Postcard-perfect beaches, crystalline waters, and a plethora of resorts make the Bahamas a popular destination for millions of tourists every year — especially vacationing Americans and cruisers.
Composed of 700 islands, of which 31 are inhabited, the Bahamas offers more than just posh resorts. There’s a huge range of historical, cultural, and natural attractions in this country, but like most islands in the Caribbean, it’s not a cheap destination to explore.
Fortunately, while you can definitely come here to splurge, you don’t have to go home broke if you plan ahead. There’s plenty of things to see and do that don’t cost an arm and a leg.
This travel guide to the Bahamas can help you save money, have fun, and make the most of your time in this island paradise.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in the Bahamas
1. Go diving in the Tongue of the Ocean
2. Indulge at Atlantis
3. Celebrate Junkanoo
4. Learn about pirates
5. Visit Harbor Island
Other Things to See and Do in the Bahamas
1. Kayak the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park
The Exuma Cays is a chain of over 365 islands in the middle of the Bahamas. It has been a protected land and sea park since 1959 — the first marine conservation park of its kind in the world. Spanning over 112,000 acres, the park is home to all kinds of seabirds, as well as groupers and lobsters (much of the area was overfished before the region became protected). Most guided trips are multi-day excursions and cost around 300 BSD per day. You can set out on your own kayaking trip for about 50 BSD per day with a rental from Out Island Explorers.
2. Tour the Garden of the Groves
Located on Grand Bahama Island, this 12-acre eco-tourism park is home to alligators, exotic birds, 10,000 different species of plants, four waterfalls, and dozens of lakes. It’s a good place to wander and learn about the ecology of the islands. Admission is 17 BSD.
3. Explore Lucayan National Park
This 40-acre park in Grand Bahama is home to the world’s largest underwater limestone cave system. Most caves are only accessible to experienced divers, although two caves are open for swimming. For everyone else, there are various hiking trails that wind throughout the pine forest and along Gold Rock Beach. Definitely visit Ben’s Cave and Burial Mound Cave while you’re here. Admission to the park is 5 BSD.
4. Hang out at Port Lucaya Marketplace
This 12-acre open-air shopping complex in Freeport has more than 60 shops, a dozen restaurants, 90 vendors, two dozen artists, hair braiders, and even live music. You’ll find great bargains on hand-crafted goods and one-of-a-kind items. It’s touristy, but the locals hang out here too, and there’s plenty to keep you busy. Come here to browse, shop, and people-watch.
5. See Fort Charlotte
Fort Charlotte overlooks the harbor in Nassau and dates to the 1780s. Constructed by the British Lord Dunmore, the fort has a large moat, cannons, hidden passageways, and dark dungeons to explore. It was never actually used for defense as it was over budget and poorly designed. For that reason, the fort was nicknamed “Dunmore’s Folly” and abandoned entirely. It’s free to visit.
6. Swim with the pigs
The Bahamas is the official home of the swimming pigs — a group of twenty or so world-famous pigs and piglets living on Pig Beach. Nobody knows how they got there as Big Major Cay is uninhabited and the pigs are not native to the island. You can only get there by boat, and tours aren’t cheap. They start around 220 BSD from Nassau or George Town for a full-day trip, but you’ll get lots of extras like snorkeling gear, lunch, and an open bar. A half-day tour with Four C’s Adventures starts from about 140 BSD per person for three hours. If you’re traveling with friends you can also charter a boat, but it’ll be significantly more expensive.
7. Tour the John Watling’s Distillery
Located in an 18th-century estate, this distillery in downtown Nassau makes delicious homemade rum, which you can sample as you tour the facilities. If rum isn’t your drink of choice, they also make a tasty vodka filtered with pink sand from Eleuthera. Tours are free.
8. Relax on the beach
If you just want to plop down on a sandy beach and relax with a tropical cocktail, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. Cable Beach and Jaw’s Beach are both located near Nassau and are popular choices. Gold Rock Beach on Grand Bahama Island is worth the trip for crystal clear waters, a white sandy beach, and pure relaxation. The shallow waters with perfect visibility here make for some prime snorkeling opportunities too. On Eleuthera, don’t miss French Leave Beach and Pink Sands Beach.
9. Take a food tour
One of the best ways to sample all the local dishes and learn some of the history and culture behind them is via a food tour. Tru Bahamian Food Tours is one of the most popular choices, offering a couple different food tours in Nassau. Their main tour lasts five hours and stops at 6 different eateries, providing ample opportunity to indulge your foodie dreams.
10. See the Ocean Atlas
Located near Nassau, this sculpture by artist Jason deCaires Taylor is located 5 meters (16 feet) underwater. Standing 5 meters tall and weighing some 60 tons, it’s the biggest underwater sculpture in the world, designed to hopefully stimulate coral growth in the area. You can swim or snorkel to see it up close.
