Twenty Things to Know About Traveling to the Bahamas1

Traveling to the Bahamas: Twenty Things to Know Before You Go

written by Julie Cohn

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The Bahamas, one of the most beautiful island destinations in the Atlantic, should be at the top of your travel bucket list this year, for good reason.  Sugar white and salmon pink sand beaches, turquoise blue waters, gracious island hospitality, and temperate tropical climate make the Bahamas an incredible year-round paradise.   The Bahamas is not just some pretty beaches though, there are so many things to do there, so be sure to check out these Traveling to the Bahamas: Twenty Things to Know Before You Go to get the most out of your visit!  

“But what about that hurricane?” you ask?  I’m glad you asked.  Yes, the Bahamas took a beating from Hurricane Dorian, particularly in the north.  Many areas were affected and the damage was extensive, but other areas of the Bahamas were not affected and are ready to welcome travelers with that same wonderful hospitality they have always shown visitors.  Are you ready to help? One of the best ways to help Bahamians recover is to spend your travel dollars at their gorgeous resorts, restaurants, and activities.  If the Bahamas have not been on your radar in the past, it is time to change that!  

(All photos are compliments of the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board. This post may contain affiliate links.) 

 

Traveling to the Bahamas

 

1. Where are the Bahamas located? 

The Bahamas are located in the West Indies, part of the Lucayan Archipelago, about 181 miles southeast of Miami, Florida, north of Cuba, in the Atlantic Ocean.   The Bahamas is a commonwealth nation consisting of over 700 islands, islets, and cays and is technically not part of the Caribbean, lying north of other Caribbean islands. 

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Photo courtesy of the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board

 

2. What are the Bahamas known for?  

In addition to its wonderful weather, the Bahamas are known for its breathtaking views, pristine white and pink sand beaches, crystal clear shallow waters, the third-largest natural barrier reef with abundant sea life,  cave diving, warm hospitality, luxury resorts, and golfing.   The islands are also known for its luxurious resorts and amenities for travelers. 

3. What language do residents speak in the Bahamas?

Residents of the Bahamas speak English, with a lightly melodic local dialect.  They are polite but direct with discussions, often incorporating humor into conversations.  Be polite and have a sense a humor and you will get along just fine.

4. What do I need to know to stay healthy when I travel to the Bahamas?

The CDC recommends travelers visiting the Bahamas get the following vaccinations: Hepatitis A & B, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, Rabies, Meningitis, Polio, Measles, Mumps & Rubella, TdaP, Chicken Pox, Shingles, Pneumonia, and Influenza.   Zika and Dengue Fever are a risk in tropical climates, so be sure to use a mosquito repellent.  It is advised that women who are pregnant avoid the area because of the risk.  If you purchase fruit or vegetables from a farm stand, make sure to wash thoroughly and peel the skin off the produce.  The drinking water is generally considered safe and most major resorts and hotels use a filtration system, but if in doubt, use bottled water.    

5. Do I need a passport to travel to the Bahamas?  

You do need a valid US passport to travel to the Bahamas, with at least six months remaining before it expires.  You will also need to show proof of a return ticket to the United States.  

6. How do I get to the Bahamas and where do I stay? 

Travelers can visit the Bahamas by air, cruise ship, or boat.  Connection flights from the US are inexpensive and plentiful, with service on United, American, Delta, Jet Blue, Southwest Air, and BahamasAir.  Service by cruise ship is available on Disney, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Carnival, MSC, and Bahamas Paradise cruise lines.  Many people enjoy sailing to the Bahamas from the east coast, with several available ports to dock.  Since you arrive, the Bahamas has beautiful lodging, from boutique hotels to sprawling luxury resorts.  Some of the more popular places to stay are The Cove in Eleuthera, Sandals Royal Bahamian, The Royal or The Reef at Atlantis – Paradise Island, The Ocean Club, and Rosewood Baha Mar.  

Twenty Things to Before About Traveling to the Bahamas4

Photo courtesy of the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board

 

7. What is the weather like in the Bahamas?  

Temperatures range between 70 – 90 degrees all-year, but the best time of year to visit is December – April when there is less humidity.   Hurricane season runs from June – November but a hurricane making landfall in the Bahamas is rare.  To be on the safe side, make certain you purchase travel insurance when making reservations to travel to the Bahamas. 

