Bahamas Tourist Guide & Info
Variety is the spice of life! If this is your motto then the Bahamas are your ideal destinations. Each island has its own diversity in geography, culture and art, but the one common element for all 700 islands to share is the warmth and smile inherited by all Bahamian people. In fact a wonderful program called The People-to-People Program was established some years ago to pair up locals and visitors, encouraging cultural exchanges.
And if that is not enough, there are miles of empty beaches with crystal clear waters and modern facilities for you to enjoy. Many water sports can be practiced on them such as diving, snorkelling, boating or kayaking. Nature lovers will be enchanted by the gardens and the colourful sea life. Charming colonial villages can be found on many islands and offer hours of leisurely discoveries.
Although the British influence still resonates in the air, the mood of the island has become very Caribbean and laid back. Today the Bahamas enjoys a strong commercial and business centre and tourism is the main focus of the economy.
Origin & Culture
Bahamian cuisine is never, ever bland. One could characterize it as spicy, subtle and uniquely flavoured. Although many ethnicities have shaped the local dishes, the strongest influence would be South American.
Seafood and fresh fish are the staples of the Bahamian diet. The Conch is a large type of ocean mollusc that has firm, white meat and is best enjoyed uncooked with lime juice and spices. Favourites also include the Bahamian Rock Lobster (a spiny variety without claws) and land crabs. A popular brunch is boiled fish served with grits. Fish stew is another local specialty and most dishes are accompanied by peas and rice. The traditional Souse soup is made of water, onions, lime juice, celery, peppers and meat (usually chicken, sheep's tongue, oxtail or pigs' feet). The Bahamian Johnny Cakeresembles cornbread.
Bahamians love their tropical cocktails. Bars covet their own special rum punch recipes. Another refreshing drink is coconut water blended with sweet milk and gin. Kalik, the local beer, has a light and wheaty taste. There is also a drink called Switcher made with native limes. Cascarilla bark grown in a few Out Islands is used to flavour Campari and Vermouth.
The traditional music of the Bahamas is Goombay. This music style reflects the musical influences of the African slaves during colonial times. Rake and scrape bands had a drum fashioned out of a pork barrel and goatskin (called Goombay), and other farming or household instruments. Today these bands have adopted the modern musical instruments, such as saxophones and electric guitars.
Bahamians love to dance as well. A popular dance is the Jump-In-Dance which is led by one person dancing in the middle of a circle of people; After a few minutes, the centre dancer chooses a replacement from the crowd and so it goes on.
They are a very religious people with attended churches in every small town. This serves as evidence of their Puritan heritage dating back to the Eleutheran adventurers. Religious hymns resemble the American gospel style and are accompanied by hand clapping, rhythmic possession and spiritual dancing.
Of course not all the islands are inhabited. The majority of the population is spread over 14 main islands: New Providence, Grand Bahama, the Abacos, Andros, Bimini and the Berry Islands, Cat Island, Crooked and Acklins Islands, Eleuthrea, the Exumas, the Inaguas, Long Island and San Salvador.
Found artefacts have confirmed that the Bahamas have been inhabited as early as 300 to 400 AD but their origin remains unconfirmed. The peaceful Lucayan Indians, part of the Arawak tribe, settled in the Bahamas sometime in the 900s in an attempt to flee the fierce Carib Indians of the Lesser Antilles. Christopher Columbus discovered the islands in 1492 and the settlers soon forced the Lucayans into slavery. Within 25 years the entire tribe was wiped out.
In search of religious freedom, the English Eleutheran Adventurers group arrived here in 1648 but they were soon faced with food shortages and proper supplies. Internal conflicts ensued and separate communities were formed. Life was not easy as and constant threats from pirates and Spanish privateers made thing worse. Finally in 1783 the former Loyalists, assisted by the South Carolina militia, took up arms and forced the retreat of Spanish forces.
The U.S. Civil War was very profitable for the island's economy. The British textile industry, depended on southern cotton, favoured the South. The ports of the Bahamas were utilized since the American ports were blockaded by the Union. When the Civil War ended hard economic times fell on the Bahamas until the American alcohol Prohibition when smuggling once again became a popular activity. Once again, with the end of the Prohibition in 1934, financial hardship devastated the islands.
Of course these moments in history slowly saw the birth of the tourism industry with the construction of hotels, steamship service and a higher demand for food and supplies, all of which built a strong banking industry. The Bahamas legally became a nation on July 10, 1973.
On land, a wide array of plant life thrives here, such as orchids, hibiscus, aloe vera, palms, mahogany and the national tree called lignum vitae. Many endemic species have become extinct, while others are quite endangered.
