The Bahamas is synonymous with beach vacation bliss. Scattered like emeralds between Florida and the Caribbean, this Atlantic archipelago comprises more than 3,000 subtropical islands and cays, most of them uninhabited.
Lush subtropics, they’re fringed by lush coral reefs and world-class beaches, offering everything from snorkelers and hikers to sun-seekers looking for beachside bars.
Here are the eight best places to visit in the Bahamas.
Best place for nightlife
Nassau is the undisputed nightlife capital of the Bahamas. Historically a refuge for pirates and smugglers, the city’s treasures now attract travelers.
Ground zero for any night out in Nassau is the Fish Fry on Arawak Cay, just west of downtown. Shacks offering fried fish, fresh-cut conch salad and sky juice (a local favorite made from gin, green coconut water and condensed milk) mingle with bars playing reggae and rake -and-scrape (local sound) from 7 p.m. every evening.
Once your evening begins, return downtown for a rum punch and sandy toes at the clapboard bars of Junkanoo Beach, a microbrew Black Beer’d Stout at Pirate Republic or even a fancy dress cocktail at Sky Bar.
Planning Tip: If you want to start early, the John Watling Distillery – a working rum factory in a beautiful 18th-century estate – opens at 10am.
Best place for big game fishing
One of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite fishing spots, the tiny Biminis are only 80 km (50 miles) from Florida. Sitting on the edge of the Gulf Stream, they attract big game fishermen in search of marlin, sailfish and swordfish that abound in these waters.
Head to Alice Town, North Bimini, and settle into the best selection of hotels and restaurants. Stay at the Bimini Big Game Club for a taste of 1950s luxury and guided big game fishing getaways, and be sure to visit the gloriously quirky Dolphin House, part museum and loving tribute to the wild dolphins of the Bahamas.
Hunger? Stuart’s Conch Stand in Bailey Town has some of the best conch and lobster salad on the islands.
Planning Tip: The billfish for which these waters are famous are most abundant in the summer.
3. Harbor Island
Best place to spot celebrities
Known as “Briland” by locals and regular visitors, the charming little Harbor Island is the favorite haunt of celebrities such as George Glooney and Jessica Alba. A short water taxi ride from the mother island of Eleuthera, it’s famous for its colonial architecture and stunning sandy landscapes. like Pink Sands Beach, tinged with crushed coral pink.
Briland boasts boutique accommodations like Pink Sands Resort and Runaway Hill, formerly a large private beachfront estate built in the 1940s. You’re still serene steps away from fine restaurants like Malcolm 51 and Rock House Restaurant or sandy soils and sunsets at Gusty’s Bar.
Planning Tip: Bahamas Ferries’ speedboats take you from Nassau to Harbor Island in two hours and in greater comfort than a flight to Eleuthera.
4. Elbow Cay
Best place for historic architecture
The British history of the Bahamas is most evident at Elbow Cay. The prettiest of the beautiful Abaco Islands, its epicenter is Hope Town, founded by British loyalists in 1785 and distinguished by bougainvillea trees, brightly colored cottages and the iconic Elbow Reef lighthouse.
Its sheltered bay bristling with masts, Hope Town is also a paradise for yachtsmen. Luckily, its pedestrian streets are lined with alluring hotels like the Abaco Inn, both exemplary of the pastel clapboard architecture that’s strictly maintained here. Knowledgeable local operators like Sundried T’s and Froggies Out Island Adventures rent surfboards and guide diving and snorkeling expeditions to the surrounding reefs and beaches.
5. Lucayan National Park
Best place for underwater caves
Mangroves meet underwater caves at one of the Bahamas’ greatest natural attractions: Lucayan National Park on Grand Bahama. Named for the original inhabitants of the Bahamas and populated by raccoons and native birds like the Bahamian hummingbird, this 16-hectare (40-acre) strip of protected wilderness encompasses all six natural vegetation zones of the Bahamas. Ben’s Cave and Burial Mound Cave are just two of the most easily accessible in its underwater cave system, one of the longest in the world.
Bahamas EcoVentures is our pick for walking tours with expert guides, while Grand Bahama Nature Tours lead fantastic kayaking expeditions around the park’s mangrove-lined coast.
Planning Tip: Grand Bahama International Airport directly serves Miami, Fort Lauderdale and several other North American cities.
6. The Exumas
Best place to dive and see swimming pigs
The Exumas, an archipelago in the central Bahamas, are known for the luxury of their secluded resorts and incredible diving. At its heart is the Exuma Cays Land and Marine Park, the richest reef ecosystem in the Bahamas. The 283 km2 (109 sq mi) expanse includes more than 300 islands and cays, pristine fringing reefs and idyllic sailing waters.
Dive Exuma, the only PADI-certified dive shop in Great Exuma’s capital, George Town, is the experienced professional outfit we recommend for exploring this underwater fantasy.
If you want to see Exuma’s famous swimming pigs, you can’t pass Staniel Cay Yacht Club, a beach haven of bungalows, kayaking and stress-free comfort that’s as close to Big Major’s Pig Beach as you can get. Cay.
7. Blue Holes National Park
Best place to swim in karst sinkholes
Andros, the “Big Yard”, is the largest island in the Bahamas and one of the wildest. Its 5,960 km² (2,301 sq mi) of mangroves, pine forest and reefs are dotted with “blue holes”, deep karst sinkholes that support unique ecosystems and provide perhaps the greatest spectacle on the island.
More abundant here than anywhere else on earth, they are at the center of the 16,1870-hectare (40,000-acre) Blue Holes National Park. Trails and information signs lead travelers to the park’s most accessible sites, such as Captain Bill’s Hole, where you’ll find both a swim deck and bathrooms.
Others, including Cousteau’s Hole (named after the famous underwater explorer), are less accessible but equally inviting for hikers and swimmers. Set against the mangroves of nearby Andros Town, Small Hope Bay Lodge offers 21 luxurious units and activities, including blue hole dives and snorkeling “safaris.”
Planning Tip: There is no public transportation on the largest island in the Bahamas. Rent a car at Andros Town Airport.
8. Conception Island
The best place to get away from it all
Conception Island is an isolated pocket of paradise that seems almost entirely untouched by humans. It is the centerpiece of Conception Island National Park, an oasis of thriving mangroves, vibrant coral gardens and abundant wildlife. Conception Island Wall, a magnificent playground of coral heads, sponges and colorful creatures, starts at 14m (46ft) in exceptionally clear waters.
These waters and the beaches they lap are home to abundant green sea turtles, fish nurseries, conch and crayfish. Conception’s uninhabited forests are also an important sanctuary for migratory birds.