What to Know Beforehand:
The Bahamas were originally inhabited by Arawakan Indians, and remnants of their cave dwellings can still be found on the west side of New Providence Island. On that note, the Bahamas are an archipelago, and New Providence Island is only one of the Bahamas’ over 700 islands! Nassau being its capital.Moving forward, Christopher Columbus discovered the Bahamas in 1492, and after a brief period of battling between the Spanish and pirates for this land, the British colonized the islands and reigned here for over 300 years. British influence can be seen in the European colonial homes on the island, the forts sturdily built near the ports, and even the Queen’s Staircase- a tribute to Queen Victoria, that was a direct path from Nassau to Fort Fincastle. 🇬🇧 Now, during the British rule, many West Africans were brought over as slave laborers, and many Caribbeans emigrated here as well.Fortunately, after many years, slavery was abolished and the island gained autonomy, which has left this independent nation with a very eclectic Afro-Caribbean population, with distinct music, food, language, and cultural traditions.One of the most notable traditions being Junkanoo, a Bahamian masquerade known for its kaleidoscope of colors and sound.The festival is named after a African slave, John Canoe, who protested his right to celebrate the holidays here even after being brought over as a slave. During that time, John and the other slaves hid their identities beneath face paint, while they fiercely beat on goatskin drums and bellowed on conch shell horns.Now-a-days, the face paint has been replaced with colorful masks and the goatskin has been replaced with steel drums, and Junkanoo festival brings spectators from around the world to witness this Carnival-like festival, which is celebrated the day after Christmas and on New Year’s Day.
Speaking of Junkanoo, this event is FREE for spectators, so it’s definitely a budget-friendly activity in the Bahamas. Just make sure to bring money for some conch fritters- a Bahamian specialty! 🤤
I actually went down to the festivities with one of my bunk mates- a 40-something-year-old Bahamian math teacher living in New York City. She came here often as a child, and gave me lots of good insight into Bahamian culture and traditions. For example, people here speak Bahamian Creole English. In this dialect, the “h” gets dropped in most words. Now even though I went out a lot with my bunk mates, I felt perfectly fine walking alone here. Although there is notable poverty on the island, overall things seem quite secure and the people are incredibly hospitable and welcoming.For example, when I first arrived in Nassau, I decided to take the public bus (#12b) from the airport to the city center. Taxi rides cost about 30 USD and the bus is only 2.50. Anyway, the bus driver was kind enough to give me his card and write down his personal number in case I needed a ride after the buses stopped running.That brings me to my next point: the Bahamas has the wealthiest economy in the Caribbean and almost 50% of their income comes from tourism. People here aim to please for a living, which is a great thing for travelers, but that also means touristy areas can get quite expensive. For example, here is the cruise port in Nassau, where boats come in a daily basis to take pricey excursions and spend all their money on souvenirs. It seems easy to fall into a trap here, with plenty of touristy restaurants in the downtown area, and only a few budget-friendly options to note. Have no fear though! The local grocery store, Super Value, is only a bit off the tourist path, and offers lots of healthy options for American and Caribbean cuisine. I made sure to stock up on a few supplies for the week before heading to my hostel. As a bonus, the exchange rate here is 1-to-1, and USD is accepted everywhere, which makes currency swapping a breeze.Fortunately, buying groceries wasn’t even necessary, as when I arrived at my hostel, my Bahamian host immediately invited me to have dinner with him and the other guests. They were making pork chops with salad and rice. Talk about a sweet gesture, especially on Christmas Eve! Here is the festive neighborhood near my guesthouse. 🎅🎄
I loved staying at a guesthouse, because I got to see a more authentic Bahamian neighborhood in Nassau and meet lots of local travelers from around the world. My bunk mates were Jamaican, Bahamian, and French. The Jamaican woman had two daughters. One daughter was a nurse and the other sold natural skincare products. She even had me try a few of her daughter’s lotions. The French woman was older and had never slept in a hostel before. It was comical to see her try to get into a bunk. She said she never understood why her children didn’t like their bunk beds, and now she could understand why. I also met this Ecuadorian man staying in the other room who traveled to the Bahamas every year to sell his handmade backpacks at double the price. For him, this journey was definitely worth the trip! Cha-ching! 💰
Anyway, now let’s get back to some of the attractions in the Bahamas, including the major selling point for me- scuba diving. Now this will definitely go on the splurge end of the list, considering each dive day costs around 200 bucks. The company Stuart Cove’s has built quite a reputation on this island though, specializing in shark encounters and unique underwater wrecks. 🦈My first day with Stuart Cove’s was a two-tank dive, including a shark feed.The dive sites were conveniently located only a 10-minute ride from the dive center.We spent our first 35-minute dive at “Shark Wall North”, at a max depth of around 80 feet, where we spotted lots of reef sharks, nurse sharks, parrot fish, bat fish, grouper, butterfly fish, and garden eels. 🐠On our second dive we descended 45 feet to a place called “The Arena,” where our dive masters geared up in protective metal chain mail and began to feed the sharks.We all were designated a rock to grab onto and warned not to stick our arms out for selfies, because the sharks might mistake us for feeders. 😲 My dive buddy seemed more than a little apprehensive. Hah!😂 The number of sharks was “too numerous to count” and I thought the experience was absolutely incredible! 😍Just look at those two fighting for some fish! ❤️🦈At the end, the even gave us 30 seconds to search for shark teeth! Talk about the perfect Christmas gift!🎁
Now if the idea of diving with sharks makes you uneasy, perhaps you need a bit of liquid courage first. You’re just in luck, since the Bahamas actually produces their own rum at John Watling’s, a local distillery named after a 17th century pirate who died from a shot to the liver. How fitting considering the gradual toxic effect of alcohol consumption on this very organ. Hah! Anyway, John Watling’s Distillery is located in a gorgeous colonial home near the city center, and they offer a FREE tour with complimentary piña colada samples, while you learn all about their rum. 🥃Two things that stood out to me at this distillery, other than the rum’s delicious flavor, was that they don’t export their rum and they even label all their bottles by hand. Talk about a unique gift that you can only find here!I found this experience could be either a save or splurge, depending on how much self-restraint you have at their swanky rum bar after the tour. 😂As well, if the idea of straight-up rum is a little too much for you, consider a much more passive , and equally delicious alcoholic treat of Caribbean rum cake- a traditional delicacy on the island. They sell it in many flavors, including chocolate, coconut, and pineapple. 🍰
I even felt like the change from my purchase was a souvenir in itself. Bahamian coins are decorated with sharks, pineapples, and starfish. So cute! 🍍As an added bonus, the distillery is located near some colorful street art and the National Art Gallery. Only a 5 dollar admission fee and a nice taste of Bahamian culture expressed through art. 💜Now one thing I loved about visiting the Bahamas was how uncrowded it felt. Aside from the touristy areas, like Junkanoo Beach, it’s easy to walk down the beachfront promenade and find a wide expanse of pristine sand all to yourself! Totally free and very relaxing! ⛱️
Even the touristy Junkanoo had an appeal for its plethora of beachfront bars and restaurants.