Indigenous animals include bats, reptiles, insects and the Hutia (an endangered rodent-like creature), but several animals were introduced by settlers like dogs, cats, donkeys, horses and common farm animals.Hundreds of bird species live in or migrate to the islands. Quite a few are very rare and therefore protected by laws. Bahamian woodstar hummingbirds, great blue herons, barn owls, peregrine falcons and frigate birds count among the sightings. The Abaco National Park is a shelter for the rare Bahamian Parrot and the Inagua National Park has the largest natural reserves for the West Indian flamingos.
With the world's third longest barrier reef and the clearest waters in the world, scuba diving in the Bahamas is an experience not to be missed. Diving operations are plentiful and tours usually include a picnic lunch cooked over an open fire on a private island beach. Favourite dive sites include: Lost Blue Hole, Fish Hotel, Coral Gardens and Lyford Cay Drop-Off.
Local sports include rugby, cricket and baseball. Several world-class athletes have come out of the Bahamas in sports like baseball, basketball, tennis and Olympic runners.
Other Useful Info
In the Bahamas, the legal tender is the Bahamian dollar and it is at par in value to the US dollar. Although prices are listed with the national currency, US dollars are accepted readily so you may not need to exchange your money at all. Carry small bills when bargaining at the straw market.
Other currencies can be exchanged in the many banks and change offices. Hotels, stores, or restaurants will only exchange $US cash. Banks ATMs are available throughout the more populated areas of the islands. All major credit cards are accepted.
The rainy season lasts from May through November and is accompanied by a high humidity factor. On average the northern islands can receive twice as much rain as the southern islands.
For monthly average temperatures please refer to your destination of choice.
Canada is a direct-dial call from the Bahamas and most telecommunications services, such as the internet, have been modernized. Phone cards can be purchased at all BaTelCo locations.
The country code for the Bahamas is 242.
There are no required vaccines to enter the country, unless you are arriving from a yellow fever affected destination. The following vaccines are recommended for any tropical destination: hepatitis A and B, rabies, typhoid, tetanus and yellow fever.
The most common illnesses are sunburns and traveler's diarrhea (turista). Medical facilities are at par with North American standards. Although not recommended but interesting to note that Bahamians still practise bush medicine, which involves the use of plants, such as aloe vera or fig leafs, for medicinal purposes.
January 1 – New Year's Day
March/April – Good Friday and Easter Monday
1st Friday in June – Labor Day
May/June – Whit Monday
July 10 – Independence Day
1st Monday in August – Emancipation Day
October 12 – Discovery Day
December 25 – Christmas Day
December 26 -Boxing Day
The Festival of Junkanoo runs on December 26th and January 1st. This celebration is reminiscent of Mardi Gras Carnival but with a definite Bahamian twist with all night celebrations, parades and costumes.
Do not venture south of downtown Nassau (the "over-the-hill" area). Use good judgement, take advantage of the safety deposit boxes provided by the hotels, avoid wearing expensive jewellery and carry your wallet or camera discreetly. Hotel rooms and rental cars should be locked. Avoided isolated areas or walking alone at night and use only clearly marked taxis with yellow license plates.
Several Straw Markets are located amongst the islands but the most famous one is definitely the Nassau Straw Market. Considered one of the largest in the world, it is open seven days a week. It's a great place to do your souvenir shopping where you will find local art and handicraft like handmade mats, hats and baskets along with fabrics, jewellery, woodcarvings, and guava jellies. Bargaining is the common practise. Cigar lovers will enjoy visiting the Bahamian Graycliff Cigar Company.
The Bahamas are a shopper's paradise with the many duty free shops. Since 1992 all import duties have been abolished on several categories of items:perfumes, crystal, leather, jewellery, linens and tablecloths, watches and clocks, photographic equipment, china, binoculars, and telescopes.
There's no sales tax in the Bahamas and many purchases are duty free.
Hotels and restaurants charge a tax and gratuity fees, ranging from 6 to 16% in total. These are usually included in your bill so make sure to inquire first. Taxi drivers or other service industry workers are tipped 15% and bellboys should receive $1 per bag.
The departure tax and security fee of around US $18 per person must be paid when leaving the islands.
There are three International airports (Nassau, Grand Bahama, and the Exumas) in the Bahamas and 24 more airports are official ports of entry. Short flights between the various islands are easy and affordable. Marinas abound as well for boaters and several ferry companies offer service to and from the islands of the Caribbean.
Once in town, the Jitney (the local bus service) is a very affordable way to get around the larger islands. Taxis stands are often located near hotels or they can be flagged down on the street. Use only clearly marked taxis with yellow license plates. Taxi drivers who have been trained by the Bahamas Travel Ministry will display a Bahamahost decal in the taxi cab window.
Rental cars, motorcycles, mopeds or bikes make it ideal for those want to explore on their own. Remember, when you take to the road Bahamians drive on the LEFT side.