Travel anywhere in the Bahamas and you'll find pristine beaches with crystal-clear water lapping at their shores. While gorgeous strips of sand ring every island of this 700-island archipelago, the destination is a multifaceted one that offers a variety of distinctly Bahamian experiences for every type of traveler.
Chow down on the catch of the day with locals on Grand Bahama or dive into the cerulean depths in the Biminis, hike to the highest spot in the country on Cat Island or shake your tail feathers at Junkanoo – whether you’re a history buff, a carnival-bound reveler, a beach bum in search of solitude, a honeymooner, or diver, you’re guaranteed to find a corner of the Bahamas that’ll suit you just fine. Here's our guide on how to choose the right Bahamas island for you.
Editor's note: During COVID-19, please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and always follow government health advice. Events may be subject to change.
Best for food, diving, nature
Despite the name, Grand Bahama has always run second to bigger, more glamorous Nassau (New Providence). Yet if you’re looking for a laid-back, accessible getaway with a minimum of fuss and more infrastructure than the Out Islands, Grand Bahama is your island.
Want to take part in a quintessential Bahamian pastime? Find yourself a fish fry on Grand Bahama. Hang out on the beach with locals, knockback cold Kaliks and watch lobster, conch fritters and catch-of-the-day sizzle on oil drum cookers at dusk. Smith's Point Fish Fry is a sure bet, and you can join the party every Wednesday night.
Diving wrecks, walls and holes
Grand Bahama’s got a treat for any diver, whether you’re a beginner looking to check out shallow reefs, or a pro wanting to explore underwater caves and wrecks on the ocean floor.
Hiking at Lucayan National Park
Check out Lucayan National Park, where mangrove trails descend to a secluded beach, and birds and turtles nest in its wetlands and forests. The park is also home to one of the largest underwater cave systems in the world. While swimming in these caves is prohibited, a few are open to the public including Burial Mound Cave, which served as the final resting place of the island’s earliest inhabitants.
Best for landscapes, beaches, diving
Straddling the Tropic of Cancer, Long Island is one of the most scenic Out Islands, a slender 80 miles (130km) north–south expanse of sand with stunning white-and-sky-blue churches, lush greenery, elaborate cave systems and bougainvillea-draped village.
Long Island possesses some of the most dramatic and varied terrain in the Bahamas. The east coast is lined with precipitous cliffs, fringed by lush flora, while desolate plantation ruins grace the island’s north end. Hamilton's Cave, located a few hundred feet off Queen's Highway, is the Bahamas' largest cave system and dates back to the Lucayan Indians who called the caves home in 500 CE.
Subterranean adventurers will find a honeycomb of caves with otherworldly rock formations. The landscape is an adventurous ramble and the trails are not clearly marked, however, so it's best to enlist the help of a local guide.
This long finger of land has something for every kind of sun worshipper, from shallow protected coves and long stretches of coarse pink sand with natural “swimming pools”, to secluded romantic resorts on powder-white sand and beaches busy with locals grilling fish.
The Love Beaches are a beautiful string of pink-sand beaches near the Stella Maris resort.
Dean’s Blue Hole
While not quite bottomless, this ink-blue cavern leading into the ocean depths is the world’s second-deepest blue hole. Watch local daredevils plummet into it from the cliffs above, or don scuba gear to explore it yourself.
Why Long Island should be your next Bahamas vacation
Best for diving, fishing, birdwatching
Known as “the Big Yard," Andros is the country’s largest but most sparsely populated major island – 2301 sq mi (5960 sq km) of mangroves, palm savannas and eerie pine forests full of wild boar and (as legend has it) an evil man-bird known as the chickcharnie. It’s largely uninhabited – considerable distances separate tiny settlements dotting the east coast, while the entire western side is an uninhabited patchwork of swampland known, appropriately, as “the Mud.”
Andros Barrier Reef
Andros Island is home to the world’s third-largest barrier reef (190 miles), which teems with a rainbow of tropical fish and schools of sharks, while deep blue holes throw down the gauntlet to serious divers.
Fly-fishermen frequently cast their lines along the streams and channels in Andros' wetlands. Thanks to its intricate network of shallow waters and banks, the island is home to the largest bonefish habitat in the world, earning it the title of “the world bonefishing capital”.
The vast mangrove swamps and mudflats of the Bahamas’ largest island are home to an astounding 300 types of winged creatures. Tour operators are available to guide wildlife enthusiasts and anglers alike to the best viewing and fishing spots.
Best for sport fishing, diving, snorkeling
On the edge of the Gulf Stream, closer to Miami than Nassau, this pint-sized paradise comprises North, South and East Bimini and a scattering of private and uninhabited islets. Once home to Prohibition-era rum runners and one of Papa Hemingway's legendary haunts, it's now a favorite destination of serious fisherfolk and sunseekers from the States and beyond.
