The roughly 700 islands that make up the Bahamas lure millions of visitors to their white-washed shores, duty-free shops, fishing and scuba diving excursions and luxurious accommodations each year. Families that flock here tend to indulge in the diversions of Atlantis, Paradise Island and other mega resorts, but this diverse island chain also offers a range of activities away from the hotel zone. Nature enthusiasts can explore pristine protected areas like the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve (on Eleuthera) and Lucayan National Park (on Grand Bahama Island) or take it easy at one of the country's many beaches or private islands. Bargain hunters, meanwhile, can patrol the marketplaces in Nassau (the country's capital), in Freeport and on Paradise Island for the best duty-free deals. And for history buffs, ruins and artifacts from the colonial era and indigenous peoples like the Lucayan and Arawak Indians can be found on San Salvador, Cat Island and other Bahamian islands. It's no wonder why the Bahamas has become a popular vacation destination.
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The best time to visit the Bahamas is from mid-December to mid-April, the country's peak season. Though temperatures here are great year-round (they rarely dip below 60 degrees), the islands fall within the hurricane belt, so hurricanes may be a factor between June 1 and Nov. 30 (the Atlantic hurricane season). Most of these months (plus May) also fall within the region's rainy season, which can leave you with fewer days spent enjoying the islands' outdoor activities. But keep in mind that mid-December to mid-April's sublime weather attracts hordes of tourists, so prices will be at their highest and crowds at their thickest during these months.
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
Bahamians are friendly and humorous people. They're usually very humble, and many maintain simple lifestyles that revolve around fishing or farming. Residents speak English, although visitors might come across a few Bahamians who speak a Creole dialect.
Festivals are big in the Bahamas, but its most popular is undoubtedly Junkanoo. Believed by many to have originated in the late 18th century when slaves were given three days off around Christmas, the carnival has since grown to include elaborate dance routines, lively music and colorful costumes. The main event takes place between Christmas and New Year's Day each year, but an additional celebration occurs every summer. To find out more about both Junkanoo festivals, check out our When to Visit page.
The Bahamian dollar's value is equal to the U.S. dollar, and both currencies are widely accepted throughout the country. If you do decide to use the local currency, keep in mind that vendors will give you change in Bahamian dollars, not U.S. dollars. It is customary to tip waiters and taxi drivers 15 percent, but some restaurants automatically include gratuities on bills. Bartenders are commonly given $1 or $2 for each drink served. Meanwhile, bellhops are generally tipped $1 to $2 per bag, while hotel housekeepers are often given $1 to $3 per day.
Atlantis, Paradise Island, Sandals Emerald Bay and other upscale Bahamian hotels and resorts offer a number of gourmet restaurants, but these fine dining establishments rarely serve Bahamian fare, and their dishes are often pricey. To eat well – and like a resident – you'll have to venture outside the hotel district. The islands are renowned for their johnnycakes (which is similar to cornbread) and peas n' rice (a side dish that combines rice with pigeon peas), but seafood is prominent on most restaurant menus. Local staples include grilled and fried grouper; conch served in chowder, as a raw salad and in deep-fried fritters; and broiled and steamed rock lobster. Sweet treats like guava duff (a guava-filled pastry topped with rum or brandy butter sauce) and rum cake (a cake that features rum in its batter and a rum butter sauce) are also available at many eateries.
Highly-regarded restaurants can be found on many Bahamian islands, but travelers say some of the country's best cuisine is offered at casual pubs and bars on New Providence Island, Grand Bahama Island and Eleuthera. A few local favorites include Pirate Republic Brewing and The Bearded Clam Sports Bar in Nassau; Rum Runner's Bar and Da Conch Man in Freeport; and Budda Snack Shack and Sandbar Bar & Grill in Spanish Wells. For nicer meals, diners suggest checking out Nassau's Matisse, Freeport's Flying Fish and Governor's Harbour's 1648 Bar & Grille.
Various beers, wines and spirits are served throughout the Bahamas, but no visit would be complete without trying some of the country's rum. New Providence Island's John Watling's Distillery is considered one of the country's best places to sample the liquor and learn more about the rum-making process. And unlike the U.S., the drinking age here is 18.
The crime rate is high on many Bahamian islands, especially on New Providence, Paradise and Grand Bahama islands. Several sexual assaults and robberies at gunpoint and knifepoint have been reported in tourist areas on these islands. To keep yourself and your belongings safe, leave valuables in your hotel room and stay alert at all times. If you plan on traveling to more remote islands via your own boat or plane, be on the lookout for smugglers, who occasionally make stops here. For more information about security concerns and safety tips for the Bahamas, visit the U.S. State Department's website .
The best way to get around the Bahamas is by jitneys (or public buses). They are the most common form of transport from the country's many airports – Nassau's Lynden Pindling International Airport (NAS) and Freeport's Grand Bahama International Airport (FPO). However, jitneys are not available on other islands (including New Providence Island's adjacent Paradise Island), so to get around elsewhere, you'll need to hail a taxi or rent a car. Traveling between Bahamian islands, meanwhile, requires flying from Nassau's airport using the inter-island air service, Bahamasair, or hailing pricey water taxis. Some cruises and boat tours also make stops at multiple islands.See details for Getting Around
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A valid passport and proof of your departure date are required for all citizens of the United States traveling to the Bahamas by air or sea. If you travel on a cruise that departs from and returns to a U.S. port, any Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative document (such as a passport card or a U.S. military identification card) is accepted as proof of identity. However, bringing a passport is strongly advised in case of an unforeseen emergency. You won't need a visa for stays lasting less than 90 days. To learn more about entry and exit requirements, visit the U.S. Department of State's website .
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