The Bahamas, or The Bahama Islands, is an archipelago consisting of many islands in the Atlantic Ocean east of Florida. The country is made up of about 2,000 islands if you include the cays, which are small islands that are formed on coral reefs. Not densely populated, the Bahamas is renowned for its natural beauty, unique culture, and is a popular tropical vacation destination.
|Currency||Bahamian dollar (BSD)|
|Population||395.3 thousand (2017)|
|Electricity||120 volt / 60 hertz (NEMA 1-15, NEMA 5-15)|
|Time zone||UTC−05:00, America/Nassau|
|Emergencies||+1-919 (emergency medical services, police, fire department)|
|edit on Wikidata|
The name of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas is derived from the Spanish for "shallow water". Though country's name is pronounce "bah-HAH-muz", a person from the Bahamas is called "bah-HAY-mee-an" (Bahamian).
Where did Columbus land?
When Christopher Columbus arrived in the West Indies in 1492, he landed on a Bahamian island he named San Salvador. San Salvador island (formerly Watling Island) has long been thought to be the island where Columbus landed. But in truth, historians do not agree on the exact site of the landing. The possibility narrows between two islands: San Salvador and Samana Cay, about 80 mi (130 km) southeast.
Arawak Indians inhabited the islands when Christopher Columbus first set foot in the New World on San Salvador Island in 1492; see Voyages of Columbus. British settlement of the islands began in 1647; the islands became a colony in 1783. The Bahamas were also infamous as a pirate nest with some even trying to form a pirate Republic. Since attaining independence from the UK in 1973, The Bahamas have prospered through tourism and international banking and investment management. Because of its location, the country is a major transshipment point for illegal drugs, particularly shipments to the U.S., and its territory is used for smuggling illegal migrants into the U.S.
The official language spoken in the Bahamas is English. The populace is predictably friendly and more religious than one might expect: the Bahamas have one of the highest ratios of churches per capita in the world, with Baptists being the largest single group. Local newspapers will reveal religious references by elected officials in a manner that exceeds what would be found in the United States. This devotion does nothing to prohibit the activities of visitors nor is it intended to. There is a very "libertarian" attitude about personal morals.
The biggest event in the Bahamian calendar is Junkanoo, a street carnival held on Boxing Day (December 26) and New Year's Day (January 1). Junkanoo groups "rush" through the streets of towns, especially Nassau, wearing spectacular yet disposable costumes of crepe paper and playing distinctive Junkanoo music, which combines African rhythms with loud brass and cowbells, fusing them together in a medley that veers on cacophony but is exceedingly dancable. The costumes, made from scratch every year, are disposed of on the streets as the party ends and make a great free souvenir to bring home!
There are many types of music known in the Bahamian culture but the four most prevalent forms of music are Calypso, Soca, Junkanoo and Rake and scrape. The music of the Bahamas is associated primarily with junkanoo, a celebration which occurs on Boxing Day and again on New Year's Day. Parades and other celebrations mark the ceremony. Groups like The Baha Men, Ronnie Butler and Kirkland Bodie have gained massive popularity in Japan, the United States and elsewhere.
Calypso is a style of Afro-Caribbean music that originated in Trinidad and Tobago during the early to mid-20th century. This form of music has spread through many parts of the Caribbean, mainly the Bahamas.
Soca is a form of music which involves dance and originated from calypso music. It began by combining the melodic rhythmic sound of calypso with firm percussion and local chutney music. Soca music has grown in the 21st century, and has been developed primarily by musicians from various Anglophone Caribbean countries including Trinidad, Guyana, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, United States Virgin Islands, The Bahamas, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Jamaica and Belize.
