Flag, Coat of Arms, and Tourist Board
The Bahamas is comprised of 700 islands sprinkled over 100,000 square miles of ocean starting just 50 miles off the coast of Florida. The archipelago is an ecological oasis featuring 2,000 breathtaking islands and cays and boasts the clearest water on the planet — with a visibility of over 200 feet. You can see your toes as easily as you can the world’s third largest barrier reef.
Even the most experienced explorers have gotten lost in the Bahamas’ abundant natural beauty. For centuries, The Bahamas captivated settlers, traders and invaders, while the islands’ shipping channel enchanted pirates who quickly discovered all of its great hiding places. To this day, there are still tales of treasure. However, the real treasure is the people. Bahamians may live for today, but they never forget their past.
From around 900-1500 AD the Lucayan people settled here. They enjoyed a peaceful way of life and had developed viable political, social and religious systems.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus made landfall in the New World on the island of San Salvador. Inspired by the surrounding shallow sea, he described them as islands of the “baja mar” (shallow sea), which has become The Islands of The Bahamas. When he arrived, there were about 40,000 Lucayans. Their peaceful nature made the Lucayans easy targets for enslavement however, and within 25 years, all of the Lucayans were wiped out due to the diseases, hardships and slavery they endured.
Age of Piracy
During the late 1600s to early 1700s, many privateers and pirates came here, the most famous ones being Blackbeard and Calico Jack. There were also female pirates like Anne Bonny and Mary Read disguised as men.
The Bahamas’ shallow waters and 700 islands made great hiding places for treasure. And The Bahamas’ close proximity to well-traveled shipping lanes made for the perfect spot to steal from merchant ships. There are rumors of hidden treasure that still exist today. It is believed that British pirate William Catt buried loot on Cat Island and Sir Henry Morgan, a wealthy privateer, buried treasure throughout The Bahamas islands.
Established around 1670 as a commercial port, Nassau was overrun by lawless, seafaring men. Years later, Nassau was destroyed twice—once by Spanish troops, the other time by French and Spanish navies.
Soon after, pirates began looting the heavily laden cargo ships. By 1718, the King of England appointed Woodes Rogers to serve as the Royal Governor. His job was to restore order. And he did. He offered amnesty to those who surrendered. Those who resisted would be hanged. 300 pirates surrendered and the rest, including Blackbeard, fled.
Independence and Tourism
More than a century later, American colonists loyal to Britain arrived in Eleuthera. Many brought their slaves as well as their building skills and agriculture and shipbuilding expertise. These greatly influenced Eleutheran life. In 1783, they solidified their independence and forced the retreat of the Spanish forces from the region without firing a shot.
On July 10, 1973, The Bahamas became a free and sovereign country, ending 325 years of peaceful British rule. However, The Bahamas is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and we celebrate July 10th as Bahamian Independence Day.
The Islands of The Bahamas are much more than a tropical destination. They’re a daily celebration of a rich culture, a diverse heritage and way of life. It's what makes life so good here. And it's why its people are proud to be Bahamians.
THE ISLANDS OF THE BAHAMAS
Nassau & Paradise Island
Relax in the tropical ease of The Bahamas capital city and largest city. Distance: 179 miles from the Florida coast; 45-minute plane ride from Miami.
Nassau, the capital city of The Bahamas, is located on 21-mile-long New Providence, the 11th largest island. Nassau’s main harbor is protected by Paradise Island. The harbor attracted settlers in the early days, particularly pirates. In fact, Nassau’s population consisted mainly of pirates until 1718, when The Bahamas first Royal Governor, Woodes Rogers expelled them, restored order and built Fort Nassau. The Bahamas for centuries adopted Rogers’ motto, “Expulsis Piratis, Restituta Commercia,” which means, “Pirates Expelled, Commerce Restored.” Now, 212,000 people call New Providence Island home, with a large portion of them residing in Nassau.
Grand Bahama Island
Discover Freeport, the second largest city in The Bahamas, as well as the island’s many ecological wonders. Distance: 55 miles from the Florida coast.
