Bahamas Travel Guide – Top 10 Vacation Highlights

Lying off the coast of Florida, the sandy archipelago of the Bahamas is filled with treasures and pleasures galore that are sure to please the tropical traveler. Clear, warm, turquoise waters, colorful coral gardens, underwater caverns, powdery white sands, palm trees and rich Bahamian culture make the Bahamas one of the favored Caribbean destinations in the world.
Bahamas Travel Guide
Table of Contents

Most visitors to the Bahamas are drawn to the gorgeous beaches, and Cabbage Beach on Paradise Island does not disappoint with its broad white sands, bordered by palms, casuarinas and sea palms. The Bahamas is also the best place for water sports and at Cabbage Beach, visitors can get into some jet skiing, wakeboarding, surfing, windsurfing and more.

At the Lucayan National Park, you can take a trip inside the world’s longest underwater cave system, where a bounty of ancient Arawak treasures awaits your discovery. Snorkelers will enjoy catching a glimpse of the kaleidoscope of colorful marine life that glide and flitter over the offshore coral reef.

But there’s even more natural beauty to the Bahamas than its spectacular beaches. At the Garden of the Groves you will uncover the amazing nature and wildlife of the Bahamas in an idyllic botanical garden full of lush plants, indigenous animals and a great many photo opportunities. Within the Garden of the Groves lie the diverse and fascinating ecosystems that make up the Bahamas islands.

Explore the history and culture of the Bahamas during the colorful Junkanoo carnival party. If you don’t make it to the Bahamas in time for the festival itself, you can still sample the fun by visiting the Junkanoo Expo museum where you can browse intricate costumes, decorated masks and musical instruments.

The Bahamas offers sumptuous dining options to suit all tastes and Arawak Cay is just the place to go for the more traditional island fare. In this area, you will find bars, night clubs, and restaurants – and of course possibly the best seafood in the Bahamas.

Art lovers should not feel left out in the Bahamas as they can indulge in an abundance of eye candy at the National Gallery of The Bahamas. Housed inside a stunning mid-19th century colonial mansion, with double-tiered verandas and elegant columns, the National Gallery of The Bahamas is a great showcase of Bahamian art.

If you love to shop, you will love the Bahamian markets which are filled with items showcasing the fascinating culture and heritage of the islands. At Straw Market, you can chose from a selection of wonderful handmade straw items, while Port Lucaya Marketplace, complete with strolling musicians and steel-drum bands to keep things lively, is just the place to be for after-shopping fun.

A vacation to the Bahamas should be on everyone’s to do list, not only for its spectacular beaches, but also for the unequaled Bahamian charm and atmosphere. You are guaranteed such an enchanting time in this island paradise that you’ll probably forever want to stay.

1. Junkanoo Expo Museum

Between December 26 and January 1 each year, the streets of Nassau erupt in splashes of color, lively music and festive masks. This is the time for Junkanoo, the festival of the Bahamas, which conjures up images of the vibrant colors and high energy of Mardi Gras and the rhythmic sounds of Brazil’s Carnival.

Junkanoo is a uniquely Bahamian celebration of the culture and traditions of the islands, which culminates in a grand, colorful and lively parade through the streets of Nassau on New Year’s Day. While the origin of the word “Junkanoo” remains a mystery, the festival traces its beginnings back to the West African roots of the Bahamians.

The Junkanoo street parade is a kaleidoscope of spectacle and sound, with revelers dressed in colorful crepe paper costumes, parading through the streets to the sounds of cowbells, horns, whistles, goat skin drums and other homemade instruments. The colorful parade is a showcase of impressively decorated floats decked out with Bahamians in interesting costumes.

The festival was originally created during the 16th and 17th centuries to celebrate the temporary freedom that enslaved Africans were granted in the 3 days following Christmas. At this time when the Africans were allowed to leave the plantation and be with their families to celebrate Christmas and New Year holidays, they would take to the streets in celebration wearing costumes, playing music and dancing.

The Junkanoo tradition almost disappeared following the abolition of slavery, although it was kept alive by a few Bahamians. Following emancipation, the tradition evolved into a more formal, organized parade with theme music, sophisticated costumes and incentive prizes. The modern-day festival is a symbol of freedom for all the citizens of the Bahamas.