8. Are the Bahamas family-friendly?  

The Bahamas are very family-friendly, with activities the whole family will enjoy and is a favorite for multi-generational travelers. Resorts such as The Atlantis and The Ocean Club offer children’s activities and clubs, water sports and slides, movie theaters, and family-friendly dining.  The shallow waters around the islands make swimming in the Atlantic safe for little ones (with supervision), and there are lifeguards at all major beaches and pools.  Activities such as snorkeling and swimming with the pigs are fun activities older children can enjoy, and other family-friendly activities include Dolphin Cay, the Pirates of Nassau Museum, Ardastria Garden & Zoo, and the Beach Sanctuary.  

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Photo courtesy of the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board

 

9. What is the currency in the Bahamas? 

The Bahamas dollar is equal to the US Dollar so you do not need to exchange currency in the airport, but be sure to use a credit card with no international transaction fees to be on the safe side.  Make sure you bring some cash when you are out and about in the Bahamas in case you need a taxi.   

10. How do I tip while in the Bahamas?  

A 15% gratuity is automatically added to most restaurant bills but you can always add a bit more if the service was outstanding.  

11. Is it safe in the Bahamas? 

The Bahamas are a safe destination for travelers.  Freeport experiences a higher rate of crime, but the US State Department has the Bahamas listed as a level 2 advisory, the second-lowest advisory.  For comparison, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Turks & Caicos also have Level 2 advisories.   The state department advises travelers to stay out of the “over the hill” areas of Freeport, especially after dark.  The safest islands to travel in the Bahamas include Bimini, The Abacos, Eleuthera, The Exumas, and several others.  As a US traveler, you should enroll in the US State Department Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) before departing the United States.  Use an RFID-blocking wallet and cross-body bag (ladies) to avoid credit card theft.  

12. Do I need a special electrical adapter while in the Bahamas? 

You do not need a special adapter when traveling to the Bahamas, your electrical appliances will work as they do in the United States with a 110/220 v. outlet.  

13. Will I like the food in the Bahamas?  

The food in the Bahamas is fresh, flavorful, and deliciously unique.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant, as are seafood.  The national dish of the Bahamas is conch,  a seafood mollusk.  Usually prepared with lime and a variety of spices, conch is also used in chowders, salads, and deep-fried.  Chicken, goat, and pork are other meat entrees.  Fresh fruit, such as papaya, pineapple, and mangoes are eaten fresh or in desserts.  Many dishes include cuisine familiar to the Southern US, including macaroni and cheese, grits, and coleslaw.  Rub based cocktails are popular, as are fresh fruit juices.  

Twenty Things to Know Before Traveling to the Bahamas2

Photo courtesy of the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board

 

14. What activities are there to do in the Bahamas?  

The Bahamas has something for everyone.  For outdoor lovers, the Bahamas has beautiful beaches for swimming, sandcastles, and sunbathing.  Water sports include diving, cave diving, snorkeling, boating, and fishing.  Golfing, tennis, and horseback riding are popular land sports for visitors, as well as bicycling.  The Bahamas is a favorite honeymoon destination but offers plenty of romance to go around, including LGBT friendly.  If history or art is your thing, visit the Junkanoo Museum, a museum showcasing the tradition and colorful costumes of Junkanoo, a large street festival that takes place on Boxing Day (December 26th) each year.  The Bahamas Historical Society features the history and culture of the islands, including the Lucayans, colonization of the Spanish (including Christopher Columbus), and Great Britain.

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Photo courtesy of the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board

 

15. Can I drive in the Bahamas?  

You are allowed to drive in the Bahamas using a valid US driver’s license, but must be older than 17 to drive.  Just as in Great Britain, vehicles drive on the left side of the road, but the steering wheel of a rental car could be on the left or the right side, depending on the make and model of the car.  Some roads are not well-maintained, especially in the more rural areas, so if you are not familiar with driving on the left side of the road, leave the driving to a taxi or car hire company.  When using a taxi or car hire service, be sure you know the price of transport before you get into the vehicle.  Children five and under must have proper car seats to sit in a moving vehicle.  

