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 varied attractions of 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. Travellers cheques can be changed at all banks, although those in US Dollars receive the best rates. Banks tend to be open from 9:30am to 3pm (Monday to Thursday) and 9:30am to 5pm (Fridays).
Language : English is the official language in 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).
A passport valid for period of intended stay is required. British Citizens can visit without a visa for stays of up to eight months; British passports with other endorsements can visit visa-free for stays of up to three months.
Canadians require a valid passport but they do not require a visa for stays of up to eight months.
Australians require a valid passport but do not require a visa for a stay of up to three months.
South African nationals must hold a valid passport, but no visa is required for a stay of up to three months.
Irish nationals require a passport valid for period of intended stay, but no visa is needed for stays of up to three months.
New Zealanders require a valid passport but do not require a visa for a stay of up to three months.
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 :
A yellow fever vaccination is required by travellers aged more than one year arriving from infected areas, and a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for all visitors over two years. There is a risk of malaria on Great Exuma Island and travellers should take precautions before travel. Food and water is considered safe, though it is advised not to eat fruit or vegetables unless peeled or cooked. Visitors should note that some types of fish, including tropical reef fish, are poisonous to eat even when cooked. Medical facilities are good in Nassau and Freeport, but expensive, and usually require payment in cash on treatment. Comprehensive medical insurance is advised.
Many hotel and restaurant bills in the Bahamas automatically include a service charge of about 15 percent to cover gratuities; if this is not included a 10 to 15 percent tip is expected for most services, including taxi journeys. Hotel staff 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.
Local Customs :
The British and African influences on the Bahamas are still obvious, but the island's proximity to the US has resulted in a somewhat Americanised culture. 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 for the evening.
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. Handshakes on introduction are the norm between both men and women; women are treated as equals in the business environment. 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 if possible use a calling card. VOIP services are a much cheaper and more popular means of communication. A mobile network operates on the GSM 1900 band. 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; 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.
Freeport International Airport
Location: The airport is situated three miles (5km) outside Freeport on Grand Bahama Island.
Time: GMT -5.
Contacts: Tel: +1 242 352 6020.
Getting to the city: Taxis 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 10 miles (16km) west of Nassau.
Time: GMT –5.
Contacts: Tel: +1 242 377 1760 or 377 6100.
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 now non-smoking throughout.
Parking: Short-term parking at Nassau International Airport charges $2 for the first two hours and $ for each 20 minutes thereafter up to a daily fee of $30. Long-term parking is $3 per hour and $9 per day.
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 Tourism Website: www.bahamas.com
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 (0)20 7408 4488.
High Commission for The Bahamas, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 232 1724.
Emergencies: 911 or 919. Ambulance: 322
Bahamas Emergency Numbers
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