While we think of Bermuda as an island, it's actually an archipelago of 138 islands—most of them uninhabited—that lie in the Atlantic Ocean, 600 miles off the coast of North Carolina. The largest island—also called Bermuda, and the one where you're probably heading—is divided into a confusing plethora of parishes as well as easier-to-navigate directional names such as the West End or South Shore. Although it's only 21 square miles, the island of Bermuda feels much larger—in part due to the 22 mph speed limit, which lengthens driving times. The slimness of the island (only two miles at its widest point) also makes for long trips from end to end. The airport is at the eastern tip; most of the resorts are on the southern coast, with Southampton at the western end and Paget in the middle. The main town of Hamilton, where you'll find the cruise port and the greatest concentration of restaurants and bars, is about at the midpoint of the island.
As a British territory, Bermuda has developed a hugely successful financial industry, so standards of living—and prices—are quite high. The country has developed its own distinct style of architecture (ornate, rambling, and pastel), dress (wildly pastel), and firmly fixed traditions (high teas and stiff upper lips), which make it look and feel less like a desert island and more like a firmly established nation.
WHEN TO GO
Unlike the Caribbean, Bermuda is a semitropical island, with the Gulf Stream keeping temperatures moderate (in the 60s and 70s) for much of the year. Because it's so far north in the Atlantic, however, the water is chilly in winter. The summer months, which are high season, are the best time to enjoy those spectacular pink beaches and turquoise waters, with temperatures in the mid-80s. March and April can be rainy.
HOW TO GET THERE
Bermuda's main airport, L. F Wade International Airport, near St. George in the eastern part of the island, has nonstop flights from major east coast and Midwestern cities in the U.S., and from London. Flights are approximately two hours from the east coast and seven hours from London (www.bermudaairport.com).
Another popular way to get to Bermuda is by cruise ship; several cruise lines operate weekly cruises from New York, Boston, Charleston, and Fort Lauderdale, generally spending three days in port. Ships dock either in St. George's, the capital of Hamilton, or in the Royal Naval Dockyard on the island's western end.
Due to the island's small size and few roads, visitors aren't allowed to rent cars. Even residents have restrictions: Only one car is allowed per household. Visitors can rent mopeds or scooters, but use caution—drive on the left side of the road (in the British manner) and watch out for narrow roads as well as slippery conditions after rainfall. For rental agency suggestions, go to www.bermudatourism.com.
If scooters aren't your speed (and they can be tough if you're dressed for a fancy dinner), taxis are the solution. They're plentiful, and the drivers are very helpful (one particularly charming and knowledgeable driver is Leonard Holder (441-505-1826). Be warned, however, that taxi fares are very expensive, even for short distances, and traffic is terrible.
One of the most atmospheric and affordable ways to get around is by Sea Express ferry. There are three routes that run year-round: the pink route, between Hamilton and the parishes of Warwick and Paget; the green route, between Hamilton, Rockaway in Southampton, and Somerset Bridge; and the blue route between Hamilton, the west end, and Dockyard. The orange route runs from May until November, connecting Hamilton, the Dockyard, and St. George's. (441-295-4506; www.seaexpress.bm)
Modern, air conditioned pink and blue buses also run throughout the island; bus stops are designated with small shaded shelters and poles—pink for buses heading to the city of Hamilton, and blue for those heading out of Hamilton. All routes also leave from the Central Bus Terminal on Church Street in Hamilton. The island is divided into 14 zones, with fares determined by number of zones to be traveled (up to three is $3; more than three is $4.50). Fares must be paid with exact change or tokens, available for purchase at the terminal, visitor centers, and many hotels. If you’re going exploring, it makes sense to buy a transportation pass, which is accepted on both buses and ferries (one-day is $12; three-day is $28; four-day is $35; and a week is $45).
In addition, there are minibuses operating within several parishes that have more flexibility than regular buses but don't cost as much as taxis; they're shared rides but will pick you up and drop you off at specific addresses. In the east end, contact St. George's Mini-Bus Service (441-297-8199); in the central part of the island (Pembroke, Paget and Devonshire parishes) contact Suburban Transit Mini-Bus (441-293-1244); in the west end, operating between Dockyard and Horseshoe Bay in Southampton, contact West End Mini-Bus (441-295-5298).
Bermuda Department of Tourism
Tel: 1 800 BERMUDA
There are four Visitor Information Centre locations: In Hamilton at the No.1 Passenger Terminal on Front Street (441-295-1480); at the Royal Naval Dockyard (441-799-4842); at Water Street Plaza in St. George's (441-297-8000); and at the airport (441-299-4857).
NEED TO KNOW
Capital City: Hamilton
Area: 21 square miles
Telephone Calling Code(s): 1
Electricity: 120V, 60 Hz
Currency: As of Nov 22, 2011:
1 Bermuda Dollars = $1.00 US Calculate Other Amounts
U.S. citizens must present a valid or expired passport, a certified U.S. birth certificate and photo identification, a Certificate of Citizenship or Certificate of Naturalization, and a return or onward ticket upon entry. Stays of up to three weeks are granted at immigration. Anyone requiring an extension must apply to the Ministry of National Security.
GOOD TO KNOW
Bermudan cuisine is really just British with a few local techniques and ingredients. Because Bermuda is an island, seafood is the main event, even if it isn't local. Specialties include Bermuda lobster (in season during the off-season), mussel pie, wahoo steak, Hoppin' John (black-eyed peas and rice), and an Anglo-West Indian fusion fish chowder flavored with sherry, peppers, rum, and shark.
The profusion of duty-free shops on this island with no sales tax or VAT provide a grand opportunity to stock up Britain's finest products at bargain pricesfrom Wedgewood china to Scottish tweed. Even if you're not an Anglophile, all the usual duty-free suspects are on offer: Swiss watches, French perfumes, German cameras, and Japanese electronics. Skip the local folk arts and crafts, but make sure to pick up a colorful pair of shorts to wear to your next board meeting. English antiques are plentiful as well, if not exactly cheap. Or buy a bottle of Bermuda's own world-renowned Goslings rum and remember your trip to the pink beaches of paradise with a Dark 'n' Stormy.
Bermuda is not in the Caribbean. In fact, it's about 500 miles due east of North Carolina. Don't be too tempted by the great hotel rates during February; that's when the temperature dips into the 50s.
Bermudan manners may be straight out of Oxford, but the dress code is decidedly more relaxed. The island's eponymous shorts are acceptable attire for nearly all outings. Anytime between April and November, try donning a pair of pink linen shorts, three inches above the knee, and make sure to pull up your socks. Feeling silly yet?
January: 1, New Year's Day
Spring: Friday before Easter, Good Friday; Easter
May: 24, Bermuda Day
June: Second Monday, Queen's Birthday
July: Fourth Thursday, Emancipation Day; day after Emancipation Day, Somer's Day
September: First Monday, Labor Day
October: 13, National Heroes Day
November: 11, Remembrance Day
December: 25, Christmas Day; 26, Boxing Day