselves. Jimmy Buffet named this bar one of his top 10 favorite bars in the world. Norman’s has a bit of a sordid past so be sure to ask the locals about Carlos Lehder of the Medellin Drug Cartel that occupied Normans in the 80s (or just watch the movie “Blow”). Head further south and check out Staniel Cay, the swimming pigs, and the grottos used in the James Bond movie “Thunderball”. You can even crawl up the back side of the grotto and jump through the hole but watch your head!
To the east of the Exumas lies the island of Eleuthra. This island, over 100 miles long, is quiet and sleepy but with lots of great little resorts and cottages for those that want to get away. Towards the northern end of the island, find the Island School which offers students a unique sustainable education and is doing great sustainable work in the area. Stop in and ask for a tour. Or take a water taxi to Harbour Island to see the majestic pink sand beaches.
Bordering the gin clear waters of the Caribbean and the stormy Atlantic on the other, Long Island sits at the southern end of the Bahamas. It is easily accessible via commuter from Nassau and has two resorts as well as guest houses for rent. Enjoy picking up fresh fish at the dock and knocking on the door of the liquor store (really just someone’s house) to prepare your nightly supper. Long Island has the 2nd deepest blue hole in the world which is nestled on the shore so no need for a boat ride. Many of the worlds free diving competitions have been held here but it is fun for a novice to snorkel as well.
Bimini lies only 53 miles off the coast of Florida and is a frequent Bahamian destination for US boaters. The sea near Bimini, bordered by the Gulf Stream, is a popular spot for anglers and known world-wide for big-game sports fishing. While snorkeling and diving are popular in this area, surface wrecks such as the SS Sapona are a great destination for non-divers as well as the bubble breathers. Check out the Shark Lab and their efforts to protect a delicate ecosystem or just be inspired as Hemingway was during his stay. And, if you’re lucky, you might just find the fountain of youth.
Whether it is the relaxing pink beaches of Harbour Island or a sailors bar in Bimini, the many Bahamian islands offer a little something for everyone.
Nadia Pidgeon is a designer and owner of Denver Architecture Tours. She writes, sharing her experiences and passions influenced by her travels around the world.
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