8 of our favorite reasons to escape to The Bahamas

16 Feb 2021

This story was orginally published by our US team. Some information may not apply to British travellers.

Our desire to teleport into some sort of alternate reality is hitting record highs, and one place meets the moment like no other: The Bahamas. Incredibly accessible (the westernmost point lies just 53 miles off the coast of Miami) from the United States, open to travellers who’ve followed health protocols, and overflowing with experiences that feel not at all of this world, these 700 or so islands — and the surrounding 100,000 square miles of transparent turquoise — are a balm for the escape artist's soul.  

Consider this: rin just one corner of the immense Bahamian archipelago, you can swim with its world-renowned pigs, newborn sharks, and kaleidoscopic fish, then spot the nation’s singular (and singularly adorable) indigenous land mammal on a trail, where you’re also likely to meet a menagerie of iguanas, birds, and crabs, to say nothing of what awaits you among the 99,000 square miles, give or take, that make up the rest of The Bahamas.

For eight of our favorite experiences, read on — then start planning your own escape.

Exuma Cays’ Animal Attraction

This cluster of 365 islets has long attracted the Hollywood A-List, but perhaps the biggest local celebs are the four-legged, finned, or furry ones that occupy the local reefs, beaches, and trails. Yes, the Exumas are home to — for starters — the fabled swimming pigs, whose origin story is up for debate, but whose adorableness is not. In fact, for some travellers, taking a dip (and a million selfies) with these snouted sirens is reason enough to visit this part of the world. But just know that if you like animals, and you’re already on Big Major Cay — aka Pig Beach — you’re a stone’s throw from some of the best wildlife-viewing spots in the country: The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, whose southern border is about 10 nautical miles away.

According to The Nature Conservancy — a supporter of the preserve’s trail-building, wildlife-studying, and habitat-protecting efforts — this is the world’s first land and sea park, The Bahamas’ first national park (so designated in 1958) — and the Caribbean’s first no-take zone (read: you can’t fish or do any other kind of marine harvesting here).

All that protection results in abundant wildlife, from the queen conch, spiny lobsters, sea turtles, and tropical fish that thrive below the surface (snorkel the aptly named Aquarium site for an introduction) to the furry and furtive hutias (The Bahamas’ lone indigenous land mammal) that pop up on the walking trails. Also keep an eye out for pretty-in-pink iguanas and white-tailed tropicbirds — and when you paddle a kayak through the local mangroves, look just below the surface for baby sharks, among other newborn fish.

Blue Hole-Hopping in Andros

World-famous blue holes abound throughout The Bahamas, but the highest concentration lies in and around Andros, the nation’s largest island — and one of the least developed. Indeed, Andros is home to an estimated 175 inland aquatic caverns — many within the 40,000-acre Blue Hole National Park — and fringed by an additional 50 or so oceanic counterparts.

While some of the inland holes are swimmable, the offshore ones — whose mysterious depths and ethereal indigo waters teem with wildlife — have lured divers from across the globe. In fact, Jacques Cousteau was a fan of both varieties, though even he never succeeded in documenting the legendary Lusca, the Bahamian answer to Nessie or the Kraken, whose local incarnation ranges from a shark-octopus hybrid to multi-headed monster.

Whatever your level of aquatic cavern-exploring expertise (including none), you’ll find amazing guided excursion options here, from a gentle snorkel above the fish-filled cave entrances of South Andros to an advanced dive that has you shimmying through slim cracks into cathedral-like caverns. Then there’s The Crack, a favorite local spot where you swim with a phalanx of reef fish through a stunning fault line.

A Royal Road through Eleuthera

For a road trip — or just a day drive — like no other, hit the Queen’s Highway on this skinny strip of an island. Around 200 miles roundtrip, the route takes you past stunning beaches, quaint villages, and a succession of natural wonders, the most famous of which is the Glass Window Bridge.  

In what appears to be a real-life hallucination, you’ll be flanked by the turbulent, cobalt Atlantic on one side of the road, and the calm, transparent aqua of the Bight of Eleuthera on the other. All that separates the two is 30 feet of rock.

Once you’ve processed that sight (or given up on processing it because it’s too mind-bending), don’t miss the nearby Queen’s Bath. Also known as the Hot Tubs, these ocean-carved rock pools are either a dramatic photo stop or, if you arrive when the water is calm, clear, and sun-warmed (aim for low or medium tide), an amazing place to soak.

The Pastel Pleasures of Harbour Island

While you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss Eleuthera’s sister island. Though only five minutes away by ferry, Harbour Island feels like a world unto itself, where everything from the sand to the architecture is pretty in pink.

