Where to Stay in The Bahamas

SD › Best Places to Stay in The Bahamas
Updated: January 22, 2023

Our Favorite Bahamas Hotels

• 5-Star Hotel: The Ocean Club
• Boutique Hotel: The Island House
• Cheap Hotel: Pelican Bay Hotel
• Family Hotel: Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort
• Adults-Only: Sandals Royal Bahamian
• All-Inclusive: Warwick Paradise Island
• Best Pool: The Coral at Atlantis
• Near Airport: A Stone’s Throw Away

Beach in Bahamas.

The Best Area to Stay in The Bahamas

Though the archipelago technically lies in the Atlantic, east of the Florida Keys, the Bahamas is the quintessential tropical paradise. Comprising over 3000 generally low-lying cays and islands, the Bahamas certainly delivers: pink sand beaches, pristine coral reefs, luxury resorts, lush mangroves, deep blue sinkholes, flocks of flamingos, and a dynamic Afro-Bahamian culture, all stretching more than 500 miles (800km) across the ocean. As a plus for US visitors, everyone speaks English, US dollars are accepted throughout the islands, and it’s relatively nearby (Grand Bahama is a 20-minute flight from Miami).

English settlers from Bermuda arrived here in the mid-17th century, and despite being a haven for pirates at times, the islands remained under nominal British control until 1973 – they’ve been fully independent since then, though the British monarch remains ceremonial head of state.

The Bahamas’ reputation for high prices is well-founded; not only is it one of the wealthiest countries in the region, it’s long been a refuge for the rich and famous, and true budget accommodation is rare. The main exception is on Grand Bahama Island, where you’ll find a smattering of reasonably-priced hotels and guesthouses, as well as plenty of vacation rentals in addition to the usual luxury resorts. The island makes for a decent introduction to the Bahamas, with beautiful beaches, excellent diving and snorkeling, one of the best places to shop, and some of the best bird-watching in the archipelago. The actual capital of the Bahamas and its only big city is Nassau on New Providence Island, interesting to explore for a day or so, but otherwise not especially appealing; nevertheless, most first-time visitors to the Bahamas end up staying nearby on Cable Beach or on nearby Paradise Island, home of the massive Atlantis Resort complex. Though it can be expensive, staying here is especially fun for families, and very convenient – New Providence and Paradise Island are the easiest places to get to in the Bahamas, and most of the services, tour companies, and transportation hubs are here.

With more time (and money), it’s worth considering islands beyond these two mainhubs. Eleuthera, the Exumas, and the Abacos are all far more interesting, a lot less developed, and lined with beautiful beaches, pretty colonial towns, and colorful coral reefs. There’s also a wealth of “Out Islands” to choose from – we discuss the best ones below.

Bahamas Travel Tips

  • Lynden Pindling International Airport on New Providence, near the capital Nassau, is the largest airport in the Bahamas and its primary international gateway. Most visitors fly into this airport – it’s the main hub for the country, and you’ll likely have to change planes here to reach other islands. Grand Bahama International Airport in Freeport is the next biggest gateway: you can fly non-stop here from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Charlotte, and Orlando. Leonard M. Thompson International Airport, serving Marsh Harbour in the Abaco Islands, has non-stop flights from Miami, West Palm Beach, Charlotte, and Fort Lauderdale.
  • Bahamas island hopping can be expensive; most visitors pick one island and stay there. That said, it is possible: the main islands are served by several domestic carriers from Nassau, and a handful of ferries (though traveling the whole archipelago by boat is no longer a realistic option unless you join a cruise or hire your own yacht). One of the main problems is that flying direct between different Out Islands is rare – generally you’ll have to keep flying back to Nassau and change. Allow at least 2 hours between flights. The main domestic airlines are Bahamasair, Flamingo Air, Pineapple Air, Southern Air Charter, and Western Air.
  • Bahamas Ferries provides limited passenger services between Nassau and Spanish Wells and Harbour Island near Eleuthera (service to the Abacos, the Exumas, and Freeport may restart in future). Balearia Caribbean operates fast ferries between Fort Lauderdale and Freeport, Grand Bahama (3hr), though flights are often cheaper.
  • Unless you expect to spend the whole time on the beach, you’ll need to rent a car for a least a day to see most of the islands. Most major rental companies operate in the Bahamas, but you can also get good rates from local outfits (hotels can recommend these). UK rules apply in the Bahamas (so drive on the left).
  • Minibus public transportation (called jitneys) is available primarily on New Providence (but not Paradise Island), and on Grand Bahama only. Rates are cheap ($1.25–3.50), but jitneys are not especially convenient if you intend to do a lot of exploring. The most useful is route #10 that shuttles between Nassau and Cable Beach on New Providence. Jitneys only operate to around 6:30pm – otherwise you’ll have to rely on local taxis, which are plentiful. There is no Uber in the Bahamas.
  • Happily for US visitors, the Bahamian dollar ($ or B$) is pegged to the US dollar at 1 to 1, meaning both currencies are accepted interchangeably on all islands (you are unlikely to get US coins back as change, however). Essentially there’s no reason for US dollar users to exchange cash (visitors from other countries will need to). While most places do take credit cards, it’s advisable to carry cash if you’re exploring the Out Islands.
  • Thanks to the Trade Winds, the Bahamas experience warm weather year-round, though lows can reach a mild 70° F (21°C)in winter. Summer highs range from 80 to 90°F (26–32°C). Rain is possible year-round, but showers rarely last long; May and June are usually the wettest months, with hurricane season from June through November (though direct hits are rare).
  • Visit the official tourist website for information on the free “People-to-People” program, which connects visitors with local volunteers.