Today, the festival is an integral part of the cultural traditions and holiday celebrations of the nation of the Bahamas, which draws the community together for an amazing pre-dawn procession down Bay Street in Nassau.
However, Junkanoo parades are not only restricted to Nassau, but are also held on other Bahamas islands. In fact, all the islands flare up in bright colors and high energy dancing to celebrate the festival, which is deeply embedded in Bahamian art and culture. The largest Junkanoo street parade takes place in New Providence, the capital of the Bahamas.

If you are visiting during this time, be sure to attend the festival, which is one of the most fun and exciting activities to engage in while in the Bahamas. However, if you are unable to make it for Junkanoo, fear not as you can still sample its magic through a visit to the Junkanoo Expo Museum.

Situated inside an old customs warehouse at Prince George Wharf in Nassau, the Junkanoo Expo Museum houses a rich collection of intricate costume pieces, elaborate masks, ornately-detailed parade floats and a host of other memorabilia detailing the long history of Junkanoo. There are many colorful and large artistic creations, as well as a souvenir boutique that sells unique crafts and paintings.

The Expo museum is a treasure trove of exhibits featuring elaborate festive costumes, all handmade and worn by revelers during past parades. The majority are made out of crepe paper, which makes them much more fragile than those made out of cloth. Some costumes are huge, almost as big as the float but nevertheless light enough to be worn by a single individual.

Visitors can wander through the small museum and view the numerous colorful costumes. During your exploration, you may ask questions about specific costumes that catch your eye. The museum is an ideal place to experience Bahamian culture and visitors can also learn a Junkanoo dance while here.

The museum is actually a house that was re-purposed to showcase the many colorful costumes and hats of the Junkanoo; so don’t be surprised if you bump into the owner during your tour. The goal of the museum is to give visitors a taste of the popular Junkanoo celebration at any time of the year.

2. Pompey Museum of Slavery & Emancipation

Situated on Bay Street in Nassau, close to the Straw Market, the Pompey Museum of Slavery and Emancipation is a museum dedicated to the study of slavery. The museum is named after Pompey, a courageous enslaved man who lived at Steventon, and who is famous for raising a revolt against the unfair conditions on the Rolle Plantation on Exuma Island.

The building in which Pompey Museum is housed was formerly known as “Vendue House” – vendue being French for “sold”. The two-storey building served as the Bahamian site for auctions of enslaved people in the 18th century. Vendue House was in fact a marketplace or “bourse” until the late 1800s, during which time human beings were among the commodities traded there.

Vendue House is believed to have been built in the 1760s and originally featured a single storey arcaded building distinguishable by its set of two Corinthian columns at the front and the traditional pink colonial color of its walls. At the beginning of the 20th century, the building housed the telephone and telegraph department, and then later on the electricity department.

Vendue House was transformed into the Pompey public museum in 1992 and has over the years housed various renowned exhibitions, including A Slave Ship Speaks: The Wreck of Henrietta Marie, as well as the UNESCO/ Schomburg commemorative exhibition titled Lest We Forget: The Triumph Over Slavery.

The latter exhibition features displays of shackles, slave branding iron and slave house furniture to add to the already intimidating visuals housed in the museum. The bulk of this particular exhibit comprises posters that tell the story of Africans enslaved in the Americas.

Without downplaying the horror of the slave trade, the exhibition’s primary focus is the triumphs of a people who “were active, creative agents in the making of their own history, culture, and political future.” For instance, there’s the story of William Henry Lane, also known as “Master Juba” who is credited as the originator of tap dancing based on complex African drum rhythms, in the mid 1850s.

To fully appreciate the art, cuisine and culture of the Caribbean and the Americas, it’s important to understand how enslaved Africans and their descendants transformed and shaped the “New World”. This exhibit is therefore well worth a visit to the museum if you happen to travel to the Bahamas.

The museum also features a permanent exhibit dedicated to the African experience in the Bahamas, where you can view artifacts excavated from former plantations. The Road to Freedom exhibit interprets the course of slavery, abolition and emancipation on the islands through various historical documents and artifacts. The museum has also acquired fascinating objects of African origin.