Rake and scrapeEdit
Rake and scrape music comes from the musical traditions of the Turks and Caicos Islands, and is characterized by the use of a saw as the primary instrument. It was brought by immigrants from those islands from the 1920s to about the 1940s, who settled on Cat Island, and elsewhere. Rake and Scrape is traditionally used to accompany the Bahamian Quadrille and the heel-toe polka all relics of the initial mixture of Africa and Europe. Many of these Turks and Caicos Islanders became some of the most famous musicians in the Bahamas. Many eventually moved back to their homelands, bringing with them junkanoo. Turks and Caicos are now the second home for junkanoo.
Tropical marine; moderated by warm waters of Gulf Stream. Hurricanes and other tropical storms cause extensive flood and wind damage. It can be cool if trade winds shift.
During summer months, temperature in the Bahamas rarely goes above 90°F (32°C). The normal climate during winter is mild with temperatures around 60°F (16°C). The Northern and Western islands, Grand Bahama Island, Great Abaco, Andros and Eleuthera are somewhat cooler than the southern islands. The Bahamas hurricane season runs from June to November, and rain storms are expected during this period.
The Bahamas archipelago are in fact the tops of banks that were formed some time between 90,000 and 120 years ago from coral reef formation. The well known pink sand beaches of the Bahamas get their vibrant appearance from the fractured pieces of seashell combined with the sand.
The highest point in the Bahamas is Mount Alvernia on Cat Island, which is 63 m (over 200 ft) high.
Wildlife in Bahamas contains various species. Many different breed of crabs can be found on the beaches. Hermit and Cardisoma guanhumi are two of the land crabs to be noted frequently in the island. The wild horses of Abaco are famous in The Bahamas.
During a tour of the Bahamas, tourists can come across various other species including the Bahamas Hutia, numerous frogs, rocky raccoon, snails such as Cerion, cicada, blind cave fish, ants and reptiles.
Bahamas wildlife features a wide range of amazing birds. Parrots and pigeons are two of the most common and popular birds found in The Bahamas.
The Bahamas is also home to numerous aquatic life. Sharks, manatees, dolphins, frogfish, angelfish, starfish and turtles can be viewed in the waters surrounding The Bahamas. Apart from numerous species of fish, tourists can spot several types of worms also.
Long, flat coral formations with some low rounded hills. The highest point is Mount Alvernia (63 m), on Cat Island. Grand Bahama Island features breathtaking white sandy beaches, beautifully clear turquoise blue waters and plenty of lush, tropical foliage.
Officially 120 V 60 Hz, which is identical to the U.S. and Canadian standard. Outlets are North American grounded outlets, identical to standard U.S. and Canadian wall outlets. Occasionally non-grounded outlets may be found, which do not accept the third, round pin present on grounded plugs, and require an adapter. Older North American outlets may not be polarized (with one slot wider than the other). Otherwise, adapters are available which accept a polarized plug and adapt it for use with a non-polarized outlet.
The Bahamas is an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The political and legal traditions of Bahamas closely follow the British ones, owing to their Commonwealth membership.
The country has a parliamentary form of democracy and regular elections are held. The Bahamian senate consists of 16 members, who are appointed by the Governor-General. The Governor-General also appoints the Chief Justice on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Privy Council of the United Kingdom serves as the highest appellate court.
The local government districts in Bahamas elect local councils for town planning, business licenses, traffic issues and maintenance of government buildings. Lower level town councils are also accorded minor responsibilities in some large districts.
|New Providence (Nassau, Paradise Island)|
Dominated by the capital Nassau, and paired with smaller Paradise Island, home to the gigantic Atlantis casino resort.
|Grand Bahama |
An ecological playground featuring an underwater limestone cave system. The centre of eco-tourism, offering nature tours, national parks and botanical gardens.
|Abacos and Elbow Cay |
|Long Island |
|Cat Island |
|Berry Islands |
|San Salvador Island / Rum Cay |
May have been the first landfall of Columbus.
|Acklins Island / Crooked Island |
Several cruise lines operate private island retreats in the Bahamas. Disney Cruise Line owns Castaway Cay, Norwegian Cruise Line owns Great Stirrup Cay, Princess Cruise Line owns Little Stirrup Cay, Carnival Cruise Line owns Half Moon Cay, and Royal Caribbean owns Coco Cay. To visit these islands you usually have to be a passenger on the cruise line that owns the island.