Places to stay near Cruise Port in Bahamas.

The view of the Cruise Port and Paradise Island from downtown Nassau.

We’ve covered our favorite places to visit and stay in more detail below, but with more time these islands are also worth checking out:

  • Acklins and Crooked Island: At the southern end of the Bahamas, these two islands wrapped around the Bight of Acklins are well off the beaten path, best known for bonefishing, snorkeling, and diving. Our favorite place to stay on Crooked Island is Nature’s Delight Lodge.
  • The Berry Islands: This chain of 30 islands in between Nassau and Grand Bahama are best known for the rich array of marine life that surround them. The chain is also home to Coco Cay (the private island of Royal Caribbean Cruises) and Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian Cruises’ private island. Staying in the Berry Islands, we like Chub Cay Resort & Marina and Soul Fly Lodge.
  • Bimini: The nearest part of the Bahamas to Florida (50 miles east of Miami), the Bimini chain (North Bimini, South Bimini, and East Bimini) is best known for sport fishing, especially the blue marlin popularized by writer Ernest Hemingway in the 1930s. There are also some excellent wreck dive sites just offshore. Recommended hotels here are Bimini Cove, Hilton at Resorts World Bimini, and Bimini Big Game Club Resort & Marina.
  • Cat Island: This long, thin island is home to Mount Alvernia, the Bahamas’ highest point (a staggering 207ft/63m) topped by a monastery, and the childhood home of actor Sidney Poitier. Today the island feels well off the beaten path, though it boasts an 8-mile pink sand beach, inland lakes, trails through rolling hills, and especially friendly locals. Our favorite hotels here are Fernandez Bay Village, Fountain Bay Resort, Greenwood Beach Resort, Hawks Nest Resort, Rollezz Villas Beach Resort, and Shannas Cove Resort.

The Best Places to Stay in The Bahamas

Beach resort on Paradise Island in Bahamas.

The Royal at Atlantis on Paradise Island.

Best Places in The Bahamas for…

  • Best Place to Stay for Beaches: The Exumas
    This is tough one, because the Bahamas is principally known for its gorgeous white and pink-sand beaches; almost every island in the archipelago is sprinkled with them. For convenience and amenities – especially for families – it’s hard to beat Grand Bahama and Paradise Island, but you need to go further to avoid the crowds. Exclusive (and expensive), the Exumas just about wins out over the other islands, thanks to the beauty and sheer diversity of its beach experiences. Little Exuma has Tropic of Cancer Beach, one of the longest on the islands, and gorgeous Forbes Hill Beach, wrapped around a palm-lined bay. There are also incredible beaches on adjacent Stocking Island (where you can feed sting rays), and Moriah Harbour Cay National Park. Grand Exuma boasts Coco Plum Beach, another beautiful strip of white sand also popular for kite surfing, wind surfing, and snorkeling. If you are lucky enough to be able to stay on or explore the Exuma Cays, you can spy Allen Cays iguanas on Bitter Guana Cay or Allen Cay, lounge on the “Mile-long Sandbar”, frolic with the famed swimming pigs of Big Major Cay (aka “Pig Beach”), or swim with nurse sharks at Compass Cay, just north of Staniel Cay.

    • Our other favorite beaches include Pink Sands Beach on Harbour Island, Treasure Cay Beach in the Abacos, Lighthouse Beach on Eleuthera, and Cape Santa Maria Beach on Long Island.

