Valid proof of vaccination must be presented before boarding a flight to the Bahamas. All unvaccinated travelers age 2 and older are required to obtain a negative COVID-19 test — either a negative RT-PCR test or a rapid antigen test — taken no more than three days (72 hours) prior to travel and to present the negative test results at check-in before traveling to the Bahamas. (Check for updates.)
When to go
Rates skyrocket during the high season, which starts in mid-December and lasts through April. That’s when the beaches belong to international tourists. It’s Bahamian winter, so you won’t find many locals going near the water. The tropical weather without extreme heat (high 70s to low 80s) makes this season a visitor magnet, with livelier nightlife but thicker crowds.
Rates are lowest — up to 60 percent off — in September and October, the height of hurricane season, which runs from June through November. Travel insurance, always a good idea, is a particularly important buy at this time. On average, a hurricane passes near the Bahamas every two years and makes a direct hit every four years. Hurricane season is also the rainy season, which may cut into your beach and outdoor time, though showers are typically short-lived.
The June-November low season in the Out Islands turns into a dead season from late August to early November — not the best time to visit. Choices may be limited, with some hotels and restaurants shutting down or using the time to make renovations. However, summer is less expensive, and local communities are in full festival mode — from sailing regattas to musical and cultural events. Join the fun at Nassau’s Junkanoo Summer Festival (usually on Saturdays in July), Eleuthera’s Pineapple Festival, the All Andros Crab Fest and the lively musical Cat Island Rake and Scrape Festival (the last three in June). But the intense summer heat, in the high 80s, and humidity are not for everyone.
Ways to save: In addition to low-season savings, travel Monday through Wednesday. The weekends, starting on Thursday, are peak arrival days, so rates are higher and availability more limited. Check the Bahama Out Islands Promotion Board and the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board for specials and deals; both run seasonal and yearly promotions, such as air credits and companion-fly-free offers.
How to get there
There are 11 international airports in the Bahamas. Nassau’s Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) is the main airport and the busiest. Most international flights to the Out Islands originate in South Florida. Scheduled airlift from the U.S. goes to Nassau, Grand Bahama, Bimini, the Berry Islands, Great Abaco, Great Exuma and North Eleuthera, so they are safe bets if you don’t want to feel too isolated. To reach an Out Island without international air service, fly to Nassau and connect to your destination with a domestic airline.
Taxis are the primary transport from the airport to your hotel. Government-regulated rates range from $18 to $41 in Nassau. Wheelchair-accessible vans from the Nassau airport can be booked through Majestic Tours (book 48 hours in advance) or Courteous Transfers and Tours (book weeks ahead).
Ways to save: Most of the Out Islands with tourist facilities have multiple airports: Andros, Great Abaco, Eleuthera, the Exumas, Cat Island and Long Island, in particular. Find the airport closest to your hotel, which could make the difference between a $30 and a $90 taxi ride. Some hotels have free airport shuttles or designated drivers that offer discounted rates.
Where to stay
First things first. Decide which island you want to visit — more developed Nassau/Paradise Island and Grand Bahama or the more remote Out Islands, where your experience will be vastly different. Only 16 Out Islands have tourist facilities; favorites include the Abacos, the Exumas, Eleuthera, Harbour Island, Bimini, Long Island and Andros.
Nassau and Paradise Island: With a population of 228,000, Nassau is a compact little town that fancies itself a big city (it’s not). But you won’t have to travel back in time when you visit. While Indigenous culture is ever present, so are contemporary urban elements and technology. The city’s port is actually the world’s most visited by cruise ships. There are also mega-resorts and chain-brand hotels; fast-food joints; a passel of Starbucks (of course); duty-free shops; buzzy bars and nightclubs; record-setting casinos (they’re huge); and restaurants galore. Nassau bustles, as buses and taxis jostle for passengers, local drivers honk their way through traffic, vendors barter in the Straw Market, and Jet Ski operators work the beach. Nassau offers an array of hotels to fit every taste and budget, from all-inclusive properties to intimate boutique properties and sprawling mega-resorts.
High-profile properties dot Paradise Island and Cable Beach, highlighted by the 3,000-room mega-resort Atlantis, where guests can experience the world’s largest open-air marine habitat, splash around a 141-acre waterpark or play the 18-hole oceanfront golf course.
Today’s all-inclusive resorts have expanded to include premium-class accommodations that offer both a convenient way to save (guests pay one up-front price for accommodations, meals, activities and entertainment). Breezes Bahamas is one — a 391-room, family friendly all-inclusive that commands a sweeping segment of Cable Beach and offers a contemporary styled, affordable option with rooms positioned steps from the beach.
Ways to save: Experience Atlantis on the cheap by staying at Comfort Suites just across the road. Children under 12 stay free, and rooms come with full access to Atlantis. Other affordable Nassau options include Holiday Inn Express and Suites, A Stone’s Throw Away and the family-run Orange Hill Beach Inn.
Grand Bahama Island: Grand Bahama’s population of about 95,000 is sparsely dispersed across 96 miles, so you won’t notice that it’s the second-most-populated Bahamian island. Freeport, the capital, is a neatly planned city with an industrial center. Much of Grand Bahama is still rural, with numerous beaches, three nature parks and ocean-centric activities. Grand Bahama’s popularity has waned as Nassau and Paradise Island have boomed. For a luxurious, all-inclusive golf vacation, stay at Freeport’s Lighthouse Pointe at Grand Lucayan. But to totally unwind, head to Old Bahama Bay Resort and Yacht Harbour in the isolated fishing village of West End. Or find bonefishing action with comfort and style at Deep Water Cay, a small fishing lodge in the island’s rural East End.
Northern and Central Out Islands: Apart from Nassau and Grand Bahama, the Out Islands of the northern and central Bahamas may be the most accessible, but they are still a world away. Absolutely no cruise ships go to the Abacos, a 120-mile-long chain and a boater’s paradise. British loyalists settled here during the American Revolution, leaving a legacy of pastel clapboard houses and white picket fences. A dreamy beach sets the tempo at the Treasure Cay resort, with a golf course, spa and one of the country’s largest marinas. But to move at do-nothing speed, consider Sandpiper Inn on Great Abaco or Hope Town Harbour Lodge on Elbow Cay, a time-frozen island of only 400 souls.
On the other hand, if you want to spot celebrities, stay at Valentines Residences, Resort & Marina, Runaway Hill or the boho-chic Ocean View Club on Harbour Island. Called Briland by locals, it’s VIP central (thanks to Sports Illustrated swimsuit models), so hotel rates are pricey. With excellent restaurants and a pretty-in-pink beach, the tiny island is one of the best places to celebrate New Year’s in the Bahamas (no joke: book at least one year in advance). The New Year’s Night street party and Junkanoo festival is a wildly fun celebration fit for the entire family.
Just a 10-minute water taxi ride away, Eleuthera stretches for a quiet 110 miles. The Cove is a stylish resort in the north, and Cape Eleuthera offers villas, cottages and a marina all the way to the south.
Southern Out Islands: The farther south you go, the more likely you’ll see large flocks of wild pink flamingos and super-low-key communities. That doesn’t mean Cat Island, Long Island, Inagua, Acklins and Crooked Island only offer books to read on the beach. Birders flock to Inagua, the birding capital of the Bahamas, with more than 140 species in Inagua National Park, home to the world’s largest breeding colony of West Indian flamingos. Use Enrica’s Inn as the base camp for exploring. Fly-fishing vacationers are hooked on Acklins and Crooked Island and stay at Grey’s Point Bonefish Inn or Chester’s Highway Inn Bonefish Lodge in Acklins (which has just two flights per week).
For a barefoot getaway on Cat Island, stay at Rollezz Villas Beach Resort, a family-run hotel with access to Indigenous crafts and music. Make an effort to catch Bohog & the Rooters or Ophie & Da Websites at the local fish fry, or the toe-tapping rake-and-scrape band (featuring goombay drum, concertina and a carpenter’s saw the player scrapes) at Da Smoke Pot restaurant.
Castaway wannabes can head to Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort on Long Island, set in an isolated cove near great fishing and boating and the Sandy Cay Iguana sanctuary, where Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest was filmed.
Ways to save: Rent a vacation home from HomeAway, VRBO or Airbnb, especially with a family. Consider these top areas for renting: Cable Beach, West Bay Street and Eastern Road in Nassau; Pigeon Cay on Cat Island; Winding Bay, Rainbow Bay and Gaulding Cay on Eleuthera; and Great Guana Cay in the Abacos.
Activities to arrange before you go
On U.S. and Bahamian holiday weekends, make sure you book golf carts and car rentals in advance. If you plan to visit for New Year’s, book your accommodations a year out.
Ways to save: Stop by the Ministry of Tourism welcome desk after you pass through Bahamian immigration at the airport and pick up brochures and guide maps with discount coupons. Taxi drivers also often have coupons. Check the bahamas.com and nassauparadiseisland.com websites for special discounts prior to traveling.
What to pack
This is the time to show off that fancy pedicure: Bring open-toe shoes and strappy sandals. But skip the high heels in the Out Islands, even at gourmet restaurants, as easy-breezy resort wear rules here. And you can never have too many swimsuits. On Nassau/Paradise Island, a night out for women calls for a sundress, slacks or a dressy outfit for more formal places; a breathable dress shirt, slacks and an optional lightweight jacket for men. Respect the sun god at all times: Bring as much sunscreen as you can, a visor or hat, and sunglasses. The sun is not only hot, it can also be blindingly bright, and you’re exposed to its rays pretty much everywhere. Bring extra supplies of specialty medications.
Crime is not a major concern in the laid-back Out Islands. In fact, you’ll find resorts that don’t even have room keys. While it’s more prevalent in more populated Nassau and Freeport, crime was down 14 percent in 2017 and early 2018. Although robberies and assaults do occur, even in daylight, tourist areas are generally safe. However, travelers should always maintain the same precautions and care they would in any major city.
Don’t go out alone at night; be cautious on secluded beaches; drink responsibly; avoid unlicensed taxi drivers and personal watercraft operators and keep your valuables safe and out of sight.
Be careful if you rent a scooter, especially navigating left-hand driving. And avoid unlicensed scooter operators and rental services.
Medical facilities outside Nassau are limited. Each Out Island has a public clinic, and there is a mini-hospital in Marsh Harbour, Abaco. If there is a major medical emergency, travelers can be transported for emergency, critical and specialized care by air ambulance (another reason to purchase third-party travel insurance that includes emergency medical transportation).
Good news: No need to change your money. The U.S. dollar is exchanged 1:1 with the Bahamian dollar. Credit cards are widely used in Nassau, Grand Bahama and some of the Out Islands (Abacos, the Exumas, Eleuthera and Harbour Island, in particular). As a general rule, keep cash handy in the Out Islands. In the southern Bahamas, it’s all cash; islands like Acklins and Crooked Island, for example, have no banks or ATMs.
Electrical outlets in the Bahamas are compatible with all American devices (60 cycles/120 volts).
The Bahamas follows American standards for tipping, except that restaurants and bars automatically add a 15 percent gratuity to all bills.