This very interesting museum has a good collection of photos, articles and reproductions that document the history of slavery in the Bahamas from the 17th and 18th century. There are also letters documenting the slave trade, daily slave conditions, the abolition movement, the Emancipation Act of 1 August, 1834, as well as the post emancipation period in the Bahamas.

Pompey museum is very informative and its exhibits and articles have been presented in a manner that is well organized and clear. There are no guides at the museum so visitors can examine the exhibits at their own leisure. In this way, you get to set your own pace without feeling rushed through your discovery.

3. Port Lucaya Marketplace

Regarded as the commercial hub of Grand Bahama, Port Lucaya Marketplace is home to over 80 boutiques, bars, and restaurants that transform your dining, shopping and entertainment possibilities into a wonderful experience. The bustling waterfront marketplace is full of colorfully painted huts that house vendors selling all kinds of treasures, from Bahamian handbags and baskets to oil paintings.

Set along the lovely waterfront of Bell Channel Bay, the multi faceted complex features specialty stores, lounges, straw vendors and Bahamian craft artisans who can personalize the designs of handicrafts to suit your personal taste. Visitors can shop, eat or interact with locals in this quaint area of the Bahamas.

Jewelry is one of the most popular purchases at this shopper’s paradise. You can also buy some handmade straw items in many of the 12 island-style buildings that comprise the shopping complex. Don’t be shy about bargaining on the prices of the items at the booths as this could enable you to get a better deal.

Take a break from shopping and rest your feet at a wonderful waterfront café. Have some lunch at one of the 30-plus restaurants along the strip which bounces to a lively beat with its blend of local flavors and international favorites such as tropical smoothies.

Port Lucaya Marketplace is centered on Count Basie Square where you will always find nighttime entertainment opportunities. There is always lively music from steel drums, art shows, holiday fireworks, and the happy sounds of brightly costumed Junkanoo dancing groups, pulsing to the beat of cowbells, horns and goatskin drums.

Sit a while to listen to live bands play under the gazebo. If you stick around at sunset, you will enjoy the karaoke nights on Tuesdays or the down home fish fry on Saturdays.

Because the location of Port Lucaya is close to the marina, visitors also have access to water sports such as snorkeling. You can also easily charter a glass bottom boat for a sports fishing trip, book a sunset cruise or simply cross the street and take a walk on the amazing 1.5 mile beach.

Port Lucaya Marketplace is arguably the place to see and be seen in the Bahamas and the Bahamian climate makes the market a wonderful spot to be in. It brings together the very best of Grand Bahama shopping, dining and entertainment at one wonderful waterfront location.

4. Straw Market

Nassau is undoubtedly the cultural hub of the beautiful Bahamian islands and its famous Straw Market is the ultimate spot to shop for souvenirs in the Bahamas. Located on Bay Street along the northern coast, the Straw Market is the largest in the Bahamas and one of the largest in the world.

Since inception, the Straw Market has had on offer an eclectic range of crafts and gift items made primarily out of straw. Straw working is one of the traditional crafts of the Bahamians whose skills involve weaving, plaiting and braiding. The craft traces its origin to items created for a lifestyle of subsistence such as baskets for purposes of carrying food and trapping fish from the ocean.

Today, straw working has been successfully infused into the Bahamian industry and culture through straw vending. Straw vending is regarded as one of the oldest industries in the Bahamas, with organized markets trading on various islands. Each of the Bahamas islands has developed its own distinctive braiding or plaiting style to create beautiful straw baskets, hats and many other items.

The straw vending industry was born in the 40s, following the death of the sponge industry which forced Bahamian women to find another source of income. The women began plaiting and decorating dried palm and sisal leaves to create bags, baskets, dolls and other items. Within no time, many women were making straw souvenirs that were in demand among tourists.

Straw craft souvenirs in the Bahamas grew in popularity after the Second World War with the influx of tourists. Today, visitors to Bahamian straw markets can shop till they drop, with the world-renowned Straw Market in Nassau offering thousands of handmade items to choose from.

Shoppers can get a hat to protect them from the sun, or grab some wood carvings to take home as gifts to loved ones. In addition to the hand-crafted items, the open-air Straw Market also stocks many other unique handmade wares, such as homemade guava jelly, conch-shell jewelry and woodworking items.

