|Country Information & Lifestyle|
Centuries of rich and fascinating history
The Islands of the Bahamas are situated 50 miles off the coast of Florida and consists of 700 islands in 100,000 sq m of ocean, circled around cays, of which only 23 are inhabited, the rest are unpopulated.
The people are humorous, hospitable and more than happy to introduce you to the richness of their history, folklore, culture and cuisine. Religion is an integral part of Bahamian life and even the tiniest village has a church.
Music is in the very bones of the people with African rhythms, Caribbean Calypso, English folk-songs and the unique Bahamian Goombay beat echoing in the air. The fast-tempo "goom-bahh" resonating from drums can be traced back to the days of slavery and is used for both story-telling and dancing.
You will occasionally run across an Obeah man who is the spiritual leader/healer of this religion. Obeah is not spoken about openly by believers, but you might see evidence of it in people's yards. Some Cat Islanders hang bottles from trees to protect themselves and their families from evil spirits. From tribal Indians to pirates, from explorers to slave traders, the Bahamas are steeped in centuries of rich and fascinating history.
Although virtually any type of international food can be found in the Bahamas fresh seafood and fish play a major role in local cuisine. Never bland, subtly spicy and uniquely flavored more than any other cuisine in the West Indies and influenced by the American south.
The conch with its firm, peach-fringed meat is a large type of ocean mollusc, and is served in many ways. Fresh uncooked conch is delicious - the meat is scored with a knife and lime juice and spices sprinkled over the meat. It can also be deep fried, steamed, added to soups, salads and stews or made into conch chowder or fritters.
Nassau was once the home to many pirates and by far the most infamous pirate who ever lived was Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. Believed to have been born around 1680 in England he left Bristol for the Caribbean where British privateers were inflicting heavy damage on Spanish shipping. It was the beginning of a career that was brutal, glorious and short. He served in Jamaica as a privateer and later captured a French merchantman.
He got the name of Blackbeard as before going into battle he would tie slow-burning fuses to the ends of his beard then light them as he approached enemy vessels. The mere sight of him standing on the deck his legendary jet-black beard glowing and smoking was enough to terrify merchant captains into immediate surrender.
In 1718 he left the Caribbean to raid the coast towns of Virginia and the Carolina's which led to his death, but not before he padded his bloodthirsty reputation with some of his most ambitious rampages.
New Providence is home to Nassau the nation's capital and the center of industry and commerce in the Bahamas, and serves an interesting blend of old world colonial architecture, vast straw markets and an abundance of people combined with sophisticated new world luxury.
The warm, crystal-clear waters that surround the islands of the Bahamas are a huge undersea playground for divers and snorkelers, it is possible to go swimming with dolphins and explore shipwrecks. Relax on the world-renowned, powder white sands of Cable Beach, or go over the bridge to the famed Paradise Island home to luxurious beaches, a world class golf course, the most plush hotels in the Caribbean, gigantic casinos and of course world class entertainment.
Freeport/Lucaya, the island's capital city and the second largest city in the islands, is one of the best-known destinations in the Bahamas. The city was specifically designed for the tourist trade, and as a result features terrific duty-free shopping and many attractions to keep visitors entertained and enthralled.
The 10-acre International Bazaar in downtown Freeport is divided into sections that represent different parts of the world, each with its own collection of shops and restaurants. Lucaya boasts its own shopping Mecca, the picturesque Port Lucaya Marketplace and Marina, located across from the beach in Lucaya. After the sun sets in Freeport/Lucaya, the night comes alive with entertainment and spectacle.
The Abacos Islands consist of its own 120-mile-long island chain, basically a mini-Bahamas with its own Out Islands. Great Abaco Island and Little Abaco serve as the mainland. With a string of barrier islands separating them from the Atlantic and calm sea surrounded by charming islands, the Abaco Islands are the most complete vacation destination in the Bahamas Out Islands.
Great Abaco is home to Marsh Harbour, the bright lights and big city of the Out Islands. Along with having a great selection of hotels, restaurants and bars, Marsh Harbour is charter boat central, with several full-service marinas where you can dock your own boat or find a rental.
Setting out across the Sea of Abaco from Great Abaco Island you can steer toward any one of a number of islands - each a vacation destination in its own right. This is an island hopper's paradise.