For information about other Caribbean destinations, check out these guides:
Bahamas Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Lodging in the Bahamas is expensive. There are virtually no hostels here since it’s a luxury destination and camping on the beach or on public land is strictly prohibited. Your best bet is to go with either a budget hotel, or Airbnb.
Budget hotel prices – Budget three-star hotels start at 100-150 BSD per night. Expect basic amenities like free Wi-Fi and AC. A few hotels also include free breakfast.
Airbnb is also available in the Bahamas, with private rooms ranging from 60-100 BSD per night. An entire home/apartment averages 150 BSD per night.
Food – Unsurprisingly, traditional cuisine in the Bahamas relies heavily on seafood. Fish, shellfish, and lobster are all common staples, though the national dish is conch (a large sea snail). Tropical fruits and pork round out the diet, with rum being the local drink of choice. Expect to see dishes like stewed fish, johnnycakes, baked crab, peas and rice, and cracked conch (deep-fried conch).
While there are lots of places to splurge here, one of the best ways to eat cheap is to do a fish fry. For about 12-15 BSD, restaurants will serve you a big plate of delicious seafood, potato salad, Bahamian macaroni and cheese, and peas and rice.
You can grab a breakfast of grits from a food cart for less than 3 BSD, while a plate of fish tacos or chicken wings from a food truck is around 10 BSD.
Bakeries and cafes serve filling fast food like Jamaican-style patties starting from 3 BSD. For meals like clam chowder or jerk chicken, expect to pay 8-15 BSD. Meals at a western restaurant start from 15 BSD for a burger with fries, while fast food (think McDonald’s) costs about 8 BSD for a combo meal.
For fine dining, you’ll spend 40-50 BSD for an entrée like lamb shank or pork loin from a resort or high-end restaurant.
Beer is around 5 BSD, as is a latte or cappuccino. Bottled water is 1-2 BSD.
If you plan on cooking your own food, expect to spend around 60 BSD per week for groceries. That gets you basic staples like rice, seasonal vegetables, and some chicken or seafood.
Backpacking the Bahamas Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking the Bahamas, my suggested budget is around 100 BSD per day. This covers staying in a private Airbnb room, cooking all your meals, limiting your drinking, taking cheap public transportation to get around, and sticking to mostly free activities like swimming and hiking.
On a mid-range budget of about 195 BSD per day, you can stay in a budget hotel, eat out for most meals, have a few drinks, take the occasional taxi to get around, and do more paid activities like rent a kayak or go diving.
On a “luxury” budget of 340 BSD or more per day, you can stay in a nice three-star hotel, eat out anywhere you want, drink more, island hop, and do whatever activities you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in BSD.
Bahamas Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
The Bahamas is expensive as it mostly caters to vacationers who want to splash out. However, with a little creativity you can trim your budget and manage a visit without going bust. Here are some ways to save money in the Bahamas:
- Stay with a local – Use Couchsurfing to stay with locals for free. It’s not fancy, but you’ll save money and get to connect with a local who can share their insider tips and advice. There aren’t a lot of hosts here, however, so send your requests early.
- Use nightclub passes – Many hotels and even taxi drivers will sell you a discounted pass to get into the clubs around town. This is a particularly good value if you are visiting on a weekend when cover charges may be 50 BSD at a swanky spot.
- Drink rum – Imported alcohol is expensive in the Bahamas so stick to local rum if you’re going to be drinking
- Get free stuff – Many hotels offer free use of snorkeling equipment, include free breakfast, and arrange free or cheap organized excursions. Always ask to see what free stuff is available!
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
- Look for discounts – The Bahamas tourism website (nassauparadiseisland.com/deals) often lists great one-off deals, like discounted hotel rooms or book-a-third-night-free deals. Check it out before you book to see if anything catches your eye.
- Cook your own food – Eating out for every meal will ruin your budget. Cook your own meals to save money. It won’t be fancy, but you can use those savings for fun activities instead!
Where to Stay in the Bahamas
Budget accommodation is severely limited in the Bahamas so you’ll need to plan ahead and book early. Here are a few suggested places to stay to help you save money:
How to Get Around the Bahamas
Fly – You can fly between islands quickly and conveniently, especially to the more remote areas. Bahamasair, Pineapple Air, and Western Air all operate within the islands.
A flight from Nassau to Eleuthera takes 20 minutes and costs about 115 BSD, while Nassau to George Town (Exuma) is a 40-minute flight for around 131 BSD. The longest route is Nassau to Inagua, which is about 165 BSD and takes 90 minutes.
