My sister and I recently came back from a wonderful 10 day holiday in the beautiful Bahamas! We decided to escape the British weather and head to sunnier climes for Christmas and New Year.
I’m going to give you a breakdown of what we did during our 10 days to give you some inspiration if you’re considering this great destination or if you have already booked your trip and figuring out some fun things to do during your stay.
- Visa – Entry requirements differ depending on what country you are a resident and citizen of, check out The Official Site of The Bahamas for more information
- Immunisations – some are required, check out my go to website for up to date information: https://nathnac.net
- Safety – My Foreign Travel and Advice Service advised that “there have been incidents of violent crime including robbery, which is often armed and sometimes fatal, in residential and tourist areas of New Providence, Grand Bahama and Freeport”. I felt relatively safe during my stay, apart from perhaps during the evening/early hours when we visited the New Years Day Junkanoo Parade, purely due to the increased crowds and it being late at night – where anyone should be vigilant anyway. Other than that I didn’t experience any issues at all.
- Currency – Bahamian Dollar or USA dollar
- Language – English
We booked out trip via Expedia which included accommodation, and flights with Virgin Atlantic and Delta Airlines from London Heathrow. Our total journey time to The Bahamas was a whopping 20 hours due to a 10 hour layover at JFK. We were keen to keep the costs down but this layover was a killer and I would not recommend!
We set off from Heathrow at 8pm, and arrived at JFK at around 11pm (our body clocks however were of the impression it was more like 3 in the morning). We originally planned to venture out of JFK and head to some all night diners and bars to wile away the time (not realising that we would be more like the walking dead when we arrived). As you can imagine it was also freezing at that time in NYC. Instead of setting our eyes on the big apple at night, we stayed in the safety of the airport. However as we were 10 hours early for our flight we couldn’t actually check in and go through to departures until a few hours before. This left us with only option of one Diner….yes one Diner! I couldn’t believe that in one of the most popular cities the nearest airport had only one Diner! What was even worse was the food was atrocious and as one sleep deprived princess claimed “the worst meal of my life”.
Once we finally got through to departures, we wanted to find out if we could enter one of their lounges so we could hopefully just grab something to drink and have a snooze until our connecting flight. Unfortunately this wasn’t meant to be. We decided on trying the Delta Lounge as we were flying with Delta (makes sense right?). This is how it went down (with a queue of people behind us I might add):
Me: Hi we haven’t pre-booked or anything but we were wondering if we could pay to enter the lounge?
Delta Lounge man: Ok um, do you have Delta Sky Club Membership?
Me: no, but we’re flying with Delta
Delta Lounge man: Ok um, do you have a Delta Reserve Credit Card?
Delta Lounge man: Ok um, do you have Centurion or Platinum Credit Card with American Express?
Delta Lounge man: are you flying in first or business class?
Delta Lounge man: ok I’m afraid you won’t be able to access the lounge
Me: ok thank you anyway
Delta Lounge man: You’re welcome!
We walked away slightly embarrassed and then later in fit’s of sleep deprived giggles laughing at how we were sadly put back into our societal place. Moral of the story – if you’re contemplating a long layover anywhere, think about the time difference, how tired you will be, and how feasible it is to leave the airport and return, as well as what’s available in the airport if you decide to stay. Also maybe do some research on airport lounges and what you need to get in before embarrassing yourselves like we did! Depending on the price difference I would probably do it again, but with a little more research so I could prepare for the torturous 10 hours that we endured.
When we finally arrived at Lynden Pindling International Airport in Nassau, (pronounced more like Nasa than Nasow) we had a warm welcome of a lovely Bahamian band playing whilst we queued and passed through passport control. There is a taxi rank outside the airport, agree a flat fee before departing. We opted to use transfers via Expedia for around £42 for our arrival as we wanted to ensure that we got to the hotel promptly after our long journey. In hindsight, I wouldn’t advise doing this as the taxi from Nassau airport to Cable Beach was only $18! So, far cheaper and the taxi drivers are very polite and efficient, we even had a female driver twice which was a refreshing change.
Where to stay
We decided to stay at the Melia Nassau, after some rather extensive research on all of the resorts in the Bahamas, we opted to stay on the Island of Nassau on Cable Beach. The Bahamas is actually made up of over 700 Islands with Nassau being the capital of The Bahamas. We decided on Nassau as our base as we wanted to experience sight seeing in the capital and learn more about Bahamian culture and history, and we wanted to do a little island hopping, which is very easily achieved by flying from Nassau to Staniel Cay, in the Exumas.
