Picture perfect beaches make the Bahamas a popular destination for millions of tourists every year, especially Americans and cruise ship visitors. There are a huge range of historical, cultural, and natural attractions in this country, but like most islands in the Caribbean, the Bahamas are an expensive destination.
Smart planning can help you get more bang for your buck as you indulge in everything the Bahamas has to offer and, while this travel guide can help, be prepared to spend money on your trip here.
The Bahamas has 700 islands, of which 31 are inhabited. In 2019, it got hit by Hurricane Dorian pretty badly. However, only the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama were hit by the storm so if you’re weary about going, don’t be. Skip those islands, go visit, and help the local economy. They need you!
This travel guide to the Bahamas will help point the way by giving you tips on what to see, costs, suggested budgets, and ways to save money.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in the Bahamas
1. Go diving
2. Indulge at Atlantis
3. Celebrate Junkaroo
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, and it has been a land and sea park since 1959 — the first marine conservation park of its kind in the world. Most guided trips are multi-day and cost about 300 BSD ($300 USD) per day, or you can set out on your own for about 50 BSD ($50 USD) per day with a rental from Out Island Explorers.
2. See the Garden of the Groves
Located on Grand Bahama Island, this 12-acre eco-tourist attraction is home to alligators, exotic birds, 10,000 different species of plants, four waterfalls, and dozens of lakes. It’s a good way to learn about the ecology of the island chain. Admission is 17 BSD ($17 USD).
3. Go to Lucayan National Park
This forty-acre park 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. Admission to the park is 5 BSD ($5 USD).
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.
5. Explore Fort Charlotte
Fort Charlotte overlooks the harbor in Nassau and dates back to the 1780s. Constructed by the British, the fort has a large moat, cannons, hidden passageways, and dark dungeons to explore. It was never actually used for defense as it was overbudget and poorly designed, and so the fort was nicknamed “Dunmore’s Folly” and then abandoned entirely. It’s free to visit.
6. Swim with the pigs
The Bahamas is the official home of the swimming pigs — the 20-something group of 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 219 BSD ($219 USD) 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 130 BMD ($130 USD) 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
This distillery in downtown Nassau makes delicious homemade rum, which you can sample plenty of as you tour the facilities. They also make a tasty vodka filtered with pink sand from Eleuthera. Tours are free.
8. Relax on a 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. Gold Rock Beach on Grand Bahama Island is worth the trip for crystal clear waters, white sandy beach, and pure relaxation. The shallow waters with perfect visibility here make for some prime snorkeling opportunities.
For information about other Caribbean destinations, check out these guides:
Bahamas Travel Costs
Note: 1 BSD = 1 USD. This is a set exchange rate.
Hostel prices – Lodging in the Bahamas is expensive. There are very few hostels. Mostly, you’ll just find reasonably priced guest houses and budget hotels. A bed will cost about 30 BSD ($30 USD) per night for a room with four-six beds, but can be as high a 40 BSD ($40 USD) per night.
A small double room with an ensuite bathroom costs about 80 BSD ($80 USD) per night for one person or the same price for two adults.
Budget hotel prices – Nightly rates for a budget two or three-star hotel room with a private ensuite bathroom start at about 120 BSD ($120 USD).
There are a handful of Airbnb properties in the Bahamas, with shared accommodation (like a couch in a shared space) starting at 40 BSD ($40 USD) per night. For a private room expect to pay from 100 BSD ($100 USD) per night, while a full apartment averages about 178 BSD ($178 USD) per night.
Average cost of food – One of the best ways to eat cheap in the country is to do a fish fry. Starting from 12 BSD ($12 USD), restaurants will serve you a big plate filled with delicious seafood (like conch fritters), potato salad, Bahamian macaroni and cheese, and the Caribbean staple: peas and rice. You can grab a breakfast of grits from a food cart for less than 3 BMD ($3 USD), while a plate of fish tacos or chicken wings from a food truck is about 10 BMD ($10 USD).
Bakeries and cafes serve up filling fast food like Jamaican-style patties starting from 3 BSD ($3 USD) each. For meals like clam chowder or jerk chicken at a casual restaurant, you’ll pay about 8-15 BSD ($8-15 USD). Meals at a western restaurant will start from 15 BSD ($15 USD) for a burger with fries, while a meal at McDonald’s is about 8 BSD ($8 USD).
For fine dining, you’ll spend about 30-40 BSD ($30-40 USD) for an entrée like lamb shank or pork loin from a resort or high-end restaurant. A beer to go with it will cost about 4 BSD ($4 USD).
You can expect to pay 60 BSD ($60 USD) per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other essential foods.
Backpacking the Bahamas Suggested Budgets
Traveling around the Bahamas isn’t cheap. If you’re backpacking the Bahamas, my suggested budget is around 80 AWG ($80 USD) per day. This budget will cover a hostel dorm, some daily buses, fast food and cooking some of your meals, lots of free attractions, and some activities like visiting the pirate museum.