The Abacos were settled by English colonists who remained loyal to the crown after the American Revolutionary War, which is why the settlements like Hope Town on Elbow Cay, and New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay have the look of New England fishing towns complete with picket fences and gingerbread trim of course with the distinctive Bahamian touch of pastel colors.
Hope Town is home to the famous candy striped lighthouse, and north of Elbow Cay is Man-o-War, another Loyalist settlement, a conservative dry island, and the Abacos boat-building center, with a wonderful naturally protected harbor and boat-fitting and sail shops. The outer islands up to Great Guana are easily reached by the Abacos scheduled ferry service from Marsh Harbour.
Fishing is huge in the Abaco Islands, from the excellent bone fishing in Cherokee Sound and out in the marls, to the blue water big game species like marlin and tuna that prowl the Atlantic side.
Acklins and Crooked Island are two of the four islands forming an atoll which hugs the shallow waters of the Bight of Acklins.
Acklins Island is one of the least known islands of The Bahamas and comprises the southern and southeastern part of the chain. The terrain is hilly and desolate, with unusual rock formations, and varied plant and animal life, including an occasional swamp turtle. Along its coastline are numerous hidden coves with extensive, beautiful beaches and a number of tiny, colorful, villages.
Crooked Island opens onto the Windward Passage, the diving point between the Caribbean Sea and the Bahamas, and is the place for doing absolutely nothing. The friendly people on this island will make your stay a memorable one. It is said that Columbus called it Fragrant Island because of the aroma of its many herbs, one scent was cascarilla bark, used to flavour Campari liquor, as well as the native Cascarilla Liquer which is exported.
The islands existed in virtual obscurity until 1783, when American Loyalists began to settle here. These former plantation owners brought slaves and money to start a short-lived cotton industry which, by the beginning of the 19th Century, had more than 40 plantations employing 1200 slaves.
Crooked Island is very quiet and remote and has an abundance of bird life that thrives on the cliffs and reefs around. It is also said to be one of the most exciting fishing destinations in The Bahamas where you'll find bone fishing, inshore fishing, and deep-sea fishing. Crooked Island has among its ruins the building said to be the first Post Office in The Bahamas located at Pitt's Town.
Bordered by the nearly uninhabited Castle Island and Long Cay, they are as natural as they were when The Bahamas was first "discovered." Columbus reputedly sailed down the leeward side of the islands, through the narrow Crooked Island Passage, which has ever since served as an important route for steam ships travelling from Europe to Central and South America.
Andros is the largest island in The Bahamas and home to the second-largest reef in the Western Hemisphere. Featuring a large creek system, mysterious, mangrove-choked bay, bights and inlets, Andros is also the least explored, which means that you'll be sharing space with more terns and whistling tree ducks than humans - and maybe even a chickcharnie or two, those mischievous mythical inhabitants that are exclusive to this island.
Do Chickcharnies really roam the forests of Andros? These mischievous, elfin, birdlike creatures are said to have their home on Andros. These mythical creatures have piercing red eyes, three fingers, three toes and a tail, which they use to hang from trees. They live in the forest and build their nest by joining two pine trees together at the top. Since a large, three-toed burrowing owl lived in these forests until its extinction in the 16th century, it could have been the inspiration for the legendary Chickcharnie.
Legend says if you see a Chickcharnie and show it respect, you'll be blessed with good luck for the rest of your life. Be careful not to sneer at it, however, or your head will turn completely around!
The island of Andros has some spectacular blue holes - underwater cave systems linking freshwater lakes with the ocean. Lusca, a mythical monster that is half dragon and half octopus, is said to live in these blue holes.
Just to the northeast of Andros, on the northeastern edge of the Great Bahama Bank, lie the Berry Islands, a stirrup-shaped chain of 30 cays and numerous smaller islets. The Berries have a population of just 634 and offer beautiful opportunities for both divers and snorkelers. Visitors will also find challenging dive spots, a nine-hole golf course and miles of beautiful, private beaches.
The two largest, Great Harbour Cay and Chub Cay are where most of the Berry Island residents live, and are the centers for activity. Chub Cay, the southernmost cay of the Berry chain, is known as the "Billfish Capital of The Bahamas", and The Berry Islands are second only to The Bimini Islands for championship sport fishing. Between Great Harbour Cay and the Stirrup Cays are a number of privately owned Cays, including Bird Cay, Whale Cay, Frozen and Alder's Cays, Little Harbour Cay and Little Whale Cay.
