STILL a Nature
Written by Christel Schultz – January 1, 2020
With the New Year, and a brand new decade upon us, consider that vacation you’ve been dreaming of…making memories under the golden sun, in the lush tropical forest, or beneath the surface of the endless sea. No matter what you’re into, the Bahamas has an outdoor adventure waiting for you!
Nested in the tranquil turquoise waters of the Caribbean, the islands of the Bahamas abound with natural wonders to explore. While Grand Bahama and The Abacos islands were devastated by Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, there are 14 islands in this incredible Caribbean nation waiting for you to visit:
- Acklins and Crooked Island
- The Berry Islands
- Cat Island
- Eleuthera and Harbour Island
- The Exumas
- Nassau and Paradise Island
- Long Island
- Rum Cay
- San Salvador
Tourism is a major staple of the Bahamas economy, comprising about 50% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Many people are directly or indirectly employed by the tourism industry, so your vacation dollars contribute to sustaining and rebuilding this slice of tropical heaven. Pick your passion and go see for yourself!
Kayak & Paddleboard
If you enjoy clear water but prefer to stay above the surface, a variety of blue holes and natural ponds are available to explore in addition to the Caribbean waters. Turtle Lake is an inland blue hole on Eleuthera where green sea turtles are commonly spotted along with a variety of fish and birds. Bonefish Pond is located on the island of New Providence near the capital city of Nassau. It’s part of a large National Park that sea stars, sharks, turtles, and stingrays call home. Andros is the blue hole capital of the world with 50 of them spread around the shallow waters offshore. These deep, circular shaped sinkholes in the water provide an air of mystery. The bottoms of many have never been discovered.
The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park covers 176 square miles. It was established in 1959 as the first marine protected area in the Caribbean – fishing is prohibited. Some of the cays remain completely uninhabited. This ecological preserve and wildlife refuge boasts an abundance of vibrant marine life and coral reefs visible through crystal clear water. Several freshwater blue holes and caves, including the Thunderball Grotto, are also available to explore throughout this extensive park.
Hiking & Birdwatching
There are a number of places to wander and take in the various habitats across the islands, too. The water is definitely full of life, but the shores and inland areas provide adventures of their own.
More blue holes are found inland on Andros than offshore – 175 of them. The Blue Holes National Park was created to protect these natural treasures along with the surrounding pine and coppice forests. Take a walk on the nature trails, enjoy birdwatching, and swim in the fresh water to cool off. You may encounter some of the more uncommon fish species found only in the caves and caverns. Explore the wetlands or mangrove marshes while hiking Andros, too. If you’d like an expert guide, visit the Small Hope Bay Lodge where bird watching and nature hiking tours are led by Dr. Mike Baltz of the Nature Conservancy.
Guided tours are also available on Bimini Nature Trail located on South Bimini. Learn about the ecology and history of Bimini while seeing the flora and fauna up close in their native environment.
The Cat Island Hiking Trail is the path to Mount Alvernia, the highest point in Bahamas at 203 feet above sea level. Take a walk on Eleuthera to visit a number of caves, one of the largest and most well-known being Preachers Cave. This is a popular exploration destination first discovered in the 1600s when a group of Christians led by William Sayle became shipwrecked and took refuge in the cave. Sermons were held there for some 100 years.
An extensive boardwalk and viewing platform provides wonderful access to the Bonefish Pond nursery area on New Providence. An abundance of young fish, crawfish, and conch, as well as a variety of waterfowl and plants, thrive in the nutrient rich environment. Inagua National Park is a popular destination for ecotravelers due to the massive colony of West Indian flamingos. The park is also home to the Bahama Parrot, Brown pelicans, Bahama woodstar hummingbird, Tri-colored herons, Bahama pintails, and several other bird species.
