Why Visit The Bahamas?
The Bahamas is one of the most geographically complicated nations of the Atlantic. It’s a coral-based archipelago comprising more than 700 islands – hundreds more if you count the rocky outcroppings that have damaged the hulls of countless ships since colonial days.
Most of the population is centered on New Providence Island (Nassau / Cable Beach / Paradise Island) and Grand Bahama Island (Freeport / Lucaya).
The 760-mile-long chain of islands, cays, and reefs that make up The Bahamas stretches from Grand Bahama Island, whose western point is 75 miles almost due east of Palm Beach, Florida, to Great Inagua, southernmost of The Bahamas, which lies about 60 miles northeast of Cuba and less than 100 miles north of Haiti. Cay (pronounced “key”) is the Spanish word for small-island.
Sandy beaches, fishing (some of the best in the world), boating, nearly perfect weather (even though the islands are in the often stormy Atlantic Ocean), and accessibility to the U.S. mainland put this archipelago on the world tourist map. The Bahamas lies right off the Florida coast and is ideal for both quick 4 or 5 day jaunts or much longer vacations.
It is important to note, that less than 50 of these islands and cays offer highly populated towns, villages, or community centers. Out islands might be small outcrops with limestone shorelines, cays with interesting wildlife, or a sparsely inhabited island with miles of beautiful beaches. No matter where you travel, just about every stop will offer beaches with hints of pink, peach or sugar white sand. One can find miles of mangroves, lush vegetation, hidden blue holes, and abandoned ruins reflecting interesting local history. On land you will find curly-tail lizards, hermit crabs, birds, interesting insects, and on a few islands pigs!
The amazing turquoise water is the Bahamas’ most remarkable feature. These beautiful ocean waters are filled with sharks, sea turtles, spiny lobsters, queen conch, crabs, shrimp and fish of every color. The pace and culture are charmingly Caribbean. Residents are friendly and welcoming. With some research, you will be able to find fuel, water, provisions, and amenities to make your visit truly enjoyable and filled with memories to last a life time.
Best Boat – Island Hopping The Bahamas
With two islands (Bimini & Grand Bahamas) only 50 miles from Florida’s east coast, it is possible for even a modest sized boat under 30 feet, to cruise or sail to the Bahamas. Facebook pages are available for those traveling with jet boats, jet skis, and small fishing boats to cross together.
Spend a night at a marina or travel through a mooring field and you will see just about every boat imaginable: sailboats, cruisers, fishing boats, sail and power catamarans, trawlers, and large yachts. Even boats lacking cabins and sleeping births can visit and enjoy on-site lodging at many marinas.
It is important to note that boating in the Bahamas is at times challenging. Reliable aids for navigation are often non-existent, relocated by a storm, or just far and few between. Your trip will include crossing the open ocean with no land in sight for miles. You will navigate waters in remote areas with reefs, limestone ledge, and sandy shoals. Plans need to be made for overnights at marina docks, moorings, or protected anchorages. You need access to fuel, clean water, and for extended stays fresh food. Research and plan well for a safe and enjoyable trip.
Weather and time are also important factors. A slower boat traveling 4 to 8 knots will require most of the day (and decent weather) to get from a Florida departure point to a safe harbor in the nearest Bahamas port. However, a faster boat traveling at 20 knots or more can reach the western islands of the Bahamas in a few hours and even some out islands in less than a full day.
Although a faster boat allows you to maximize shorter weather windows and travel significant distance in short time, there are many that prefer the pace of a slower boat which is more economical for long distance travel. What is one persons “perfect” boat for the Bahamas is someone else’s “nightmare”. The only perfect boat is the one that works for you
Florida Departure Ports
In Florida some of the more common departure ports for Bahamas travel include: Fort Pierce, Palm Beach (aka: Lake Worth Inlet), Port Everglades (aka: Fort Lauderdale) and Miami. Boaters going to the Bahamas for the first time, typically choose West End, Freeport, or Port Lucaya on Grand Bahama Island or Bimini Island as their point of entry, due to their close proximity to the Florida east coast.
Gulf Stream & Weather
This is weather that you can quickly get used to. The trade winds have blessed us with warm year-round weather, with winter lows averaging a comfortable 70 degrees Fahrenheit and summer highs with high humidity at around 80–90, with a gentle dip at night of just 5 to 7 degrees. The result? A climate where you can have fun anytime of the day, any season.