  • Best Place to Stay for Diving: Andros Island
    Many islands in the Bahamas offer excellent diving, with coral reefs and shallow wrecks, superb visibility, and warm waters in abundance. Serious divers should definitely consider Andros, however. Though it’s the largest island in the Bahamas, it’s one of the least visited and remains virtually undeveloped – staying here feels extremely remote. The big attraction off the east coast is the world’s 3rd largest barrier reef, running for over 100 miles. Expect excellent visibility, on average 150–200ft. There’s also the “Tongue of the Ocean” a 150-mile undersea trench between Andros and New Providence, ranging 3,600–6,600-feet deep (which means massive walls and drop-offs to explore, including the Andros Wall and the “Giant Staircase”). Finally, there are over 180 blue holes in Andros, around 22 of the best ones preserved in Blue Holes National Park. Further south, divers can explore the Stargate Blue Hole and Benjamin’s Blue Hole, an ocean sinkhole teeming with marine life.

    The best places to stay on Andros include the Andros Island Beach Resort, Love At First Sight Hotel, luxurious Caerula Mar Club, family-friendly Nathan’s Lodge, the fishing–trip oriented Andros Island Bonefish Club; and the super-exclusive Kamalame Cay and Small Hope Bay Lodge.

    • Divers should contact Andros Diving or Small Hope Bay Lodge to arrange excursions.

    • San Salvador, the Abacos, and Freeport/Grand Bahamas are also excellent for diving, though everywhere in Bahamas is pretty good.

  • Most Romantic Destination: The Exumas or Harbour Island
    The Bahamas is packed with romantic destinations and activities, from sunset cruises and lazing on peach-colored beaches, to remote sandbars completely devoid of people. The Exumas is hard to top, though; island hopping through the Exuma Cays, or simply staying in one of its serene, exclusive resorts (like EMBRACE or Fowl Cay). In the cays you have the swimming pigs, empty beaches, iguanas, underwater caves such as Thunderball Grotto, and swimming with nurse sharks. For snorkeling or diving couples there are numerous sites to explore, not least the “Aquarium” at O’Brien’s Cay, awash with a vast array of marine life. For a romantic but less active holiday, consider Harbour Island, home to picturesque Dunmore Town and the ultra romantic Pink Sands Resort.

    Romantic alternatives: these spots are a little easier to get to, and usually a bit cheaper:
    Grand Bahama: try Paradise Cove or Old Bahama Bay.
    Nassau/New Providence: the Sandals Royal Bahamian, a couples-only resort, is more relaxed and intimate than its Jamaican all-inclusive counterparts, with tranquil villas and a private offshore island with two beaches.
    • On Eleuthera, Pineapple Fields Resort is a secluded, wonderfully romantic choice.

  • Best Places for Nightlife: Nassau/Paradise Island and Grand Bahama
    The Bahamas isn’t a destination for thumping clubs and raucous bars. The only places that have proper nightlife (beyond resort bars and the occasional beach bar) are the capital Nassau, and adjacent Paradise Island and Cable Beach on New Providence. For a cocktails and glamour, Paradise Island is the place to be, with most of its plush resorts and hotels (especially Atlantis Royal, Reef, and Cove) running stylish bars and clubs open to non-guests: the Aura Nightclub, the Atlantis Theatre, a massive casino, the Sea Glass lounge, Dragon’s Ultra Lounge, and more. For a really upscale evening sample the cocktails at the Dune Bar in the Ocean Club Four Seasons Resort. In nearby Nassau, the Downtown scene is anchored by Spring Break favorites Fat Tuesday’s, Shenanigans Irish Bar, Señor Frog’s, Pirate Republic Brewing, and the Bearded Clam Sports Bar, as well as the Tiki Bikini Hut on Junkanoo Beach. The Xscape Lounge & Nightclub is the city’s top club, popular with visitors and locals alike. Over on Cable Beach there’s the justly popular Daiquiri Shack and a whole spate of venues at the SLS Baha Mar, including the adults-only pool party at Privilege, and the panoramic Skybar. If you’re staying on Grand Bahama, in or around Freeport/Lucaya, you’ll also find plenty of decent bars: Bahama Mama Bar and Dive-In Bar & Grill in Port Lucaya Marketplace, the nearby Bones Bar in the Pelican Bay Hotel, Banana Bay on Fortune Beach, and the Two Dollar Baron East Palm Beach.
    Other favorite bars:
    • Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar, Abacos – home of the “Goombay Smash” cocktail since 1960.
    Nipper’s Beach Bar & Grill, Great Guana Cay, Abacos.
    Pete’s Pub & Gallery, Little Harbour, Abacos.
    Tiny’s Hurricane Hole, Long Island.
  • Best Places for Shopping: Nassau and Freeport
    Nassau on New Providence and Freeport on Grand Bahama are the major shopping hubs of the Bahamas. Malls and shops here are stuffed with duty-free goods priced on average 25–50% lower than US stores: alcohol, perfumes, fragrances, crystal, leather goods, jewelry, watches, and photographic equipment. Harbour Bay Shopping Plaza and Marina Village at Atlantis are popular malls in Nassau. On Cable Beach there’s the posh Shops of Baha Mar. In Downtown Nassau, Bay Street features a blend of posh boutiques and local stores, as well as the Nassau Straw Market, which contains handicraft and souvenir stalls (straw baskets, hand-painted tiles, and more, but you need to bargain hard). Festival Place on the harbor is a touristy mall that principally serves cruise ship passengers, but can be good for a bargain or two. You’ll get more authentic items at the excellent Craft Cottage Bahamas (20 Village Rd), and Bahama Art and Handicraft on Shirley Street. Specialty shops include the Bahamas Rum Cake Factory and Graycliff Cigar Company. The Bahama Crafts Centre on Paradise Island features around 100 stalls selling all sorts of Bahamian handicrafts: conch shell jewelry, rum cakes, Junkanoo art, driftwood paintings, wood carvings, straw-work, and pine seed dolls; as well as Androsia, a Bahamian fabric from Andros Island.