Dolphin Encounters is an all natural seawater dolphin facility with Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins and California Sea Lions located on Blue Lagoon Island (Salt Cay), a private island retreat and tourist attraction 5 km (three miles) from Nassau, Bahamas.
Foreign nationals of the following countries/territories do not require a visa to visit the Bahamas: American Samoa, Andorra, Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bermuda, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Canada, Cape Verde, Cayman Islands, Chile, China, Colombia, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Croatia, Curaçao, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Eswatini, Falkland Islands, Fiji, Finland, France, French Guiana, French Polynesia, Gambia, Galapagos Islands, Georgia, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Greenland, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guam, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Hong Kong SAR (HKSAR passport or CI), Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kiribati, Korea-South, Kuwait, Latvia, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Martinique, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Montserrat, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norfolk Islands, North Macedonia, Northern Mariana Islands, Norway, Oman, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Pitcairn, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Reunion, Romania, Russia, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Helena, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Martin, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Marten, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, San Marino, Sao Tome & Principe, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Tahiti, Tanzania, Tokelau, Trinidad & Tobago, Tonga, Turkey, Turks and Caicos, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States Of America, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vatican City, Venezuela, Virgin Islands (both US and UK), Western Samoa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Visitors do not need to complete the customs form.
If you require a visa to enter the Bahamas, you might be able to apply for one at a British embassy, high commission or consulate in the country where you legally reside if there is no Bahamian diplomatic post. For example, the British embassies in Al Khobar, Amman, Belgrade, Budapest, Guatemala City, Helsinki, Jakarta, Jeddah, Kiev, Moscow, Phnom Penh, Prague, Pristina, Qatar, Rabat, Riga, Riyadh, Rome, Sofia, Tallinn, Tashkent, Vienna, Warsaw and Zagreb accept Bahamian visa applications (this list is not exhaustive). British diplomatic posts charge £50 to process a Bahamian visa application and an extra £70 if the authorities in the Bahamas require the visa application to be referred to them. The authorities in the Bahamas can also decide to charge an additional fee if they correspond with you directly.
Travellers returning to the United States from the Caribbean must display their passport to get back into the States. This applies to minor children as well as adults. US immigration pre-clearance facilities are available at Nassau and Freeport.
The largest airports in the Bahamas are at the capital Nassau, on New Providence, and Freeport, on Grand Bahama. Smaller airports are scattered throughout the other islands. The Bahamas has six international airports the largest being the Lynden Pindling International Airport on the west side of Nassau.
For those who own a pilot's license: as the first country to accept Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) Pilot license from the US, flying in on your own plane may be a great option. It would not only provide you with great scenery throughout your flight into the Bahamas, but also become the most convenient way to get around those islands. The same privileges and limitations as if you are flying in the US apply.
The Bahamas are a popular port of call for cruise ships plying the Caribbean. The capital, Nassau, on New Providence Island is one of the world's busiest cruise ship ports, and is well served by ships that originate from Florida. Freeport on Grand Bahama Island is a growing destination as well.
Most island groups have customs and immigration available for those arriving by yacht. The customs fee for a private yacht is $150 for 35' and under and $300 for over 35'.
Royal Caribbean has their own island in the Bahamas called Coco Cay. This island is leased by Royal Caribbean, rather than being fully owned such as Disney's ownership arrangement for Castaway Cay. It is strictly for Royal Caribbean cruisers. The island has 25 little shops for souvenirs and their own private beaches, as well as water games in the middle of the clear crystal blue ocean. They have a bbq and main picnic area with the cruise employees as well as the people that Royal Caribbean hire to live and work on the island. Royal Caribbean is busy all year round because of the hot climate in the Bahamas, that they have frequent travelers through all the months of the year.