Now aside from downtown Nassau, I also walked over the Sidney Pottier Bridge to Paradise Island, which is well-known for its luxurious Atlantis Resort, which was another filming location for James Bond.This island definitely caters to the elite, and there are many boutique shops located along Paradise Island Drive.One of the first things I saw here was the Versailles Garden, followed by the glorious Cabbage Beach. Both of which are incredibly gorgeous, FREE, and a peaceful escape! From there I wandered over to the Atlantis Resort. I definitely messed up when visiting this place and accidentally got to see the aquarium free of charge. 😬It was honest enough! I was just looking for the path to the casino, and I asked the attendant how to get there. He asked me if I wanted to take the indoor or outdoor path. I said I’d rather walk outside, and his directions led me through the turtle pond, stingray pool, and the aquarium tunnel. 🐢Very cool, but totally unintentional! BTW- I did eventually get to the casino and the other shopping centers as well. 🎰Anyway, afterwards I stopped by Starbucks at this swanky resort, and got chatting with a guy who was doing a yoga and meditation retreat on the beach.He told me that he worked in the kitchen to pay for his stay and gladly walked me across the beach over to the retreat. 🧘 It had this very tranquil, commune-like feel, and there were oodles of tents where yogis were camping as a budget-friendly way to stay and meditate. The guy told me about all these crazy rules at the resort though, including how you couldn’t drink caffeine, or eat mushrooms or onions. Apparently his trip to Starbucks was very taboo! ☕😲The sanctuary is called Sivananda Ashram, if you’re interested in staying there as well. Now as a splurge on Paradise Island, I took a day trip excursion to Rose Island with the company, Sandy Toes.This 8-hour excursion is over 100 USD, but it included a cocktail, lunch buffet, boat ride to Rose Island, beach facilities, snorkeling, and a pig encounter. 🐷 It was hundreds cheaper than other tours, so I thought I’d take the bait. On the ride over to Rose Island we saw lots of luxurious homes. Apparently Nicholas Cage, among many other celebrities, lives there. 🤩Anyway, after 30 minutes on-board, and a rum cocktail later, we made it to Rose Island.
Rose Island had lots of chairs, beach activities, and a beachfront bar.
The lunch buffet included salad, rice, pasta, and barbecued chicken. I sat with another math teacher from New York, along with her Brazilian friend, who were here on vacation as well. After fueling up, I decided to take part in the pig encounter.
They had about 6 pigs on the island, including two babies and one big mama. They definitely had these pigs trained well. The pigs would swim out to the trainers, grab some all-beef hot dogs, then swim back to shore for an additional treat of pig feed.
Anyway, that wraps up my week in the Bahamas. I felt like it was a great vacation spot, even for the budget-conscious, and these would be my take-home recommendations:
- Stay at a guesthouse for a cheap and local experience. I met lots of travelers to explore with, eat with, play Monopoly with, and just enjoy exchanging travel stories with. 😀
- Come during Junkanoo! It’s one of the most unique cultural celebrations on the island.
- Shop local and take local transport. The bus is a fraction of the cost and the grocery store, Super Value, has lots of food options to choose from. It’s also another great way to feel like a local in a foreign place.
- Check out budget-friendly sights, like the National Art Galley, John Watling’s Distillery, Fort Charlotte, Queen’s Staircase, Versaille Garden, and as many beaches as your heart desires!
- Lastly, pick select items to splurge on. For me it was diving and pig swimming, but there are plenty of other encounters to choose from.
Overall, remember that you’ll have a good time no matter what you do, so just buy your ticket and enjoy each experience you have! ☺️🇧🇸
Anyway, that about wraps up my trip in the Bahamas. Stay tuned though, as I’ve got a South American adventure right around the corner. Until then! Happy New Year everyone!
I flew with United Airlines, which cost about 300 USD round-trip. I used Skyscanner to find the cheapest flight possible, which entailed quite a few layovers, especially during the holidays, but it just gave me lots of time to study Spanish and watch The Office re-runs, so I didn’t mind. 😉