Stirrup Cay Lighthouse, built in 1863, is said to have a resident ghost. Inland Blue Holes and the so-called Fishbowl of The Bahamas at Chub Cay, add much to that cay's claim to be a major dive center. The Chub Cay Wall, which starts at 80 feet and drops to 4000 feet, provides divers with a magnificent look into the deep. The Canyons is located in 45 feet of water and has a variety of swim-thorough tunnels and large coral arches.
Another popular site is the Eel Garden which starts at 40 feet of water over white sand with hundreds of garden eels, southern stingrays and parrot fish. A rollover covered with coral heads continues down to about to about 75 feet.
A popular stopover for yachtsmen en route between Florida and Nassau, it is claimed that The Berry Islands boast more millionaires per square mile than most places on earth.
North and South Bimini lie just 50 miles east of Miami, Florida and began as a rendezvous for rum runners and wreckers who plundered the ships that ran aground on the reefs. Today the wrecks of Spanish galleons make for fascinating dive sites along with black coral, exotic fish and a mysterious stone formation at the undersea Bimini Road have lead some scientists to believe they could be all that remains of the Lost City of Atlantis.
Legend has it that the Fountain of Youth lies in Bimini. Bahamians believe Ponce de Leon heard about the fountain from Caribe Indians in Puerto Rico. The Indians said that the fountain could be found in an area north of present-day Cuba in a place called BeeMeeNee. Ponce de Leon searched for the Fountain of Youth, but he never found it, nor did he ever find Bimini. What he discovered instead is Florida, which he named La Florida and claimed for Spain.
Located over 300 miles from Miami, Cat Island should not be confused with its very, very small nephew Cat Cay, which is part of the Biminis. Cat Island was once home to one of the more prosperous Loyalist colonies of the Out Islands. The island gained its wealth from the numerous cotton plantations established during the 1700s.
This boot-shaped, untamed island is one of the most beautiful and fertile of The Bahamas. A lush sanctuary, it provides tranquillity for those seeking an escape from the pressures of modern civilisation. Others thought so too, like Father Jerome, a penitent hermit who built a medieval monastery hewn from the limestone cliffs atop 206-foot Mt. Alvernia, a place for meditation.
From these high cliffs, there is a marvellous view down to densely-forested foothills and 60 miles of deserted pink-and-white-sand beach. But perhaps the most spectacular view on all of Cat Island is the near incredible ten-mile stretch of perfectly pink sand at a place most aptly named, Fine Beach.
Cat Island, a quaint and sparsely developed island, is said to be the centre of the practice of obeah -- a Bahamian version of voodoo. Obeah, which slaves originally brought with them from Africa, is a type of folk religion that brings together bush medicine and witchcraft.
The island of Eleuthera is split into north and south areas, and next to Eleuthera are two popular islets known as Harbour Island, a popular dive destination, and Spanish Wells. North Eleuthera lies at one corner of the Bermuda Triangle.
Eleuthera is known for its pineapples, the sweetest in the world. Visit Preacher's Cave, a subterranean cave in which the Eleutheran Adventurers, the few pilgrims who first landed here, took refuge and held religious services upon their arrival. The Glass Window Bridge spans a gap in which the turbulent waters of the Atlantic meet the calmer seas of the Exuma Sound on the island's leeward side.
Arguably the most beautiful yachting venue in the world, Exuma boasts pristine reefs, stunning beaches and excellent anchorages. Exuma consists of two main islands, Great Exuma & Little Exuma, and about 365 little cays located in the center of the Bahamas Islands chain. The Bahamian Iguanas live there, and the 176 square mile Exuma National Land & Sea Park is located there, famous for diving and yachting.
The island of Great Exuma is the largest of these islands with its main town of George Town being the administrative center. Elizabeth Harbour is snugly protected between Great Exuma and the offshore islands of Stocking Island, Elizabeth Island and Guana Cay and provides the most exquisite cruising area in the western hemisphere.
The Harbour extends for about ten miles and includes some of the best soft, white sand beaches in the world, plus coral reefs, perfect for snorkelling in depths of less than ten feet of water. In Georgetown, the quaint capital, visit the Straw Market under the big African fig tree for locally made Bahamian souvenirs, or stroll around Lake Victoria and absorb the local way of life.