Full of history and charm, Grand Bahama Island is a complete vacation destination. Some of the island’s settlements, such as Pinder’s Point, Russell Town and William’s Town, are named after the former families who founded them. Today, these settlements serve as cultural hot spots for visitors. There are three distinct destinations on Grand Bahama Island—East End, Freeport/Lucaya and West End—each offering their own unique experience. And if you’re looking to tour some natural surroundings, feel free to explore the island’s three national parks, two of which are home to a large numbers of native birds. And, of course, no Bahamian island would be complete without miles of beautiful beaches—found on the south side of Grand Bahama Island.
The Abacos are a group of islands and cays that form a 120-mile–long chain stretching over 650 square miles. The coastlines are scalloped with bays, coves and protected harbors that feature full-service marinas and resorts. Great Abaco Island and Little Abaco serve as the “mainland.”
Acklins & Crooked Island
Both Acklins and Crooked Island are extremely remote and not well known as tourist destinations. But don’t let their natural surroundings fool you. Both offer plenty of exciting activities for the adventurous visitor. Acklins Island is one of the least known and most preserved islands in The Bahamas. Crooked Island on the other hand is one of the best guarded secrets in The Bahamas. Just over 350 people call Crooked Island home, making it a great place to explore your natural surroundings in peace.
The Berry Islands
The Berry Islands are made up of a land mass that totals just over twelve square miles. Many of the 30 cays that comprise the islands are great for snorkeling, hiking, diving and beachcombing. Great Stirrup features a now-abandoned lighthouse built in 1863 during the reign of Prince William IV. Little Stirrup Cay is a private island that's used by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines as a one-day stopover. Chub Cay is known as The Billfish Capital of The Bahamas, as it borders the Tongue of The Ocean and attracts countless numbers of baitfish. And then there's Great Harbour Cay. It boasts seven continuous miles of magnificent beaches and one of the best protected harbors in The Bahamas. It once was a major golf resort for the rich and famous. In fact, there are more millionaires per square inch on The Berry Islands than most places on earth.
At 2,300 square miles, Andros is the largest island of The Bahamas and the fifth-largest island in the Caribbean. Its miles of deserted beaches and freshwater lakes play host to countless species of wildlife, marine life, flora and fauna. Andros is covered with vast areas of wetlands that create channels perfect for bonefishing. In fact, many consider Andros the Bonefishing Capital of The World.
Cast away on this Bahamian island known for its big-game fishing. Distance from Miami: 50 miles. Bimini consists of two main islands—North Bimini Island and South Bimini Island—and numerous cays. The history of Bimini is as fascinating as the islands themselves. Just 50 miles from the United States, they served as a convenient offshore speakeasy and liquor store during prohibition. Rumrunners used to store their stash on the nearby shores.
Untainted and unspoiled, there is much to be discovered on Cat Island. Named after the infamous pirate, Arthur Catt, the island runs deep with history and culture. Its 150 square miles of natural landscape offer every traveler a rich Bahamian experience. You’ll find the plot of land where Sir Sidney Poitier’s boyhood home once stood. You’ll also discover the birthplace of The Bahamas’ indigenous rake and scrape music, along with numerous myths and folklore that still hold a place in Bahamian culture today. The island is also home to one of the best climates in The Bahamas. Its location near the Tropic of Cancer means temperatures range from the mid-60s in the short winters to the high-80s in the summer, which make it perfect for getting out and exploring Cat Island’s untouched landscape and rich history.
Eleuthera & Harbour Island
Eleuthera is the fourth most populated island of The Bahamas, with approximately 8,000 residents. Most who live here either fish for bounty or farm the rolling acres of pineapple plantations. Eleuthera is an island of casual sophistication, housing isolated communities, well-developed resorts, rocky bluffs, low-lying wetlands and massive coral reefs that create magnificent backdrops. Harbour Island on the other hand was once the capital of The Bahamas. It was ranked as "The Best Island in the Caribbean" by Travel & Leisure magazine back in 2005, and boasts lush tropical greenery and magical pink sand beaches.
