About the Bahamas
he Bahamas lie scatteredacross more than 100,000square miles of the westernAtlantic Ocean. From a pointroughly 70 miles east of West PalmBeach, Florida, the great archipelagoextends some 750 miles southwardtoward the northern Caribbean,almost to the island of Hispaniola.The islands that make up the Baha-mas are generally low and flat. Thehighest point in the entire archipelago,on Cat Island, is just 206 feet above sea level. Except on Andros, thelargest island of the chain, there are no rivers or streams. Apart fromNew Providence – where fresh water is shipped in daily from Andros,pumped from wells dug into the underlying rocks – fresh water is abun-dant.Because the islands are nomore than the exposed topportions of the GreatBahama Bank, an extensionof the North American conti-nental shelf, there are onlythree deep-water channelssuitable for the passage oflarge vessels.Of the 700 islands and 2,000islets, called cays (keys),making up the archipelago,only about 30 are inhabited.Some are little more thanboulders that appear anddisappear with the rise andfall of the ocean. Some arelong and thin and stretch formany miles. Still others arehome to thousands of busypeople. The vast majority ofthe islands, however, are deserted, with pristine beaches and tropical forests that are untouchedby humans.With a total combined land mass of less than 5,400 squaremiles, the islands of the Bahamas constitute one of thesmallest countries in the world.Tourism has brought prosperity to the Bahamas. But it hasn’t spoiledthe great natural beauty of the islands. In the early days, as in thecoastal boom towns of Florida and California, little attention was givento the damage unrestricted exploitation was inflicting on Nassau andNew Providence. Today, there’s a new feeling in the islands. A feelingthat the unique beauty of the archipelago must be preserved. Conserva-tion is the new watchword of the Bahamas.
The largest and bestknown city in the Baha-mas is Nassau. Locatedon the island ofNewProvidence, it boasts apopulation of more than175,000 people. In timesgone by, Nassau was aninternational play-ground for the rich.Today, the first city ofthe Bahamas attractsnot only the affluent ofthe world, but vacationers of every class and culture, especially fromAmerica. The city has become a tax haven – Nassau has more than 400banks – and is a popular location for international business conferencesand meetings.Nassau is also a microcosm of the nation’s history. Visitors can exploreits narrow streets, the old British forts, climb the Queen’s Staircase andwander through outlying villages dating back to the days of slavery andbeyond.Throughout the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, at the height of theBahamian tourist season,Junkanoo– a spirited, Mardi Gras-style cel-ebration born of slavery – explodes across the islands, but nowhere is itquite as exciting as in Nassau.
Grand Bahama is located some 50miles and less than 30 minutes byair from the east coast of Florida. It’san island of “cosmopolitan glitz andglamour coupled with miles of pristinebeaches and endless turquoise seas.”Sounds like a travel brochure, doesn’tit? Well, that’s because it’s quoted fromone of Grand Bahama’s promotionalreleases. And, far from overstating thequalities of the island, in fact, itunder-statesthem.TheFreeport/Lucayaarea, a mod-ern, well-planned urban metropoliswith a population of around 55,000, isthe economic center for the island. It’salso the hub of activity for visitors whoarrive daily by airplane, cruise shipand private boat. Sightseeing, shop-ping, gambling, watersports, golf, ten-nis and, of course, sun and sand are just a few of the attractions.Grand Bahama is surrounded by crystal-clear emerald seas,sugar-white beaches, and spectacular coral reefs. You can dive with andfeed sharks, or spend a quiet moment in the soothing company of anAtlantic bottlenose dolphin. You can, after a week of instruction, becomea fully certified diver. If that sounds a little too much, after just three hours of instruc-tion, you can taketo the deep sea –complete withfins, tanks, andweights – for anunderwater expe-rience you’ll neverforget. Too old?Nonsense! It’snever too late.Golfers are in for arare treat. Thereare three golfcourses on theisland – three ofthe best courses in the Caribbean: the PGA-rated Ruby and Emeraldcourses at the Royal Oasis Golf Resort & Casino, and the Quality Atlan-tic Beach Resort’s Lucayan Country Club Course.If shopping appeals to you, head forPort Lucaya, where more than sixacres of shopping, dining, and entertainment await you at The Market-place. In downtownFreeport, you’ll find more than 90 shops and storesin the International Bazaar. And the Straw Market just next door is atreasure house of crafts and specialties.Aside from the ocean and beaches that teem with life, there’s also aunique national park, a magnificent botanical garden, and a nature cen-ter devoted to preservation of the island’s wildlife. Throughout the cen-ter, dozens of nature trails and woodland paths meander back and forthamong the mangrove swamps, flower gardens, and forests. For thosewho really like to get away into the outback, there are more than 90miles of virtually untouched wilderness and deserted shores to explore –a world of casuarina, seagrape, mangrove, palmetto, seagrass, andscrub, where buzzards, lizards, and crabs, along with a fisherman ortwo, live out the great cycle of life.At the far ends of the island, the villagers in the tiny communities ofWest EndandMcClean’s Townwill extend a warm welcome and cre-ate some of the finest Bahamian cuisine you’ll ever taste.Grand Bahama also offers two world-class casinos – at theRoyal OasisGolf Resort & CasinoandOur Lucaya.Grand Bahama has a wide variety of accommodations, from the sprawl-ing deluxe resorts to the beachfront hotels, self-catering apartments,secluded getaways inns and small economy hotels.
