Bahamas, unspoiled Caribbean paradise

Grand Bahama © T. Joly
A mosaic of islands rising out of the crystal waters of the Caribbean Sea, the Bahamas are a safe, sunny and thoroughly rewarding destination. The country offers a wide choice of water activities and boasts an intriguing historical heritage as well as numerous national parks.

[ Practical ]

Getting there
- American Airlines has daily flights to Nassau and Freeport via Miami.
- Delta Airlines serves daily Nassau via Atlanta.
- British Airways operates five flights a week to Nassau via London.
- Charter flights to the Club Med on San Salvador island.
- Passport valid 6 months after return date of return.
-Travellers flying via Miami or Atlanta must hold a passport conform to American requirements and may need a visa.
Time difference
- 5 h in winter, – 6 h in summer.
Bahamas boasts a wide choice of 3* to 5* hotels. Large hotels are mainly located in Nassau and Grand Bahama. The other islands have small charming hotels and eco lodges.
Getting around
- Several airlines operate flights between the islands. It is sometimes necessary to transit via Nassau to get from one to another.
- There are a few ferry lines departing from Nassau.
Good to know
- English is the official language.
- The Bahamian dollar has the same value than the US dollar. Both currencies are accepted everywhere.
- The electrical service is normally 120 V with American style plugs.
Travel companies
Club Med, Empreinte, Jetset, Jet Tours, Kuoni, Maison des Etats-Unis, Thomas Cook, Vacances Fabuleuses.
- Prices vary greatly depending on the season and the hotel category.
- Allow from €1400 to €2800 € for an all-inclusive 9 days / 7 nights stay in Grand Bahama or Nassau.
- Allow from €1900 to €4000 € for a 9 days / 7 nights stay in charming hotel including flights and accommodation.
Scuba diving travel companies
Aquarev, Key Largo, Ultramarina.
- 9 days / 7 nights full board diving cruises including flights cost from €1800 to €3000.
- 9 days / 7 nights diving stays including flights, accommodation and dives range from €1600 to €3000 depending on the hotel category.
- Bahamas Tourist Office
113 – 115 rue du Cherche Midi, 75006 Paris
Tel : 0145266262
The Bahamas is an archipelago of 700 islands scattered between Florida and Cuba that promises a myriad of delights for holidaymakers in search of tropical beach destinations: seas with turquoise blue or emerald green waters, white sand beaches lined with coconut palms, one of the world’s largest and most beautiful coral reefs and pleasant temperatures all year round. However, during some winters, the temperatures can dip to around 13°C in the most northerly islands, such as Grand Bahama, which is only 90km from Miami.

Nassau © T.Joly
 Pirates den
This never happens in Nassau, the capital that covers a large part of New Providence Island. Once an infamous pirates den, a taste of which you can enjoy at a fun museum, the town was then fought over by the Spanish and the English. The old forts that still overlook the bay bear testimony to this struggle. But the town holds still darker secrets in its past. About 80% of the archipelago’s population is of African descent and the excellent Pompey Museum traces the history of slavery through artefacts and bilingual English-French information boards. It is housed in 18th century buildings where slaves were once traded. The English ruled the country until independence in 1973 and their traces are everywhere in the architectural heritage: Victorian-style government buildings, a grey stone cathedral and the Governor’s Palace, a pink and white Roman-classical mansion where a very British changing of the guard is held every second Saturday.

Nassau © T.Joly
 Colonial buildings
You should also take a visit to the Graycliff hotel, originally built by a famous pirate. Nowadays it is a charming hotel where Paul Newman is a regular guest. The owner produces excellent cigars and has a cellar with more than 200,000 bottles including a 1727 sweet German white wine worth $25,000!
These colonial buildings stand alongside colourful Caribbean wooden houses, the finest of which is the 18th century Balcony House. With all this to see, it is nice to walk around the relatively small city centre where life carries on regardless except when cruise liners dock in the harbour. What follows is an invasion of hundreds of tourists into the duty free shops hidden behind the facades of the wooden houses on both sides of the main street. This is a good time to head to the fish market where many small restaurants set up in multicoloured wooden booths serve tasty local dishes with reggae music filling the air. Be sure to try out the conch salad.