Visitors can also enjoy a refreshing tropical fresh fruit drink, or tuck into local delicacies and treats as they search for unique treasures. The great thing about shopping at the Straw Market is that you are able to bargain the price down and don’t have to accept the first offer.

Even if you don’t wish to buy anything, you will still enjoy taking a stroll down the famous Nassau Straw Market and experience its bustling vendor activity and Bahamian culture. For a lively experience, visit the market during the middle of the day or in the afternoon. A stroll through the entire market could take you about an hour, depending on how long you linger at the shops.

5. Garden of the Groves

Situated on Midshipman Rd. and Magellan Dr., the Garden of the Groves is a 12-acre park built in 1973 in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Wallace Groves, the founders of Freeport. Since then, the garden has undergone a transformation into the Eden of the Bahamas with more than 10,000 plants, hundreds of birds and other wildlife.

Among the most photographed locations in the Bahamas, the sprawling botanical garden brims with orchids, ferns and duck ponds. Visitors can admire tropical trees, flowers, butterflies, iguanas and alligators that live on the grounds. Bird watchers will especially enjoy spotting the exotic macaws and other indigenous and migratory birds among the lush foliage.

Visitors can explore the winding trails, tranquil lagoons, sparkling fountains and cascading waterfalls. There is also a picturesque 18th century Chapel which sits atop a hill offering great views of the garden, and which is a popular spot for people who wish to get married in the Bahamas. A spiritual Labyrinth is also available for meditation.

The Garden offers an ideal venue for taking a stroll while in the Bahamas. Take a walk down into the cool fern grove where you can marvel at the magnificent limestone boulders that tower over both sides of the trail. Allow yourself a couple of hours to wander around the Garden, and meditate in the labyrinth if you like.

The lush tropical landscape of the Garden of the Groves offers the premier nature experience of the Grand Bahama. There are plenty of benches along the pathways where visitors can sit and take in the ambience. There is also a café on site which offers many delicious treats to choose from. At the Garden Shoppes you can browse through diverse unique souvenir items made in the Bahamas.

There are numerous tropical fruit trees situated throughout the garden grounds, including tamarinds, pineapples, bananas, coconuts, guavas, mangos, sapodillas, mammee, cherries, java plums and avocados. If you visit during the right season of the year, you can indulge in fruits from the Garden that are available off the menu in the form of fruit salad or a frozen drink.

6. National Art Gallery of the Bahamas

Few places offer a better introduction to Bahamian culture than the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas. The museum is home to a broad spectrum of art mainly by Bahamian artists, with a focus on works from the late 20th century to the present day. The museum also exhibits works by artists from other countries, albeit on a smaller scale.

The museum is the premier arts institution of the Bahamas, with a collection that features work in a diversity of media. These include paintings, ceramics, sculpture, textiles, photography, video, prints, installations and mixed media, as well as alternative media creations.

The National Art Gallery is situated on West Hill Street, Nassau within the heart of historic “Old Nassau”. The gallery is housed in Villa Doyle, a beautifully restored period villa dating from the 1860s that was once the residence of the Chief Justice of the Bahamas. A ballroom was added in the 1920s to make Villa Doyle one of the stately homes of Nassau, and a popular spot for local entertainment.

Since then, the building has been enhanced and its interiors beautifully restored. The villa is positioned on the rise that overlooks the top of West Street and has a balcony that offers a commanding view of the city and the sea. It was chosen to house the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas because of its history, beauty and location.

Since opening its doors in 2003, the museum has managed to collect several important works which it cycles through changing exhibits. Visitors can explore the folklore and religious paintings, which are divided into historical and contemporary collections.

On the ground floor is a permanent display of the national collection of Bahamian art; while the upper galleries address the history of Bahamian art and visual culture by supporting contemporary movements and experimental contemporary art practice through temporary exhibitions.

If you are seeking a break from the beach lifestyle synonymous with the Bahamas, this museum is the ideal spot to help you discover what Bahamian culture is all about. Although the art on display is typically not for sale, there is a gift store on site that offers an eclectic collection of handcrafted artwork, sculpture, jewelry, candles, soaps, books, quilts and hand-woven baskets.

7. Lucayan National Park

Lucayan National Park is an incredible 40-acre park that is home to some of the most spectacular secluded beaches in the whole of the Bahamas. Full of pine, palm and mangrove trees, the park also features amazing plants in bloom including ferns and dozens of rare flowers such as orchids, along with an abundance of colorful saltwater fish and wild water birds.