Where to Stay & Eat
Several major airlines provide scheduled service intoFreeport. Of these,American Airlines(%800-433-7300,www.aa.com) offers the most options, although everythingmust connect through Miami.
In a city the size of Freeport, getting around is not difficult.Everywhere, taxi drivers await. They know the best places togo for entertainment, where the best beaches are, and moreabout the local history and traditions than most of the accred-ited guides. Rental cars, mopeds and bicycles are always available froma number of international and local agencies. You can also choose from anumber of guided trips and tours to the many attractions around theharbor, under the sea, and into the outback.The main roads are mostly good, especially around Freeport/Lucaya.Remember to drive on the left side of the road and, whencrossing the road, look to the right
By bicycle :
icyclists will be pleased to learn that the terrain is mostlyflat. Many attractive locations are within easy pedaling dis-tance of Freeport and Lucaya. You might want to giveTainoBeacha try. It’s less than three miles from the hotel district ofLucayan Beach and well worth the effort. Take Seahorse Road fromLucaya to Midshipman Road and turn right. Cycle about a mile and turnright again onto West Beach Road. Turn right at the Stoned Crab signand follow the road down to Taino Beach, where you’ll find a long stretchof sugar-white sand dotted with umbrellas.
By car :
The settlement ofWest Endis a leisurely 45 minutes awayfrom Freeport. Take the West Sunrise Highway and theQueen’s Highway along the well-paved road to the oldest set-tlement on Grand Bahama. You’ll find a number of other smalltowns and villages along the way, each with unique attractions.If you decide to goeast, you’ll need toset aside the entireday. The two- tothree-hour drivewill take youthrough a numberof odd little settle-ments. Take theEast Sunrise High-way from Lucaya,past FortuneBeach and on toGoldRockBeach, a part ofthe Lucayan National Park, where you can enjoy caves and mangroveswamps and feed fish and ducks. From Gold Rock Beach, continue onthrough Bevan’s Town toHigh Rock, where you can enjoy the scenery.Then it’s on toPelican’s Point, McClean’s Town, and perhaps a boatride out toSweeting’s Cay, a tiny settlement right at the end of GrandBahama. Electricity did not come to this quaint little community until1994 and, from all accounts, it generated quite a celebration. The localsturned out in force to see the first light turned on. It’s a long way toMcClean’s Town, but the trip is well worth the effort.
You’ll find a world of goodies, trinkets, jewelry, perfume, andgifts, and almost everything at bargain prices – taxable goods,that is. Grand Bahama’s duty-free status makes it a mecca forthose with money to spend and the time to shop around.Grand Bahama has taken advantage of its unique status and, far frombeing a center for cheap and shoddy goods, you’ll find ittheplace forbrand names at good prices.Of course, alcohol and perfumes have always been at the top of most liststo take home. Top-of-the-line imported brands available duty-free savearound 40% off list prices in the United States, and even more if you arefrom the UK.Beyond bargain drinks and fragrances, there are many other dutiableproducts you might want to buy: luxurious crystal and china, fine jew-elry, leather goods, silver, gold, emeralds, all sorts of electrical goods andelectronic gadgets; even cashmere and pure woolen goods.
