How to Make Your Bahamas Vacation Twice As Nice
There are things in life where having just one is perfectly sufficient. One daily multivitamin, for example; or one mortgage.
But in other cases — like when you find yourself basking on the blissful white sands, splashing in the crystalline ocean waters or exploring the history and culture of a paradisiacal island in The Bahamas — less is inarguably not more.
You see, considering there are 700 islands and cays in this stunning archipelago, visiting at least two of these distinct destinations seems a must. And we have a plan for how to maximize your time and see as much of this gorgeous country as possible, with minimal effort.
Here’s how to experience more of The Bahamas on your next island escape, in three easy steps: Go Big, Go Small — and, saving the hardest for last — Go Home.
Step 1: Go Big
In keeping with the theme of two, just that many airports serve as primary entry points for travelers from the US. Fourteen US gateways (Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and New York among them) offer nonstop flights to Lynden Pindling International in Nassau on New Providence Island, while both Miami and Fort Lauderdale offer direct flights to Grand Bahama International Airport in Freeport, on Grand Bahama Island.
Your Bahamas vacation starts minutes after you touch down when you book the first part of your trip in one of these celebrated locales — each set just a short taxi ride from the airport.
New Providence — the island home of the capital city, Nassau — may seem an obvious choice, but it’s a great one. You’ll know you’ve entered paradise even before you get to your hotel, as you’ll catch glimpses of luminescent aquamarine water just gleaming away on the roadside from your taxi window.
Once you’ve settled in and are officially ready to dig your toes into the sand, you’ll be spoiled for choice. With its curvaceous three-mile shore, Cable Beach is a perennial favorite — and we do mean perennial, since temperatures rarely dip below 72 degrees even in the “coldest” Bahamian winter months.
Besides the lure of the warm white sand and gentle, sea glass-colored waves, there are plenty of other diversions at hand here. Water sports rental companies lend everything from jet skis to stand-up paddle boards. Opened last spring, the 15-acre Baha Bay water park sprawls across the eastern end of the beach at Baha Mar Resort, and a limited number of day passes are available for non-hotel guests.
Those who prefer their water served with a hefty dose of adrenaline will revel in the park’s surf simulator and numerous thrill slides, including dueling chutes that spout daring riders out into a freefall over a sparkling aquamarine pool. The water babies in the group, on the other hand, will appreciate an array of more gradual slides, a tranquil wading pool and a lazy river.
When a break from the sun is warranted, there are many options for taking the party indoors or under the cover of a Tiki hut or shaded porch. In the many resorts that dot this buzzing beach, you’ll find casual pubs, jazz bars, swanky restaurants, elegant casinos and much more.
If a romantic, secluded beach is more your style, take a drive over to Love Beach. Depending on the season, you may find yourselves the only ones in sight. Slow down and observe small sea creatures in microhabitats formed by tidal pools, or pull on a pair of flippers for some prime snorkeling. Though this area is only a 20-minute drive from the airport, it feels delightfully removed. Get a sense of true Bahamian life as you chat with locals over a Kalik (the island’s beer) and a jalapeno-laced conch salad at a nearby seafood shack. Neighboring vacation rentals and boutique hotels offer the chance to make more than a day trip out of this secluded spot.
Also incredibly accessible is Paradise Island, an isle comprising a single square mile connected to the east side of New Providence by a drivable bridge. This little enclave is known for its oceanfront hotels with large sparkling pools, celebrity chef restaurants and attractions ranging from fun parks to the outdoor, family-friendly Marina Village pedestrian mall.
Across from this promenade, you’ll find Bahamas Craft Center, a market that showcases the work of local artisans. One-of-a-kind keepsakes include vibrant paintings inspired by the islands’ traditional Junkanoo festivals, hand-carved wooden statues, woven straw crafts, conch shell jewelry and uniquely Bahamian batik fabrics.
For a deeper cultural exploration, head to downtown Nassau, where many additional artisan shops and galleries await. While there, experience a sampling of island flavors with a Bahamian food tour, or taste the barrel-aged wares of John Watling's Distillery — a local rum works with a 175-year history.
Grand Bahama Island
Starting your island-hopping vacation on Grand Bahama Island means getting the best of both worlds. The island’s roads and beaches are rarely crowded, and yet you’ll be greeted with loads of amenities for all kinds of travelers: think golf courses, water sports and dive rental facilities, plus an array of restaurants and boutique shops.
But let’s get back to the beaches for a moment. Lucaya Beach, on which the island’s largest resort and its golf course are set, is the most popular by far. Book a parasailing experience to get a bird’s-eye view of the sand and azure blue surf; or stop by one of the lively beach bars that pepper the coast, ready to pour you a sunset-colored rum punch. Just say "yes" to the paper umbrella.
Those looking for a quieter setting have a number of options. East Palm Beach near Williams Town a few miles west of Lucaya, for example, is a relatively hidden spot that offers a wide beach at low tide, and the choice of a long sidewalk or the powder-sand shore for a nearly 2-mile, romantic walk. Thanks to the stables located a few miles inland, you may spot riders on horseback trotting across the surf.
But there’s more to this 530-square-mile island than the gorgeous beaches. Divers will gape at the underwater scenery in Lucayan National Park — where one of the world’s largest charted undersea cave systems awaits exploration. (Divers will need to secure a permit, but many caves can also be reached by walking.)