Lucayan National Park is located at Gold Rock Creek on Grand Bahama island, between Freetown and Freeport. The park is truly a wonder teeming with an abundance of wildlife and unique ecosystems that make it the perfect outdoor spot to see during your visit to the Bahamas. At this lovely park, visitors can immerse themselves inside true Bahamian beauty and indulge in the care of its delicate environment.

The Bahamas is famous for its crystal clear waters which make it ideal to go diving or snorkeling. This remote paradise boasts some of the most colorful sea gardens, caves, and coral reefs in the Caribbean. Diving is spectacular as you uncover a rich underwater world of abundant marine life.

The Lucayan National Park is one of the best diving and snorkeling spots in the Bahamas. Here you will enjoy exploring the beautiful turquoise waters of the world’s longest explored underground cavern system – with over six miles of caves and tunnels already charted.

Skeletons of the indigenous Lucayans, as well as their artifacts found within one of the caves, as well as in other areas of the park offer evidence of pre-Columbian settlement on Grand Bahama. The park is in fact named after the Lucayans, the original inhabitants of the Bahamas who lived here long before Christopher Columbus set foot on the islands.

This underwater tour is truly the experience of a lifetime, taking you through fascinating caves in which the Lucayans lived and used as a fresh water source and ceremonial burial location. The freshwater reservoirs in the caves and blue holes remain just as important for residents of the island today.

Visitors should begin their snorkeling adventure nice and early to ensure that they enjoy the full experience of the beautiful surroundings. You’ll need several hours to explore the two underwater caves – one of which is where the bones of the Lucayan people were discovered in 1986.

The Lucayans’ archaeological remains found in the park have been well preserved due to the low levels of oxygen found in caves such as Burial Mound Cave. History buffs should find information on the burial grounds particularly interesting.

Little is known about the Lucayan people, although they are said to have originated from the Taino people, migrating North through the Caribbean from South America, possibly Brazil. Their population was spread out across the Bahamas until they were captured by European slave traders, which ultimately led to their extinction.

Certified cave divers will enjoy exploring the geological formations in Ben’s Cave, a limestone cavern with a sinkhole entrance. Stairs lead from the lip of the sinkhole to viewing platforms just above water level. The cavern’s cool and dark recesses provide shelter and serve as a nursery site for migratory bats during the summer months.

After exploring the caves, swim out to the lovely secluded Gold Rock Beach, which has been voted one of the best on the island. Relax on the pearly white sand beach or swim in the crystal clear blue waters as you enjoy the beauty of the sunshine paradise that is the Bahamas.

Visitors may also take a stroll in the park’s unique system of elevated walkways and boardwalks, down the wooden path that winds through fragrant mangrove, palm, and pine trees. The walk will lead them to diverse ecosystems and the magnificent unspoiled Gold Rock Beach with its wealth of flora and fauna.

You could also jump into a kayak and take a day-trip to a tiny sun-drenched island across the calm waters. There you can spend your day snorkeling among colorful coral gardens and shallow limestone reefs, spotting all colors of tropical fish, sea fans, barracudas and sting rays.

Or simply sit at the picnic tables, relax and enjoy some lunch, as you take in the atmosphere and natural beauty of this park. The park is ideal for avid bird watchers and lovers of outdoor adventure.

The well preserved Lucayan National Park looks today exactly how it would have looked to the Lucayans centuries ago. Its delicate environment makes a safe home for hundreds of species of fish, birds, and mammals that now inhabit the island, as well as incredible indigenous plants.

8. Cabbage Beach

Arguably the most popular stretch of beach in the Bahamas, Cabbage Beach is a large beach on Paradise Island that is lined by eateries, hotels and water sporting activities galore. Considered one of the best beaches in the world, Cabbage Beach comprises a beautiful stretch of soft white sand that spans 2 miles of coastline. Palms, pines and sea grapes stretch along its clear and tame aquamarine waters.

Cabbage Beach is the ideal Bahamian destination to spend your day relaxing in the sun. Beach lovers can enjoy a swim in the warm, shimmering Bahamian waters or go on a pleasant stroll on the soft white sand. The ocean’s blue waters sparkle like gemstones, while the waves are often calm, gentle and perfect for snorkeling or simply dipping your toes in the rolling surf.

