The Bahamas is part of the Lucayan Archipelago, consisting of 700 islands and 2,400 cays. Thirty of the islands are inhabited, with the best tourist destinations located on Grand Bahama, which contains Freeport; New Providence, which includes the capital of Nassau; Paradise Island, The Exumas, Bimini, Eleuthera, and The Abaco Islands. Crystal clear waters, powdery white sands, and an average year-round temperature in the 80s make this tropical paradise a must-visit with plenty of adventure for travelers. Here are our picks for the Top 10 Things to put on your itinerary.
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Swim with the Pigs
Swimming with the pigs on Exuma’s Big Major Cay is wildly popular and worth it if you have a soft spot for wildlife. You’ll be greeted with warm, sandy beaches littered with indigenous iguanas and docile nurse sharks in the waters, along with the famous swimming pigs, which have become a must-see attraction. Brown and pink, big and little, full-grown and piglets, all waiting to be fussed over and fed. It’s quite a unique sight since most of us are used to seeing pigs on a farm.
Exuma is a picture-taker’s paradise. There are several tour companies that offer this excursion so do your research and choose the one that’s right for you.
Located in Nassau and with 65 steps spanning 102 feet, the Queen’s Staircase is a steep ascent from Elizabeth Avenue to Fort Fincastle and the Water Tower.
Carved out of a limestone wall by 18th-century slaves, the steps once gave soldiers protected passage from the fort to the town.
Lush vegetation flanks the stairway and water cascades into a pool below. Named to honor the 66 years of Queen Victoria’s reign (there were originally 66 steps), this is one of the most popular stops in Nassau and is on the agenda of most cruise ship shore excursions.
Aquaventure at Atlantis
Located on Paradise Island, which is connected to Nassau by a bridge, travelers will find the famous Atlantis Resort and its many amenities. But you don’t have to be a guest to enjoy the resort’s Aquaventure waterpark. You simply need to buy a day pass to have fun among 20 million gallons of water, 20 swimming areas, 11 pools including 3 kids’ pools, a mile-long river ride with high-intensity rapids and wave surges, and water slides that include a six-story Mayan Temple where participants plummet then plunge through a shark-filled lagoon inside a transparent tunnel. Slow things down at the Royal Baths or at the zero-entry pool.
Port Lucaya Marketplace
This open-air marketplace that sits alongside the harbor is a do not miss and welcomes visitors to Freeport on Grand Bahama with its vibrant and playful Caribbean colors. Tourists can enjoy this shopping, dining, and entertainment center featuring duty-free and specialty stores, as well as boutiques and push carts selling straw crafts and local art.
There are also several eateries, cafes, and bars. After dark, the marketplace features DJ shows and various nightlife.
Glass Window Bridge
On the island of Eleuthera, experience the brilliant colors of the Glass Window Bridge. This is where the deep blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean meet up with the calm turquoise Bight of Eleuthera, which is often incorrectly called the Caribbean Sea.
The two impressive bodies of water align in stark contrast and are separated only by a thin ribbon of land 30 feet wide. Close by, visitors will find Queen’s Bath, which is a rocky collection of pools formed by centuries of crashing waves. Enjoy the warm waters of these shallow pools or sunbathe on the rocks.
If you’re partial to Scuba Diving, all islands in the Bahamas offer plenty of options, from explorations of coral reefs and friendly marine life to investigating the many shipwrecks in the region. If you’re an adrenaline junkie and want to kick your dive experience up a notch, some tour operators include shark feeding if you dare.
Also available on many islands is SNUBA, which is a cross between snorkeling and scuba diving and does not require certification. Scenic Underwater Bubbles, also known as SUBs, are available as well. This is a self-propelled submarine that runs at speeds of up to 2 knots an hour and allows participants to cruise underwater and view marine life without getting their hair wet.
Pink Sand Beach
On Harbour Island, just a short jaunt north of Dunmore Town, walk on the pink-tinged shores of Pink Sand Beach. The water is calm here because the sea breaks softly over coral gardens not far from the shore. Here you can paddleboard, jet ski, rent a boat or experience a fishing charter.
Despite that Harbour Island is famous for Pink Sand Beach, that fact is that the blush-colored sands stretch more than 35 miles across Eleuthera.
Glass Bottom Boat Ride
For people that are hesitant to get in the water but still want a glimpse of the marine life surrounding the Bahamas, climb aboard a glass-bottom boat.
This is the perfect sightseeing excursion with up-close views of colorful coral, tropical fish, turtles, rays, eels, and occasionally, even a shark.
Several tour companies throughout the islands offer a glass-bottom boat excursion, some of which include knowledgeable guides that narrate the tour and point out landmarks and historical places.
Lucayan National Park
Located on Grand Bahama, Lucayan National Park boasts six different eco-systems including a lush landscape of pine forests, mangrove swamps, and beaches. This 40-acre park is perfect for outdoor adventurers, bird watchers, and lovers of flora and fauna.
However, the most interesting and unique feature here is the cave system which is thought to be among the largest on earth. Visitors can hike the park or explore the caves for a distinctive type of island experience.
Many travelers visit the Bahamas by way of a Caribbean cruise. Nine different cruise lines own or share several different private cays that act as day excursions exclusively for passengers. Each cay features its own activities and attractions. Disney Cruise Lines offers a stopover on Castaway Cay, located near Great Abaco Island. Holland America and Carnival share Half Moon Cay which is designed to look like a pirate movie set. Coco Cay (shown in the photo) is owned by Royal Caribbean and offers a massive waterpark and various activities. Great Stirrup Cay is visited by Norwegian Cruise Line and Regent 7 Seas. Princess Cays on the southern tip of Eleuthera is owned by Princess Cruises and is shared with Carnival. Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve is for MSC Cruise passengers. And the Beach Club in Bimini is exclusively for Virgin Voyages.
** The word tends to receive various pronunciations due to its spelling and Spanish roots. While Bahamians pronounce it as “Key” and several people agree, there are many others that insist the pronunciation is “Kay” which is derived from the “Cayo” in Spanish. This inevitably leads to arguments.
Bonus Pick: Junkanoo
If you’re traveling to Nassau during the holidays, do not miss JUNKANOO! This is a festival similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnival in Rio, with elaborate costumes, music, dancing, and partying in the street, from darkness to daylight.
As the major cultural festival of the Bahamas, this event is a wonderful celebration of life and freedom, commemorated on Boxing Day, December 26th, and the main event is on New Year’s Day, January 1st.
Lead – by Peter Hansen on Unsplash
Exuma’s Swimming Pigs – by Larsen9236 on Pixabay
Queen’s Staircase – by dnaveh on Shutterstock
Aquaventure at Atlantis – by Rick Josey on Pexels
Port Lucaya Marketplace – Wikimedia by Pietro Valocchi – License: CC BY 3.0 Unported
Glass Window Bridge – by Miguel Davis on Unsplash
Underwater Adventures (Nassau Dive Shark Feeding) – by Alexandra on Pixabay
Pink Sand Beach – Wikimedia by Rüdiger Stehn – License: CC BY Share Alike 2.0 Generic
Glass Bottom Boat Ride – by gdvcom on Shutterstock
Lucayan National Park (underwater cave) – by Alex Rose on Unsplash
Cruise Cays (Coco Cay) – by Fernando Jorge on Unsplash
Bonus Pick: Junkanoo – by JC Donelson on Pixabay