Cable Beach is a beautiful 2.5 mile stretch of white sand and blue seas, and one of the most popular beaches to visit in Nassau. It is maintained mostly by hotels and resorts which sit on its edge, and so the beaches are not generally accessed by members of the public unless they are staying at a nearby resort. The beach was literally in our back garden, a few of the days the weather conditions meant that it was not advisable to venture into the sea, but even just being close enough to watch and hear the crashing waves was a treat in itself. We did however spot a turtle on Christmas Day which was the best present – just a few 100 metres from our hotel!
The bus from Cable Beach to Downtown is definitely the best way of getting around. It costs only $1.25 per adult and runs every 15 minutes. The taxis are considerably more expensive at $20 which we had to take on New Years Eve when we went to experience Junkanoo as the buses had stopped running.
The Taxi from Cable Beach to Lynden Pindling International Airport was $18 and was only around a 10 minute car journey. The drivers we had though were great, and the vehicles felt safe and secure. Both of our taxi drivers gave us their cards and were eager for more business so if you do use a particularly good cab driver, take their card and contact them for your next journey.
So as this was a holiday over Christmas and New Year our primary motivation was eat, sleep, chill, repeat. After the hectic-ness of the run up to Christmas with parties, shopping, baking, and various other Christmas related activities we couldn’t wait to just be horizontal and relax. So that’s exactly what we did for 8 of the 10 days!
We decided not to venture in to the Atlantis resort even though you can purchase a day pass to enter the site. The Atlantis seemed very overpriced and we preferred to spend our money elsewhere – staying on a real beach (the beach at Atlantis is man-made), using our hard earned cash to explore the outer islands and discover wildlife. Also, from what I’ve read online, the Atlantis Resort can get very crowded, as obviously the people staying in the resort are there, as well as those who purchase day passes, and with the popularity of cruise ships visiting this destination, there can be sudden influxes. Both my sister and I wanted a more chilled holiday vibe then queues, hoards of people and man-made beaches. So what we did instead was spent a whole day in Down Town Nassau and another whole day on an Exuma trip visiting several islands and also getting sunburnt in the process! Here’s the breakdown of our itinerary:
- Day 1-4 Chill
- Day 5 Nassau Down Town
- Day 6-9 Chill
- Day 10 Day trip to Exuma
Nassau Down Town
If you’re in the Bahamas for a long holiday or just stopping off to visit Nassau for the day, then you must head Down Town to check out the sights! We managed to comfortably see and experience all of these sights in just a day, they are all within walking distance of one another and make for a really rich historical and cultural experience.
Pirates of Nassau Museum
Definitely go to the Pirates of Nassau Museum, it’s like a smaller pirate version of the London Dungeons and a surprising find in the Island of Nassau. Tickets for entry are $13.50 for adults and $6.75 for children. We probably spent around 45 minutes at the museum which included exhibitions depicting what life was like during the era of pirates and swashbucklers!, as well as anecdotes and information around pirate culture and pirate law.
We also learned how other countries became involved in tracking down pirates – I hadn’t realised how the pirates and their plundering obviously wreaked havoc with the trade markets of goods between countries so obviously it was in many countries interest to bring the pirates to justice. The pirates of Nassau Museum was an interesting visit and well worth the entry fee.
The History of the Queen’s Staircase began in 1793 when construction started. It was built by slaves and is made from solid limestone. The staircase, made of 66 steps, serves as a direct route from Fort Fincastle to Nassau City. The staircase was later named in honour of Queen Victoria, who reigned in Britain for 64 years from 1837 to 1901.
This is a collection of beautiful colonial flamingo-pink buildings built in 1815 by the Loyalists.
Buildings in this complex include:
- House of Assembly
- Supreme Court
- Ansbacher House – Office of the Registrar
As you wander around Nassau you will see a lot of pink and pastel coloured buildings built in a colonial style, I even recognised street signs and letter boxes which reminded me of England. With this in mind, there had been a tension over the years to tear down these oppressive symbols in the history of The Bahamas, however others have argued that it is important to keep this as a reminder of the past and the adversity that was overcome by the Bahamians.
National Art Gallery
The National Art Gallery is again a beautiful colonial building in pastel yellow, it was built in the 1860’s as a Mansion for the then first Chief Justice in The Bahamas. The building was abandoned and left to dilapidate and there was discussion around demolition, however it was decided that the building would be lovingly restored and converted into the National Art Gallery where the history of the building, The Bahamas, its culture and art, could be further explored. As such, current exhibitions include themes around identity, language of the Bahamas, as well as the Junkanoo Festival – a very important celebratory public event across The Bahamas.
