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10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in the Bahamas

When beach lovers dream about the perfect stretch of powdery sand, lapped by seas in sublime shades of blue, they're probably dreaming about the Bahamas. Encompassing 700 islands and more than 2000 small cays sprinkled across the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, this tropical paradise lies only 50 miles from Florida at its closest point. Once a haven for pirates and Loyalists, the islands are now a playground for the rich and famous, and anyone who enjoys world-class fishing, boating, diving, snorkeling, and sailing.

Nassau, the nation's capital, on New Providence Island, attracts the most tourists. This bustling cruise port is a glitzy mix of mega resorts, shops, restaurants, and entertainment complexes. Grand Bahama follows in second place. The other islands, affectionately called the Family Islands or Out Islands, cluster into groups, each with its own distinct character and charm. Slung like pearls across the shallow Bahama Banks, the Abacos and Exumas offer some of the world's best waters for boating and sailing. These peaceful islands are dotted with sleepy fishing villages and secluded beaches, and many are rimmed by pristine coral reefs. The other islands all offer something for discerning travelers. From the big game fishing of Bimini, and the pink sand beaches of Harbour Island, to bonefishing, regattas, and uncrowded outer cays, it's hard to beat the Bahamas. For those visiting around the New Year, don't miss the throbbing drums and kaleidoscopic costumes of Junkanoo, the nation's most popular festival.

1 Atlantis

AtlantisAtlantis

Dominating the skyline on Paradise Island, this splashy, salmon-pink resort evocatively recreates the legend of Atlantis in a luxury hotel, entertainment complex, aquarium, and water park. Guests at the hotel score free entry into the popular 141-acre Aquaventure, a waterscape packed with high-speed slides, more than 20 pools, and a mile-long Lazy River Ride. In the marine habitat, hammerhead sharks and swordfish swim through sparkling open-air pools. Guests will also find many shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues on site. The fantasy sea theme continues throughout, capturing the imagination of young and old alike.

Address: 1 Casino Drive, Paradise Island

Official site: www.atlantis.com

2 Grand Bahama

Grand BahamaGrand Bahama Christopher Connell

The northernmost of the Bahamian islands, Grand Bahama is the closest major island to the United States and a popular destination for package tourists and cruise ships. The capital, Freeport, is the second biggest city in the Bahamas, though Port Lucaya has now replaced it as the tourist hub for shopping, dining, and entertainment. Port Lucaya Marketplace sells jewelry and straw goods as well as other souvenirs, and the marina is a social hotspot for tourists and boaters. Despite the island's large all-inclusive resorts and hotels, it's still possible to escape the crowds. Grand Bahama boasts the world's largest underwater cave system and nature-lovers can spot many native bird species in the three national parks.

3 Bimini

BiminiBimini

Known as the "Big Game Fishing Capital of The Bahamas", Bimini Island is the closest of the islands to the U.S. mainland, lying approximately 45 miles east of Miami, Florida. The fishhook shaped cluster of islands includes North Bimini, South Bimini, and numerous cays extending south from Pigeon Cay to South Cat Cay. Bimini hosts popular deep-sea fishing tournaments from March to September, and diving and snorkeling opportunities abound. Besides the popular shark and dolphin dives, highlights include Rainbow Reef, Sapona Wreck, and Victory Reef. Ernest Hemingway spent several summers in Bimini, finding inspiration for the novels "The Old Man and the Sea" and "Islands in the Stream". Look for related exhibits at the Bimini Museum.

4 Andros Island

Andros IslandAndros Island

Andros, the largest landmass in the Bahamas, boasts the third largest barrier reef in the world, as well as many freshwater blue holes and underwater caves. It's no surprise then, that this is a popular destination for divers. The island's vast wetlands create channels, which are prime boating and fishing areas. Fly fishing is big here, and Andros is often called "the bonefishing capital of the world". Andros also has the largest protected area in the Bahamas with five national parks. Nature lovers will appreciate the rich bird life in the mud flats, mangrove swamps, and forests, as well as the island's eco-resorts. In addition to all these natural attractions, tourists can visit the Androsia Batik Factory, which sells brightly-colored fabrics featuring bold Bahamian motifs.

