Bahamas travel guide
Graced with extensive beaches bleached white by the year-round sun and surrounded by sparkling turquoise waters filled with varied and colourful sea life, the islands of the Bahamas are a major destination for divers, sailors and sun-worshippers. Although often thought to be part of the Caribbean, the Bahamas is actually an archipelago of 700 islands with thousands of small 'cays' strung out in the ocean, starting 55 miles (89km) from Miami in the Atlantic Ocean.
The islands' first inhabitants were the Lucayan Indians who lived here from the 9th century until after Columbus discovered the islands in 1492, making his first step into the New World. The resulting exploitation led to the native population being virtually wiped out. For two hundred years, until independence in 1987, the Bahamas was a British Crown Colony and a strong British influence can still be seen in the architecture and culture.
The population of the Bahamas now consists mostly of Bahamians of African descent, who are mainly descended from freed slaves. The strong African cultural influence is evident in everyday life, and in events like Junkanoo, a traditional street festival held every year on Boxing Day. There is also a strong American cultural influence, particularly in the capital, Nassau.
Due to its proximity to the US, the Bahamas has become an offshore banking and financial centre. Tourism, however, remains its most important industry. The long stretches of empty beaches, clear waters and excellent facilities have made the Bahamas a popular destination throughout the year and the multitude of attractions on each of the islands ensure that there is something for everyone.
The official currency is the Bahamian Dollar (BSD), which is divided into 100 cents. The Bahamian Dollar is equal in value to the US Dollar and both currencies are accepted throughout the islands. Currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and many hotels. There are ATMs in the main tourist centres and credit and debit cards are widely accepted in all the big resorts. Banks' opening hours may vary, but tend to be from 9.30am to 3pm (Monday to Thursday) and 9.30am to 04.30 pm (Fridays).
Language : English is the official language of the Bahamas.
Electricity : Electrical current in the Bahamas is 120 volts, 60Hz. Two-pin flat blade plugs and flat blade plugs with round grounding are standard.
Entry Requirements :
United States passport holders must have a passport valid for period of intended stay, or a Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) compliant document, or a government-issued photo ID (such as a driver's license) as well as proof of citizenship, such as an original or certified birth certificate. A visa is not required for visits of up to eight months for those carrying a passport issued in mainland USA (passport holders living in US territories can stay for up to three months visa-free).
Visitors from the United Kingdom should ensure that their passport is valid for at least six months following their departure from the Bahamas. British Citizens can visit without a visa for stays of up to eight months, but they must carry proof of the funds financing their time in the bahamas (approximately $200 per day). Moreover, visitors from the United Kingdom will need to present confirmation of hotel bookings, or letters of invitation, if they plan to stay at a private address.
Canadian passport holders do not require a visa for stays of up to eight months. However, they must have a return ticket or ticket indicating the continuation of their journey. Visitors' passports must be valid for at least three months, if they are leaving the Bahama directly for Canada; if visitors are transiting through other countries then their passport must be valid for no less than six months.
Australians can stay in the Bahamas wihtout a visa for a period of up to 90 days. However, prospective travellers should ensure that their passports are valid beyond the period of their trip and contain blank pages. Additionally, travellers should find out whether they will require any additional documents for connecting flights.
South African nationals must hold a valid passport, but no visa is required for a stay of up to three months; however, visitors can extend their stay for up to eight months.
Irish nationals require a passport valid for the intended period of stay and six months after their departure from the Bahamas. No visa is needed for stays of up to three months, and it is possible for visitors to extend their stay.
New Zealanders require a valid passport but do not require a visa for a stay of up to three months. Visitors' passports will need to valid for a further 90 days after their departure from the Bahamas.
Passport/Visa Note :
All visitors must be in possession of a return or onward ticket, plus proof of funds, and a passport valid for period of intended travel. As part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), all travellers travelling between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean region are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States. We recommend that passports are valid for six months beyond travel to any country.
Travel Health :
All travellers should remain up to date with their routine vaccinations when travelling abroad. These vacinnes would include those for measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), polio, and flu. Travellers to the Bahamas should ensure that they are vaccinated for hepatitis A and typhoid, as there is a risk of contracting this from water supplies and contaminated food. Whether visitors will need to take other vaccines will depend on their length of stay and the areas which they will be visiting. Additional shots may include Hepatitus B and rabies, while a yellow fever vaccination is required by travellers aged more than one year, arriving only from areas with yellow fever risk.
However, many of these vaccinations are considered cautionary measures, as food and water sources are typically safe and well managed in the Bahamas. Visitors should steer clear of fruit or vegetables unless peeled or cooked, and note that some types of fish, including tropical reef fish, are poisonous to eat even when cooked. Visitors should also use mosquito repellent to avoid bites. Medical facilities are good in Nassau and Freeport, but expensive, and usually require payment in cash on treatment; as a result, comprehensive medical insurance is advised.
Many hotel and restaurant bills in the Bahamas automatically include a service charge of about 15 percent; if this is not included a 15 percent tip is expected for most services, including taxi journeys. Hotel bellboys and porters usually receive about BSD 1 per bag.