John Watling’s Rum Distillery
I was a little underwhelmed with John Watling’s Rum Distillery. I had expected more of a tour about how they make the rum, the history, and some inside information, but what we got was a rather short walk through the main building through to a court yard and into a warehouse. There were barrels with rum inside which you could smell to distinguish the different types being made and some more information about the process but it was all over in around 10 minutes.
However, the distillery is only a short walk from the National Art Gallery, and the tour was completely free, we didn’t have to pay for any of it (apart from our drinks) and I would argue that it’s still worth checking out – if only for the fantastic pina coladas or other cocktails that are on offer in the bar at the end of the tour. We also visited the distillery towards the end of our sight seeing day, and sitting down with the sun low and a gentle breeze with a cold pina colada in one hand was a pretty good ending to the day.
The straw market is situated close to the Marina, part of the market is open to the elements but most is found under a large warehouse type building – great if you experience any short showers or want to escape the sun for a while during the day. The history of the Straw Market dates back to around the 1940’s when North Americans started visiting The Bahamas as a vacation destination. The Bahamians would generally use straw weaving and wood carving within their industry as farmers or sailors etc. however with the advent of tourism, the technique of weaving soon grew into a souvenir business instead.
The straw market is a bit of a giveaway in what they sell – a range of hand-crafted items such as bags, purses, mats, dolls and hats, as well as wood carved sculptures, key rings and jewellery. Do expect to negotiate (if you want to). I hadn’t planned on buying anything at the market however one of the retailers was very enthusiastic about her earrings and some of them were very pretty – whilst we were standing there she kept lowering the price, to which I gave in and bought them. They were only $5 for a pair of shell earrings, which I thought was very reasonable.
This was quite a find, I didn’t come across any information about this place online during my research on the Bahamas before we left, we just stumbled across it on our way to the National Gallery. Graycliff offers a whole host of activities and sights, including a chocolatier, cigar company, winery, art studios, restaurant and hotel! The history of Graycliff dates back to 1740, when it was built by Captain John Howard Graysmith, a famous pirate of the Caribbean, check out their website for more information here. Of the activities on offer we chose to stop off at the winery (of course). We were given the opportunity to sample some different wines and then opted to purchase a glass of wine sipping outside in their funky garden area.
As it’s not just about the alcohol we also visited the art studios and came across these interesting pieces.
What can I say about Junkanoo? Well the Bahamians sure do know how to celebrate Christmas and New Years! The Junkanoo Parade has been going for well over 500 years, there are different opinions around how Junkanoo got started and you can find more historical information here. Either way – all the Bahamians we spoke to agree that it is the biggest festival all year , and many people spend the whole year working on their dance routines, costumes, floats make-up and music!
The Junkanoo parade is situated in Downtown Nassau, although there are Junkanoo parades on other islands, Nassau is the biggest. it runs from around 2am until 10am on Christmas Day and New Years Day. Tickets vary, depending on where you choose to sit in the parade and which seats. We opted for the cheapest as we couldn’t see the whole parade due to having to catch a flight to our trip to the Exumas the same day so only got to stay for a couple of hours.
We paid around $30 for our tickets, you can go to the parade and just stand, however you will have a restricted view and it will be quite crowded. Unfortunately you can’t get tickets sent to you by email or e-vouchers. However you can call the office or order online, but you will have to go down to the office to collect them. For more information visit the JCNP website here.
Day Trip to Exuma
The day trip we ended up taking wasn’t actually the first we had booked (months before our trip I might add). This was unfortunately due to our unpredictable Mother Nature. We had originally booked our day trip (via boat) with Harbour Safaris for the 27th December, we gave ourselves 23rd December, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day to just completely relax and soak up the sun and then we would go on an adventure. This however was not meant to be.
Unfortunately we received an email from Harbour Safaris stating they had to postpone the trip until New Years Eve due to ‘bad weather’, we were both gutted but still over the moon we could still go at a later date. After a day trip to Nassau to see the sights and a couple more days of basting in the sunshine, we received another email stating that due to ‘bad weather’ AGAIN the trip was cancelled. Coincidentally on both of the days of ‘bad weather’ we experienced nothing but sunshine on Cable Beach!
We eventually managed to book a tour with Bahamas Air, for the last day of our trip! both of us were so glad we could still go on the trip, which was by plane instead of boat. Anyway lets get down to the day’s activities which were plentiful!