5 Harbour Island

Harbour IslandHarbour Island

Pretty Harbour Island, northeast of its big sister, Eleuthera, is the oldest settlement in the Bahamas, as well as the site of the first Bahamian parliament. English Loyalists settled here in the 1700s. Famous for its pink sand beaches and chic resorts, the island has long been a hideaway for the rich and famous. Golf carts rule the streets here, and visitors will feel as though they've stepped back in time as they cruise past the cute, pastel-colored Loyalist cottages lining the streets of Dunmore Town. Harbour Island is a quiet day trip out of Nassau on the Bahamas Fast Ferries Catamaran.

6 Elbow Cay

Elbow CayElbow Cay

Across the sheltered Sea of Abaco from the boating hub of Marsh Harbour, Elbow Cay in the Abacos exudes all the charm of a New England-style fishing village. Colorful cottages line the main streets of Hope Town, the island's principal settlement, and the center of town is off-limits to vehicles, lending a relaxed, village feel. Famous for its candy-striped lighthouse, Hope Town is home to a thriving expatriate community who appreciate the island's pretty palm-lined beaches; proximity to Marsh Harbour, Bahamas's third largest town; and the excellent boating opportunities. Wyannie Malone Historical Museum is a must, and nearby Guana Cay and the Tilloo Cay Reserve, an 11-acre bird habitat, are popular day trips. Hope Town also boasts a well-developed marina. A ferry runs regularly to Elbow Cay from Marsh Harbour.

7 Green Turtle Cay

Green Turtle CayGreen Turtle Cay Karen Hastings

Strolling the streets of Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos feels like stepping back in time to the old Bahamas. East of Great Abaco, this peaceful, three-mile-long island is a much-loved hideaway for serenity seekers. Golf carts are the main mode of transport in the tiny settlement of New Plymouth, a sleepy fishing village of picket-fenced pastel cottages, sprinkled with a few small shops and museums. Fishing boats bob in the harbour, and visitors can watch the locals haul in their catch of crawfish and conch. The island's beautiful uncrowded beaches and crystal clear waters offer excellent swimming, diving, snorkeling, and boating opportunities. Bonefishing is also a popular pursuit. The island is a ten-minute ferry ride from Treasure Cay on Great Abaco.

8 Exuma Cays Land and Sea National Park

Exuma Cays Land and Sea National ParkExuma Cays Land and Sea National Park

In the remote eastern edge of the Bahamas, the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park is a "no take zone" and marine protected area, the first of its kind in the Caribbean. The park boasts some of the most striking seascapes in the Bahamas. The area is popular with divers and boaters, who come here for the quality anchorages, abundant marine life, and crystal clear waters. On a good day, divers and snorkelers can enjoy 100-foot-plus visibility. Most people visit this underwater wonderland on private boats or live-aboard dive charters. No fishing or shelling is permitted within the park boundaries.

Official site: www.exumapark.org

9 Treasure Cay

Treasure CayTreasure Cay Tomathon

Skirting the eastern shore of Great Abaco, Treasure Cay Beach is often voted one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. This spectacular stretch of powder white sand and aqua water wows visitors who come here to bask on its creamy, crescent-shaped shore. The beach lies in the upscale resort community of Treasure Cay, which hosts one of the most popular fishing tournaments in the Bahamas.

10 Long Island

Known as one of the most scenic islands in the Bahamas, Long Island lies a little off the beaten path, in the southern half of the archipelago. Almost 80 miles long and no more than 4 miles wide, Long Island is a land of contrasts, with sandy beaches on the west coast and steep, rocky cliffs along the east. The island is a haven for fishing, diving, and boating, and boasts many beautiful pink and white sand beaches. Long Island is also home to Dean's Blue Hole, the deepest in the world. The Long Island Sailing Regatta takes place at Salt Pond in the summer. Access to the island is mainly by air or ferry service from Nassau.

Official site: www.longibahamas.com

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