As one of the most visited areas in the Caribbean, The Bahamas is a popular destination amongst honeymooners and families. With over 700 islands and thousands of cays, The Bahamas exaggerates the definition of island paradise. From busy tropical cities to remote resorts, The Bahamas has it all.
Welcome to The Bahamas
The word “beautiful” falls short of describing The Bahamas and words like “stunning” or “drop-dead gorgeous” are a better fit for the white sand beaches and turquoise ocean. Onshore, the beaches are lined by lush tropical fauna and towering resorts. While only a handful of the islands are inhabited, some of The Bahamas most exclusive areas have become destinations for the world’s rich and famous.
Yet beyond the visual beauty of the islands, history comes alive. Once the New World, The Bahamas was the first place that Christopher Columbus landed when he discovered the Americas. The island also has a rich history with pirates and a dark past with colonization. Tourists can learn more about the culture in The Bahamas by visiting historical towns and museums.
Sitting on the island of New Providence, Nassau is the capital of The Bahamas. It is here in the capital that visitors can mix education with play. The capital is a great place to explore more about The Bahamas’ history, while also soaking up the sun on the local beaches. Unlike the rest of the island, Nassau is a busy city and its high-energy directly contrasts the rest of The Bahamas laid-back vibe. But for a dose of urban adventure, Nassau is the perfect place to shop, dine, and party in the Caribbean tropics.
- Culture and Language
- Visa Requirements
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Best Islands to Visit
Culture and Language
Long before 1492, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, The Bahamas was home to the Lucayan people. These native people originated from the Taíno people, who were an Arawakan speaking tribe. The Taíno people inhabited many islands in the Caribbean long before colonizers reached their shores. Originally from South America, the Taíno people eventually died out in The Bahamas.
The Bahamas History
Colonization killed many of the native Taíno people as new diseases and colonizers killed off the tribes. The most famous part of history in The Bahamas is when Christopher Columbus discovered the island of Guanahani in 1492. Guanahani is now called San Salvador Island, and it was Columbus’ gateway to the New World.
By 1648, Europeans established permanent settlements, and during the 18th century, the slave trade became a prominent part of the country’s economy. There were many slaves that were brought from Africa to The Bahamas and their introduction to the country changed the country’s history and culture.
For a long time, The Bahamas was under the reign of the United Kingdom, but that ended in 1973 when the country gained full independence. Today The Bahamas is an independently ruled commonwealth. A Prime Minister governs the nation, but Queen Elizabeth II is still the ultimate ruler. Similar to many other British Commonwealths, this means that if the government in The Bahamas cannot come to a decision, the Queen of England would deliver the ultimate word and ruling.
The Bahamas Culture
With such a unique history and influence from various nations, culture in The Bahamas is quite unique. British and American customs have influenced the local culture, while African roots are still prominent on the island too. Self-expression is important to the Bahamian people, and many are happy to share their culture with visitors.
Local people are often described as friendly and easy-going, which only heightens their hospitality. With warm smiles, you will be welcomed with open arms by the local people. This outreach has increased the popularity of The Bahamas as visitors are eager to observe the local customs and traditions.
One unique part of the culture is the language. English is the official language in The Bahamas, but it is not quite the same as American and British English. Bahamian English is based on English words, but it is often mixed with the Queen’s dictation, African influences, and local dialects. Many people describe Bahamian English as not using the letter H, which gives locals a distinct accent.
Certain sayings are also specific to The Bahamas, so don’t expect to understand all the locals as you travel around the islands. However, if you stick to the resorts and more popular tourist areas, the locals will often speak using common British or American English words. For English-speaking travelers, this is often a relief as it allows you to communicate with local people.
The government in the Bahamas understands that their country is very popular amongst American tourists and to make your trip easier, they do not require you to obtain a tourist visa for your visit to the islands. You will need to present a valid US passport at the time of entry and have two blank pages in your passport for your entry stamps.
Travelers should check with their airline before departure for any passport restrictions. Many airlines will not allow you to board the plane if your passport is due to expire in 6 months or less, no matter the laws of your destination.
Custom agents in The Bahamas may ask you for proof of departure from the country. This means that you will have to show that you have a ticket to leave The Bahamas. You may also be asked for proof of funds for the duration of your stay.
There are no vaccination or currency restrictions upon entry to the Bahamas. However, visitors need to declare any amount of currency that is worth more than $10,000 US dollars upon entry or exit.
The US government has also issued warnings about crime on many of the tourist islands. Serious crimes like burglaries and assaults are common in The Bahamas and tourists need to take preventative measures to protect themselves. You should not travel alone and avoid traveling at night. Certain areas like the Sand Trap or Arawak Cay in Nassau are especially dangerous for tourists, and they should be avoided.
Tourists should always be aware of your surroundings and do not answer your door to strangers. For more information and up-to-date alerts from the US Embassy in The Bahamas, you can sign up with the US government’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program for email notifications.
With most of the islands catering to tourists, The Bahamas is a very expensive destination in the Caribbean. There are few deals or packages that lower the price of a vacation in the Bahamas, so it is not a backpacker friendly destination. If you want to go to The Bahamas, you will have to raise your daily spending budget.
