The Bahamas is an archipelago nation of about 700 islands, cays, and islets that encompass over 5,300 square miles of land across a 100,000 square-mile stretch of Caribbean waters. It is also home to the third longest barrier reef in the world and 15% of the world’s corals. The rich organisms of the coral reefs produce the islands’ calcium carbonate waters, which are the clearest in the world permitting visibility even beyond 200 feet.
Among the 700 islands, there are 14 main islands that are inhabited, whereas the remaining 686 islands and cays serve as playgrounds for tourists and residents. It was on one of the main islands in the southeastern Bahamas, San Salvador, where Christopher Columbus first landed in the New World in 1492. Upon landfall, he found the island was inhabited by the Taino or Lucayans. Columbus took them to Cuba and made them slaves. Eventually, the Lucayans slowly died off as a result of disease, deaths from forced labor, emigration, and outmarriage. After the population of Lucayans had been wiped out, the Bahamas remained uninhabited until the British arrived from Bermuda and settled on the island of Eleuthera. The Bahamas remained a British colony for hundreds of years, even welcoming British loyalists from the American colonies after the Revolutionary War. Many African American slaves also moved to the Bahamas when the British ended slavery in its colonies in 1834. In 1964, the British decided to make the islands self-governing and independent, although the Bahamas remains a member of the British Commonwealth.
There are 14 main islands in the Bahamas: the Grand Bahama Island, Abacos, Andros, Paradise Island, the Berry Islands, Bimini, Cat Island, Eleuthera (or Harbour Island), the Exumas, Long Island, San Salvador, the Acklins (or Crooked Island), Mayaguana, and Inagua.
The Grand Bahama Island is the northernmost island. It offers gaming at the Isle of Capri Casinos.
The Abacos in the northwest is a favorite sailing and boating island with numerous uninhabited cays nearby waiting to be explored.
The Andros just south of the Abacos, while the least explored, is the most famous, known for its barrier reef which is the second largest in the world. It is a favorite among divers and fly-fishers, who enjoy hauling in the boat load of underwater bonefishes.
East of Andros is Paradise Island, which is home to the capital of the Bahamas, Nassau. Technically, Nassau sits on New Providence Island which is next to Paradise Island. The island pair offer themed casino resorts like the Atlantis and the Crystal Palace Casino, as well as the typical Bahamas’ setting of beaches and beautiful water.
The Berry Islands sits west of the Abacos and offers uninhabited cays, secluded beaches, and tons of billfishes.
Bimini is east of Andros and is the closest to Miami, making it the most popular island of the Bahamas among Americans. It is known for its big-game fishing.
Cat Island is one of the central islands of the Bahamas. On Cat Island, you’ll find hidden beaches, hills and woodlands, and cute inns and guesthouses.
Eleuthera is north of Cat Island and has the most colonial charm of the islands with its old pineapple plantations. It also offers beautiful pink and white sandy beaches.
The Exumas sits west of Cat Island and has more than 350 uninhabited cays. You’ll find harbors, hidden coves, and protected harbors, making it a favorite among boaters and sport-fishermen.
Long Island is located south of Cat Island and features an 80-mile uninterrupted coastline with soft beaches, rocky cliffs, and beautiful turquoise waters.
San Salvador is the island that Christopher Columbus made landfall on his 1492 journey to the New World. It is located east of Cat Island and today attracts fishermen, divers, and snorkelers.
The Acklins is located east of Long Island and is frequented by fishermen, divers, and snorkelers.
Mayaguana in the southeast is an isolated and undeveloped island, which makes it the perfect getaway for those who want peace and quiet, secluded beaches, and unperturbed reef diving experiences.
Inagua is the southernmost island. It actually consists of Great Inagua with its 80,000 West Indian flamingos and Little Inagua, which is inhabited only by rare birds, donkeys and goats. Inagua is best visited through an ecotour.
Today, the Bahamas is one of the most popular Caribbean destinations among Americans because of its proximity to Florida – with Bimini Island being only 40 miles from Miami and the capital of Nassau only 185 miles away. Visitors come to enjoy the miles of golden beaches and to leisure amid the clearest turquoise crystalline waters found anywhere. The waters appear jade-hued during the day while at night it illuminates a purple glow. The waters are also shallow (in fact Bahamas or “baja mar” in Spanish means shallow sea) yet deep in other areas where it is greeted by reefs, corals, water canyons, water holes, and teems of fishes, sharks, stingrays and dolphins – this makes the islands the perfect setting for scuba diving and snorkeling. As an added bonus for divers, there are also underwater shipwrecks in the waters around the islands; the Bahamas from the 16th to the 18th century bore witness to numerous hurricane storms and pirate loots.
Besides diving, swimming, and snorkeling, the Bahamas also offers fly-fishing, deep-sea fishing, boating and sailing, and other water activities. There are frequent regattas held and many uninhabited cays and coves to be explored by adventurous sailors. In the shallow waters, you’ll find 15-pound bonefishes – the prey of fly-fishers. Out in the Atlantic, there are larger fishes like tuna, marlin, mackerel, wahoo, billfish, and mahi mahi for sport-fishers and serious anglers. Bahamas’ fish have a reputation for being huge, and have produced more than 50 record catches.
Golfers will also enjoy the championship golf courses in the Bahamas, which include among others the Four Seasons Golf Course designed by Greg Norman at the Exumas, the Treasure Cay Golf Club on Abacos designed by world-famous golf architect Dick Wilson who also designed the Lucayan Golf Course on Grand Bahama Island.
Casino gaming is also a big draw, mainly because of the Vegas-style themed casinos you’ll find in the Bahamas. Chief among them is the Atlantis on Paradise Island – gaming set amid underwater aquariums including the largest open air marine habitat in the world. The Crystal Palace Casino in Nassau and the Isle of Capri Casino on Grand Bahama Island are the two other themed casinos on the islands.