I have been fortunate to visit the sunny, warm island of the Bahamas twice, both times during the chilly months of our Canadian winters. My first visit, 20 plus years ago was to the Abacos Islands, which were a quaint hideaway, off the beaten path for many tourists. My second, more recent visit was to Nassau and the Club Med Resort, which up until recently was on Paradise Island.
The Bahamas has the advantage of being close. A three hour flight, or a short layover through Miami will whisk you from the frigidity of our winters to the warmth of the tropics. The island is also very safe, friendly and hospitable. A popular destination for cruising offers the benefits of visiting, rather than experiencing, but to fully immerse yourself in the local culture you have to stay a few days.
There is no shortage of hotels, especially in the Nassau area, but one of the finest is still Atlantis on Paradise Island. The place is a city unto itself with many swimming pools, fantastic restaurants, underwater viewing areas and a twenty-five thousand dollar a night presidential suite (that's the bridge you see between the towers of the hotel). The resort also boasts a 14 acre dolphin experience where you can interact with the delightful sea mammals as well as ride a massive underwater slide right through the centre of their habitat. Another great feature of Atlantis is Aquaventure, The 141-acre water park, which includes a mile-long river tubing quest, 9 water slides, and 11 pools.
Of course there are many hotels in the Nassau area, most of which offer ocean front beaches with great amenities. The town of Nassau offers countless restaurants, quaint shops and lots to do. To get a true taste of paradise, head to Arawak Cay, on West Bay Street in Nassau. Named after the original West Indian inhabitants of the island and known by the locals as “The Fish Fry,” Arawak Cay is home to a variety of authentic Bahamian restaurants. It is a popular place to hang out, especially if you’re in search of delicious island favorites such as fried snapper or conch—be it cracked (battered and deep fried) or scorched (spiced with lime, onions and peppers). Sample some of the local beverages like Kalik or Sands beer, Bahama Mamas or Sky Juice—a delectable combination of gin, coconut milk/water, sweet milk, sugar, ground cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg. And if you’re lucky you may even get to watch some of the major Junkanoo groups like The Valley Boys practicing at Arawak Cay for the Boxing Day and New Year Junkanoo Parades.
The architecture of this old pirate town is amazing. Historic churches decorate the municipality and Government house is worth a visit. The museum has artifacts which date back 500 years and is a great place to spend several hours after the sun has baked your skin a little too much. One thing to keep in mind is that the downtown core of Nassau can be packed with cruise tourists if a couple of ships are docked at the same time. If you are not one of the cruisers then keep an eye on the wharf before you head into town and time your visit accordingly.
Many people prefer a quieter vacation style than Nassau offers and for those the Islands of Abacos are a better alternative. This 120 mile chain of outer islands is situated on the north side of well-known Paradise Island. Treasure Cay, one of the top ten beaches in the world, is located here as are dozens of protected harbours, which offer great spots for dining and sightseeing. Marsh Harbour has a lively downtown area with all city amenities and Elbow Cay and Green Turtle Cay are old English loyalist settlements, where you’ll find beautifully preserved colonial architecture with a touch of Bahamian pastels. Guana Cay is famous for Sunday barbecues atop the island's tall sand dunes, which overlook a magnificent 7-mile–long beach.
In the mid 1700s, about 1500 Loyalists left New York and relocated in Abaco in an effort to escape the imminent Revolution in the U.S. Their culture, together with the existing Spanish influence makes this group of islands rich in history and diverse art, music, and literature. I am not a beach person, as I get bored quickly, but I found the Bahamas enjoyable with enough to see and do even for those of us who can't sit still for more than twenty minutes at a time.
The Caribbean is definitely a fantastic destination for a break from Old Person Winter and the Bahamas is a safe, convenient and interesting locale within the tropical region.
Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit photosNtravel.com