    In Freeport the Port Lucaya Marketplace has become a one-stop shopping hub for duty-free goods and crafts – it also has its own Straw Market section.

  • Best Islands to get off the Beaten Path: Inagua or Mayaguana
    The Bahamas is sprinkled with tiny cays and remote islands, but a visit to Inagua, the chain’s southernmost islands (comprising Great Inagua and Little Inagua), offers true adventure. With fewer than 1,000 inhabitants, the islands are largely pristine wilderness (Great Inagua is the second largest island in the Bahamas), home to over 70,000 flamingos and around 140 species of native and migratory birds (parrots, pelicans, egrets, herons, kestrels, spoonbills, and more). On the main island, Inagua National Park protects the main colony of West Indian flamingos, plus the rare Bahama parrot, the Inagua woodstar hmmingbird, and many other bird species. In the northwest corner of park, Union Creek Reserve protects Green and Hawksbill turtles nesting sites. Other attractions include the 19th-century Great Inagua Lighthouse (113ft/34m), which offers sensational views from the top, and tiny Matthew Town, the main settlement, with a smattering of historic buildings, including the ruins of the old Colonial jail of 1849. Remote Little Inagua National Park covers the whole of this uninhabited island, a home for sea turtles, feral donkeys, and goats. There’s not a lot of choice when it comes to staying on Great Inagua. The best options are Enrica’s Inn and Red Knot Manor in Matthew Town.

    Even more isolated, Mayaguana has a tiny permanent population, miles of untouched coastline, and a wild interior, making it a prime eco-tourist destination. Abraham’s Bay, the main settlement, retains some old buildings such as the Zion Baptist Church. Black Wood Point home to flamingos, while Booby Cay (to the east of Mayaguana proper)is named after its colony of brown boobies (endemic rock iguanas and wild goats also live here). Again, accommodation options are limited here; Baycaner Beach Resort and Majon Bed, Bath & Breakfast are the best options.

  • Safety in the Bahamas
    There is crime in the Bahamas, but most of it is on built up New Providence (Nassau) and Grand Bahama (Freeport), well away from the major tourist zones. Take the usual precautions at night on these islands and you should be fine. In Nassau, it’s best to avoid walking south of Shirley Street at night (the area locals call “Over the Hill”). Elsewhere in the Bahamas it’s extremely rare for tourists to encounter any problems.

The 7 Best Places in The Bahamas for Tourists

Best place to stay in Nassau, Bahamas.

The Margaritaville Beach Resort is the best hotel in Nassau.

1. Nassau and New Providence

The gateway to the Bahamas for the vast majority of visitors, New Providence (and adjacent Paradise Island) are often where most people stay for their entire vacation. There’s certainly plenty to do and see here, but it’s also by far the busiest location in the Bahamas, and not especially representative of the rest of the country. Though there are hotels scattered across the island, there are three main accommodation clusters: in Nassau the capital; along white-sand Cable Beach and the north coast; and on tiny Paradise Island itself, connected to New Providence by bridge and occupied almost entirely by resorts.

Cable Beach tends to be a little cheaper than Paradise Island, and while it can get crowded (and attracts the attention of local souvenir and drink sellers), it’s a beautiful stretch of sand, easy to reach from the airport and connected to Nassau by jitney (meaning you don’t have to rent a car to visit the city). Families will enjoy the Baha Bay Waterpark, adjacent to the 3 hotels that comprise the Baha Mar Resort (Grand Hyatt, Rosewood, and SLS).

There are no jitneys to Paradise Island – you’ll be reliant on taxis staying here. The island is home to mega resorts such as Atlantis and the Four Seasons’ Ocean Club, as well several gorgeous beaches (most of which require day passes for non-guests, Cabbage Beach is the main exception), and the Paradise Island Golf Course.

