It is no coincidence that every ad for the Bahamas flaunts its white-sand beaches and sparkling blue waters with jewel-like hues of turquoise, sea green and aquamarine. Set against the royal blue of the surrounding Atlantic Ocean, this dazzling sea painting inspired a NASA astronaut to call the Bahamas archipelago “the most beautiful place from space.”
But the Bahamas’ 700 mostly uninhabited islands are more than just shallow strips of sand surrounded by bathtub-warm waters sprinkled over 100,000 square miles of ocean. Culturally linked to the Caribbean but geographically in the Atlantic, the country features dancing flamingos, sharks in tanks, dolphin encounters and pigs that swim — yes, really! It was the scene of Christopher Columbus’s first landfall in the New World (on the island of San Salvador). And it weaves together complex strands of cultural influences, as tightly plaited as a Bahamian basket. The rhythms and traditions of Africa run through rake-and-scrape folk music, the Carnival-like Junkanoo, Bahamian dance and basket weaving. Britain’s 325-year rule left the English language, left-hand driving, a parliamentary system and colonial architecture. And waves of American visitors made their mark, too, turning tourism into the No. 1 industry of the independent commonwealth.
Once a paradise for treasure-hunting pirates and American Prohibition bootleggers, the Bahamas, just 50 miles off the coast of Florida, now draws sun seekers and sea worshippers, sailors and snorkelers, swimmers and scuba divers. There’s New Providence Island, home to Nassau, the capital, and tiny Paradise Island, connected by a bridge; Grand Bahama, the industrial and manufacturing center; and the quiet, coastal communities of the Out Islands, embodying the essence of this island nation.
Whichever you choose, you’re never far from a heart-plucking beach, fringed by endless coral reefs and fathomless ocean trenches.