Disney's Castaway Cay, formerly known as Gorda Cay, is a privately owned island near the island of Abaco, close to Sandy Point. This island differs from most of the leased cays in the fact that it is privately owned by The Walt Disney Company and has its own dock so that tendering is not necessary. Castaway Cay has separate areas for families, teens an adults. The island also contains a fiber optic network which connects to the ship.
A regular passenger ferry operated by Baleària Caribbean runs daily between Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Freeport or Bimini in the Bahamas, both are above $170 for single trips as of Sep 2022, and much more for return trips. If you want to go Island Hopping in the Bahamas finding the right map or boats can be very difficult. You need to jump on a mailboat if you want to travel by boat from Newport to Nassau. A good map with all island hopping ships and mailboats can be found on Ferrygogo.com. FRS Caribbean's Miami-Bimini service ended in August 2019.
Bahamas Shuttle Boat offers round-trip cruises to Freeport starting from US$73 + tax (presumably not intended for one-way travellers).
- Bahamasair offers a comprehensive network radiating out from Nassau and covering most population centers. However, fares are expensive, frequencies are low, planes are small and the airline is notorious for extensive delays, and many travellers in a hurry opt to charter planes instead.
- Western air offer flights to a number of destinations within the country, often more frequent and punctual for the destinations they serve and offering relatively flexible ticketing.
Nassau/New Providence have a system of buses called jitneys, discussed in the Nassau article. Bus travel on the other islands (with the exception of Grand Bahama) is very limited.
By boat and yachtEdit
The best way to see the Bahamas is by private yacht or sailboat. If you don't have that option, there are some limited public transit options:
- Mail boats serve almost all populated islands in the Bahamas, and are amongst the cheapest way to reach many areas, though be warned that many passengers find them slow and not very comfortable. They generally run from Nassau to each island once per week, but are notoriously unreliable, and can be delayed for days at a time. The government apparently no longer has an official online schedule of the mail boat routes, but for an example that may or may not be correct, you can check the undated schedule on this third-party website. For up-to-date information call the Nassau Dockmaster's Office, or better, ask locally about the specific route you need. Two of the major companies are The Mailboat Company and Munson Shipping.
- Bahamas Ferries runs between several of the major islands. It's known for being a bit more expensive but much more reliable than mail boats.
- Pinder's Ferry Service runs between Freeport and the Abacos twice daily (round trip $100).
- Windward Islands - , a yacht charter company, can take care of all charter requirements, from bareboat to crewed yacht in the Bahamas (starting Abaco).
English is the main and official language of the Bahamas. Tourist resorts may have staff who can speak other languages, including Spanish, French, German, and, less frequently, others.
- Main article: Diving in the Bahamas
Diving: The "shallow seas" of the Bahamas lie over extensive submerged limestone platforms, with high points here and there just breaking the surface to form an archipelago. The climate is good for diving year-round, and hurricanes seldom strike. All the inhabited islands have local diving, and some have extensive inland cave systems. Nassau on New Providence is the base for liveaboard cruises.
Exchange rates for Bahamian dollar
As of January 2022:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The local currency is the Bahamian dollar (B$), but it's tied to the US dollar at a 1:1 ratio and US dollars are accepted everywhere at par. There is thus no need for Americans to change money, and many tourist-oriented businesses will even give change back in US$. Keep an eye out for the famous (but now rare) three-dollar note and 15-cent coin, both made to ease the 1966 transition from British pounds to dollars, $3 being roughly equivalent to £1 and $0.15 approximating a shilling at the time.
There is very little made in the Bahamas, but some luxury goods can be purchased at a bargain. Salespeople in the straw market have a very direct but often humorous manner of negotiating the price of a product. A sense of humor is greatly appreciated in this island nation. Conch pearls are harvested in the Bahamas, but they are incredibly rare and expensive.
