Bahamas See And Do
Tel: 242 363 3000
The centerpiece of Paradise Island is the 171-acre fantasy resort known as Atlantis. Here you'll find a 63-slip marina that can handle megayachts, an 18-hole championship golf course, and the largest casino in the Caribbean. Even the 16 dolphins who survived Hurricane Katrina have found a new home here, at 41-acre Dolphin Cay, where they are fed, nursed, and pampered by a team of dedicated specialists. The newest Atlantis attraction is Aquaventure—63 acres of waterscape filled with more than five million gallons of water, in which guests can float along in inner tubes or test their nerves in defiance of MasterBlaster technology that creates water escalators up and 58-foot drops down. Nonguests can buy a day pass (adults, $110; children ages 4–12, $80; under 4, free).
Harbour Island—at the northern tip of the Eleuthera island chain—has a famed pink-sand beach that's three miles or more from end to end and up to 100 feet at its widest point. Its pink hue comes from the foraminifera, microscopic shell animals from the offshore reef. Gaulding Cay Beach on Eleuthera Island may not be ideal for swimmers, but if you want to walk out to sea 150 feet or so through crystal-clear water and still not be in over your waist, this is the place. Morgan's Bluff, on North Andros Island, is where crowds gather every July to watch sailboats taking part in the All Andros Regatta. It's also where the locals congregate every October for the annual Seafood Splash Festival. Pleasant Bay Beach on New Providence Island hosts an annual Independence Festival on Independence Weekend in July, with artists gathering to show off works, such as masks and mini sailboats, all crafted from coconuts. It's hard to imagine when you're in the thick of things at Atlantis on Paradise Island, but walk just a hundred yards or so, and you'll come to an expanse of white sand so gorgeous you have to wonder about the person who first named the island Hog rather than Paradise.
The Bahamas are famed for their diving diversity. The country's coral reefs, blue holes, caves, shipwrecks, and rich marine life are all popular draws for underwater explorers. On Grand Bahama Island, UNEXSO goes beyond the norm with shark dives for scuba enthusiasts. It also awards advance diver certificates. Try the Open Ocean Dolphin Experience, which takes place not in the usual lagoon but a mile offshore in the dolphins' natural habitat (Port Lucaya, Grand Bahama Island; 800-992-3483; www.unexso.com). Valentine's Dive Center will also introduce you to one of the fastest drift dives in the world at Current Cut Dive: up to nine knots, escorted by hammerhead sharks and stingrays (Bay St., Harbour Island; 242-333-2080; www.valentinesdive.com; Closed Sept.–Oct.). On the Abaco islands, Treasure Divers is a good option for some serious exploration, where certified divers can inspect the 200-year-old wreck of a freighter (Treasure Cay Marina, Abaco Island; 242-357-6796; www.treasure-divers.com). Andros Island has one thing the other islands don't have: The world's third-longest reef, with its famed Tongue of the Ocean dive, which gets the adrenaline running among scuba enthusiasts eager to tackle its mysterious blue holes, with the help of local outfitters such as Andros Diving (Andros Beach Club, South Andros Island; 954-681-4818; booking at least a week ahead strongly advised).
Tel: 242 393 1317
This 176-square-mile preserve, most of it underwater, is home to thousands of assorted species of marine life—fish, crustaceans, sponges, you name it. Established in 1958, it was the first marine fishery reserve in the world and is one of the busiest parks in the Bahamas. While scuba diving and snorkeling are popular pastimes here, the real draw is the sheer natural beauty of the park, with its pristine waters and beaches. Most visitors are private yachters who sail by day and make use of the park's mooring balls to bed down in the harbor by night. Accessible by boat only.
Andros covers an area of 2,300 square miles and is the quintessential unspoiled Bahamas, a landscape laced with inlets and bights. Here and there, a faded sign announces a small inn or fishing resort (fishing is big here, naturally). Try Andros Island Bonefish Club (Cargill Creek, Andros Island; 242-368-5167; www.androsbonefishing.com) or Big Bite Guide Services (Mangrove Cay, South Andros Island; 242-369-0798; closed Sun. and the last two weeks in July through the end of September). For the uninitiated, bonefishing requires a small, flat-bottomed boat and a guide who poles the craft along while fishermen try to nab the slippery little bonefish with a fly rod. Specialists based on the Abaco islands include Drexel McIntosh (Coopers Town, Abaco Island; 242-456-6967; closed Aug.–Dec.) and Justin Sands (Marsh Harbour, Abaco Island; 242-367-3526; so popular you might have to book six months ahead!). If you're interested in deep-sea fishing, try Fish Rowe Charters (George Town, Exuma Island; 242-357-0870; www.fishrowecharters.com), while Top Cat Fishing, will take you fishing for wahoo, kingfish, and billfish close to Harbour Island. Any fish you catch will be cleaned so you can take it back to the chef at your hotel (242-333-2323; www.oceanfox.com/topcat.html; closed Sept.–Oct.).
The climax of Bahamian nightlife is, of course, Junkanoo, an ebullient celebration that lasts all night December 26 (Boxing Day, on the Bahamian calendar) and returns on New Year's Day. Expect an exuberant profusion of spangled costumes, clanking cowbells, goatskin drums, and conch shell horns. The loudest and most lavish Junkanoo takes place along Bay Street in Nassau, but you'll find echoes on Grand Bahama, Eleuthera, Abaco, and Bimini islands. Everyone joins in—musicians, dancers, revelers, spectators, locals, visitors, dignitaries, old folks, children. If you can't be around for the real thing, there's a Junkanoo parade during the Heritage Festival in June, and Marina Village on Paradise Island has its own mini-Junkanoos every Friday and Saturday.
With its 100 miles of lee shore, Eleuthera Island offers sailors scores of protected coves and more than 35 miles of untrampled sands, picturesque ports of call, and waterfront bars for mingling with fellow yachties. There are no yacht rentals on Eleuthera, but Duke Water Taxi and Boat Rental rents Boston Whalers (Main dock, Harbour Island; 242-359-7952). The Abaco islands, with a strong tradition of boat building and seafaring, are one of the finest corners of the Bahamas for sailing enthusiasts. (They're also the only place in the Bahamas where people can embark on "bareboat charters," ships without a crew.) The pace of life perks up noticeably twice a year during the islands' top sailing events: Regatta Time in Abaco in July and the All Abaco Regatta in September (both as much about partying as racing). Contact The Moorings Bareboat & Signature Yacht Charters to rent yachts (minimum, three days). It has 28 boats in its fleet, ranging from a Monohull Beneteau to a 4700 catamaran (The Moorings, Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco Island; 800-535-7289; www.go-abacos.com/conchinn/moorings; reserve well in advance).