With its turquoise waters, pillowy sand beaches and laid-back island attitude, everything really does seem better in The Bahamas.
With 16 major islands and 259,000 sq km (100,000 sq miles) of some of the world’s clearest water, there’s no shortage of island adventuring to be had — whether it’s hitting the waves for a snorkeling expedition or unwinding with a frosty rum-laden beverage in hand.
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If you’re a water sports enthusiast, The Bahamas is a great destination for indulging in your passion. Snorkeling and scuba diving adventures await, with deserted islands and intimate coves providing an undisturbed peek at the marine life enjoying the warm, clear waters that surround the islands.
But if you’d prefer to keep your itinerary close to shore, there’s plenty to explore there as well. Need proof? Here’s a list of the top things to do while in The Bahamas.
The Lucayan National Park is one of the largest underwater cave systems in the world © Stephen Frink / Getty Images
1. Dive into a cave at Lucayan National Park
The 16-hectare (40-acre) Lucayan National Park is one of the largest underwater cave systems in the world, two of which are open to the public for swimming and exploration. Located east of Freeport over on Grand Bahama Island, Lucayan is an ecological treasure, playing host to all six of the Bahamas’ vegetation zones.
Detour: Before cooling off in the cave’s waters, walk or ride a horse along one of the park’s paved paths and experience its mangrove swamps, rocky coppice landscape and singular hardwood forest.
2. Pick up souvenirs at the straw market
Sharpen your negotiating skills — and snag a few locally made souvenirs — at Nassau’s frenzied Straw Market, located next to the boutique shops on Bay Street. You’ll find vendors with individual stalls hawking all manner of wares, from straw purses and wood carvings to touristy tees and hats. The Straw Market is open seven days a week from 8am to 8pm.
Local tip: Haggling isn’t only acceptable in this open-air market, it’s encouraged.
3. Tame the water slides at Atlantis Paradise Island
Who says careening down waterslides at breakneck speeds and giddily screaming the whole way through is strictly for kids? The Aquaventure attraction at Atlantis Paradise Island offers 57 hectares (141 acres) of high-speed water slides, winding lazy rivers and 11 swimming pools set amongst the “ruins” of Atlantis. Access to Atlantis is free for overnight guests of the resort, but you can pick up a day pass if you’re staying elsewhere.
4. Get a massage on Cabbage Beach
Atlantis isn’t the only attraction on Paradise Island — walk around to the island’s east side and discover the public entrance to Cabbage Beach, a two-mile stretch of pristine sand framed by swaying palm trees.
If the waters are a bit choppy, seek out one of the beachside huts where you’ll find a masseuse waiting to administer a muscle-melting massage set to the crashing waves of the ocean beyond.
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The Bahamas is home to the most stunning beaches in the Caribbean © Marianna Masey / Getty Images
5. Soak up the sun on pink sand
No, your eyes haven’t been taken over by an Instagram filter — the sand on Pink Sands Beach in Harbour Island is indeed pink. The rosy pink hue is courtesy of microscopic coral insects with bright pink and red shells.
In a slightly grim twist, the waves crush their shells and mix the remains with the sand and coral on shore, creating a soft pink hue. The sand here is almost always cool, making the three-mile stretch of beach perfect for daytime strolls or sunbathing.
6. Sip on a boozy frozen drink at the Daq Shack
If you haven’t guzzled a daiquiri or three, did you really visit The Bahamas? Avoid falling victim to that question and get yourself to the Daiquiri (Daq) Shack, an open-air wooden hut known for its boozy blended concoctions using fresh tropical fruits and healthy pours of rum.
The island has many pretenders to the throne, but the original is located on Cable Beach. Look for the one with all of the visitor photos and business cards stapled to the walls — and then, after tipping your bartender, add one of your own.
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7. Dine at the historic Graycliff Hotel
A former pirate hangout and playground for the rich and (in)famous, the luxuriously ornate grounds of the Graycliff Hotel have courted all manner of interesting characters for nearly 300 years.
While best known for its cigars, the mansion also houses one of the world’s largest wine cellars and, yes, a five-star restaurant. Think: high-end takes on traditional Bahamian cuisine.
Planning tip: Make sure to call ahead for reservations — the restaurant tends to be fully booked weeks in advance.
No trip to The Bahamas is complete without sampling conch © Getty Images/Moment Open
8. Order up some conch at the Fish Fry
After you’ve checked the daiquiri off your Bahamas bingo card, your next stop is conch. Fried or fresh, the most popular spot to grab the island’s unofficial dish is the Fish Fry in Nassau. The collection of wooden shacks houses individual vendors hawking fried and fresh conch along with Bahamian staples like plantains and rice.
The Fish Fry is open seven days a week, but it’s Friday and Saturday nights that invite a party-like atmosphere fueled by rum-spiked drinks and music.
9. Watch a cricket match with a cold beer
The Cricket Club is where British ex-pats get their fill of Premier League Football, pints of beer and plates of Yorkshire pudding (along with legit bangers and mash). Post up at one of the tables on the upper-level balcony and watch a cricket match on the pitch below. The balmy Caribbean breezes and ice-cold beer are just the things to take the edge off a sizzling tropical day.
10. Sample some rum at John Watling’s Distillery
What’s a visit to a Caribbean island without a bit of rum? John Watling’s Distillery has been producing the sugar cane molasses-based liquor since 2003. The distillery uses coconuts to filter their juice, which might seem tropically gimmicky at the outset, but actually does the job.
Situated on the lush two-acre Buena Vista Estate, the distillery is open seven days a week for tours and tastings — don’t forget to pick up a half gallon of one of their estate cocktails to go.
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11. Try your luck at the Baha Mar Casino
While The Bahamas has plenty of natural beauty to keep you entertained, the island archipelago also has a decidedly glitzy side, and it’s on full display at the Baha Mar complex in Nassau.
Comprising the SLS, Grand Hyatt, and Rosewood resorts, the Baha Mar Casino ties all the properties together and can add “largest casino in the Caribbean” to its resume. Join the well-heeled crowd with a good-luck cocktail before hitting up one of the 119 live table games, 1000 slot machines or placing a bet on a televised live sports game.
12. Dive into a grotto like 007
Thunderball Grotto is an underwater cave system best known for its star turn in a James Bond movie. Located just west of Staniel Cay, the craggy aquamarine pool is perfect for a day of diving, swimming and snorkeling while channeling your inner international spy — even if for just a few minutes.
The Bahamas has a number of sandy coves with warm waters ready to be explored via snorkeling © Stephen Frink / Getty Images
13. Enjoy a day of snorkeling at Sandy Toes
Only a short 30-minute boat ride from Nassau, Rose Island is home to Sandy Toes, the quintessential Bahamian beach bar. Located on the shores of a secluded tropical island, you can opt to spend the day snorkeling in the surrounding crystal clear waters or romping around with the island’s nine resident pigs (if that’s something that interests you).
Afterward, grab a frozen daiquiri from the bar and kick back in one of the island’s rope hammocks.
14. Snorkel around the barrier reef on Andros
Time to put your mask and fins to good use — the barrier reef on Andros Island is the third-largest on the planet and offers a one-of-kind peek at the colorful array of marine life that inhabits the Caribbean waters. Known as “the Big Yard,” Andros is largely unpopulated, allowing much of the natural Bahamian terrain to remain wild and undisturbed.
But it’s the 190-mile barrier reef that steals the show, with its submerged shipwrecks, underwater blue holes, and schools of parrotfish, speckled scorpionfish, and blue tangs.