Safety Information :
Most visits to the Bahamas are trouble-free, though care should be taken in the major cities of Nassau and Freeport. Visitors should take sensible precautions and not carry large amounts of cash or jewellery on their person or wander away from the main tourist areas, especially after dark. In light of several fatal accidents and serious injuries that have occurred using rented watersports equipment, it is advisable that only those experienced on jet skis consider renting them on New Providence and Paradise Island. The watersports industry in the Bahamas is poorly regulated and visitors should only rent equipment from reputable operators and make sure that they have received adequate training before going out onto the water. Hurricane season is from June to the end of November and visitors should monitor weather forecasts before making travel plans.
Local Customs :
A vital part of Bahamian custom is their dialect of English which is characterful and descriptive, and, while it may take some time to come to grips with, it will only add more colour to travellers' experiences of the Bahamas. Handshakes are the norm for greeting people and visitors should default to addressing locals by their surnames, as the use of first names is reserved for incredibly close firends. Visitors should also act in a humble and accepting manner while in the Bahamas, as the locals will treat you in this way; however, Bahamians also have a wicked sense of humour and they have great fun teasing others as a sign of affection. Visitors should note that some of the islands and resorts are very upmarket and require a certain standard of dress. Beachwear should be confined to the beach and smart-casual dress is usually expected in the evenings.
Nassau is the business centre of the Bahamas, whose economy is heavily dependent on tourism and offshore banking. Business protocol is fairly relaxed, although appropriate business attire is expected. Meetings are usually held in conference rooms, they begin punctually, and business cards are customarily exchanged and should be treated respectfully by being placed in a card case. Handshakes on introduction are the norm between both men and women and women are treated as equals in the business environment. Moreover, colleauges and business acquantainces should be addressed by their professional or academic title and surname. Always be punctual for meetings and do not try to hurry others in an effort to end meetings more quickly as this is perceived as rude. Office hours are generally 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
The international access code for the Bahamas is +1, in common with the US, Canada and most of the Caribbean, followed by 242. The outgoing code is 011 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 01144 for the United Kingdom). Calls from the Bahamas can be expensive, so use a calling card when and where possible. VOIP services are a much cheaper and more popular means of communication. Mobile networks operate on the GSM 1900 band and internet cafes are widely available.
Duty Free :
Travellers to the Bahamas over 18 years do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, or 50 cigars or 454g of tobacco; 1 litre spirits and 1 litre wine (all imported beer is subject to duties); and other goods to the value of US$100. Prohibited items include firearms and ammunition without a police permit. Pets and dogs from countries with rabies infections are strictly prohibited from entering the country.
Grand Bahama International Airport
Location: The airport is situated four miles (6.4km) outside Freeport on Grand Bahama Island.
Time: GMT -5.
Contacts: Tel: +1 242 352 6020.
Getting to the city: Taxis and airport shuttles are available, and many hotels offer courtesy buses.
Car rental: Most major car hire companies operate from the airport, including Avis, Hertz and Dollar.
Facilities: Airport facilities include an outgoing duty-free shop, 24-hour ATM, post office, restaurants and bars.
Parking: Parking is available outside the terminals.
Lynden Pindling International Airport
Location: The airport is situated 8 miles (13km) west of Nassau.
Time: GMT –5.
Contacts: Tel: +1 242 702 1010. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Transfer between terminals: The two terminals are within walking distance of each other.
Getting to the city: There is no public transport from Nassau Airport into the city. Taxis are available and many hotels offer courtesy buses.
Car rental: Most major car hire companies operate from the airport.
Facilities: Airport facilities include a duty-free shop, a restaurant and bar, Internet facilities and tourist information desks. ATMs, banking and foreign exchange facilities are also available. The terminals are fully accessible to disabled visitors. Note that Nassau Airport is non-smoking; however, there is a smoking louge in the Graycliffe Lounge and Divan section.
Parking: Short-term parking at Nassau International Airport charges $2 for thirty minutes of parking, $3 for an hour of parking, while 4-8 hours of parking or a day will cost travellers $16 and $20, respectively. Long-term parking requires visitors to park their cars for a minimum of two days, at $22 for this period; thereafter, the cost is $11 per day.
Departure tax: Departure tax is typically included in the cost of visitors tickets.
In general the weather is good all year in the Bahamas and the trade winds ensure that the temperatures remain relatively mild. Seasonal changes are minor. The rainy season extends from May to November, when there is a slight chance of hurricanes. Peak season is between December and April, when average temperatures range between 75°F (24°C) and 85°F (29°C). Generally the northern and western islands are cooler, while the southern islands can get very hot in summer.
Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, Nassau: +1 800 224 2627, or
United States Embassy, Nassau: +1 242 322 1181.
British High Commission, Kingston, Jamaica (also responsible for The Bahamas): +1 876 510 0700.
Canadian High Commission, Kingston, Jamaica (also responsible for The Bahamas): +1 876 926 1500.
Australian High Commission, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (also responsible for The Bahamas): +1 868 822 5450.
South African High Commission, Kingston, Jamaica (also responsible for The Bahamas): +1 876 620 4840.
Bahamian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 319
Foreign Embassies in Bahamas
High Commission for The Bahamas, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7408 4488.
High Commission for The Bahamas, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 232 1724.
911, 919 (Police, Fire, and National Emergency Medical
Services); + 1 242 322 6081, +1 242 325 8864 (Rescue
Bahamas Emergency Numbers
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