Nassau, Atlantis © T.Joly
 Giant aquarium
This typical Caribbean atmosphere is in striking contrast with Paradise Island, the small island located a few hundred meters away out to sea. Now a residential area largely devoted to tourism, it boasts a beautiful beach and the towering Atlantis hotel, a giant American-style complex and a top tourist attraction. Inspired by the lost continent Atlantis, it features no less than 2,000 rooms divided between four hotels of different categories, 35 restaurants, an artificial tropical lagoon with a beach, marina, movie theatre, several swimming pools, a casino with 1,200 slot machines and 93 table games, as well as a huge open air aquarium with thousands of fish, including manta rays and sharks. A place well worth visiting even if the resort is not your cup of tea. Another incongruous sight is the 14th century Romanesque cloister taken from a French monastery and rebuilt in the middle of modern residences.

Port Lucaya © T.Joly
 James Bond and Bob Marley
It stands nearby the very select One & Only Ocean Club hotel where James Bond stayed in Casino Royale. Celebrity enthusiasts can also spend a few days in Bob Marley’s former summer home which has been transformed into a charming luxury hotel by his family. It is situated on the other side of Nassau, on Cable Beach.
Freeport, on Grand Bahama Island, is the archipelago’s second big tourist centre. Here too, you will find a modern tourist complex. Port Lucaya is made up of hotels, bars, restaurants and brightly-coloured shops surrounding a marina. Beyond the town’s limits however, nature quickly takes hold again and three national parks protect the island’s various habitats. Inland, there are mountain biking and 4x4 tours through scrubland and pine forest where you can spot native orchids along the way.

Grand Bahama © T.Joly
 Mangrove swamp tour
On the coast, nearly 4 km long kayak tours are offered in the semi-terrestrial, semi-aquatic environment of the mangrove swamp. Take this silent stroll through the wilderness and finish up at a vast beach where a number of scenes from the Pirates of the Caribbean were shot. It is also worth visiting the fishing villages located on the island’s western extremity for a taste of the local life.
If you want to get even more off the beaten track or simply enjoy the warm climate in a peaceful place, there is plenty on offer. There are very few large hotels on the other islands and each one has its own particular charm. Eleuthera is famous for its pink sandy beaches and its pineapple plantations, while its tiny neighbour Harbour Island is home to a few nice hotels and the Bahamas’ former capital, Dunmore Town.

Bahamas © T.Joly
 Wide range of water activities
San Salvador is the first island of the New World where Christopher Columbus made landfall. Inagua boasts salt quarries and a national park with 60,000 nesting pink flamingos. Long Island has a coastline boasting a string of desert-island beaches, coves and cliffs. Cat Island is the birthplace of actor Sydney Poitier and is lined with wild beaches and covered with forests and hills including the country’s highest summit, the 63m high Mount Alvernia….
All these islands have one thing in common: a wide range of water sports on offer. Snorkelling, scuba-diving, sailing trips, big fish angling and fly-fishing for bonefish - a tough and elusive fish living in the archipelago’s shallow waters, in particular around Andros Island. All in all, a gorgeous marine environment, 20% of which is protected by national parks.

February 17, 2015
Thierry Joly 

[ A haven for divers ]

The Bahamas’ undersea world is one of the world’s most beautiful. Tropical fish and hard and soft corals create a colourful symphony you can enjoy easily by snorkelling. However, scuba-diving promises even greater marine marvels with over 1,000 diving sites to discover. Breathtaking drop-offs, wrecks, including those sunk for James Bond movies such as the Vulcan bomber plane from Thunderball, deep-sea fish and the mythical blue holes. Particularly numerous around Andros Island are the vertical cavities up to 30m in diameter which plunge down up to 200m to the ocean floor, sometimes linked to water-filled caves - a must for experienced divers. The Bahamas is also one of the world’s best places to see sharks and get close to them. In several places, you can see up to fifteen 1.5-2m long sharks swimming around you while you sit quietly on the sandy sea floor. A guaranteed thrill even if there is no risk at all as they are harmless reef sharks. Equally enthralling, especially for children, are the diving centres located in Nassau and Freeport that allow you to play, swim and dive with dolphins. The first two activities take place in large pools where the dolphins live and the third in the open sea.