To split a geographical hair, The Bahamas is not part of the Caribbean, as many people think. Rather, it is part of the North American plate and is bordered to the east by the Atlantic Ocean and to the west by the Gulf Stream.
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The Bahamas archipelago rises from the Bahama Banks, a vast and uniformly flat underwater platform, and consists of some 700 islands and nearly 2500 small islets or cays sprawled across roughly 259,000 sq km (100,000 sq mi) of ocean. The archipelago stretches 1200kms (750mi) south from Walker's Cay, (which is about 1027kms (750mi) east of Florida's Palm Beach), to the Ragged Island Range, which lies 80kms (50mi)northeast of Cuba and 88.5kms (55mi) north of Haiti. In all this vastness, the islands together add up to no more than 13890 sq km (5363 sq mi) of land (about the size of Connecticut). The mostly linear islands are strewn in a general northwest-southeast string. Great Abaco, Eleuthera, Long Island, Andros - are are as much as 160kms (100mi) long, but few are more than a couple of kilometers wide. All are low lying, the terrain either pancake-flat or gently undulating. Cat Island's Mt Alvernia, the highest point in the Bahamas, is only 62.7m (206ft) above sea level.
Virtually all of the islands are surrounded by coral reefs and sand banks. Most have barrier reefs along the length of their windward (eastern) shores that offer protection from Atlantic waves. These shores are lined virtually their entire lengths by white- or pinkish-sand shelving into turquoise shallows. Many islands are pockmarked by giant sinkholes called blue holes - water-filled, circular pits that open to underground and submarine caves and descend as much as 600ft (180m).
What To Do
The islands offer some of the world's best snorkeling and scuba diving, with 4023km (2500mi) of ocean wall drop-offs, underwater caverns and blue holes - fathomless sinkholes that open to submarine caves. Every island is rimmed by coral reefs, and the water is so warm that wetsuits are unnecessary.
What To See
Andros is a rough-edged, wild island, covered with vast swathes of palm savannahs, eerie forests of mahogany, pine and palmettos and huge mangrove wetlands. The primeval forest is so imposing that islanders swear they're inhabited by red-eyed elves called chickcharneys. Andros is not geared for tourism but still attracts divers, birdwatchers and beachbums.
Lucayan National Park
This 16-hectare (40-acre) park is Grand Bahama's finest treasure. In the north of the park, trails lead onto a limestone plateau riddled with caves that open to the longest underwater cave system in the world. You can walk along the boardwalks that wind through a mangrove swamp and spill out to the beautiful Gold Rock Beach, fringed by soporific dunes.
No trip would be complete for families, or even big kids, without a visit to Atlantis' huge Waterscape. Claiming to be the world's largest open-air aquarium, it has a whole host of lagoons and is home to 200 species of marine life. Sun International remade the Paradise Island Resort & Casino as the Atlantis at a cost of US$850 million.
Fort Fincastle & the Queen’s Staircase
Shaped like a paddle-wheel steamer, this hilltop fort was built by Lord Dunmore in 1793 to guard the harbor against invaders. Never used, it was eventually converted into a lighthouse. The fort itself is not particularly fascinating, but it’s worth the trip for the sweeping panoramic views from the top. Young ‘tour guides’ will try to offer their services – you won’t need them. The Queen’s Staircase leads the way up. Carved by slaves from solid limestone, it’s one of the island’s most enduring landmarks.
Elbow Cay Lighthouse
The island’s signature attraction, this candy-striped lighthouse was an object of community-wide loathing when built in 1863. Many here supplemented their incomes by salvaging loot off ships that crashed against the cay’s treacherous reefs – usually one a month – and an 89ft lighthouse was the last thing these ‘wreckers’ needed. Today, you can check out views from the top, if you dare. To get here, ask the ferry operator to drop you at the lighthouse. Catch the next mainland ferry back by waving to the captain from the dock.
Junkanoo, the nation's most famous festival, has been referred to as 'the centerpiece of Bahamian culture'. The event is hosted at various venues around Christmas and New Year, when streets and settlements resound with cowbells, whistles and goatskin goombay drums, drawing in thousands of foreign visitors. Mostly it's a big blow out for the locals. The main festivity begins before sunrise on Bay St in Nassau on 26 December (Boxing Day) and as early as 03:00 on other islands. Throughout the islands locals and tourists party the night away. Nassau also host a mid-year Junkanoo in June.
The Caribbean Muzik Fest is a week-long jam in late May or early June with reggae, soca, junkanoo and dance hall under the same billing, featuring the best of the Caribbean's musical talent. Pomp and ceremony occur quarterly in Rawson Square in downtown Nassau, with the opening of the Supreme Court. It features the Royal Bahamas Police Band.