The Exumas are an archipelago of 365 cays and islands, beginning just 35 miles southeast of Nassau. Today, they’re divided into three major areas—Great Exuma, Little Exuma and The Exuma Cays. Each offers its own unique Bahamian experience. Great Exuma and Little Exuma are known for their laid-back surroundings, while The Exuma Cays act as a playground for the rich and famous, boasting numerous private homes, luxury resorts and beachside condos. The Exumas are also rich in history, as they were settled by British Loyalists with their slaves following the American Revolution.
Inagua actually consists of two separate islands, Great Inagua Island and Little Inagua Island. Both are known for their natural surroundings and act as great destinations for ecotourists. Inagua National Land & Sea Park covers 45% of Great Inagua Island and is home to over 80,000 West Indian Flamingos, the Bahama parrot, and other pelicans, ducks and hummingbirds found nowhere else in The Bahamas. Little Inagua Island is a protected habitat for endangered sea turtles, and features a vast reef that prevents boaters and sailors from getting too close to its shores. Over 30 square miles of the island are uninhabited by locals.
Originally named “Yuma” by Arawak Indians, the island was renamed “Fernandina” by Christopher Columbus in 1492. However, Long Island earned its current name because a seafarer felt it took too long to sail past the island. After all, it is 80 miles long, but no more than four miles wide at its broadest point. The Tropic of Cancer runs directly through the island, giving it two very different coastlines—the dramatic cliffs and caves of the east coast that front the crashing Atlantic waves, and the sandy edged lee side which slopes calmly into the Bahamas Bank. Here you’ll find Dean’s Blue Hole, historic twin churches built in the 1800s and one of the largest caves in The Bahamas.
Mayaguana is the only Bahamian island that still bears its original Arawak name, which is said to refer to a specific species of iguana found nowhere else in the world. The island was a favored base for pirates before residents began migrating from nearby Turks and Caicos in 1812. Today, it’s home to just 300 locals who live in three main settlements—Abraham's Bay, Pirate's Well, and Betsy Bay. The villages are quaint, rustic and located no more than 15 minutes from each other, making Mayaguana a very close-knit community. Most residents make a living by fishing for conch and farming the land. Visitors looking for adventure can dive through sea caves at Northwest Point, reel in a bonefish or take a guided tour of the three main settlements.
Little is known about the early days of The Ragged Island chain other than the settlement of Great Ragged Island was named Duncan Town after its founder who developed the island’s salt industry. Ragged Island is believed to have been a pirate safe house at one point, with its rocks and caves offering great hideaways. Blackbeard's Bay and Blackbeard's Well signify that the pirate may have established his headquarters near the well because of its unique location. Today, just 72 people call Ragged Island home. Because the population is so small, the three religious denominations on the island get together at the same church each Sunday and celebrate as one community.
In the early days, Rum Cay was home to Arawak Indians. But by the start of the 16th century, after the arrival of Christopher Columbus, a majority of the Indians had left the island. Evidence, such as cave drawings, bowls and utensils, suggest that a small group of them lived in Hartford Cave before departing. By 1901, Rum Cay had five distinct settlements, with a majority of residents calling Port Nelson home. Today, Port Nelson is the only inhabited village remaining on the island. Tourism plays a significant role to island residents, as many of them are employed by the marinas and restaurants that attract seafarers and other visitors.
Originally called Guanahani by the Lucayan Indians, the island was renamed San Salvador by Christopher Columbus, which means Holy Saviour. It’s actually the exposed peak of a submerged mountain that rises 15,000 feet from the ocean’s floor. The land is full of undulating hills, beautiful beaches, numerous salt water lagoons and amazing reefs that surround the greater part of the island. It has one of the most unique-looking landscapes in The Bahamas. Just over 1,000 people call San Salvador home. They’re descendants of slaves brought to the island by British Loyalists. Today, these San Salvadorans provide visitors with tourism activities such as fishing, diving, sailing and guided tours.
Note: Information provided on this page were derived from a combination of internal research and readily-available outside sources, such as destination tourism offices, official press releases and marketing media kits.