The flight was interesting, I’d never been on a small 15 seater plane before, it felt strange how there was just one seat either side of a tiny aisle and we could actually see the pilots! But it was a great opportunity for photos and getting a glimpse of the other islands that make up the beautiful Bahamas. We transferred from the airport to the stannic cay act club by golf buggy provided by the tour, and then boarded our small boat, along with 6 other passengers.
Rock Iguanas at Bitter Guana Cay
This was our first stop of the tour, as soon as our boat arrived on the beach, the Iguanas could hear us. Clearly they’re used to many tourists visiting them daily and the link between tourists and FOOD! They were still quite cautious but did come over to see us so we could steal a glimpse. I was concerned however that we were given what looked like stale bread by out tour guide to feed them and told to tear it into small chunks. I threw a couple of pieces which the iguanas seemed to enjoy but it didn’t quite feel right.
Snorkelling at Thunderball Grotto
Ok so this was part of the itinerary but I whimped out. When I was travelling previously we went snorkelling and I experienced a little panic when I was struggling to get to grips with the flippers and finding it difficult to keep myself afloat. Everyone was off doing their own thing and I didn’t feel safe. I swam back to our boat and got a life jacket and just bobbed along in the sea after that quite happy. Since then though I’ve been a little cautious of swimming in the sea without the safety of a life jacket so decided to give this a miss. Although the other people on our trip said it was spectacular. They entered into a cave, by swimming underwater and our tour guide lead them to an area where there was a huge cavern and hundreds of colourful fish. I admit, I really regretted not going afterwards but never mind – I’ll definitely not pass up the chance next time!
Sand Bars at Pipe Cay
What is a sand bar exactly? It looks like a tiny perfect idyllic beach, which you can only access by boat, but it’s actually a collection of sand which has formed above the sea level, with changing tides they can quickly disappear. We had the opportunity to visit the beautiful sand bars at Pipe Cay. The photos and videos we took don’t do them justice, it was absolutely stunning. If you have the opportunity to visit a sand bar, go!
Nurse Sharks at Compass Cay
This was a great experience. I was a little nervous to begin with because even though they’re nurse sharks they’re still SHARKS! It was so amazing to get up close to them though, I plucked up the courage to stroke a few of them (they felt like wet sand paper) The water was shallow so we were able to stand, and our guide and some other tour operators were feeding them as we entered the waters so they were swimming all around us. A great opportunity to see these beautiful creatures in a natural setting. You’ll also see an abundance of Yachts in this area – some with slides so you can slide right off the deck into the ocean! Oh to own a yacht!
Lunch at Staniel Cay
Lunch was organised at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club – basically the only place to eat on the island of Staniel Cay. It wasn’t included in the tour but nevertheless the food was great, and reasonably priced. The Yacht club was clearly a popular destination for food and drink and the place was pretty packed, although not overwhelmingly so.
Swimming Pigs at Pig Beach
I was in two minds as to whether I was satisfied that this tourist destination was a tourist trap or actually a place of natural inhabited wildlife. Nevertheless, I decided to go with open eyes and see what awaited me. Unfortunately, I was quite disappointed and concerned when we arrived. It was the last destination of the day by which point I was unfortunately quite sunburnt (please do remember to put on plenty of suncream when on a boat the cool sea breeze is sooo deceiving!!)
There was a little shack and water tank so the pigs could access fresh water, however the shaded area wasn’t very large and the beating heat of the sun was so intense, even when I had slapped on lots of suncream I couldn’t endure very long in the sun. Where as the pigs – a lot of them with pale pink skin and white hair were often lured out of the shade into the water and by boats for passing tourists to get the perfect snap. Furthermore, our own tour guide continued to use the stale bread which was also given to the iguanas to feed the pigs, he repeatedly tried to get the pigs to jump up like a dog for the ‘treat’. He also commented that a lot of the pigs were ignoring us and sleeping as they had already had their fill of treats from previous tourists throughout the day.
Since becoming vegan in 2018 my feelings towards the protection and care of animals has changed. Ethically speaking I enjoy watching and learning about animals and sea life, however I don’t like taking part in any activity that involves some kind of exploitation, it felt as though these pigs were just being exploited and were not receiving very adequate care and protection. A couple of the pigs I saw looked as if their bodies were covered in sores and another pig’s hooves were so overgrown they started curling around. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t recommend booking a trip to interact with the swimming pigs.
Once we were finished touring the islands, we were transported back by boat to the edge of the air strip of Staniel Cay to fly back to Nassau. The flight just as going out was great, only lasted around 40 minutes but gives fantastic views!
So that’s it, how we spent 10 days in The Bahamas! I hope this has given you some inspiration and insight into what to see and do in The Bahamas.
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