San Salvador is located 450 miles from Fort Lauderdale and is one of the easternmost islands of the Bahamian archipelago. San Salvador is where Christopher Columbus landed in 1492 and has fascinating historical sites which include one of the best preserved plantations. The island is remote from general tourism and is approximately 5 miles wide by 10 miles long, and is surrounded by some of the most prolific fringing reefs in the Caribbean.
Great and Little Inagua are located in the southernmost part of the Bahamas archipelago and are famed for their natural wonders. The most southerly, and the third-largest island of the Bahamas, flat Great Inagua, is home to 1,200 people.
The island lies 325 miles west of Nassau but is closer to Haiti than it is to Nassau. The world's largest colonies of flamingos call Inagua their home at Inagua National Park. The Caribbean flamingos love the lagoon created by the Salt Company and they feed primarily on brine shrimp which thrive in the salt lagoons.
Mayaguana is the easternmost island in the Bahamas archipelago and lies halfway between Florida and Puerto Rico. Mayaguana boasts a year round tropical climate and a tranquil, island atmosphere. It is the least developed and most isolated of the family islands. With unspoiled beaches and excellent scuba diving and fishing Mayaguana offers a quiet and relaxing getaway.
Until 1812 Mayaguana was uninhabited then people started to migrate from the nearby Turks Islands. Located 60 miles north of Inagua the island is a popular stop over for yachtsmen on direct route to the Caribbean. Of all the Out Islands, this is the most "out" as well as the least developed and visited. This eastern-most island boasts large stands of lignum vitae and other hardwoods, at least two fine anchorages for yachtsmen, magnificent beaches and superb duck hunting.
Still retaining its aborigine name and populated mostly by fishermen and farmers, Mayaguana's main settlements are Betsy Bay, on the west coast, Pirates Well on the north coast and Abraham's Bay on the south coast. All three are truly old-time Bahamian in spirit and appearance.
The deep Atlantic waters surrounding Mayaguana are rich in conch, fish and shipwrecks. The island's unofficial coat-of-arms bears a Spanish coin, evoking the long-ago era when treasure-laden galleons sailed through on their way to Spain. Mayaguana's lone airstrip is part of the former U.S. missile tracking station used in the early days of space exploration. The base closed but the airstrip is still used by Bahamasair and private aircraft.
Another inhabitant is the Bahama hutia - a cross between a rat and a rabbit that was thought to be extinct until the mid-1960s. Most people make a living fishing and farming the fertile soil of this woody terrain. The main form of communication on Mayaguana Island is the mail boat, which transports the mail once a week.
Long Island located southeast of the Exuma Cays,is an unspoiled, tranquil and scenic hideaway divided by the Tropic of Cancer and bordered by two strikingly different coast lines, one with powder white beaches, and the other rocky headlands that descend suddenly into the sea. Its interesting caves, gorgeous bays, towering cliffs and rolling hills are in direct contrast with the more tropical landscape and coast lines found elsewhere in The Bahamas.
Loyalists from Carolina settled here in 1790 with their slaves. They built vast plantations which thrived briefly growing sea-island cotton, but the abolition of slavery made them unprofitable. Today many of the Loyalist mansions stand in skeletal form etched against the sky. Although the plantations are no more, agriculture is still very much a part of the life here.
Many Long Islanders engage in pot-hole farming, which involves planting in fertile holes in the limestone where good top soil collects. From these an abundance of peas, corn, pineapples and bananas are grown. Raising sheep, goats and pigs also provides a living for the inhabitants. Long Island is famous for their local fishermen who are divers and go to sea for week long trips to spear spiny lobster and fish.
The area has truly stunning beaches and, in fact, Cape Santa Maria has one of the world's top ten beaches. Columbus Point, located 1/2 mile north of the primary beach resort in Cape Santa Maria, offers a tremendous view of the protected harbour Columbus sailed into, as well as a monument and plaque commemorating his landing. Long Island's biggest event is the annual Long Island Sailing Regatta, featuring Bahamian made boats. It is held in Salt Pond in May or June and attracts contestants from all over the Islands of the Bahamas.
Well after this trip around the Bahamas and the Out Islands we hope you have decided that this is where you are going to retire, or buy that second home. You will never be bored, so come on what are you waiting for, your dream home in the Caribbean is just waiting for you.