5 Things You Didn't Know About The Bahamas

Cottages along Spanish Wells, Bahamas. Paul Schultz
Cottages along Spanish Wells, Bahamas.
View Next Slide
Kayak docked on the beach at Schooner Cays, Eleuthera, Bahamas. Bahamas Ministry of Tourism
By Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince

Even if you've been to The Bahamas before, you haven't seen it all. In a lifetime, a person can never get to know it. Off the tip of eastern Florida and stretching southeast across the Atlantic for 258,998 sq. km (100,000 sq. miles), the archipelago consists of some 700 islands, most of which are uninhabited.

Thousands of miles of perfect coral sand beaches -- white, golden, or, in some cases, pink -- remain free of footprints. If you're visiting for the first time, the biggest surprise comes when you realize The Bahamas are not part of the Caribbean, but a distinctive island nation of its own.

In recent years, all of its major attractions have been made more accessible to visitors, with vastly improved facilities for diving, snorkeling, golf, fishing, sailing, and tennis. The food is better than ever, the nightlife even livelier.

Photo caption: Kayak docked on the beach at Schooner Cays, Eleuthera, Bahamas.
View Next Slide
Fresh conch salad and cold Kalik beer at Governor's Harbour Friday Night Fish Fry, Bahamas. WIlly Volk
Fresh conch salad and cold Kalik beer at Governor's Harbour Friday Night Fish Fry, Bahamas.
View Next Slide
Fernandez Bay Beach, Cat Island, Bahamas. Bahamas Ministry of Tourism
You don't need to join Michael J. Fox in a time capsule to take you back to the islands the way they used to be in the 1950s, when gambling, high-rise hotels, and luxury condos didn't exist. Except for a major resort here or there, the Southern Bahamas are still asleep, a nostalgic reminder of a time gone by. They are the last frontier outpost that can be easily reached from the mainland United States. In some sections, they are pretty much as they were when Columbus first spotted them. Our favorite choices of laid-back islands are Cat Island, Rum Cay, Conception Island, Ackling Island, Crooked Island, Mayaguana Island, and Great Inagua.

Photo caption: Fernandez Bay Beach, Cat Island, Bahamas.
View Next Slide
Fearless little birds that sit on your hand at Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, Bahamas. cogdogblog
Fearless little birds that sit on your hand at Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, Bahamas.
View Next Slide
Cottages along Spanish Wells, Bahamas. Paul Schultz
Not all Bahamians are of African descent, as is commonly believed. On some islands, you'll find lots of locals with blue eyes, red hair, and white skin. Arriving in the mid-17th century, settlers came from Britain in search of religious freedom. These meager colonies were beefed up in the late 1700s after the U.S. revolt against Britain. Not all Americans wanted independence, preferring in some cases to remain loyal to the British Crown.

So as the decades passed, English and then Bahamian rule held sway here. Descendants of these Loyalists are alive and thriving today in both Eleuthera and the Abacos. The most insular white enclave in an essentially black republic is found on the little island of Spanish Wells. Many of the locals still use words that have not been spoken since the first Queen Elizabeth died.

Photo caption: Cottages along Spanish Wells, Bahamas.
View Next Slide
Sandy Point in Rum Cay, Bahamas. Frommers.com Community
Sandy Point in Rum Cay, Bahamas.
View Next Slide
Fresh conch salad and cold Kalik beer at Governor's Harbour Friday Night Fish Fry, Bahamas. WIlly Volk
If you never leave your resort hotel in Nassau, Paradise Island, or Grand Bahama Island, you may get the idea that Bahamian cooking has become a sort of international cuisine. But on every island, you can seek out local dives where the old way of cooking still prevails.

Discover "sweet, sexy conch," as the locals call it. Thousands of visitors have never tasted the national food of the islands -- called "the snail of the sea." This firm white meat of a mollusk appears in conch fritters, conch chowder, conch salad, conch burgers, and even cracked conch (fried). Seafood dominates the menus, including a spiny local lobster, and freshly caught grouper prevails on menus every night. Baked crab is one of the best of the seafood offerings. Locals raise their own chickens, and they not only bake, fry, or boil it, but make a souse from it. Dating from the early settlers, "johnnycake" is a pan-fried bread. The greatest dessert specialty is guava duff, resembling a jelly roll.

Head for some tavern where a local Bahama Mama is behind the stove, and the night is yours.

Photo caption: Fresh conch salad and cold Kalik beer at Governor's Harbour Friday Night Fish Fry, Bahamas.
View Next Slide
Fearless little birds sit on your hand at Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, Bahamas. cogdogblog
The Bahamas National Trust protects several pristine areas of its island chain, conserving the local flora and fauna while maintaining recreational facilities. The most dramatic of these is the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, a 455 sq. km (176 sq. miles) preserve 40 nautical miles from Nassau. More than 40 species of birds, indigenous to The Bahamas, as well as migratory birds, can be seen in this park. It has arguably the best snorkeling in The Bahamas as well as good boating and walking trails.

A spectacular adventure is a visit to Inagua Park, in Great Iguana Island, encompassing some 777 sq. km (300 sq. miles) of nesting grounds for the flamingo.

Photo caption: Fearless little birds sit on your hand at Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, Bahamas.
View Next Slide
Entrance to Mandara Spa at Atlantis Paradise Island, Bahamas. Atlantis
Most visitors don't associate The Bahamas with spas, but in the past few years, luxury spas have emerged in both Nassau and Paradise Island, rejuvenating the body, mind, and spirit. From Balinese-inspired amenities to holistic healing methods, it's all here, along with traditional treatments.

The best spa facilities are found at Mandara at Atlantis Paradise Island, featuring private spa villas designed for two. The Red Lane Spa at Sandals Royal Bahamian even features a Zen Garden on the resort's private island, Sandals Cay, with rooms designed for intimate couples. The One&Only Spa at One&Only Ocean Club offers eight Balinese-style treatment villas, each with a waterfall shower. These are the best, but there are many others.

Photo caption: Entrance to Mandara Spa at Atlantis Paradise Island, Bahamas.
View Next Slide
advertisement
advertisement