When Christopher Columbus first set foot in the New World, he did so in the Bahamas, although the exact island he landed on is still a matter of debate. (San Salvador is the popular favorite, and a white cross marks the spot where he is supposed to have landed.) He didn’t stay long, however, being intent on finding riches that this group of islands didn’t seem to hold.

Perhaps he was looking for the wrong things. These days, travelers are quite satisfied with the treasures they find in the Bahamas: brilliant turquoise water, gorgeous sandy beaches, excellent fishing and diving, and surroundings that range from quaint colonial villages to lovely secluded coves.

Those making landfall in the islands can choose from several distinct experiences. Visitors looking for the standard resort amenities should head to Nassau on New Providence Island or Freeport and Lucaya on Grand Bahama Island. Splashy Nassau, the biggest city and main port, is awash in pink colonial buildings, bustling street markets, five-star resorts and opulent casinos. In Freeport and Lucaya, the Bahamas’ second-largest port, options range from frolicking with dolphins to perusing duty-free goods in ample shopping complexes.

Those more interested in deserted beaches, sailing and a generally slower pace will want to visit some of the many Out Islands (also known as the Family Islands), most of which are thinly populated or uninhabited, yet which offer all manner of activities plus a chance to experience charming vignettes of Bahamian life.

The Bahamas offer a wide choice of attractions including stunning beaches, historical sites, gambling, nightlife, shopping, restaurants and fabulous hotels, plus superb golf, sailing, fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, sea kayaking and boat excursions.

Visitors who want an island experience in a different country but want to minimize the unfamiliar will probably enjoy the Bahamas. The islands provide a taste of the tropics, but the use of English and the lack of poverty (relative to other countries in the region) will mitigate any culture shock.


The northernmost island of the Bahamas lies in the Atlantic Ocean, about 50 mi/85 km off the southeast Florida coastline—not in the Caribbean, as is popularly thought. The balance of the archipelago, about 700 islands and 2,000 islets called cays (pronounced keys), spreads south and east toward Hispaniola.

With a total landmass of more than 5,000 sq mi/13,000 sq km spread over 100,000 sq mi/260,000 sq km of water, the Bahamas chain is larger by far than any of the Caribbean island groups and occupies an area almost as great as the Caribbean Sea. Besides New Providence and Grand Bahama Island, only about 30 of the other islands are inhabited.

As for topography, don’t expect to see mountains and waterfalls—these islands are very flat. They are also largely dry, lacking any kind of streams or rivers. Because of this, no runoff sediment is deposited into the sea, resulting in the amazingly clear waters that surround the islands, which mostly occupy two shallow marine plateaus separated from each other—and from North America and the Greater Antilles—by deep ocean trenches.


Sandals Emerald Bay
Sandals Royal Bahamian