Those who prefer adventures of the drier kind can trek a scenic network of trails that take hikers through thickets of marked native plants and past mangrove swamps. Watch stealthy crabs crawl across the spindly trees sprouting out of the semi-submerged earth, and keep your eye out for yellow-breasted olive capped warblers, talkative thick-billed vireos, and the regal black-capped crowns of loggerhead kingbirds among the many bird species that call the island home.
Step 2: Go Small
While the more populous Bahamas Islands offer diversions for all kinds of travelers, the more sparsely peopled, less-traveled Out Islands are delightfully specialized. Escapists and avid anglers will revel in any and all of these gorgeous outposts, while luxury lovers, animal enthusiasts and history buffs may favor one or two glorious Bahamian havens above the rest.
Jumping off to your second vacation is surprisingly simple. Freeport offers daily flights to Bimini, and three flights weekly to The Abacos. Taking the second step in your getaway is even easier from Nassau, which offers daily flight service to many of the 14 most visited Out Islands.
The beauty of this 120-mile island chain must be seen to be believed — and as one of the Bahamas’ top spots for boating, fishing and sailing, seafarers and anglers will want to make a beeline.
But these islands hold unexpected treasures for landlubbers as well, like an The Johnston Art Foundry artist's colony in Great Abaco; Instagrammable, pastel-painted New England-style homes you can peruse via rented golf cart in Green Turtle Cay; and panoramic views from the top of The Bahamas’ last manually operated lighthouse in Elbow Cay. Accommodations are as diverse as the sightseeing, with options that range from rustic boutique hotels to sprawling resorts ready to accommodate a destination wedding.
This laidback and largely unaltered island paradise is famous as the home of Mt. Alvernia, the highest point in The Bahamas. Atop the peak, climbers can explore The Hermitage, a monastery hand-built out of local stone by a Bahamian architect in 1939.
Around the 150 square miles that constitute this picturesque place, you’ll find inviting stone benches on secluded shores; rocky coastline that gives way to soft pink sand; and roads void of traffic, but full of unreal ocean views. Sip a beer among locals at unassuming fish fry shacks and jerk chicken huts. The waters are so rich with sea life, you might see an octopus or sting ray without even getting wet.
Just 50 miles off the coast of Florida, Bimini is a sun-drenched angler’s playground. The three narrow islands (named North, South and East Bimini) are so full of charm, they persuaded Ernest Hemingway to make them his home for two years in the 1930s. The islands that inspired the iconic writer are still a beach-goer's paradise, but now hold more varied diversions as well.
Among them is the Dolphin House Museum in Alice Town, a building-sized art installation composed of discarded and found objects, created by a resident artist whose family has lived on the islands since the 18th century. The Bimini Bull Run, while perhaps quite a bit scarier, is another must-try. A ticket buys you a chance to hang out underwater in a protective dockside cage while predatory bull sharks swim by.
History buffs and nautical enthusiasts will want to catch a glimpse of Sapona — or what’s left of her. Said to have been designed by Henry Ford during World War I, the concrete ship became a casino and then a floating Prohibition-era liquor warehouse before meeting its demise in 1945. The upright wreck is cool to see above the water, but you can get even better views by snorkeling or diving around its submerged hull.
This little island punches above its weight when it comes to pampering guests, which helps to explain why it consistently tops Travel + Leisure’s "World’s Best Caribbean Islands" list. It’s the oldest settlement in The Bahamas, which won’t come as a shock when you stroll the streets lined with quaint colonial-style houses painted in signature Bahamian pastels. But the most enthralling pink you’ll find here is on the beach, where the powder-soft, rose-colored sands are nothing short of legendary.
On the topic of "going small," we'd be amiss if we didn't mention the Exumas, a string of more than 350 islands and cays, some of which are just large enough to stand on for a family photo. Others, like Major Cay, can accommodate many more visitors, as well as some famous, four-legged permanent residents — the adorable swimming pigs. How they arrived here is not fully known, but one thing is clear: These furry creatures literally live in hog heaven, spending their days paddling their hooves through the crystal-clear waters and eagerly greeting guests in hopes of receiving a tasty snack. (They favor fruit and vegetables, FYI.)
In addition to farm animal enthusiasts, divers, snorkelers and nature lovers will want to make the Exumas the second site of their Bahamian escape thanks to the 176-square-mile Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park. This pristine, protected eco-park includes seemingly limitless natural wonders, including The Rocky Dundas caves — a swimmable grotto filled with colorful stalactites, stalagmites and fascinating fossils.
The preserve is also home to the second largest barrier reef in the Western hemisphere, and underwater adventurers are apt to see porcupine fish, turtles, eagle rays, reef sharks and rare corals among the myriad undersea creatures. Collapsed sinkholes known as "blue holes" are scattered around the islands as well, providing yet another otherworldly submarine environment for divers to explore.
Many travelers to the Exumas stay on Great Exuma, where everything from luxurious all-inclusive resorts to humble guest houses welcome visitors with famous Bahamian hospitality.
Step 3: Go Home
No one wants to go home from a Bahamas vacation, but take some comfort in knowing that the islands are a short flight away for your inevitable return. You’ll surely want to go for at least a triple on your next go-round.