Beware of purchasing Cuban cigars. The vast majority of "Cubans" for sale in the Bahamas are counterfeit. Only buy cigars from reputable and dedicated tobacconists, do not buy on the street, in the market, or from rinky-dink combination cigar/liquor shops. Real Cubans cost upwards of $30 per cigar. If the price is $10, it's 100% fauxhiba. If you do plan to buy cigars, some online research may assist you in identifying authentic Cubans.
As you'd expect in an island nation, seafood is very popular. The national dish is conch (pronounced "conk" with a hard K), a type of mollusk, served deep-fried ("cracked") or raw with a twist of lemon, and as elsewhere in the Caribbean, the classic accompaniment is peas and rice.
Ordinary meals can be purchased for anywhere from $5-25 a plate. Authentic island food can be found at the Fish Fry, a collection of small open air restaurants where many locals hang out. Meals can be had for about $8. Sunday night the locals flock to this area for some authentic Bahamian nightlife. You can find fast-food chains such as KFC or McDonalds, especially in the downtown areas, but as it is a highly touristed country, you can find many nice restaurants serving many different cuisines. Most restaurants serve American or British food, though you can easily find the normal island flair, especially during the Fish Fry during June. A 15% service charge is added to the bill at most establishments; additional tips are optional.
Service is distinct from the American standard. There is a concentration on the customer at hand. You are expected to patiently wait your turn. At fast food restaurants the server will take care of only the first customer until they have left the service area. Don't expect to be in a hurry even at a fast food establishment.
Service in the Bahamas takes place at a relaxed pace. Travelers can expect a leisurely pace to their meal. Expect polite, if slow, service at most establishments.
Soda can be pretty pricy in the hotels, and you will find it only on a soda tap if you are in a good restaurant; otherwise, you will usually get it in a can. The cheapest way to get this would be to go to a local "Food Mart."
"Goombay Punch" is the local soda. It has a pineapple flavor and is what the locals call a "Sweet" soda versus a cola. It is sold in cans at all grocery stores and also available in almost every Bahamian eatery.
Non-alcoholic malt beverages are also very popular. The primary brand of choice is Vita-Malt.
Kalik is the national beer of the Bahamas and is always served at "all-inclusive" resorts. There are three rather distinct types: "Kalik regular" which has 4% alcohol and a smooth refreshing taste, "Kalik Light" which has been often compared to a Budweiser is a light lager which delivers the same great taste as the regular kalik but with a lower alcohol content and less calories, "Kalik Gold" has 7% alcohol, though very potent it has an excellent taste, which gives you an extra feel of the island. Guinness is also very popular.
A new beer is available -- called Sands. It can be obtained at many resorts and in the local liquor stores. It is a similar style product to Kalik. Sands is now readily available in both regular and light.
Imported beer can be incredibly expensive in the hotels but is not overly priced in bars and liquor stores. Cases of beer are available in a variety of Duty Free liquor stores.
In Freeport, the Port Lucaya Marketplace and Marina has many bars offering two Kaliks (and some other brews) for $5.
The drinking age is 18, however it is weakly enforced and teenage drinking is common.
The Bahamas has a lot of liquor stores in relation to the population of the country. You can find liquors stores downtown, in the hotels, the port lucaya marketplace and as you continue to tour the island, if you may not be sure of exactly where one may be located please feel free to ask for assistance.
Rum is the liquor of choice in the Bahamas. Local brands like Ron Ricardo rum, Ole Nassau Rum and Fire in the Hole Rum are as cheap as you can get ($2-$10 a bottle) and come in a variety of styles (light and dark) and flavors (coconut, mango, pineapple, etc). Unfortunately, Bacardi closed their plant back in 2007 (it's all made in Puerto Rico now) and tours of distilleries are no longer available.
The best-known local cocktails are the Bahama Mama, a fruity mix of tropical juices with coconut rum and a dash of grenadine syrup, and the Goombay Smash, made from rum, apricot Brandy and pineapple juice. The locals are more likely to stick to rum & coke or perhaps a Dark & Stormy (rum with ginger ale).
