Graced with extensive beaches bleached white by the year-round sun and surrounded by sparkling turquoise waters filled with varied and colourful sea life, the islands of Bahamas are a major destination for divers, sailors and sun-worshippers alike. Although often thought to be part of the Caribbean, the Bahamas is actually an archipelago of 700 islands with thousands of small 'cays' strung out in the ocean starting 55 miles (89km) from Miami in the Atlantic Ocean.
The islands' first inhabitants were the Lucayan Indians who lived there from the 9th century until after Columbus discovered the islands in 1492, his first step into the New World. The resulting exploitation led to the native population being virtually wiped out. For two hundred years until independence in 1987 the Bahamas was a British Crown Colony and a strong British influence can still be seen in the architecture and culture.
The population of the Bahamas now consists mostly of Bahamians of African descent, who are mainly descended from freed slaves. The strong African cultural influence is evident in everyday life, and in events like Junkanoo, a traditional street festival held every year on Boxing Day. There is also a strong American cultural influence, particularly in the capital, Nassau.
Due to its proximity to the US, the Bahamas has become an offshore banking and financial centre. Tourism however remains its most important industry. The long stretches of empty beaches, clear waters and excellent facilities have made the Bahamas a popular destination throughout the year and the varied attractions of each of the islands ensure that there is something for everyone.
The official currency is the Bahamian Dollar (BSD), which is
divided into 100 cents. The Bahamian Dollar is equal in value to
the US Dollar and both currencies are accepted throughout the
islands. Currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and
many hotels. There are ATMs in the main tourist centres and credit
and debit cards are widely accepted in all the big resorts.
Travellers cheques can be changed at all banks, although those in
US Dollars receive the best rates. Banks tend to be open from
9.30am to 3pm (Monday to Thursday) and 9.30am to 5pm (Fridays).
|BSD 1 =||US$ 1.00||Â£ 0.65||C$ 1.02||A$ 0.97||R 8.45||EUR 0.79||NZ$ 1.26|
Note: These currency exchange rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.
A yellow fever vaccination is required by travellers aged more than one year arriving from infected areas, and Hepatitis A immunisation is recommended for visitors over two years. There is a risk of malaria and travellers should take precautions before travel. Food and water is considered safe, though it is advised not to eat fruit or vegetables unless peeled or cooked. Visitors should note that some types of fish, including tropical reef fish, are poisonous to eat even when cooked. Medical facilities are good in Nassau and Freeport, but expensive and usually require payment in cash on treatment. Medical insurance is advised. Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau, where most emergency surgery is performed, is experiencing a chronic shortage of blood so those with rare blood types are advised to know the names and locations of possible donors in the event of an emergency. The Lyford Cay Hospital has a hyperbaric chamber for treatment of decompression illness.
All visitors must be in possession of a return or onward ticket, plus proof of funds, and with the exception of nationals of Canada and the US, all visitors must hold passports which are valid at least six months after entry. Cruise ship passengers must hold a ticket for their ship. As part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), all travellers travelling between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean region are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States. If departing from the USA a valid passport will be required by immigration authorities.
Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.
Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, Nassau: +1 242 302 2000 or www.bahamas.com
Foreign Embassies in Bahamas
With a subtropical climate, pristine beaches and top-class tourism infrastructure, it is no surprise that the islands and cays of the Bahamas archipelago are some of the world's top tourist destinations. Each island has its own charm and beauty, attracting thousands of visitors each year and offering something for everyone. Andros Island is not only the biggest of the islands, but also boasts the third biggest reef in the world, and is thus a haven for snorkellers and scuba divers. New Providence Island is a bustling hub of activity, with plenty of sights, sounds and activities for the visitor to enjoy. New Providence also provides easy ferry and car access to the resorts at neighbouring Paradise Island, as well as the fun and festivity of the nation's capital, Nassau.
The northernmost islands of North and South Bimini are the closest to the US, and draw serious fishermen seeking the catch of a lifetime. Named after the Greek word for freedom by English pilgrims seeking religious autonomy, Eleuthera Island, east of Andros, is a popular escape, with plenty to explore and enjoy.
The rest of the islands all have something to reel in the visitor and sunseekers, fishermen, sailors and watersports enthusiasts flock to these islands time and again to experience the magic of the Bahamas.
Known for its balmy breezes, sunny skies and sugary white beaches, Nassau has had a turbulent past. Capital of the Bahamas and the largest city, Nassau was first settled by the English and then became a home base for notorious pirates such as the likes of Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, only to have all been killed or driven out by the British by 1720. The city then went on to be burned to the ground by the Spanish on three different occasions.
Nowadays, the island's close proximity to the US gives Nassau a distinctly American flavour. This bustling hub of a city is a delightful and colourful blend of old world and colonial architecture juxtaposed by a busy port. Boasting a prized sheltered harbour, Nassau made history with its beautifully preserved Victorian buildings, 18th-century fortresses and Queen's Staircase, the 66 steps of which lead to the most breathtaking view over the whole of Nassau - a must for any visitor!
Garden enthusiasts should visit the Royal Victorian Garden, which has more than 300 species of tropical plants and exotic creatures. Enthusiastic shoppers on the other hand would be well-advised to look out for great bargains at the Straw Market on Bay Street. Alternatively visitors can relax by spending an idle afternoon watching a cricket game at one of the many local sports grounds. After dark, Nassau comes alive with a rowdy bar and club scene, and the scent of fresh seafood permeates the air in the Fish Fry district.
This stunning city can also add four guest roles in the movies to its resume, starring in three James Bond pictures as well as the Beatles film 'Help!' With bright lights of casinos, posh resort hotels and cruise liners, Nassau is overflowing with variety, colour and exciting nightlife. A favourite holiday destination for adventurers and holiday seekers alike, Nassau has something to offer everyone.
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