You can help estimate the costs of your trip by creating an outline for a spending budget, which should include the cost of airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation. However, with resorts being so popular in The Bahamas, you may find that you can purchase a vacation package that includes all the parts of your spending budget.
If you’re not purchasing your vacation as a bulk package, you will need to outline the part of your budget separately. Airfare is the first big expense of any vacation and the average cost of a flight from the United States to The Bahamas is $700 US dollars. However, one good thing about the popularity of The Bahamas with tourists is that many airlines will often have special deals that lower the cost of airfare to about $300 US dollars.
Airfare is also more expensive during the high tourist season. With everyone wanting to escape the chill of winter, the months spanning December to April are the most popular time for tourists to visit The Bahamas. This is also the time when the cost of the flight is the most expensive.
You can save money on your airfare and your entire trip to The Bahamas by traveling in the shoulder season. This means that you would travel in the few weeks before the crowds arrive in December or stay in the weeks after the rush in April. With dangerous weather like hurricanes in the off season, it is not a good idea to visit The Bahamas in the rainy season.
When it comes to finding accommodation in The Bahamas, your choices will include hostels, hotels, and resorts. However, be aware that the most popular option is by far the island’s exclusive resorts.
For backpackers who are hoping to visit The Bahamas, you will have a very hard time finding affordable accommodation. There are a limited number of hostels in The Bahamas and their reasonable prices mean that reservations are often quickly filled. Many hostels may take the form of guest houses and have dorm room style accommodations. In a Bahamian hostel, you should expect to pay $40 US dollars per night.
If sharing spaces is not to your preference, you will need to look for a budget hotel. Budget hotels are available on most of the islands, but they are a lot higher priced than hostels. Most budget hotels charge about $130 US dollars per night. In more touristy areas, you could be asked to pay up to $150 US dollars per night.
The most popular accommodation option in The Bahamas is resorts. With huge corporations owning some of the most popular resorts, you should expect to pay a high price to stay in these luxury accommodations. The most affordable resorts will start their nightly rates at $200 US dollars. In the more exclusive resorts, you could pay up to $800 US dollars per night. If you’re going for the same resorts as the rich and famous, you should expect to spend thousands of dollars per night.
While many of the resorts in The Bahamas are all-inclusive, you may not always want to eat at the resort. Or if your resort does not offer all-inclusive packages, you will need to include the cost of food and drink as a part of your spending budget. While local places are the most affordable, some people feel more comfortable dining in the touristy areas, which will cost more.
Bahamian cuisine has some unique flavors, but it is well known for being filled with fresh seafood and vegetables. The tropical islands also bear plenty of fruit, which is a taste treat for mixed drinks or an afternoon snack.
Conch salad is a staple dish in Bahamian cuisine, which uses the meat from sea snails as the main ingredient. The snail meat is then mixed with a variety of chopped vegetables and tossed with a fresh blend of citrus juices. Another dish that features the conch is fritters. This deep-fried dish combines conch meat with onions, peppers, and garlic before frying them to perfection.
For a more traditional meat dish, you can try chicken souse. This meal consists of a thick soup, which has been spiced with peppers, onions, and potatoes. While chicken is the mildest form, you can also try variations of the soup that use sheep’s tongue or pig’s feet instead.
One of the most popular side dishes in The Bahamas is pigeon peas and rice. This dish is like rice and beans, but instead of beans, it uses an Indian legume. For a more flavorful meal, the rice and peas are often cooked with onions, tomato, and spices. If you want to, you can also add salted pork to the mix.
A sweeter dish that is a favorite on the island is Johnny cake. The cake uses traditional ingredients but is known for being very dense. The cake is often served in large wedges and served as a dessert or snack. For a more exotic dessert, you should try guava duff. This tasty pastry uses a guava fruit filling, which has been rolled into a sweet dough. To top it off, it is often drizzled with a butter rum sauce.
While many of these traditional dishes are available in the exclusive resorts, there is nothing like getting out into the local areas and tasting the authentic meals. Travelers can also save money by eating locally, as less touristy areas often have more affordable prices. In a local restaurant, a meal will cost about $15 US dollars. For $5 dollars less, you can eat at food trucks to taste tacos and wings.
Fine dining or resort area restaurants will be the most expensive option and a meal will often cost up to $40 US dollars. The most affordable meals in resorts will still be pricey and at a minimum, you should expect to pay about $30 US dollars per dish.
The price of alcohol is not included with meals, and it is difficult to find resort packages that also include the cost of drinks. Therefore, it is important to include the price of beverages into your spending budget. Similar to meals, alcohol is catered to tourists and very expensive. A single beer costs $4 US dollars and mixed drinks can cost as much as $10 US dollars in resorts. If you are on a tight budget, you must keep track of your bar tab, so you aren’t overwhelmed by the high costs of drinks.
