One of the great sports centers of the world, New Providence and the islands that surround it are marvelous places for swimming, sunning, snorkeling, scuba diving, boating, water-skiing, and deep-sea fishing, as well as playing tennis and golf.
You can learn more about available activities by contacting The Bahamas Sports Tourist Office, 1200 South Pine Island Rd., Ste. 750, Plantation, FL 33324 (tel. 800/422-4262 in the continental U.S., or 954/236-9292; www.thebahamasguide.com/facts/sports.htm).
A half-day bicycle tour with Bahamas Outdoors Ltd. (tel. 242/362-1574; www.bahamasoutdoors.com) takes you on a 5km (3-mile) ride along scenic forest and shoreline trails in the Coral Harbour area on the island's southwestern coast. New Providence resident Carolyn Wardle, an expert on the region's ecology, bird life, and history, provides ongoing commentary. The itinerary follows a series of easy trails, usually on hard-packed earth, along seashores and through pink forests. En route, you'll see sleepy Adelaide Village (settled by freed slaves in the 1830s) and spot local birds, either with the naked eye or aided by binoculars. Shorts and a T-shirt are the recommended attire. Tours rarely include more than a half-dozen participants at a time; most are morning events that last around 4 hours. The cost is $69 to $109 per person; there is a two-person minimum.
If you'd like to go it alone, know that some of the major hotels on Paradise Beach and Cable Beach rent bicycles to their guests. You can bike along Cable Beach or along the beachfront at Paradise Island, but roads through downtown Nassau are too narrow, and traffic too congested, to make the ride genuinely pleasant or even particularly safe.
A number of operators offer cruises from the harbors around New Providence, with trips ranging from daytime voyages -- for snorkeling, picnicking, sunning, and swimming -- to sunset and moonlight cruises.
Barefoot Sailing Cruises, Bay Shore Marina, on East Bay Street (tel. 242/393-0820; www.barefootsailingcruises.com), operates the 12m (41-ft.) Wind Dance, which leaves for all-day cruises involving many sailing and snorkeling possibilities. This is your best bet if you're seeking a more romantic cruise and don't want 100 people aboard. The cruises usually stop at Rose Island, a charming, picture-perfect spot with an uncrowded beach and palm trees. You can also sail on a ketch, the 17m (56-ft.) Riding High. Cruise options are plentiful, including sailing, snorkeling, and exploring for $75 per person for a half-day and $115 for a full day. A 2-hour sunset cruise, departing between 5 and 8pm two to three times a week (depending on the season, the weather, and advance bookings), costs $65 per person.
The Flying Cloud, Paradise Island West Dock (tel. 242/394-5067; www.flyingcloud.info), is a twin-hulled sailing catamaran that carries 50 people for day and sunset trips. It's a good bet for those who want a more intimate cruise and shy away from the heavy volume carried aboard the Majestic Tours catamarans . Snorkeling equipment is included in the cost, which is $70 per person for a half-day charter. A 2 1/2-hour sunset cruise also goes for $70. Evening bookings are on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Sunday, a 5-hour cruise leaves at 10am and costs $85 per person.
Majestic Tours, Hillside Manor, Cumberland Street (tel. 242/322-2606; http://majestictoursbahamas.com), books 3-hour cruises on two of the biggest catamarans in the Atlantic, offering views of the water, sun, sand, and outlying reefs. It, too, makes stops at Rose Island. This is the biggest and most professionally run of the cruise boats, and it's an affordable option, but we feel there are just too many other passengers aboard. An onboard cash bar keeps the drinks flowing. The Yellow Bird (tel. 242/322-2606) is suitable for up to 110 passengers and departs from Prince George Wharf in downtown Nassau, just behind the Straw Market; ask for the exact departure point when you make your reservation. The tour lasts 4 hours and includes lunch, drinks, and snorkel gear. The cost is $25 per adult and $8 ages 3 to 12. Another boat, the Robinson Crusoe, holds 200 passengers. On Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, cruises run from 10am to 4:30pm, costing $60 for adults and $35 for kids 4 to 12. Sunset dinner cruises run from 7 to 10pm on Tuesday and Friday; the cost is $60 for adults, half-price for children.
Fishing choices are plentiful: You can troll for wahoo, tuna, and marlin in the deep sea, or cast in the shallows for snapper, grouper, and yellowtail. Anchoring and bottom-fishing are calmer options. May to August are the best months to catch oceanic bonito and the blackfin tuna, June and July for blue marlin, and November through February for the wahoo found in reefy areas. Arrangements for fishing trips can be made at any of the big hotels, but unfortunately, there's a hefty price tag.
Born Free Charters (tel. 242/393-4144; www.bornfreefishing.com), one of the most reliable companies, maintains a fleet of three vessels, each between 11 and 14m long (36-46 ft.), that can seat six comfortably. You can rent them for a half-day ($600-$800) or a full day ($1,200-$1,600). Each additional person pays $50. We recommend this company because it offers so many types of fishing and gives lots of leeway regarding where you want to fish and how much time you want to spend.