Nassau offers a couple of small beaches but the capital is best known for its collection of cultural and historic sights, plus its dining and drinking scenes. At the heart of Downtown lies Parliament and Rawson squares, the former surrounded by distinctive pink-colored colonial government buildings. From here Bay Street is one of the country’s major shopping strips, home to the Nassau Straw Market, a handicrafts showcase. The Pompey Museum recounts the history of slavery in the Bahamas in an 18th-century building once used for slave auctions. Nearby, the family-friendly Pirates of Nassau offers a fun, interactive look at the city’s piratical past. Other Downtown highlights include pink and white Government House, the elegant official residence of the Governor General of the Bahamas; the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, the best place to learn about the nation’s artistic heritage; John Watling’s Distillery, which gives tours of its rum-producing facilities; the Heritage Museum of the Bahamas at the Graycliff Hotel’s Heritage Village; the 18th-century Balcony House, painted pink and decked out in period furnishings; the Educulture Junkanoo Museum (31 West St), which highlights the Bahamas’ famed Carnival; the Bahamas Historical Society; and the dramatic Queen’s Staircase, 65 stone steps built by enslaved Africans, leading up to the 18th-century remnants of Fort Fincastle. It’s also worth checking out Nassau Public Library on Shirley Street, housed in the 18th-century Octagonal Building that once served as the town jail. The best of the island’s remaining fortifications lies just under a mile west of Downtown: Fort Charlotte features exhibits charting its history, and offers stunning views of the surrounding area. Nearby you’ll find the tranquil Nassau Botanical Gardens (at the back of the fort), the Ardastra Gardens & Wildlife Conservation Centre, home to a troop of “marching” pink flamingos, and Junkanoo World, another site dedicated to the big annual celebration.

If you are staying on New Providence for a week or so, it’s worth renting a car for at least a day to see the sights beyond Nassau. On the south coast, Bonefish Pond National Park protects a vast swathe of coastal wetlands and mangroves (accessed by boardwalk), while Da Pig Beach features the island’s very own sand hopping and swimming pigs. At the western tip of the island lies Clifton Heritage National Park, which preserves remnants of Lucayan, American Loyalist, and African culture. The nearby Primeval Forest National Park is a rare patch of old-growth woodland, featuring giant sinkholes. In the center of the island, tiny Harrold & Wilson Ponds National Park preserves a wetland habitat for herons, egrets, and ibises.

• From Nassau you can take short boat rides to idyllic private islands just offshore: tiny Pearl Island (aka Sun Cay), which offers two white-sand beaches, water sports, snorkeling, and an iconic lighthouse; and Blue Lagoon Island (aka Salt Cay), principally known for sea lions and dolphin swims and encounters, but that also boasts pristine beaches and snorkeling (you can just visit the island and skip the animal encounters). A little further (25min by boat) is Sandy Toes on Rose Island, offering a similar line-up of experiences.

• Junkanoo is a traditional Bahamian festival (a bit like carnival) celebrated across the archipelago, though the biggest events are held on Bay Street in Nassau (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, and throughout the summer).

• Nassau and the resorts of Paradise Island and Cable Beach offer the widest choice of culinary options in the Bahamas, but don’t miss the Fish Fry at Arawak Cay, just outside Downtown Nassau. This strip of local food stalls hums day and night and is the best place to sample local food and drink. It can feel a bit touristy, but plenty of locals eat here and the prices are reasonable.

• Note that the iconic British Colonial Hilton in Downtown Nassau, open since 1924, closed permanently in 2022, but may reappear in some form in the future.

2. Eleuthera and Harbour Island

Eleuthera, a short flight east from Nassau, is one of the most attractive Bahamian destinations, especially when combined with tiny Harbour Island, just off its northeast coast. Eleuthera is very long and narrow, some 110 miles (177km) north to south and only a mile wide in some places. The best way to see the whole island is to rent a car and traverse the only major road, the Queens Highway, though there are resorts scattered along its length if you prefer to spend quality time on a beach. At the southern tip of Eleuthera lies untrammelled Lighthouse Beach, a gorgeous strip of sand being developed as part of the new Disney Lighthouse Point development (slated to open in 2024). North from here the first main settlement is Rock Sound, with a small airport and a few grocery stores and restaurants. Highlights here include the Ocean Hole, a “blue hole” crammed with fish; Pink Beach; and Cathedral Cave, with a ladder giving access to a large cavern full of bats (the path to the cave snakes around another sinkhole known as the “Boiling Hole”). Continuing on, Ten Bay Beach is a beautifully calm, sandy bay perfect for snorkeling – surrounded by a handful of rental properties, it’s rarely busy.