For most reading this section, this trip will be your first time crossing the Gulf Stream. Many boaters along the eastern United States know it’s “out there … somewhere” but the average recreational boater has probably not crossed the Gulf Stream before.
Think of the Gulf Stream as a strong river traveling north that you will need to cross over. It brings warm water from the Gulf of Mexico into the Atlantic Ocean along the eastern coast of the US and extends towards Canada and Europe. Depending on where you depart in Florida, you might see the edge of the stream in between 5 miles or over 20 miles off shore. (https://ocean.weather.gov) Crossing it in good weather conditions can be a wonderful trip, but crossing it in the wrong conditions, like during a cold front or strong northerly winds, could result in a very risky and threatening ride.
All experienced boaters know that weather is important and plays a big part in the safety and well-being of the Captain and crew. This is especially true with travel throughout the islands of the Bahamas. Know what you consider “good” or “acceptable” travel weather and what is “no go, no way”. This depends on many factors including boating experience, the size of your boat, style, and personal preference.
Scuba Diving & Snorkeling
Your trip will probably include walks along pink, peach or white sugar sand beaches, but to really enjoy the Bahamas, consider a visit to the underwater world. Exploring the amazing reefs with either scuba diving or snorkeling gear is easy due to the amazing crystal clear visibility, often to more than 20 feet beneath the ocean’s surface. The water temperature is very comfortable, basically year-round.
On-board, you may wish to carry your own snorkeling equipment so you can enjoy an unexpected find at any moment. On just about every island you will find reefs, coral, and limestone brimming with marine life within swimming distance to the beach or a short boat ride off shore. More populated islands offer half day tours or consider hiring a guide for a more private experience.
The Best Dive Sites in the Bahamas
EXUMA CAYS: Scuba diving in the Exuma Cays will reward divers with an intriguing combination of shallow reefs and colorful walls. The Exumas are an archipelago of 365 cays and islands 35 miles southeast of Nassau. Considered a unique geographical feature, diving in the Bahamas offers the only tidal blue hole experiences in the world such as the Angelfish Blue Hole off of Stocking Island where the crystal blue shallow waters turn to dark-turquoise almost instantly as the sea floor drops to 100 feet. At other Exuma dive sites, swift drifts may carry you along the vast beds of coral reefs bustling with large schools of brightly- colored fish. Find sharks lurking about while diving Amberjack Reef and don’t miss the Austin Smith wreck, the 400-foot Mystery Cave blue hole or Thunderball Grotto named for the James Bond film shot on location
TIGER BEACH: This shallow sand flat is the most reliably consistent spot in the Bahamas for shark encounters. An hour off the coast of the West End of Grand Bahama Island, this rarely visited area of the Bahamas allows for scuba diving exploration and passive shark observation at a relaxed pace. The shallow waters allow for great photo ops of Caribbean Reef sharks, Lemon Sharks, Hammerheads, Bull sharks, Oceanic whitetips and, of course, the Tiger sharks for which the dive site is named. Divers often encounter dolphins as well. Extra weight is often recommended on this dive to help divers anchor to the sandy bottom without churning it up and obstructing view or rousing the sharks. Sharks are not an immediate threat to humans, however they deserve a high level of respect and inexperienced divers may or may not be ready for the rush that comes with so many circling sharks.
AUSTIN SMITH WRECK: Every wreck dive has a tale to tell. The Austin Smith, named for a Bahamian marine killed in a 1980 attack, was a 90-foot Bahamian Defense Force patrol decommissioned in 1995 and destined to become an artificial reef and dive destination off the coast of San Salvador. Unfortunately for San Salvador, the ship sank while being towed and now rests in 60 feet of water on a flat coral bottom off the coast of the Exuma Cays. Now abundant with marine life and astounding regrowth of brilliant corals and delicate sea fans and sponges, visibility typically reaches more than 100 feet. Marine life is expected to continue to thrive in the area thanks to the accidental mishap with the Austin Smith. Diving the Austin Smith is only possible by dive boat and mooring buoys help prevent any damage to the beautiful dive site by boat anchors.