Once the capital of The Bahamas, this tiny enclave of Georgian buildings — all pastel facades and picket fences — has shed its governmental bustle in favor of chill vacation vibes. (The first sign: people get around by golf cart.) But arguably the biggest local draw is Pink Sands Beach, an approximately three-mile stretch of Atlantic shoreline that derives its namesake hue from the microscopic coral dwellers whose rose-toned remains mix with the local sand. While the beach is gorgeous anytime, the sunrises are bucket list-worthy.

More Prettiness in Pink on Inagua

Pink is a recurring theme in The Bahamas, perhaps nowhere more eye-poppingly than Great Inagua, where flamingoes handily outnumber humans.

Deemed one of the region’s greatest conservation successes by Audubon, this breeding colony was a pet project of the organization’s first director of research, Robert Porter Allen. Through his and others’ efforts, the Bahamian government turned about half of the island into a national park in 1965, and you can’t miss the payoff.

Brought back from the verge of local extinction, tens of thousands of West Indian flamingoes now call these 183,740 acres home, as do many Roseate Spoonbills, lest flamingoes get all the glory. In fact — note to birders — you’ll find several worthy non-pink species here, too: reddish egrets, snowy egrets, tricolored herons, Bahama parrots, Bahama woodstar hummingbirds and burrowing owls, to name a few. And for good measure, there’s also the occasional wild donkey among the mangroves.

The Old-School Fishing Village Vibes of Mayaguana

In a vast region renowned for fishing, departure points abound. For authenticity, however, you can’t beat Mayaguana. One the most isolated and least developed Bahamian islands, this one transports you not just to the eastern edge of the archipelago, but also to another moment in time.

Put otherwise: Come for the amazing angling, stay for the traditional fishing village vibes. (This is the kind of place where, if you ask for Shorty, everyone will know who you mean, and the resulting fishing trip will be fabulous.)

Bonefishing is particularly famous in the flats around Mayaguana, and the sport fishing gets epic a bit farther out. But you can also do well right onshore, at Horse Pond Beach, to be precise, where locals go for bountiful crabbing. And don’t be surprised to spot the island’s namesake creatures in the process: a local iguana species is said to have been called mayaguana in the original Arawak language.

The Gateway to the Past on Rum Cay

Mayaguana may be the only major Bahamian island to retain its indigenous name, but for anyone interested in indigenous cultural relics, Rum Cay is arguably the place to go. This quiet, secluded island is home to Hartford Cave, whose walls are decorated with Lucayan-Arawak petroglyphs — believed to be the largest such display in the nation. The cave is most easily accessed by boat: a 45-minute ride from the main settlement of Port Nelson, where you can book the excursion. 

But one look around the island will tell you that the petroglyphs are hardly the only attraction: divers, snorkelers, and anglers are drawn to the teeming waters and reefs around the island, while beach lovers may never feel the need to leave these gorgeous, secluded shores.

The Cosmopolitan Cred of Nassau and Paradise Island

Of course, some travellers want a little hustle and bustle in the mix, and if that’s you, be sure to hit the dynamic duo of Nassau and Paradise Island — a hub of shopping, dining, culture, and high-end lodging ops.

The modern capital of The Bahamas, Nassau is still home to impressive historic sights; among them, great additions to the pretty-in-pink checklist (see: Government House, Parliament Square, and the Public Library, for starters). Other colonial-era structures — notably, Fort Fincastle and the oldest local churches — are stunning in their simplicity.

Between cultural and historical stops, you may well want to engage in some of the retail therapy this part of The Bahamas is famous for in large part because of the duty-free luxury finds that abound here: perfume, crystal, leather goods, jewelry, fine linens, timepieces, and cameras, to name a few. But beyond the big-name, high-end shopping scene, there's plenty of local treasure to hunt for, especially along downtown Nassau's Bay Street, where you'll find the famed Straw Market and all manner of Bahamian shops.

Of course, all of the above requires frequent refueling, and Nassau/Paradise Island will come through for you just as ably on the foodie front. Though you'll find amazing local fare throughout the islands (and these are no exception, as you'll learn at Arawak Cay, aka The Fish Fry), you'll also find a staggering array of fine international dining options — so much so, in fact, that you'll have to save some for next time. And rest assured, plotting a return trip to The Bahamas before you've even finished the one in progress is just par for the course.

Ready to go? The Islands of The Bahamas are one of the easiest international trips for Americans. (You can even clear customs on the way home in the Nassau airport.) Start your planning with the Island Finder and see which of the islands are calling your name. Read up on their COVID-19 safety guidelines, check out these deals and get inspired with these 2-, 3- or 4-day itineraries.

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