Governor’s Harbour is the main town on the island, a pleasant place to wander with its old Bahamian buildings, churches, bakeries, and restaurants. Nearby is the tiny Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve, dedicated to propagating indigenous plants and trees, with its own education center and trails running through its gardens and mangroves. Another worthwhile stop is Edwin’s Turtle Lake Marine Reserve, a private saltwater lake and mangrove preserve offering kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, and canoe rentals. North of Governor’s Harbour, the thinnest part of the island is lined by stunning and mostly empty beaches (including the aptly named Surfer’s Beach), narrowing finally to the natural Glass Window Bridge, just 30ft wide; on one side lies the dark blue water of the Atlantic, while the other features the bright turquoise of the Bight of Eleuthera. The Queens Baths (aka Hot Tubs) are just south of the bridge on the Atlantic side, a series of natural pools carved out of the rocks creating warm tidal “baths” that are perfect for a relaxing dip (during low or medium tide only). The northern part of Eleuthera is best known for its quiet beaches such as Ben Bay and Preacher’s Cave, associated with the island’s early English colonists, the “Eleutheran Adventurers”. Just off the coast here is the famous “Train Wreck” dive site, the remains of a barge carrying a steam locomotive that sank in 1865. Back on land, the Sapphire Blue Hole is a pristine swimming hole in the limestone rocks, surrounded by jungle and only accessible by rope. Boats from Genes Bay zip across to the town of Spanish Wells on St. George’s Cay, where you can tour remote sand bars and visit yet more swimming pigs.

Be sure to spend some time on Harbour Island – connected by ferries to North Eleuthra and Dunmore Town, one of the most attractive settlements in the Bahamas. It’s a quaint seaside village, with a blend of Bahamian colonial and New England style architecture, galleries, coffee shops and bakeries. The 18th-century St. Johns Anglican Church on Gaol Street is the oldest religious foundation in the Bahamas. The real highlight lies a short walk away on the east coast of Harbour Island, where Pink Sands Beach really does glow with a reddish hue thanks to crushed shells.

3. Freeport and Grand Bahama Island

Anchored by Freeport, the second-largest city in the Bahamas, Grand Bahama Island is one of the country’s most accessible and most developed islands, with a range of accommodation to suit all budgets. Though parts of the island can seem very touristy, more like an extension of Florida than the Antilles, it’s relatively big (95 miles long, by around 15 miles at its widest point), and it is possible to lose the crowds – large tracts of forest and wilderness cover much of the interior and its long coastline boasts several remote beaches. The island is also justly regarded a bird-watching haven, and boasts numerous dive sites.

Freeport itself is a modern creation, purpose-built in the 1960s to be a tourist hub. As such it lacks the character of the older Bahamian towns, but most hotels on the island are located in its Lucaya district along the coast. The white-sand beaches here are excellent, and Port Lucaya Marketplace is one of the country’s biggest shopping destinations. Much island nightlife and live entertainment centers on the mall’s Count Basie Square on the marina.

The island’s primary appeal is its white-sand beaches, lining the south coast east and west from Freeport/Lucaya; Silver Point Beach, Xanadu Beach, Bahama Beach, Taino Beach, and Fortune Beach are the main ones. Further east, Barbary Beach is far less busy – you’re likely to have it to yourself if visiting mid-week. Just offshore lies Peterson Cay National Park, an important habitat for bridled terns, surrounded by a rich coral reef. Inland, you can take a break from the beach with visits to the Garden of the Groves, a lush botanical garden, and the Rand Nature Centre, which preserves a tract of pine forest, native and exotic coppice, and a freshwater pond. Other attractions include the early 20th-century Pinders Point Lighthouse just outside Freeport, with spectacular views; the Bahamian Brewery, an excellent craft beer producer that offers tours of its facilities; and the Coral Vita Coral Farm, where you can learn about reef restoration.

Grand Bahama’s most extensive natural attraction is the Lucayan National Park, a vast preserve that encompasses underwater cave systems (via Ben’s Cave and Burial Mound Cave), remains of the indigenous Lucayan civilization (the skeletons of six ancient Lucayans were found in one cave as well as artifacts), pine forests, mangroves, coral reefs, and the popular Gold Rock Beach, a wonderfully untouched stretch of chalk-white sand.

• Grand Bahama is a major diving destination with numerous underwater highlights: the Papa Doc Wreck of 1968; the Pygmy Caves, huge coral structures that harbor lobsters and moray eels; Ben’s Blue Hole, a hangout for eels and loggerhead turtles; Theo’s Wreck, a 230-foot steel freighter intentionally sunk in 1982 and now smothered in stunning black corals and gorgonian sea fans; the Pretenders Wreck, an upside down tugboat on the western side of Shark Alley, attracting reef sharks and stingrays; and the Etheridge Wreck, a ferry from the Carolinas sunk here in 1992 and now a favored habitat of turtles.

• In terms of accommodation, you’ll find the widest selection of budget hotels and guesthouses in the Bahamas on Grand Bahama.