Ferry – The ferry service in the Bahamas is run by Bahamas Ferries, with frequent high-speed services between Nassau and Eleuthera, and less frequent services between Nassau and Andros, Long Island, and Grand Exuma. Some of these routes take a long time (Nassau to Long Island is 19 hours and only runs once a week). Ferry fares range between 62-75 BSD.
Small boat services – There are often water taxis navigating back and forth between Nassau and Paradise Island, as well as taxis that run shorter routes between Mangrove Cay and South Andros. Fares depend entirely on the company but can cost around 20 BSD for a short run.
Bus – In Nassau, you can take private minibusses (also known as jitneys) everywhere, with fares between 1.25-2.50 BSD. It’s a pretty casual service and there’s no real timetable or set route so you’ll have to ask the driver about your destination. Freeport also has jitneys to Port Lucaya but these services often do not run at night.
Taxis – Taxis in the Bahamas are safe and reliable, and readily available everywhere in Nassau and Freeport (less so in smaller towns). Their base rate is 4.50 BSD and then 2.33 BSD per additional kilometer. A ten-kilometer trip costs you about 28 BSD. In some places, you can use the Bahamas Ride app to request a taxi.
Car rental – This is one of the best ways to get around (especially if you’re sharing a ride). Rentals aren’t cheap, costing around 60 BSD per day, however, if you can share a ride you’ll save money and have a lot of flexibility. Just remember that you’ll be driving on the left!
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking is somewhat common on the more remote islands, though it’s popularity has waned in recent years. For more information and tips, use Hitchwiki.
When to Go to the Bahamas
Mid-December to mid-April is the country’s peak tourist season and this is the best time to visit for hot temperatures — daily highs range between 26-28°C (80-84°F).
Although peak season is when room rates are the highest and tourist crowds are the thickest, I still recommend going during this time to avoid hurricane season (which is between June-November). Otherwise, you’ll be at risk for tropical storms, and most of those months also fall into the region’s rainy season, which will prevent you from enjoying all the Bahamas’ natural wonders!
How to Stay Safe in the Bahamas
While the Bahamas are mostly considered safe, there are some areas of Nassau that experience more crime. Avoid the city’s “over the hill” (south of Shirley Street) after dark, especially if you’re alone.
That said, most of this crime is targeted at other Bahamians so you don’t need to worry too much. Don’t leave your valuables out in the open at the beach (or anywhere) to avoid petty crime. As long as your valuables are secure and out of sight you’ll likely be fine.
If you are traveling during COVID and need a Bahamas Health Visa, this post has more information on that process.
If you rent a vehicle, don’t leave any valuables in it overnight as break-ins can occur.
When out at the bar, always keep an eye on your drink. Additionally, never walk home alone if intoxicated.
If you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about common travel scams to avoid here.
If you experience an emergency, dial 911 or 919 for assistance.
Always trust your gut instinct. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it in the Bahamas! Follow that rule, and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Bahamas Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to the Bahamas. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or in their spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can share the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all-around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around the Caribbean, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, and boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Bahamas Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Bahamas Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Under a Blue Flag, by Daniel Putkowski
Fifteen years ago, Luz Revilla, a young sex worker, sent her son off to be raised by a tugboat captain. Now he is coming back to San Nicolas, Aruba and Revilla’s life has become ruled by worry and the anticipation of reuniting with her son. This is the darker side of Aruba but it’s an easy beach read.
Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys
This book was released a few years after Jamaican independence in 1962. It’s set in the 1830s and brings to life the fictional “madwoman in the attic” from the novel Jane Eyre. The book is about the woman’s backstory as it explores inequality of race, culture, and gender. It’s heavy reading and explores postcolonial issues, but it’s a beautiful book.
An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude, by Ann Vanderhoof
In the mid-1990s, the author and her husband decided to take a break from their soul-sucking corporate jobs in publishing and sail from Toronto down to the Caribbean. During the trip, they traveled more than 7,000 nautical miles, dropped anchor in 16 countries, and adapted to “island time.” What I loved about this book was the noticeable change in the author: how she and her husband went from workaholics with rigid schedules to learning to go with the flow as they realize they don’t need a lot of stuff to be content. This book is well written, smart, inquisitive, and paints a vivid picture of the Caribbean. Highly recommended!
Out From Nassau, by Fia B. Scheyer
Out From Nassau takes you back to the Bahamas in the 1920s, when Prohibition was happening in the United States and much of its illegal booze was being smuggled in from here. The book focuses on the lives of people in Nassau and the Out Islands, including the McKenzie family, as they become entangled in this dangerous trade. It’s a real page-turner, and although it’s fiction, much of the story is rooted in reality.
Bahamas Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling the Caribbean and continue planning your trip: