Bahamians are beach snobs, straight up — and justifiably so. If they can’t see the clear nail polish on their toes when waist deep in water, the beach just doesn’t measure up. But thanks to their talcum-soft sand and translucent water, Bahamian beaches are some of the best in the world — from eggshell white to seashell pink.
While some resorts restrict access to their guests only, all beaches are public property — that’s right, even those on Johnny Depp’s and Faith Hill and Tim McGraw’s private islands. On land, you can only access a beach through a public access point, but by boat, you can pull up to any one you want. Just stay below the natural high-tide mark.
All beaches of note have public access points, though many are also bordered by hotels. Beachfront resorts are protective of their umbrellas, so don’t look to them for shade unless you’re a guest. You’ll need to rent an umbrella, borrow one from your hotel, or bring your own. It’s also smart to tote a lunchbox and mini cooler with drinks, particularly in the Out Islands, where hotels are accustomed to providing them. Very few beaches have public restrooms or changing facilities.
A few stunners do have convenient amenities, such as pearly white Cabbage Beach on Paradise Island, where coconut-water vendors and chair and umbrella rentals cluster on the western end. On seashell-rich Stocking Island Beach, quench your thirst, fill your belly and swim with stingrays at the Chat ‘N Chill Beach Bar and Grill. And on Treasure Cay Beach you can take beach yoga classes and enjoy resort amenities when you’re not luxuriating on the 3 1/2 miles of secluded bliss.
On and on the bathing beauties go: Rose Island, an uninhabited sliver of sand just three miles off Paradise Island; Harbour Island’s three-mile-long Pink Sand Beach, where the rosy sand will never burn your feet; Bimini’s placid Radio Beach; Pig Beach on Big Major Cay in the Exumas, where you can go hog wild swimming with swine; Dean’s Blue Hole on Long Island, with the world’s second-deepest saltwater sinkhole (safe for offshore snorkeling); and Great Guana Cay in the Abacos, with more than seven miles of reef-protected sand and excellent snorkeling waters.
One to avoid: Junkanoo Beach, near downtown Nassau, which resembles college spring break year-round.
Island-hopping day trips
With more than 700 islands and 2,400 cays (small low islands or banks) in the country, it would be a shame to visit only one. If you’re based in Nassau/Paradise Island, take a speedboat day trip with Exuma Escapes to see those swimming pigs. Closer to Nassau, a ferryboat goes to private Blue Lagoon Island, where you can swim with dolphins and interact with sea lions. Sail on the Flying Cloud catamaran for a full day on gorgeous Rose Island beach. Or use Bahamas Fast Ferry for day trips to lovely Harbour Island.
Insider tip: If you’re on Long Island or Cat Island, request a special turtle-spotting boat tour from Omar Daley or Docky Smith in Blue Sound, Long Island, or Derrick Rolle in Bennett’s Harbour Creek, Cat Island. You won’t regret it.
With its pristine flats and seagrass beds, the Bahamas boasts first-rate bonefishing, particularly in Andros, Acklins, Crooked Island and the Abacos, as well as big-game fishing for tuna, blue marlin and more. Even though hunting for big game is possible year-round, check the seasonal charts, because some species have high and low seasons.
In Nassau and the Out Islands, there is no shortage of fishing charters for half-day and full-day trips. If you go to Mangrove Cay, Andros (a 15-minute flight from Nassau), ask for Captain Randy Thompson, a local guide known for inventing the “Halle Berry” fly, rumored to be a lucky charm. In Nassau, the family-operated Yellow Tail Chartershas guided fishing tours for three generations.
For a day away from the beach, take a walking tour of tiny Nassau with locally owned Islandz Tours or Tru Bahamian Food Tours. Downtown tours focus on history, culture and food: restaurants, art galleries, a chocolate factory, duty-free shops (diamonds galore), the stately Catholic cathedral and historic Parliament Square. Nassau has some hills, so walking tours are challenging for those in wheelchairs or not nimble on their feet. For gentler walking, consider a birding or nature tour from Bahamas Outdoors.
Not up for a walk? Take a leisurely (though touristy) horse and carriage tourthrough town to see centuries-old buildings unchanged from colonial times. Or take a guided tour via jeep, scooter or ATV with Bowcar Bahamas, via bike with Bahamas Rental Vacations or even via Segway.
Ways to save: Licensed taxi drivers are great tour guides, historians andconcierges. Many offer taxi tour packages that can save you money.
Diving and snorkeling
Elegant sea fans and fluorescent-colored sponges protrude off rocks. Queen angelfish, blue tang, parrotfish and schools of sergeant majors dart around coral. Baby lemon sharks nest in the mangrove nurseries while majestic hammerheads and blacktip reef sharks cruise the deep reefs. Such is the wondrous underwater panorama in this world-class diving and snorkeling destination. From dramatic wreck, wall and cave dives to snorkeling in shallow reefs, the Bahamas has it all. You candive with sharks, which are protected, and even snorkel with a resident barracuda and occasional turtles in the Exumas’ Thunderball Grotto.
Among the best snorkeling sites are the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park; Andros Barrier Reef; and Rose Island Reef, Gambier Deep Reef and Goulding Cay Reef near Nassau. There’s even Snuba,an easy-to-do cross between snorkeling and scuba requiring no certification. Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas in Nassau offers both Snuba and SUBs, miniature submarines that resemble underwater scooters.
The small art scene is centered in Nassau. Start at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas to view Bahamian masters and contemporary and intuitive artists. (It’s wheelchair accessible.) Two galleries founded by local artists are Hillside House and Doongalik Studios, which hosts regular pop-up events for the creative community. A gallery-hopping art tour, Transforming Spaces, takes place every April.
Nettie’s Place, owned by cultural icon and hotelier Nettica Symonette, is a cultural heritage center-cum-hotel that includes a museum, a bush-tea garden, a chicken-coop writing corner, and a storytelling bus. There is nothing else like it in the Bahamas.
Ways to save: Those 65 and over save $5 on admission to the National Art Gallery.
To buy affordable handmade Bahamian souvenirs, fine art and crafts, get off the beaten path and head to Da Craft Cottage at Doongalik Studios. Bring your best bartering skills to Nassau’s famous Straw Market (wheelchair accessible, though packed when the cruise ships are in port) to score a deal on handmade goods (watch out for items made in China!). To bypass the cruise crowds, buy directly from artists at the twice-a-month Art Walk at Marina Village at Atlantis or the biweekly Creative Nassau Market in Pompey Square. In recognition of its authentic handicrafts, Nassau was named a UNESCO Creative City of Crafts and Folk Arts in 2014.
Festivals and events
Bahamians love a good party! Pinch yourself if you can join a “party in the backyard,” as it’s called — an open-air bash where local musicians play rake and scrape and calypso, deejays spin Caribbean beats; makeshift food stalls dish Bahamian comfort food, and lots of people drink, dance and make merry. The calendar is filled with festivals, regattas and cultural events that are basically large-scale parties in the backyard. Highlights include Junkanoo, which takes place on several islands; New Providence’s Fox Hill Day Festival, which commemorates the freeing of enslaved Africans; Eleuthera Pineapple Festival; Eleuthera All That Jazz Festival; Cat Island Rake and Scrape Festival; All Andros Crab Fest; and Nassau’s Tru Tru Bahamian Festival, a celebration of all things Bahamian.