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Bahamas Vacation: How To Choose An Island

Jul 15, 2008
Thinking about a vacation in the Bahamas but don't know which island to visit? This article will introduce you to each island's unique character and the mysteries and adventures it has to offer.

New Providence Island is home to Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas and by far its largest city. Nassau was first settled in the 1600's and is rich with history, including plenty of genuine pirates. Nassau has some beautiful colonial architecture, and on the outskirts, a strip of high-rise hotels and casinos along Cable Beach. Paradise Island, connected to New Providence by a bridge, is home to the gargantuan Atlantis resort with its shark pools and water slides. New Providence offers golf, tennis, diving, fishing charters, gambling, night life, sight-seeing, and cultural activities.

Half a century ago, Grand Bahama Island, where Freeport is located, was almost uninhabited. Today, its port is one of the largest in the hemisphere, and the city of 50,000 is well known as a resort and cruise-ship destination. The tourism center is Port Lucaya, which features a large marina, high-rise beach resorts, shopping, and dining. Unlike New Providence, the island of Grand Bahama has less populated regions as well, with deserted beaches and tropical pine forests. The Lucayan National Park includes a nature preserve and vast underwater cave system.

The Abacos, the acknowledged sailing capital of the Bahamas, are among the world's most beautiful cruising grounds. Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco is a major boat-charter center as well as a base for diving and deep-sea fishing. The Abacos were settled by Loyalists who fled New England after the Revolutionary War, and the islands are known for their Cape-Cod-style houses with clapboard siding and picket fences. To contrast its quaint villages, Abaco has several major resorts complete with championship golf courses and acres of condominiums.

The Exumas are a chain of over 300 islands and cays. Aside from Great and Little Exuma, which are the two largest, most are uninhabited--and that's half the fun. Like the Abacos, the Exumas are wonderful cruising grounds. The largest settlement is George Town on Great Exuma, a village of 1000 souls with a fine harbor. The Exuma Cays Land and Sea National Park, at the north of the chain, is popular with divers, and even has a few nature trails for landlubbers. Exuma also has several major resorts, including the Four Seasons at Emerald Bay.

Hemingway's famous "Island in the stream", Bimini lies in the Gulf Stream, just 50 miles from the east coast of Florida. Hemingway helped make it famous as a center of deep-sea fishing, and it remains so to this day. Bimini--which is actually two islands and a number of cays--is also a popular cruising ground, and the main settlement, Alice Town, caters to the yachting crowd. Bimini has one major resort, Bimini Bay, but is otherwise still very rustic. Bimini's other claim to fame is Bimini Road, a highway of stone in twenty feet of water that some believe is a remnant of the lost city of Altantis.

With sixty miles of beaches and only a few dozen hotel rooms, Eleuthera is a paradise for beach lovers who enjoy privacy and unspoiled natural beauty. Eleuthera is an island of rolling green hills and sleepy villages. The guidebooks are fond of noting that Eleuthera has not a single traffic light, but that isn't surprising when you consider that most of it has only one road. Needless to say, there is little need for a map, and on an island less than a mile wide for long stretches, you're never far from the beach.

Andros is by far the largest of the Bahamian islands, with an area of 2300 square miles. The interior, said to be the largest still-unexplored landmass in the world, is home to six-foot iguanas and the rare Bahamian boa constrictor. Sasquatch has not been sighted, but only because no one has braved the iguanas and boas to look for him. The east coast of the island, the only populated area, has scattered villages and miles of beautiful beaches. Just offshore is Andros's other great attraction, a vast barrier reef--the second largest in the world.

Long Island is one of the few Bahamian islands which does not depend primarily on tourism. Fishing, and to a lesser extent agriculture, still predominate. The island was settled by American Loyalists from the South, who came with their slaves and established plantations. The soil would not support large-scale farming, however, and the plantations were gradually abandoned. Their ruins can still be seen. Long Island is also home to Dean's Blue Hole, one of the deepest in the world and a spectacular sight with its high cliff walls.

Fifty miles long and with a population of 1600, Cat Island is a place for people who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of, for example, rural North Dakota. Cat has many miles of deserted, pink-sand beaches, and a central ridge that reaches 200 feet, the highest elevation in the Bahamas. A monastery known as the Hermitage, hand-built by an Anglican clergyman turned Catholic priest, is located atop the peak. Aside from heaven itself, a hermit could hardly have found a better place for peace and quiet.

Columbus made his first landfall in the new world on the Bahamian island of San Salvador. There are four monuments to the event scattered about this lonely island of 1000 souls. The interior of San Salvador is taken up largely by salt lakes and marshes, and the only road follows the circumference of the island. San Salvador is almost entirely surrounded by a reef and has some of the best diving in the Bahamas, including cave diving and wreck diving. The beaches are also excellent. The island is home to the Bahamas' only Club Med, a vast resort of 200 rooms, one of the most luxurious in the Club Med chain.
About the Author
Matthew Simon is developing oceanfront condominiums on the island of Eleuthera. His latest book is How to Buy and Sell Real Estate in the Bahamas: Insider's Guide. Matthew may be reached at mattsimonmx@juno.com.
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