Harold and Wilson Ponds National Park in Nassau is a vital wetland habitat identified as an Important Bird Area. It is home to the island’s largest populations of herons, egrets, ibises and cormorants as well as the endemic Bahama Swallow. Over 100 different bird species have been identified in this 50 acre park. Conception Island National Park is another designated Important Bird Area believed to have the largest population of nesting tropic birds in the Bahamas.
Primeval Forest National Park on New Providence is another prime destination for the nature enthusiast. This unique tropical hardwood forest is essentially undisturbed, and several large caverns are present. Boardwalks and walking paths provide easy access to park features.
Snorkeling, Diving & Swimming
When it comes to the Bahamas, we certainly can’t forget the amazing snorkeling and diving opportunities. No matter your skill level, preference for deep or shallow water, or the number of people in your party, there’s a snorkel or dive experience just for you.
Exuma and its string of cays (collectively referred to as the Exumas) are beautiful locations for snorkeling or diving. Shallow coral reefs and shipwrecks provide easy beginner diving. Multiple blue holes and submerged cave systems are available for more advanced divers.
Rose Island Reef, near Paradise Island, is one of the most shallow reefs in the Bahamas. It’s a perfect location for all ages and experience levels to snorkel or dive. Two shipwrecks – The Mahoney and The Alcora – are also present and accessible to people of various skill levels. Goulding Cay Reef is another shallow snorkel destination. The elkhorn coral and variety of colorful fish make this a family favorite.
The Gambier Deep Reef northwest of New Providence sinks from the surface to 80 feet. The shallow portions of the reef are completely visible at the surface and perfect for snorkeling. The deeper section is accessible to divers.
The Andros Barrier Reef is the third largest reef in the world, extending 124 miles along Andros. Due to its remote location, a variety of coral and fish species thrive here, creating a very biologically diverse reef system. This reef is also home to the “Tongue of the Ocean,” a vertical cliff that begins at 65 feet below surface and drops into a trench over 6,000 feet deep.
For those with a more specific water encounter in mind, there are several shark experiences available in the Bahamas, too. In July 2011, the Bahamas became a Shark Sanctuary, prohibiting shark fishing and the trade of shark products. With over 40 different species of sharks, the Bahamas is a prime destination for this type of ecotourism.
The Compass Cay Marina is famous for its “pet” sharks. Several nurse sharks congregate in the shallow turquoise waters of the marina, and guests regularly swim with them. These sharks are typically docile unless provoked, but they are still wild animals, so caution is always advised.
Perhaps the most renowned location for shark interactions is Tiger Beach. This sand flat is located west of Grand Bahama Island in about 20 feet of water with phenomenal visibility. The location is famous for its tiger sharks, many of which are so common they’ve been given names by divers that frequent the area. Tigers aren’t the only locals to be seen, though. Great hammerheads, oceanic white-tips, lemon, Caribbean reef, and nurse sharks are likely to be present. Many of the sharks have become accustomed to the divers, too. They may approach more closely than expected. It is important to move fluidly and calmly, keep the sand from stirring up to maintain visibility, and be aware of your surroundings, including any sharks that may be approaching from behind. These practices should be employed in any dive or snorkel experience to protect yourself and the ocean ecosystem.
Another amazing shark experience, especially for those interested in science, is through the Bimini Biological Field Station Sharklab. The Sharklab offers a “research experience” complete with accommodations on South Bimini. The trip is five days and offers a variety of encounters with different species in their natural environment. You will learn about shark science, what information the lab collects, what it’s used for, and more!
More Travel Information
These are just a few of the places and experiences available in the beautiful Bahamas. If you’d like more information about the Bahamas, please visit their website. Consider making this Caribbean treasure your next vacation destination. The following airports are operating to serve the islands:
- Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) in Nassau (the largest airport in the nation)
- Exuma Airport (GGT)
- South Bimini Airport (BIM)
- North Eleuthera Airport (ELH)
- Stella Maris Airport (SML) and Deadman’s Cay Airport (LGI) in Long Island