This is one of the best beaches for swimming in the Bahamas as you don’t have to worry about rough sand or jagged rocks getting in your way. Always look out for a red flag which the lifeguards post to warn swimmers to stay out of the water in the event of rough waves. But even then, you can still have fun on the gorgeous beach.

Cabbage Beach is truly the ideal destination to spend your day sun bathing. To avoid the crowds, walk to the northwestern stretch of the island. Here you will find small tiki-like structures that provide sun bathers with shade. Visitors can also wander the unspoiled beaches, spot the endangered Bahamian iguana, and view the ruins of an 18th century settlement.

The more adventurous traveler can rent water sports equipment including floats and jet skis from various spots on the shore. At Snorkeler’s Cove, hidden below a rocky outcrop, you can enjoy snorkeling. This is also just the place to sign up for scuba diving, parasailing and party cruises to offshore islands.

Paradise is a rather fitting description for the beautiful natural wonder that is Cabbage Beach. With its stunning clear water, soft sand and great ambience, the beach is ideal for those who want to be in the thick of things in the Bahamas. Plenty of bars and restaurants along the beach allow you to relax and soak in the views which you are bound to enjoy, no matter what time of the year you visit.

9. Arawak Cay

Named after the original West Indian inhabitants of the Bahamas islands, Arawak Cay is a local hangout in Nassau and a staple of Bahamian culture. Located on West Bay Street, Arawak Cay is particularly famous for its local eateries comprising numerous pastel-colored waterside restaurants collectively known to locals as “Fish Fry”.

Artificially built from sand in 1969 after the harbor was dredged, Arawak Cay is a great spot to have a taste of the wonderful Bahamian culture. Sunday nights is particularly popular with locals who attend the venue to sample the food, enjoy the entertainment and socialize.

Visitors to Arawak Cay will enjoy the atmosphere of Fish Fry whose vendors sell made-to-order Bahamian delicacies. Be sure to try out the fried snapper with homemade sweet roll or go for some fresh conch salad, a spicy mix of chopped conch mixed with diced tomatoes, onions, hot peppers and cucumbers in lime marinade. Just watching the chef chopping away is as good a show as any.

Sit here and knock back a Kalik beer as you tuck into delicious conch fritters or sample other traditional Bahamian fare. Also try their popular Sky Juice – a sweet yet potent concoction of gin, sweet milk, and coconut-water, sprinkled with nutmeg. You could also chat with locals, and watch or join in a fast-paced game of dominoes.

In addition to the abundance of delicious seafood restaurants, there are popular nightlife spots, a storytelling porch for special events, an old Bahamian rock oven, open stage and an open grassy area with seating for an audience where concerts and other productions are held. Local craft shows and fairs are regularly held in the nearby field.

Also within the Arawak Cay area is Heritage Village, a venue at which various celebrations are held such as the Junkanoo in June Heritage Festival, as well as the October Great Seafood and Heritage Festival. It’s a real treat to see and listen to the Junkanoo bands as they practice here.

Depending on the time of the year that you visit, you can attend either of the celebrations, both of which feature traditional food, drink, music, storytelling and dancing.

10. Parliament Square

Nassau is the seat of the Bahamian government, and Parliament Square, located on Bay Street in downtown Nassau is one of the famous landmarks in the Bahamas. Parliament Square is home to some of the oldest structures on the island, whose colonial feel is tempered by the addition of flamingo pink paint to give it a Caribbean flair and distinctly island vibe.

The pastel-hued Georgian-style buildings on Parliament Square comprise the Chambers of Parliament, the Supreme Court, Senate Building and the House of Assembly. These four bubblegum pink buildings house the key branches of the Bahamian government and offer great examples of early 19th century colonial architecture. Four times a year, visitors can witness the pomp of the court opening sessions.

The buildings that dot Parliament Square were constructed by Loyalists to the British Crown who took refuge on the Bahamas islands in 1815, and are modeled after buildings found in New Bern, the old capital of North Carolina.

Parliament Square is within walking distance to the main cruise ship ports, as well as many restaurant and shops, which make it an ideal stop for learning some history while touring Nassau.