- Last Updated: 2:31 PM, September 9, 2009
- Posted: 12:00 AM, March 10, 2009
GOING to the Bahamas is, without a doubt, the easiest way to get warm fast -- at least from the East Coast. With frequent flights not only to Nassau but now to smaller islands like Eleuthera, plus constant airfare and hotel specials, it's often the cheapest, too, if you plan right. With 700 islands in the chain, though -- the closest of which, Bimini, is only 50 miles off the Miami shoreline -- planning a trip can be rather baffling. Which one is right for you?
Sadly, the island country is more often associated with a certain mega-resort that lies off the capital city of Nassau on tiny Paradise Island, New Providence, than its own colorful history.
You could indeed spend your entire time in Nassau; there's plenty to see if you're willing to leave the all too comfortable confines of Atlantis (odds are you're staying there).
The Bahamian government seat was once a strategic stronghold for pirates -- Blackbeard among them -- who used it as a base to hide booty and intercept Spanish galleons. During Prohibition days, Prince George's Wharf was built specifically to accommodate bootleggers and rumrunners smuggling contraband to the States.
These days, the signs of Nassau's history as a British colony are still everywhere, from its pastel colonial buildings to its driving conventions (on the left). On the other hand, unless you commit to going fairly far afield (or hole up somewhere like the exclusive One & Only Ocean Club), you'll generally be surrounded by screaming kids, the cruise-ship passengers who dock here virtually everyday, and a glut of tourists enjoying cheap, last-minute packages.
Venture further, however, and you'll discover an entire collection of islands that couldn't be more different from New Providence, or from each other. The most rewarding experiences beyond Nassau will be found on the Bahamas' Out Islands -- essentially the islands outlying New Providence -- are easier to get to than you might think. Most are only short flights from Nassau, and depending on what you're after, well worth the extra leg. Here are our top recommendations, and why:
Andros: Best for amazing scuba diving. Here, you can dive over the barrier reef known as the "Tongue of the Ocean" that curls through the islands. Off Andros, it falls a sheer 6,000 feet down. Diving it is called "going over the wall." Andros, which is really a web of connected limestone cays, is the biggest of all the islands, the least explored, and has only 8,000 inhabitants. So stay for the diving, great bonefishing on its flats or simply to hide away in gorgeous Kamalame Cay (see "Where to Stay") -- not for the nightlife.