Go fishing in the Gulf Stream
Appropriately shaped like a fish hook, the Biminis are the sports fishing destination in the Bahamas. Hemingway got his inspiration here for Old Man and the Sea and Islands in the Stream, and today fisherman troll the big blue for immense tuna, marlin and swordfish.
Diving on the northern coast
Biminis’ spectacular underwater walls and reefs attract the big guys: expect hammerhead, stingray, turtle and dolphin encounters. Numerous wrecks are a playground for advanced divers.
Best for views, culture, music
The heart of traditional Bahamian culture still beats on Cat Island, one of the islands least touched by tourism. Cat has several interesting historic sites, including plantation ruins and the Mt Alvernia Hermitage.
On top of Mt Alvernia (called Como Hill by locals) is a tiny stone church built by the hermit Father Jerome and marks the highest spot in the Bahamas (a towering 207ft above sea level). You can enter the small chapel, tiny cloister and a guest cell the size of a large kennel. Climb the rock staircase for a 360-degree view at sunset or sunrise.
Rake n' scrape music
This former pirate haven is the birthplace of the Bahamas’ rake and scrape music, with tunes extracted from recycled objects such as tin washtubs, fishing lines, and goatskin drums. Those wanting to see a stellar show should be sure to catch the Rake n' Scrape Festival that takes place during the Bahamas Labor Day weekend (first Friday in June).
Best for waterparks, food, carnival
Most travelers and locals use Nassau (the capital city) and New Providence (the island it occupies) interchangeably. Undoubtedly the hub and nerve center of the Bahamas, what New Providence/Nassau lacks in size, it more than makes up for in energy, attitude and devil-may-care spirit. This 21 mile-long (34 km) powerhouse of an island is a perfect fit for the extroverted tourist with money to burn.
Whizz down a Plexiglass tube slide into a shark-filled lagoon, cannonball along high-speed water slides into lagoons and grottoes, float along a gentle river ride, or kayak and snorkel in a man-made lagoon at this impressive park in Nassau.
Eating in Nassau & Paradise Island
Nassau and Paradise Island, connected by a bridge, form the epicurean epicenter of New Providence. Dining options range from hole-in-the-wall joints cooking up curry goat or Fish Fry serving up conch fritters to celebrity chef restaurants serving designer sushi rolls and arty fusion dishes at the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island.
Junkanoo hits Nassau with a vengeance on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) and New Year's Day, with costumed revelers filling the streets and the air thick with conch shell blasts, and the thumping of drums and shrill whistles. Parade floats, dancing and music competitions are all part of the action.
Best for diving, snorkeling, getting away from it all
More than 300 islands and cays scattered across the central Bahamas, the Exumas are renowned for blissfully isolated beaches, world-class diving, and serene resorts. The main islands are Great Exuma and Little Exuma, wonderful in their own right, and then there's the stunning Exuma Cays: a string of mostly uninhabited ocean outposts surrounded by blooming reefs and astonishing ecological bounty.
Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park
Beneath the aquamarine water around these tiny specks of land, you'll find spellbinding reefs, walls, blue holes, coral gardens and wrecks that attract an astounding diversity of fish. You won't be taking any of them home with you though, as the marine life at the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is protected from any kind of fishing.
This cathedral-like underwater cave system, popular with snorkelers, was made famous twice by 007 in Thunderball and Never Say Never Again.
An island getaway
Exumas are completely exempt from the hustle and bustle of many other Bahamas islands. They are uninhabited and hard to get to, so visitors can only access them if they sign up for a trip on one of the live-aboard dive boats or befriend a yachter in search of their own private slice of tropical paradise. Unless you happen to own your own yacht – then, may the wind fill your sails!
Best for birdwatching, history
Separated from Marsh Harbour by six miles (10km) of clear, shallow sea, historic Elbow Cay is one of the prettiest islands in the Bahamas. Greeted on arrival by the photogenic candy-striped lighthouse, visitors glide into a broad sheltered harbor flanked by brightly-painted timber cottages, studded with sails and framed by low greenery.
Elbow Cay Lighthouse
Elbow Cay's candy-striped 19th-century lighthouse disrupted the local business of salvaging loot from shipwrecks. Admire great sea views from the top.
Car-free, picture-perfect Hope Town welcomes visitors with its bougainvillea-clad white-and-pastel cottages. Founded in 1785 by Loyalists from South Carolina, this village is a beautifully preserved historical settlement.
Tilloo Cay Reserve
Battered by Atlantic Ocean waves, the pristine Tilloo Cay Reserve attracts nesting herons, numerous seabirds and their binocular-wielding admirers.
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This article was originally published in January 2016 and updated in March 2021.