With all the parts of your spending budget added up, you can see how expensive a trip to the Bahamas will be. However, don’t expect budget friendly costs. A low-end budget would cost about $300 US dollars per day. Most travelers will spend up to $500 US dollars per day in The Bahamas, while wealthy tourists could easily spend thousands of dollars per day.
How to Get Around
With hundreds of islands and thousands of destinations in The Bahamas, getting around can be a challenge. Most people will fly around The Bahamas because it is the fastest and most convenient mode of transportation. However, with the wide-open ocean, there are also ferry and boat services. If you are traveling around the capital, Nassau, you might want to take a local bus or taxi.
For travelers with a bigger budget, domestic flights in The Bahamas is the way to go. With a few different domestic airlines and service to remote areas, the cost of a flight is justified for many travelers. However, the cost of flights can quickly add up, as each flight is often priced at more than $100 US dollars. Longer flights are very expensive, and you could spend up to $170 US dollars for a domestic flight between islands.
A more affordable way to travel between the islands is by ferry. There are many different ferry services in The Bahamas and tickets often cost less than $75 US dollars. The most common routes will have frequent ferry services, but long-distance journeys may only be serviced once per week.
If you do not need to go far and want to visit some of the nearby uninhabited islands, you can take a small boat. Small boats are popular throughout The Bahamas and many locals offer their services for a reasonable price. For short rides, you should expect to spend less than $50 US dollars. There are also water taxis between the most popular routes, which often charge about $20 US dollars for short rides.
Bus or Taxi
In Nassau, the best way to get around is by bus or taxi. A bus ride will cost less than $3 US dollars. The minibuses are often private, but they can be difficult to hire. With no timetables or routes, you will have to find a driver and negotiate a price before you begin your journey. Taxis are another option, but they are more expensive. For a 6-mile trip, you should expect to pay about $25 US dollars.
Best Islands to Visit
With only one city in The Bahamas, most people plan their vacation based on the various islands that are open to visitors. There are over 700 islands in the Bahamas, but only 31 are inhabited. While not all the islands can be visited because The Bahamas allows private ownership, there are still hundreds that are open to explorers. Here are the best islands to visit in The Bahamas.
Home to the capital of The Bahamas, New Providence is a popular tourist destination because of the country’s only city, Nassau. The capital has become a hotspot for tourists who arrive by air or on cruise ships. While a busy city is nestled on the island, there are still plenty of resort beaches worth exploring. With some of the best shops and restaurants in The Bahamas, Nassau is the place to go to explore urban delights. Some of the other attractions in Nassau include Bay Street and day trips to the Blue Lagoon Island.
Located just a few miles away from New Providence is Paradise Island. This island is famous for the Atlantis luxury hotel, which is one of the most popular resorts in The Bahamas. With a large complex, the hotel includes guest rooms, an aquarium, and the Aquaventure Water Park. With endless attractions, Paradise Island has become the go-to destination for families.
Most famous for its swimming pigs, the Exuma Cays are a remote destination in the eastern area of The Bahamas. But there is much more to the area than the hooved friends and serious laws that have been put in place to protect the area. With a specific marine zone and no-take rules, the Exuma Cays is unique destination. The clear water is a favorite amongst snorkelers and divers who flock to the area to view the marine life. With excellent visibility underwater, the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is one of the best dive spots in the world.
Historically significant and a natural gem, Harbour Island is one of the best hidden islands. While the island has been popular amongst wealthy guests, it less touristy than other destinations in the Bahamas. But with pink sand beaches and the historical Dunmore Town, tourism is slowly building on Harbour Island. Now is the time to visit before the popularity of the island changes its character.
Grand Bahama Island
Aside from Nassau, Grand Bahama Island is known for being a mega tourist hub. Port Lucaya is a popular destination for cruise ships, which makes the island the best place for tourists who want the all-inclusive resort package experience. However, away from the crowds, you can visit the world’s longest underwater cave system or take a stroll through the Garden of the Groves.
With the world’s third largest barrier reef, Andros Island is a popular destination for scuba divers. The area is also filled with blue holes and a cave system, which provide unique adventures to underwater enthusiasts. With five national parks, Andros Island is also the place to go to observe the local wildlife.
Great Abaco Island
Great Abaco Island is most famous for Treasure Cay Beach, which has been named as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The soft sand is lined with an upscale community and luxury resorts cater to the guests. The island is also the location where The Bahamas host their best fishing tournaments.
Bimini Island is The Bahamas’ closest point to the United States. With boat rides available from Miami, the popularity of Bimini Island has grown. Much like the rest of The Bahamas, Bimini is beautiful, but it is also mysterious. The Bimini Road is a popular scuba diving point, where some speculate that the underwater paved stones could be the long-lost city of Atlantis. But while legend of the road has spread far and wide, Bimini is also a popular destination for sport fishermen.
Get Out and Go
Once the gateway to the New World, The Bahamas has developed into a top tourist destination. The dreamy beaches and endless cays have become a playground for paradise lovers. Whether you’re out in the ocean or relaxing on the beach, The Bahamas will enchant you. With plenty to explore, The Bahamas provides entertainment for guests of all ages because there is no age limit to fun in paradise.