Motto: "Forward, Upward, Onward, Together"
Anthem: "March On, Bahamaland"
Royal Anthem: "God Save the Queen"
Islands of the Bahamas: Nassau & Paradise Island, Grand Bahama Island, The Abacos, Acklins & Crooked Island, The Berry Islands, Andros, Bimini, Cat Island, Eleuthera & Harbour Island, The Exumas, Inagua, Long Island, Mayaguana, Ragged Island, Rum Cay, San Salvador.
Currency: The Bahamian dollar is held on par with the US dollar and both are accepted interchangeably throughout the islands. Credit cards and travelers checks are accepted at most locations on Nassau/Paradise Island and Grand Bahama Island.
ATMs: +PLUS and Cirrus ATMs can be found at banks on Nassau/Paradise Island, Grand Bahama Island and on most of the major Out Islands.
Time Zone: The Islands Of The Bahamas is in the Eastern Standard Time Zone. In March of 2007, The Bahamas adopted a new policy for Daylight Saving Time. As a result, Daylight Saving Time will commence at 2:00 AM on the second Sunday in March and will continue until 2:00 AM on the first Sunday in November. This is the same daylight savings policy practiced in Australia, Canada and the United States.
Jitney Bus: Public transportation service (referred to as jitneys) is available on several of the major islands, such as Nassau/Paradise Island and Grand Bahama Island. Service is generally from early morning (about 6:30 a.m.) until about 7:00 p.m. Fares vary, depending on the route, and exact change is required. Bus stops are marked. The basic fare is $1.25 per person. Out of town zones in New Providence could cost up to $2.25.
Taxi: Surcharges often apply for more than two persons and extra luggage. A 5-mile taxi ride is approximately $12.00. Taxi rates quoted are for up to two (2) passengers. Each additional passenger is $3.00 per person.
Tipping: Tipping in The Islands Of The Bahamas is just like where you’re from—tip according to quality of service. Bellboys and porters usually receive $1 per bag, while most other servers (waiters, taxis, etc.) receive 15%. Many establishments include gratuity in the total, so make sure you check your bill to see if it’s been added.
Banking: Banking hours are Monday through Thursday, 9:30a.m. to 3:00p.m., and Friday from 9:30a.m. to 4:30p.m. In Nassau/Paradise Island there are ATMs at both Paradise Island and Cable Beach casinos, and commercial banks. In Grand Bahama, they can be found at major banks, the casino and Port Lucaya and on The Out Islands, ATMs are at banks on all of the major islands. Most are equipped with +PLUS and Cirrus ATM systems.
Dress Code: Casual summer wear can be worn during the day any time of the year; but be sure to bring a jacket or sweater for cooler evenings from December to February. Most hotels/restaurants/casinos require jackets for men in the evening, especially in more cosmopolitan areas, such as Nassau and Freeport/Lucaya. Though walking the streets in swim trunks in mid-January might sound irresistible, beach clothing is inappropriate on the streets, in churches, restaurants and casinos. Away from beach or pool areas, you are expected to cover your bathing suit with shorts or a long shirt. In the more laid-back remote areas, the dress code is more flexible.
Communications: The US and Canada are a direct-dial call away and most hotels provide direct-dialing service from your room or conference center. Both visitors and business travelers will find that telecommunication services on The Islands Of The Bahamas are comparable with the service found in most developed nations.
Driving Laws: British rules apply, so please drive on the left and be extra careful on roundabouts. Visitors may use their home licenses for up to three months and may also apply for an international driver's license. Pedestrians should remember to look right before crossing streets.
It is the law that all drivers and their passengers wear seat belts while riding in a vehicle in The Bahamas.
Duty-free Shopping: Most of the major islands have duty-free shopping on cameras, binoculars and telescopes, china and crystal, watches and clocks, jewelry, perfumes, fine linens and tablecloths, liquor and leather goods. Savings on these items are between 25–50% below US prices. You can find local arts and crafts in straw markets and specialty shops, or in Nassau’s Festival Place, Paradise Island’s Bahama Craft Center and Grand Bahama Island's Port Lucaya Marketplace.
Electricity: Electrical outlets in The Islands Of The Bahamas are 60 cycles/120 volts, which is compatible with all US appliances. British and European appliances require a flat two-pin adaptor and 220-volt converter.