16. Can I purchase goods to bring back to the United States?  

There is no sales tax in the Bahamas, making this a popular destination to shop.  Marina Village, The Shops at Bal Mar, and the famous Nassau Straw Market are popular places to shop. Popular items to purchase in the Bahamas include shell jewelry, rum, batiks, cigars, and guava jelly.  Remember to keep receipts for all items purchased on your trip, as you will be required to claim all purchases at customs when you return to the United States.  Also, keep all purchases easily accessible in your luggage so customs officials can inspect them, but do not pack valuables, carry them on the plane with you.  The following are customs regulations for goods entering the United States: 

  • Up to one liter of alcohol (if you are 21 or older), including perfume containing alcohol.
  • Up to 200 cigarettes or 100 non-Cuban cigars. 
  • All original works of art, including paintings, sculptures, and antiques must have a valid bill of sale, as antiques older than 100 years of age must receive special permission to leave the country. 
  • If you stay in the Bahamas for less than 48 hours, you can only bring in 150 ml of alcohol, 50 cigarettes, or 10 non-Cuban cigars.  
Twenty Things to Know Before Traveling to the Bahamas8

Photo courtesy of the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board

 

17. What cultural differences do I need to know? 

Bahamians are outgoing and friendly but also polite and reserved in dress and speech, so cover-up the swimwear unless you are at the beach and pool and watch your language while in public areas.  When greeting someone new, a smile and a handshake are acceptable.  Use proper names, not first names, unless advised otherwise.  

18. Can you really swim with pigs in the Bahamas? 

Yes, there are wild pigs that inhabit Big Major Cay, one of the islands in the Exumas and you can swim with them by booking a tour or renting a day-long charter.  Some tour companies offer full-day tours where you can also swim with nurse sharks in the shallow waters, as well as snorkel in Thunderball Grotto, where James Bond was filmed.  Be sure to follow the rules of your tour guide while swimming with the pigs, including feeding them approved natural food.  The pigs are used to being fed, so be careful that cell phones, cameras, or even fingers do not get in their mouths.  

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Photo courtesy of the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board

 

19. What unique things should I know about the Bahamas? 

  • There are over 700 islands in the archipelago that encompasses the nation of the Bahamas, but only about 30 are inhabited. 
  • The Bahamas was the first place Christopher Columbus landed in the new world.  
  • The world’s deepest blue hole is in the Bahamas, Dean’s Blue Hole is located west of Clarence Town on Long Island.  It is approximately 663 feet deep and has clear visibility up to 98 feet, making it a great place for beginner snorkeling and diving.  
  • The pink sand beaches of Harbour Island are pink because of a microscopic marine animal called the Foraminifera, which has a pink or red exoskeleton.  
  • The pink flamingo is the national bird, the Blue Marlin is the national fish, and the Yellow Elder is the national flower.  The sweet-smelling yellow elder attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.  
  • Nassau was a popular destination for pirates in the 18th century and there was even a “Republic of Pirates” that considered Nassau as its home base for eleven years. Famous pirates who were part of the Republic included Edward Teach (Blackbeard), Thomas Barrow, Benjamin Horngold, Calico Jack Rackham, Ann Bonney, and Mary Read.   And they really did have a pirates code of conduct! 
  • The world’s largest underground cave system can be found in Lucayan National Park.  
  • The Bahamas has the third-longest barrier reef in the world, making it an incredible place to snorkel or dive and see sea life.  
Traveling to the Bahamas2

Photo courtesy of the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board

 

20. How can I help the Bahamas recover from the hurricane?  

You can visit the islands and see its beauty firsthand.  Traveling to the Bahamas is easy, airfares are inexpensive right now, as are hotel and cruise ship packages.  If you already have a trip planned, don’t cancel it unless you hear to do so from your travel agent or tour operator. 

You can also donate to the following approved organizations:  Salvation Army, Project Hope, Team Rubicon (veteran disaster response), World Central Kitchen, Mercy Corp, Yacht Aid Global, and Samaritan’s Purse.  

 

(This is an unpaid campaign with the Nassau & Bahamas Tourism Board) 

Traveling to the Bahamas

Photos courtesy of the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board

 

For more information about the Bahamas, please visit these articles:

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