• Hurricane Dorian slammed Grand Bahama in 2019. Though the island has largely recovered from the storm, you may still see signs of the damage.

4. The Abacos

Though the Abacos island chain was hammered by Hurricane Dorian in 2019, it remains one of the most enticing destinations in the Bahamas; a boating, fishing, and snorkeling nirvana, enhanced by enchanting colonial towns, top golf courses, isolated beaches, and a spread of high-quality hotels, restaurants, and bars. Though the islands have made an impressive recovery since the devastation of 2019, you’ll still see signs of the hurricane everywhere. The main chain, loosely divided into North, Central and South Abaco, spans some 120 miles. There are also several smaller cays off the east coast, notably Green Turtle Cay, Great Guana Cay, and Elbow Cay, with its attractive settlement of Hope Town. To the west, Castaway Cay has been developed into an exclusive Disney-owned island for cruise ships. On the main island (Central Abaco), Marsh Harbour serves as the commercial hub of the islands, while Treasure Cay is the major resort area.

Highlights include Mermaid Reef just off Marsh Harbour; easy to access, rich in marine life, and great for beginner snorkelers; and Sawmill Sink, a gorgeous blue hole rich in fossils and surrounded by rare Caribbean pines. (You can swim here.) In South Abaco, Abaco National Park preserves the Caribbean pine forest habitat of the rare Bahama Parrot.

On tiny Green Turtle Cay, the quaint New England-style homes of New Plymouth add to its charm, while the Loyalist Memorial Sculpture Garden commemorates local heroes (including Loyalists who fled the American Revolution in the 1780s), and “Ye Olde Gaol” was the island’s original jail, built in the mid-19th century. Local history is showcased at the Albert Lowe Museum on Parliament Street. Nearby Noname Cay has its own swimming pigs (something of a Bahamian tradition by now), while tiny Black Cay Sound National Preserve features pristine mangroves.

Highlights on 8-mile long Elbow Key include historic Elbow Reef Lighthouse, a local icon since 1863 and the last working, hand-wound and kerosene-burning lighthouse in the world. The Wyannie Malone Historical Museum in Hope Town chronicles local history. Just south of Elbow Key, the Tilloo Cay National Reserve protects several species of tropic birds, yellow-crowned night herons, and several species of terns.

5. The Exumas

The Exumas chain lies in the heart of the Bahamas, known for its spectacularly clear waters, largely empty beaches and luxurious resorts, many of which are all-inclusive. Made up of around 365 islands, the chain is 130 miles (209km) long, but most hotels can be found in just two clusters: on the larger Great Exuma Island, and on Staniel Cay far to the north, a base for exploring the remote Exuma Cays – stay on the latter and you’ll largely be reliant on your resort for eating, drinking, and activities.

At the southern end of the chain lies Little Exuma, cut in half by the Tropic of Cancer (marked by Pelican Beach, aka Tropic of Cancer Beach). Forbes Hill Beach is the highlight here, one of the world’s most beautiful strips of sand, set on a calm bay backed by palms.

On Great Exuma (connected to Little Exuma by bridge), picturesque George Town – the capital of chain – is home to the Exuma Straw Market, where you can pick up local handicrafts and souvenirs, including coconut and sand jewelry and woven straw hats, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. The town also features a handful of cafes and restaurants, the stately Government Building, and the historic Peace & Plenty Resort (https://www.peaceandplenty.com), open since 1958. From George Town you can zip across the bay to largely deserted Stocking Island Beach.

In between Little and Great Exuma is Moriah Harbour Cay National Park, a staggeringly beautiful reserve of white-sand beaches, blue holes, coral reefs, mangroves, and coppice forests offering crystal-clear waters and a rich array of wildlife. Most of the tiny islets north of the main island are protected within the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park – exploring largely by boat, you’ll discover untouched coral reefs, gorgeous beaches, mangroves, and heaps of wildlife. Staniel Cay is the main place to stay, at the heart of the Exuma Cays; it’s a major hub for scuba diving and beach-hopping. Nearby is Pig Beach on Big Major Cay, an uninhabited island populated by swimming feral pigs; though there are now several copycat sites around the Bahamas, this was the original “Pig Beach”. Also nearby is Thunderball Grotto, a cave used in the 1960s James Bond film Thunderball. To the north, rare Allen Cays iguana can be found scurrying all over the beach on Allen Cay (opposite Leaf Cay, owned by Nicholas Cage). Just to the south of Big Farmer’s Cay lies one of the region’s most spectacular natural attractions: at low tide a stretch of bone-white sand emerges from the warm waters, known as the “Mile-long Sandbar”, often deserted.