A mid-range budget of about 200 AWG ($200 USD) will cover staying in a private Airbnb room or a budget hotel, eating at inexpensive restaurants, an occasional ferry, and some activities like a sailing trip.
For a luxury budget of about 430 AWG ($430 USD) per day, you will stay in a nice hotel or resort, take some flights between islands, eat out for all your meals, enjoy some drinks, and do lots of activities like diving. If you spread out your activity budget you can also swim with the pigs!
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 USD.
Bahamas Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
The Bahamas is expensive, and mostly catered to vacationers who want to spend some (or a LOT) of money. With a little creativity, you can trim your budget. here are some ways to save money in the Bahamas:
- Couchsurf – Use Couchsurfing to stay with locals who have extra beds and couches, get free accommodation, and find yourself a local tour guide (and new friend). The community here is really small, with only about 50 active hosts, so be sure to inquire far in advance.
- 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 ($50 USD) at a swanky spot.
- Drink rum – Alcohol is expensive in the Bahamas — a case of imported beer can cost around 50 BSD! The exception to this rule is rum or a local beer (Kalik or Sands).
- Get free stuff – Many hotels offer free use of snorkeling equipment, included breakfasts, and organized excursions that can reduce costs.
- Drink the tap water – Tap water is safe here! There’s no need to purchase bottled water.
- 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.
Where To Stay in the Bahamas
There are very few hostels in the Bahamas, but there are fairly priced options for budget hotels and guest houses. My suggested places to stay in the Bahamas (all located in Nassau) are the following:
How to Get Around the Bahamas
Fly– You can fly between islands quickly and conveniently, especially to the more remote areas. Bahamasair, SkyBahamas, Pineapple Air, and Western Air all operate within the islands (as well as a few others).
A flight from Nassau to Eleuthera takes 20 minutes and will cost about 104 BSD ($104 USD), while Nassau to George Town (Exuma) is a 40-minute flight for 132 BSD ($132 USD). The longest route is Nassau to Inagua, which is about 165 BSD ($165 USD) for 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 ($62-75 USD).
Small boat services – There are mail boats (mailboatbahamas.com) that sail to the lesser inhabited islands, departing from Nassau to places like the Out Islands and Grand Bahamas. and you can hitch a ride overnight for between 30-45 BSD ($30-45 USD), but you won’t find any comfortable services here.
There are also often water taxis navigating back and forth between Nassau and Paradise Island each day, as well as taxis that run sorter routes like between Mangrove Cay and South Andros. Fares depend entirely on the company but can be up to 20 BSD ($20 USD) 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 ($1.25-2.50 US). 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. You’ll pay with exact change as you get off the bus. Freeport also has jitneys between Port Lucaya and Freeport, 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 (and less so in smaller towns). Their base rate is 4.50 BSD ($4.50 USD), and then 2.02 BSD ($2.02 USD) per additional kilometer. A ten-kilometer trip will cost you about 25 BSD ($25 BSD). In some places, you can use the Bahamas Ride app to request a taxi.
When to Go to the Bahamas
Mid-December to mid-April is the country’s peak season, and this is the best time to visit for hot temperatures that rarely dip below 60°F (15°C). The average daily high during this time is 80°F (27°C).
Although peak season is when room rates are the highest and tourist crowds are the thickest, I recommend going during this time to avoid hurricane season (between June to the end of 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 of 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. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of State rates the criminal rate level at critical here, meaning you’ll want to practice awareness. Most of this crime is targeted at other Bahamians.
Don’t leave your valuables out in the open at the beach (or anywhere) to avoid petty crime, like theft. Armed robberies have become more prevalent in recent years.
If you are traveling during COVID and need a Bahamas Health Visa, this post has more information on that process.
If you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Always trust your gut instinct. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. If you feel uncomfortable in a hotel, leave!
If you don’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.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- 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 spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you 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!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or 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 prostitute, sent her son Hernán off to be raised by Nathan Beck, a tugboat captain who brings him up to “become a man.” Now she learns he is coming back to San Nicolas, Aruba, and Revilla’s life becomes ruled by the anticipation of reuniting with her son as he learns about her life in the red light district. This is the darker side to Aruba but it’s an easy beach read.
Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys
This book was released a few years after the Jamaican independence of 1962, and it explores some of the postcolonial issues from that time. It’s set in the 1830s and brings to life the fictional “madwoman in the attic” from the novel Jane Eyre. Antoinette Cosway is a sensual woman sold to Mr. Rochester, and this book is about the woman’s backstory as it explores inequality of race, culture, and gender. It’s heavy reading, but it’s a beautiful one.
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 jobs in publishing and sail from Toronto down to the Caribbean and back again. 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 change in the author: how she and her husband went from workaholics with rigid schedules to just going with the flow people who realize they don’t need a lot of stuff and loved the freedom of their journey. 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 on 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:
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