Accommodation on the Bahamas is expensive, and there is virtually no backpacker/hostel-type lodging. The cheapest hotels start at around US$70, and most hotels cost US$200-300/night, with the very best resorts easily pushing up above US$500. Deals may be available in the summer off-season though.
The Bahamas charge a Service Fee or Resort Fee to every person staying overnight. Hotels collect the fee of $18 per night per person and a $6 per person one time bellhop fee. This is an addition to the rate of the room and is not optional and cannot be waived. Often tourists first hear about this when checking into their hotel for the first time.
The Bahamas Government levies a Hotel Guest Tax which is payable by each guest. This tax is 10% of the hotel rate, it submitted monthly to the Bahamas Government by the hotel operator.
Hotels in the Bahamas may levy a number of other charges upon guests in addition to the standard bill, including; gratuities-maid/bellman), a hotel 'Levy' (Promotion Board), cable, telephone, water & sewerage, energy surcharge, pool/towels.
Most hotels and resorts in the Bahamas are found in New Providence (Nassau) and neighbouring Paradise Island. The rest of the country remains rather off the beaten track for tourism, and places like Eleuthera, despite being 100 miles (160 km) long, has only three hotels.
School attendance in Bahamas is required between the ages of 5 to 16. Out of the 210 primary schools run in the country, 158 are operated by the government. The remaining 52 schools are operated by private owners. Higher education is also offered by many non-Bahamian colleges in the country.
The University of the Bahamas is the main institution that offers post secondary education in the country with several schools including and undergraduate business school, an undergraduate social science. Other tertiary educational institutions in the country include Success Training College, Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute and Nova Southeastern University. The University of the West Indies also has a campus in the Bahamas.
There are also some international universities that offer programs in the country such as the University of Miami's MBA programme.
In most cases non-citizens may not work within The Bahamas. There are exceptions for those possessing skills not available from a Bahamian, as well as migrants of Creole descent who may or may not be in the Bahamas legally. The employer must show legitimate proof of strenuous searching for a suitable Bahamian prior to applying for a work permit for the foreign candidate. However any ordinary position that does not require any specialized skills will not readily qualify as an employment opportunity for a foreigner. Should a foreign national apply for a position as a maid or anything along that line of employment, they would definitely be denied the occupation. This line of employment shows no necessary skills that a Bahamian could not possess.
Tourism is the main industry followed by banking.
50 percent of the national GDP is generated by tourism.
Visitors should exercise caution and good judgment when visiting The Bahamas. Violent crime is a problem in cities, including sexual assaults on tourists, and safety in more rural areas may vary (worth asking locally).
It's natural to want to spend much of your time in the Bahamas swimming in the ocean, but it's necessary to take some basic precautions. Currents can be very strong, especially when swimming off a boat at anchor. Sharks are also worth being aware of - the entire Bahamas is a designated national sanctuary for sharks, meaning that it's illegal to kill them, and so they're present in relatively large numbers. Most sharks are unlikely to hurt you, but avoid swimming in marinas, where bull sharks often hang out to score fish scraps, unless you have local advice that the specific marina is safe to swim at.
It is illegal to import a firearm or ammunition into The Bahamas or to possess a firearm in the country without appropriate permission. Tourists who arrive by private boat are required to declare firearms to Bahamian Customs and leave firearms on the boat while in The Bahamas. Penalties for illegal possession of a firearm or ammunition are strict, and can involve heavy fines, lengthy prison terms, or both.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offences. Persons violating Bahamian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Police enforcement is aggressive in tourist areas, as drug dealers are known to frequent areas where tourists congregate. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the Bahamas are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.
The adult HIV/AIDS prevalence rate has reached 3.0% or 1 in 33 adults.
Tap water is generally potable, but bottled water is recommended for visitors.
Bahamians are good-natured but do not suffer fools gladly.