January kicks off cruise season in the Caribbean, and one of the top ports of call is the tropical paradise of the Bahamas. With its miles of fabulous white sand beaches, intoxicating mix of restaurants and shops, snorkeling and swimming in always-warm waters, and inviting underwater caves and nature reserves, the Bahamas offers plenty of excursions for every traveler. Here’s our picks for how to make the most of shore excursions in the Bahamas.
Sightseeing and Shopping in Freeport
Just a short walk from where your ship docks is the International Bazaar, a bustling mecca of more than 100 shops. Here you can fill your shopping bag with duty-free cameras, perfumes, and clothing. Next door is the straw market, where you can sift through such Bahamian souvenirs as colorful baskets, hats, handbags, placemats, and an endless array of T-shirts. Combine shopping with sightseeing on a half-day tour of Freeport. Marvel at the grand homes on “Millionaires Row,” wander through the winding paths and cascading waterfalls of the Garden of Groves, visit a distillery for some duty free rum, then finish with a trip to the Bazaar.
Lucayan National Park
More than just a nature preserve, Lucayan National Park on Grand Bahama is a perfect spot to spend a day. A wooden path winds through fragrant mangrove, palm, and pine trees, where you’ll spot rare birds flittering about. At the end of the path is a lovely secluded beach fronting crystal clear water. Bring snorkeling gear to commune with the colorful array of sea life on the vibrant offshore reef. The park is also home to world’s largest underwater cave system. A trip inside the Lucayan caverns reveal a bounty of ancient Arawak treasures—plus it’s just plain fun!
Kayaking and Snorkeling in Peterson Cay
Jump in a kayak and take a day-trip to Peterson Cay, a tiny sun-drenched island just a mile offshore from Barbary Bay Beach on Grand Bahama. A half-hour trip across the calm waters takes you to the cay, where you’ll spend the day snorkeling among the coral gardens and shallow limestone reefs, spotting flittering tropical fish in all colors, sea fans, and maybe even sting rays and barracudas.
With its wide swathes of white sands, vibrantly colored foliage filled with red hibiscus and casuarina trees, Paradise Island is truly a tropical “paradise.” The real fun here is the massive Atlantis Paradise Island Resort & Casino, where you can shop the high-end couture emporiums, try your luck on the buzzing gaming tables, or eat in dazzling restaurants and cafes. Kids will especially love Marine Park, the largest marine habitat in the world. The park holds more than 100 species of fish, many of which you can see swimming overhead as you wander through a Plexiglass walkway. For a more laidback experience, spend the day wandering around the statues at Versailles Gardens or catch a stunning mauve sunset at The Cloister, a 12th-century monastery.
Jump off your cruise ship and spend a few hours uncovering history, architecture, and culture of the Bahamas on a historic tour of Nassau. You can climb up the 18th-century Queen’s Staircase to Fort Fincastle, wander around Fort Charlotte, the largest fort in the Bahamas, and see the stunning late 18th-century government buildings on Parliament Squarer. Other nearby sites include the late 18th-century Nassau Public Library and Museum and the Royal Victoria Hotel. For a look at Bahamanian culture, head to the at the Pompey Museum for its impressive collection of Arawak artifacts, or explore religious and folklore paintings at Nassau’s National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. For something more romantic, see historic Nassau from a horse-drawn surrey.
What’s a cruise for if you can’t bring back a boatload of souvenirs? Shoppers will have plenty of fun in Nassau. Head to Bay Street, where you can browse cosmetics, jewelry, hand-rolled cigars, and a array of T-shirts, crafts, and other souvenirs. Then move over to wander the cobbled alleyways of the International Bazaar, which houses some 30 shops in an idyllic waterfront location.
Hit the Beach
Beaches are everywhere in the Bahamas, and you won’t find a shortage of sandy spots for you to sun and swim. In Nassau, Cable Beach is perfect for families with its soft white sand and gentle waves. On Paradise Island, head to Cabbage Beach, an inviting wide stretch of white-sand that makes a perfect spot to sun and swim. If you’re in Grand Bahama, check out Xanadu Beach or Lucayan Beach. Both are a short taxi ride from where your ship docks in Freeport. A little farther away from Freeport is Fortune Beach, a beautiful secluded stretch of white sand. Stay for a beach party, where you can indulge in an all-you-can-eat Bahamian-style buffet and drink Bahama Mama cocktails.
Crystal clear, warm waters of the Bahamas make for excellent Bahamas snorkeling and diving day trips. Take a boat to Rose Island and dive among colorful coral reefs and discover its aquatic treasures. In Freeport, go on a beach party/snorkeling cruise off the coast or stay on the island and commune with bottle-nosed dolphins on a dolphin dive at the Underwater Explorer Society. The waters of Nassau teem with colorful marine life, and a snorkel or diving adventure is the best way to see it all up close.
– William Travis