Health & Safety: Inoculations are not required unless traveling to The Islands Of The Bahamas from an infected area. While in The Bahamas, you can have peace of mind knowing that there are facilities available to serve your health-related and pharmacy needs. The medical facilities on the islands, especially Nassau/Paradise Island and Grand Bahama Island, are staffed with North American and European-trained physicians.
Pets: You may bring your pet into The Islands Of The Bahamas, but you need to make preparations before your departure. An import permit is required from the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources (Nassau) for all animals being brought into any island. The permit is valid for one year from the date of issue. Applications for such permits, stating the kind of animal, breed, age, sex and country of embarkation (along with a $10 processing fee), must be made in writing. There is no fee for service dogs, e.g. seeing-eye dogs.
Customs Duty for permanent entry of all animals from outside the Commonwealth of The Bahamas (dogs, cats, cattle and horses) is $10 plus 1/2% of the value of the animal. Yearly fees for dog licenses in New Providence, Grand Bahama and The Out Islands are: male or spayed female, $2; un-spayed female, $6.
The Bahamas Humane Society is open Monday through Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Tel: (242) 325-6742. Emergency After-hours Tel: (242) 323-5138
Spring Break: Beach parties, sports meets and musical entertainment lead off the packed Spring Break calendar. The front desk of your hotel will surely be updated on the most detailed information. Spring Break Season runs from late February to mid-April. This is important information, whether you're aiming to avoid the spring break season altogether or intent upon landing right in the middle of this month-long youth fest.
For more information about Bahamian hospitality and local customs, go to the official tourist office website.
To enter The Bahamas, citizens from countries other than the US and Canada are required to present a valid passport which must be current up to your travel period and some countries are also required to have a Bahamas visa. Citizens from countries other than the US and Canada are required to present a valid passport which must be current up to your travel period and some countries are also required to have a Bahamas visa. If you are departing The Bahamas for a country that has the passport validity requirement of six (6) months beyond the dates of travel, then that requirement will be enforced.
You must also have a return, or onward journey ticket, and proof of funds to support your visit. If you are using an electronic ticket, please show Immigration a copy of your travel itinerary and ticket number.
For more information about entry requirements to The Bahamas, go to the official tourist office website.
Most visitors to The Bahamas do not need special vaccinations before entering the country. However, travelers over age one must provide a Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate, if they are coming from infected areas. Also, please note that American Airlines requires a Yellow Fever Certificate for Trinidadians travelling to The Bahamas.
Customs and Immigration
Upon arriving in The Islands Of The Bahamas, everyone must fill out and sign an immigration form, keeping a portion of the card in hand until departing. An oral baggage declaration is required. Each adult visitor is allowed to bring 50 cigars, 200 cigarettes or one pound of tobacco, one quart of spirits and a variety of personal effects (personal radio headsets, bicycle, two still cameras, etc.). All beer imported into the country is dutiable at a rate of $10 per imperial gallon or $18 per case. Purchases up to a value of $100 are permitted by all arriving passengers.
For up-to-date information on regulations for International Travel, US Residents should visit the Travel Section of the US Customs and Border Protection Home Page.
If entering The Bahamas by boat, there is a flat fee to clear Customs and Immigration, which is $150.00 for boats 30 feet and under and $300.00 for boats 31 feet and over. This covers a vessel with three persons or less. Also included is a cruising permit, a fishing permit, Customs and Immigration charges and the $20.00 Departure Tax is waived for up to three persons. Each additional person above three will be charged $20.00 Departure Tax. If you plan to stay longer than 12 months, special arrangements must be made with Bahamas Customs and Immigration.
Apply for Visa
There are several Bahamas embassies and consulates around the world where you can apply for a Bahamas visa. Browse the Directory of The Bahamas Overseas Missions and Representatives and contact the office nearest you for information.
Click here for Overview of The Bahamas. Go to the Bahamas tourism page for information on Events and Things to Do in the Bahamas. Visit the website of The Bahamas Tourist Office for more information about these Caribbean destinations.
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