Occasionally, boat owners will configure themselves and their boats as businesses for deep-sea fishing. Unless you're dealing with a genuinely experienced guide, however, your fishing trip may or may not be a success. John Pratt has emerged over the years as one of the most consistently reliable deep-sea fishermen. He maintains a 14m (46-ft.) fishing boat, making it available for full- or half-day deep-sea fishing excursions. It docks every night at the island's largest marina, the 150-slip Nassau Yacht Haven Marina, on East Bay Street (tel. 242/393-8173 or 242/422-0364; www.nassauyachthaven.com), where a member of the staff will direct you. Alternatively, you can call tel. 242/422-0364 to speak to Mr. Pratt directly. It takes about 20 minutes of boat travel to reach an offshore point where dolphin and wahoo may or may not be biting, depending on a raft of complicated seasonal factors. Note: These trips need to be booked several weeks in advance.
Some of the country's best golfing is in Nassau and on nearby Paradise Island. Although "dormant," or storm-damaged, courses on the extreme western end of New Providence might one day be rejuvenated, as of this writing, the only functioning golf course on New Providence Island that is open to nonmembers is the Cable Beach Golf Club, West Bay Street, Cable Beach (tel. 242/677-4175; http://crystalpalacevacations.com). An intricately designed 18-hole, 5,901m (6,453-yd.), par-71 championship course, it benefited from a major redesign between 2000 and 2003. The makeover reshaped the fairways, repositioned putting greens, and introduced new hazards and water-lined holes throughout two-thirds of its layout. Better year-round playing conditions were ensured by introducing a salt-tolerant grass (paspalum) that is greener, firmer, and more upright, withstanding the salty breezes and tropical heat while providing a premium putting surface. The alterations were overseen by veteran designer Fred M. Settle, Jr.
Many of the players who tee off are guests of hotels on Cable Beach. Year-round greens fees are $75 for guests of the Sheraton or Wyndham resorts, $100 to $130 for those staying elsewhere. Greens fees include the use of an electric golf cart.
Windsor Equestrian Centre & Happy Trails Stables, Coral Harbour, on the southwest shore (tel. 242/362-1820; www.bahamahorse.com or www.windsorequestriancentre.com), offers 90-minute horseback trail rides, which are limited to a maximum of eight riders at a time, for $150 per person. The price includes free transportation to and from your hotel. The stables are signposted from the Lynden Pindling International Airport, which is 3km (1 3/4 miles) away. Children must be 12 and older, riders must weigh less than 91kg (201 lb.), and reservations are required.
Snorkeling & Scuba Diving
There's great snorkeling off most of New Providence's shore, especially at Love Beach. Most hotels and resorts will rent or loan snorkeling equipment to guests.
Our favorite snorkel site is Goulding Cay, off the island's western tip. Underwater, you'll find a field of hard corals, especially the elegant elkhorn. The clear waters and shallow coral heads make it ideal for filmmakers. In fact, it's been featured in many films, from a number of James Bond movies to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. More elkhorn coral is found to the south at Southwest Reef, which also shelters stunning star coral in water less than 2.4m (8 ft.) deep. To the north is Fish Hotel, which is not much on coral but graced with large schools of fish, especially red snapper, jacks, and grunts.
There are more dive sites around New Providence than you can see in one visit, but a few of our recommendations are: the intriguing Shark Wall, 16km (10 miles) off the coast; the Rose Island Reefs; the Southwest Reef; Razorback; and Booby Rock Reef. Dive outfitters can also lead you to many old shipwrecks off the coast, along with caves and cliffs. Wrecks include the Mahoney and Alcora, plus the wreck featured in the James Bond film Never Say Never Again. Divers can also explore the airplane propeller used in another Bond film, Thunderball. All outfitters will take you to one or more of these sites.
Bahamas Divers, Nassau Yacht Haven Marina, on East Bay Street (tel. 800/398-3483 in the U.S., or 242/393-5644; www.bahamadivers.com), offers packages that include a half-day of snorkeling at offshore reefs for $50 per person, or a half-day scuba trip with experienced, certified divers for between $70 and $129, depending on the destination. Half-day excursions for certified divers to deeper outlying reefs, drop-offs, and blue holes can be arranged, usually for $129 for a two-tank dive. Novice divers sometimes sign up for a carefully supervised course that includes instruction with scuba equipment in a swimming pool, followed by a shallow shorefront dive accompanied by an instructor, also for $109 per person. Participants receive free transportation from their hotel to the boats. Children must be 10 and older, and reservations are required, especially during the holiday season.
Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas, on Southwest Bay Street, South Ocean (tel. 800/879-9832 in the U.S. or 242/362-4171; www.stuartcove.com), is about 10 minutes from top dive sites, including the coral reefs, wrecks, and underwater airplane structure featured in James Bond thrillers. For the island's most exciting underwater adventure, divers head to the Caribe Breeze wreck, depicted in the film Open Water. Here the staff feeds reef sharks some 15m (49 ft.) below the water; from a position of safety, divers in full scuba gear witness the show. Steep sea walls and the Porpoise Pen Reefs (named for Flipper) are also on the agenda. A two-tank dive in the morning costs $109; an all-day program goes for $155. All prices for boat dives include tanks, weights, and belts. An open-water certification course starts at $960. Bring along two friends, and the price drops to $615 per person. Three-hour escorted boat snorkeling trips cost $65; children 11 and under are included for $30. A special feature is a series of shark-dive experiences priced at $150. At Shark Arena, divers kneel while a dive master feeds the toothsome predators off a long pole. On the Shark Buoy dive at a depth of about 9m (30 ft.), sharks swim among divers while the dive master feeds them.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.