The Out Islands
Beyond Nassau and Freeport lie the 13 inhabited islands or islandgroups that make up the Out Islands of The Bahamas. These are theAbacos, Andros, Eleuthera, Cat Island, Long Island, Bimini, the BerryIslands, Crooked Island, San Salvador, the Inaguas, the Exumas,Ragged Island and Rum Cay. They are magical places, each with a char-acter all its own. It’s here in these tiny backwater paradises that adven-tures really begin. This is the land of the treasure hunter, scuba diver,beachcomber, explorer and hiker. It’s where the old world ends and thenew one begins, a land of emerald seas, snow-white sands and mysteri-ous blue holes, where you can wander deserted beaches for hours on endand never set eyes on another living soul. Although there are no shopping malls, night clubs, casinos or any of the other major attractions that lurevisitors to the two main islands of the Bahamas, life goes on here much asit has for more than 300 years, quietly, unchanged.These are the islands of romance where couples can leave the bustlingmainland and all its distractions behind. Sunshine, warm breezes, tropi-cal drinks, soft music and solitude make for an unforgettable experi-ence. If, after a week together here in the Out Islands, you don’t get toknow one another intimately, you never will.Dotted around the Out Islands are a dozen or so resorts (some moredeserving of the title than others) and perhaps five times as many smallhotels and B&Bs. Accommodations run the gamut from spartan todelightful and almost luxurious. Don’t expect all the modern conve-niences here: telephones and televisions are rarities. Air-conditioning isavailable almost everywhere, but be sure you confirm before you book.The absence of climate control in your room, if you’re not prepared for it,can be a vacation breaker.Upscale restaurants and fine dining, as we know them, are the excep-tion rather than the rule, but these islands do boast of some of the bestlittle holes in the wall I’ve ever come across. The atmosphere in thesesometimes raunchy little cafés and restaurants, and the often outra-geous local cuisine, makes eating out an experience to remember. Buteven those who like fine dining and a good bottle of wine, will find oppor-tunities to indulge. The Romora Bay Club on Harbour Island is one (seepage 219), the Green Turtle Club on Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos isanother (see page165).Adventures on land and sea abound in the Out Islands. Most of them,though, require a modicum of self-organization. Throughout the follow-ing pages you’ll find references to beaches, dive sites, snorkeling, bicy-cling and walking opportunities. Very few of these activities, with theexception of scuba diving, can be formally structured. A good map andthe ability to make friends with the locals – local knowledge can producegolden opportunities – is all you need. Hotel employees are also a goodsource for local secrets. Other than that, you’ll need to head out on yourown and see what you can find.Beyond the Out Islands, far to the south, lie the Turks and CaicosIslands. These are not a part of the Bahamas per se, but they are a partof the Bahamian archipelago and an increasingly popular destinationfor Americans, Canadians and Europeans. So, it seems only right thatwe give them coverage in these pages. The section begins on page 293.Most people have heard of Nassau, some have heard of Freeport andGrand Bahama, but very few have heard of the Out Islands. If you reallywant to get away from life in the fast lane, enjoy a few quiet days in thesun on some of the most beautiful and unspoiled beaches in the world,the opportunities offered by the Out Islands are almost limitless. Startyour quest by visiting the Bahamas website: www.bahamas.com.
Often referred to as Abaco, thiscluster of islands, islets, and rockyoutcrops forms an archipelago thatstretches for more than 100 miles,from Walker’s Cay in the northeastBahamas, all the way down to Hole inthe Wall in the southwest. It is the sec-ond largest grouping of islands in theBahamas. Abaco, aside from being themost affluent and most-visited of theOut Islands, is also the most devel-oped.Marsh Harbour, its capital city,is the third largest city in the Baha-mas.But, with more than 650 square milesof almost deserted land and a totalpopulation of around 11,000, Abaco ishardly a bustling metropolis. Still,there’s plenty to see and do and theavailable amenities are, for the mostpart, modern.The Abacos are a mixture of isolated,dusty settlements and neat towns andvillages that might have been liftedstraight out of New England. Pas-tel-colored clapboard houses andwhite picket fences contrast sharply with dusty, bumpy, deserted roads.The Abacos offer sun-drenched beaches, warm ocean breezes, tropicaltrees and flowers, and quiet country lanes. More than 50 species of wild and tropical birdsinhabit the islands,along with wild boar,several species of liz-ards and, in the sur-rounding waters,bonefish. Most of themen earn their livingfrom the ocean.The Abacos offer allsorts of spectacular out-door activities, includ-ing sailing, sportfishing, sea kayaking,snorkeling, wreck div-ing, boating, guided island hopping, beach picnics, all-day island safaris,bird-watching and nature tours, hiking, fishing, biking, shelling, and onand on.Most of the settlements on the Abacos sprang up along the east side ofthe main island. On the other islands, including Great Guana,Man-O-War Cay, Green Turtle Cay, Elbow Cay, and Little Abaco, a num-ber of quaint little towns have grown up, named New Plymouth, HopeTown, Cooper’s Town and Treasure Cay.The principle city, Marsh Harbour, is a dusty little town somewhat remi-niscent of a frontier town in the American west. Stand here for amoment or two and you might expect to see a tumbleweed roll across theroad beneath the town’s single, lonely stop-light.Founded by American loyalists in 1784, Marsh Harbour is located closeto the center of the Abaco island chain and is the gateway to the nearbyisland settlements of Great Guana Cay, Man-O-War Cay and HopeTown. Almost everything begins and ends in Marsh Harbour.