• The relative remoteness (and exclusivity) of the Exumas attracts celebrities looking for privacy: Little Hall’s Pond Cay is Johnny Depp’s island, Musha Cay is owned by David Copperfield, Goat Cay is owned by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Nicolas Cage owns Leaf Cay, Eddie Murphy owns Rooster Cay, and White Bay Cay is owned by Tyler Perry.

• Exuma International Airport (northwest of George Town on Great Exuma) is principally connected to Nassau, but there are also non-stop flights from Miami, Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale, plus seasonal flights from Charlotte and Toronto.

6. Long Island

Despite being one of the most beautiful islands in the Bahamas, the aptly named Long Island is often overlooked by tourists. Some 80 miles (130km) long by 4 miles (6km) wide, the island lies just to the east of the Exumas, lined with fine coral reefs and pristine beaches (hotels and resorts are spread out along its length, and you’ll need to rent a car to see the whole island). It’s otherwise best known for its top-notch bonefishing, rich marine life, and vast underground cave system.

The capital of Long Island is Clarence Town, home to a handful of hotels, restaurants, bakeries and services, including the scenic Lighthouse Point Restaurant. Also here, the island’s most distinctive place of worship, the twin-towered St. Peter’s & St. Paul’s Catholic Church. Just to the north, Dean’s Blue Hole is the second deepest saltwater sinkholein the world (663ft), while Bonniecord Beach is a gorgeous horseshoe cove that’s perfect for calm swims. You can also explore the half-ruined St Mary The Virgin Anglican Church, said to be the oldest church in the Bahamas. Nearby, the Shrimp Hole is an inland water cave inhabited primarily by shrimp – you can swim or snorkel here. The Long Island Museum in Buckley’s on the Queen’s Highway chronicles local history. The northern end of the island is anchored by Stella Maris, purpose-built in the 1960s as hub for hotels and resorts, and served by its own tiny airport. Cape Santa Maria Beach (dominated by the resort of the same name) is another candidate for best beach in the Bahamas. The northern tip of the island is marked by the stone Columbus Monument/Lucayan Memorial, with sensational views (though historians no longer believe this is where Columbus first landed in 1492).

• Long Island is the best starting point for excursions (via boat or charter flight) to several more remote Out Islands. Tranquil Ragged Island lies to the southwest, principally a hub for sport fishing (and bonefishing), with grouper, snapper, barracuda, tuna, and kingfish all commonly caught. To the east, Rum Cay is a lesser-visited gem, home to miles of white sand beaches, pristine coral reefs, wreck dives, historic ruins, and a handful of vacation rentals in the tiny settlement of Port Nelson. In between Rum Cay and Long Island lies Conception Island National Park, encompassing one of the most beautiful islands in the Bahamas – an uninhabited preserve of pink sand beaches, sandstone cliffs, and mangroves along Conception Creek. It’s also home to migratory birds and green turtles.

7. San Salvador

One of the smallest inhabited islands in The Bahamas, San Salvador is where Christopher Columbus is thought to have first landed in 1492 (marked with a simple white cross on the beach). Today visitors come to experience its miles of largely empty and untouched beaches, inland lakes, and numerous dive sites. Though the island rarely seems busy, there are some major resorts here, including Club Med Columbus Isle, as well as a surprising number of historic sites.

Cockburn Town is the island capital, known for its iconic “Lazy Tree” (a huge, ancient, almond tree), the 19th-century former jail, the island museum, restaurants and bars, hotels, a marina, and several historic churches. On the edge of town, Watling’s Castle is the ruin of a late 18th-century Loyalist plantation house owned by buccaneer George Watling.

It’s worth renting a car for at least a day or two to see the rest of the island. On the north coast, Graham’s Harbour Iguana & Seabird National Park protects several colonies of frigatebirds, boobies, terns, and tropicbirds, plus San Salvador’s endangered rock iguanas. On the east coast, Green’s Bay National Park is another reserve for San Salvador rock iguanas, while nearby Pigeon Creek & Snow Bay National Park protects the island’s only tidal creek, with mangroves, hard bottom corals, and a vast sea urchin population. In the center of the island, Southern Great Lake National Park also encompasses mangrove swamps and San Salvador rock iguana habitat. Other local landmarks include the working Dixon Hill Lighthouse, built in 1887, with stellar views of the island from the top (163ft). There’s also the ruins of the once mighty Fortune Hill Plantation on the east coast, and the West Coast Marine Park, which preserves the Columbus landing site and the surrounding beaches and reefs.

• San Salvador is a major diving destination, but only really since the late 1970s. It’s known for its shallow reefs, incredible wall dives and exceptional visibility (often 100–150ft).

• San Salvador Airport serves Nassau and Deadman’s Cay on Long Island, though Club Med arranges seasonal charter flights to American and European airports.

Read More

Get All New Content

My Travel Newsletter