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Your Island Hopping Guide To The Bahamas
Written By Ianthia Smith
There’s a reason The Bahamas has long been hailed as one of the most beautiful and popular Caribbean destinations to visit. The reason? Every single island and cave is vibrant, special and intriguing in its own unique way. With boyish blues stretching from sea to sky, powdery pink and white sands blanketing the grounds; this archipelago of islands is rich with things to do, see, eat, discover, remember and fall in love with.
It’s no wonder Caribbean Journal recently named The Bahamas “Destination of the Year.” Even musical genius Lenny Kravitz has signed on as brand ambassador in a new tourism campaign. How’s that for rock star status? From the jaw-dropping architecture, nature and wildlife adventures, historical landmarks and of course the award-winning beaches and bars, there’s so much to dive into in this quiet tropical oasis.
If you’re ever headed to this sunny paradise, take some time to do a little island hopping, by boat, plane or water taxi, and get your fill of all the beauty The Bahamas has to offer. Pick your paradise.
Nassau and Paradise Island
Begin your adventure in the country’s capital, Nassau. This bustling hub is the perfect mix of city and island life, offering up an introduction to Bahamian culture and lifestyle. A trip to downtown to the city center takes you to the world-renowned straw market and cultural village where you can feast your eyes on authentic crafts and souvenirs. A short walk east of the bustling market and you’ll find yourself in the heart of the country, Rawson and Parliament squares. It’s here that you’ll see the flamingo-colored buildings where the country’s laws are crafted. Statues and photos of the past in this sacred space pay homage to those who’ve been here before.
You can also take a short walk or ride to the Queen’s Staircase (also known as the 66 Steps), a major landmark build out of limestone by slaves that once inhabited this island. Be sure to check out the military forts built as far back as the 1700s, where the canons and secret hideouts tell the story of a nation that always stood ready to protect its people. Visit the downhome fish fry and dig into some fried fish, peas and rice, macaroni or the delicacy conch, made three ways; cracked, frittered or in a salad. And while you’re in paradise, a visit to Paradise Island is a must. Here you can soak in sunrays on the famous Cabbage Beach or visit the landmark Atlantis Resort, where a world of luxury, excitement and more beaches await you.
Eleuthera and Harbour Island
An early morning ferry ride from Nassau takes you to picturesque Harbour Island where stretches of pink sand beaches welcome you home. Tropical vibes were no doubt created here. Colorful buildings, enchanting architectural styles, churches whose walls hold centuries of history all make up the beauty of Harbour Island. It sits just off of mainland Eleuthera, whose name means freedom and is known as the pineapple capital of the world! Yes, this quiet little island produces some of the sweetest crops.
Feel free to tour a few pineapple fields and even watch your picks go from field to fork. Perhaps the most magical thing about Eleuthera, though is the Glass Window Bridge; a narrow pathway connecting the central and northern parts of the island. What makes this bridge so special is that it’s a 30-feet wide sliver of rock separating the dark, often rough deep blue of the Atlantic Ocean from the calm, turquoise waters of the Bight of Eleuthera. Witnessing the stark contrast with your own two eyes will leave you in awe. While in Eleuthera, you may as well see all parts of it too. Take a trek through Spanish Wells a unique fishing village, Gregory Town, North Eleuthera, and even Current Island; how’s that for an island hop within an island hop.
There’s a longstanding debate waging as to which island in The Bahamas is the favorite. Without a doubt, The Abacos are always a top contender because it has a little bit of everything; boating, boat building, golfing, diving and cycling. A visit to mainland Great Abaco is a must for getting acclimated to the heartbeat The Abacos. Just off of Great Abaco is Treasure Cay, a spot with all the blues you can imagine as countless beaches lie at your feet and the equally blue skies stretch down to meet them perfectly at the horizon.
But it’s the string of tiny cays that make up this island chain that excites many. Every cay in The Abacos offers up something special. Green Turtle Cay is a foodie’s paradise that’s chock full of restaurants and bars serving the most delicious Bahamian dishes and drinks like Sky Juice. Make your way to Hope Town for a serene and tranquil island experience where soft, pastel hues are splashed on the tiny wooden buildings that are homes, schools, churches and government offices. Keep your eyes peeled for the popular candy-striped lighthouse, symbolic with The Abacos. You can take a ferry to boat between the many cays to discover The Abacos, and if you look hard enough, you’ll find some hidden gems too.
The gem in this crown of 700 islands and cays is perhaps Exuma. While the swimming pigs have made this chain of beauty insta-famous in recent years, for decades, The Exumas have been known to steal hearts with its crystal clear waters, heavenly sandbanks, and underwater caves. Just off of Staniel Cay is the Thunderball Grotto, named after the James Bond film shot here; it’s an ocean lover’s dream come true. You can swim, dive and snorkel through the nooks and crannies of this underwater “theme park” passing by a rainbow of fish, coral reefs and other marine life on the way. From boating excursions, on-island tours, watersports activities, and miles of hardly touched beaches, Exuma is a type of special place that can only be witnessed by the naked eye.
A mix of big resorts and quaint hotels occupy the land, sharing the space with some of the best restaurants and hole in the wall spots. Take a quick boat ride over to Stocking Island for a day of beaching and feasting on Bahamian dishes; or drive to the Tropic of Cancer Beach. While it’s one of Exuma’s most popular attractions, it’s simultaneously one of its best-kept secrets too. This beach remains nearly secluded because it’s so hard to find, helping to maintain its peaceful charm. But once you find it, heaven awaits. The beach is named for the fact that the Tropic of Cancer latitude line runs right through it. And if you’re a wildlife lover, feel free to swim with the harmless nurse sharks, feed the iguanas and of course, swim with the pigs.
If you’re looking for a little mystery, a little intrigue and a whole lot of history and culture, then a visit to Cat Island can’t be missed. Watch a traditional Bahamian grandmother bake fresh bread in her outside oven (that still works), climb up to Mount Alvernia (Como Hill) the highest point in the country where you can visit The Hermitage, a medieval monastery or visit old slave ruins and plantations. Cat Island is the perfect place to learn about the origins of Bahamian rake and scrape music and dive deep into the myths, stories, and folklore that give this island its mystical edge. With mostly untouched, unbothered beaches and land, Cat Island is the perfect place to explore nature in its truest form. And here, you can pick your adventure level too; opt for watersports and hiking activities or choose to lie out and sunbathe on eight miles of human-free beach.
With over 700 islands and cays, you can imagine that every day, hidden gems are being discovered. Precious finds like the underwater wreckage at Cat Cay, just off of the island of Bimini or the world’s second deepest blue hole, Dean’s Blue Hole, in Long Island, or even artifacts in San Salvador, signaling the place Christopher Columbus first set sail in The Bahamas. There’s so much to do and see within the islands, you might just have to book several visits to tick off this massive bucket list and learn why it really is “better in The Bahamas.”