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.
Accommodation – Lodging is expensive. There are very few hostels, but there are reasonably priced guest houses and budget hotels. Expect to pay at least 95 BSD a night for a room in a 2-star budget hotel that sleeps two. This price includes basic hotel amenities like free Wifi, television, and private bathrooms. For the best value, check out Airbnb where you can rent either a spare room or an entire place from a local. Often times these are located in central neighborhoods or right on the coast at a much better cost per night than a hotel. You can find entire apartments starting around 50 BSD but you’ll find much more inventory if you look at 90 BSD and up.
Food – You’ll pay around 8 BSD for fish, a side dish, and dessert, which is fairly reasonable for local fare. However, most restaurants also specialize in American and British meals that can cost between 17-25 BSD a plate. There is often also a compulsory service charge of 15% on your bill, so keep in mind as you settle a check. Expect to pay 60 BSD per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foods if you plan on cooking.
Transportation – If you’re staying in Freeport or Nassau, a minibus trip for 1.25 BSD is the cheapest way to get around, but they stop running at 6pm. Another option is the wildly popular water-taxi that runs every hour for 6 BSD from Nassau to Paradise Island. In terms of inter-island travel, there are frequent and affordable mail boats going from Nassau to the outer islands that cost about 45 BSD each way, but plan accordingly because these can take anywhere from 12-48 hours and offer little in the way of modern conveniences. Inter-island flights (via Bahamas Air or other local carriers) are a much more efficient option, and if you buy ahead of time, the fare usually won’t break the bank. Uber, the taxi alternative, is available in Broward and Palm Beach in the Bahamas.
Activities – Snorkeling, diving, swimming with dolphins, and fishing trips can all easily creep up to around 150 BSD each, but are an incredible way to experience the islands if you have the budget. Other inland activities, such as the Pirates of Nassau Museum and the Garden of the Groves on Grand Bahama, are much more reasonable, about 13-15 BSD.
Suggested daily budget – $120-200 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- 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.
- Bike – For around 20 BSD a day, renting a bike offers a good alternative to using taxis to get around. Roads in Freeport and Nassau are generally in good condition though there is more traffic. Roads in the Out Islands may not be as well cared for, but you’ll rarely come across a stop light or more than a handful of cars.
- Camp – Some islands allow visitors to camp on the beach for around 10 BSD. This can be a good way to save money on accommodation on some of the safer, less inhabited islands or on those where typical hotel prices are astronomical.
- Nightclub passes – Many hotels and even taxi drivers will sell you a 5 BSD pass to get into the clubs around town at a discount. 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 – 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 food at the supermarkets – Buy food in the supermarkets, and cook your own meals. Restaurants are expensive here as they cater mostly towards travelers with a large budget.
- Get free stuff – Many hotels offer free use of snorkeling equipment, included breakfasts, and organized excursions that can reduce costs.
- Travel off-season – Prices for vacations plummet the third week in April. You can save 30% or more are possible during the “summer” season (April–December 21st).
Top Things to See and Do in the Bahamas
- Visit Harbor Island – Just north of Eleuthera, Harbor Island is a tiny spot filled with some really nice resorts and beaches. The island is so small, people drive around in golf carts (who wouldn’t be into that) and while it may be a lot more expensive than other parts of the Bahamas, if you want an upscale place for a holiday, this is it. To save a bit of cash, consider staying on Eleuthera, and coming to visit for a day.
- Indulge yourself at Atlantis – This is one of the most prestigious, luxurious, and expensive hotels in the world. If you can’t afford to stay here, you can use the activities within the resort. The Aquaventure Waterpark has 11 pools, huge water slides (including a Mayan temple themed one which tunnels through a shark pool), river rapids, and rock climbing. A day-pass to the waterpark is 135 BSD if you’re not a guest at the hotel.
- Dive the Tongue of the Ocean – The Tongue of the Ocean is an oceanic trench that runs along the entire length of the Andros Island coast. The wall of the trench leads to an almost 6,000 feet drop to the seabed where divers can get up close and personal with reef sharks as they swarm in to feed.
- Learn the history of the Pirates of Nassau – Pirates of Nassau is a museum dedicated to showcasing the history of piracy on the island. The building is huge and in it you’ll walk around a pirate ship, visit the dungeon, and experience all the folklore surrounding the pirates’ legacy. Admission is 12 BSD and it’s open daily 9am-6pm with abbreviated hours on Saturday.
- Kayak the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park – This was the first land and sea park in the world and is still one of the best. You can hire a kayak and have a guide steer you over the coral reefs to get a look at the amazing marine life below you.
- See the Garden of the Groves – Located in Freeport 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. Admission is 16.50 BSD with a guided tour. It’s open daily from 9am-4pm.
- Celebrate Junkanoo – If possible, try to visit the Bahamas in late December or early January—every Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, Bahamians celebrate their national festival, Junkanoo. Brass bands, drums, cow bells, and whistles provide the soundtrack for thousands of people dancing in the streets. If you can’t be there for the main festival, there is a mini-festival held in June.
- Go to Lucayan National Park – This forty-acre park is home to the world’s largest underwater limestone cave system—however, it is only accessible to experienced divers. For everyone else, there are various hiking trails that wind all throughout the pine forest and along Gold Rock Beach. Admission to the park is 3 BSD and it’s open daily from 8:30am-4:30pm.
- Eat at the Fish Fry – Make sure to visit Arawak Cay or “Fish Fry” as it is known to the locals in Nassau. For around 20 BSD, you can have a plate filled with delicious seafood, potato salad, Bahamian macaroni and cheese, and the Caribbean staple, peas and rice.
- Hang out at Port Lucaya Marketplace – This 12-acre shopping complex in Freeport has more than 60 shops, a dozen restaurants, 90 vendors, two dozen artists, hair braiders, and more. You’ll find great bargains on hand-crafted goods and one-of-a-kind items.
- Explore Fort Charlotte – This fort from the 1780’s has a large moat, cannons, hidden passageways, and dark dungeons to explore. Those interested in history will really enjoy this attraction just off the beaten path. Admission is free and it’s open daily from 8am-4pm.
- Eat seafood at Arawak Cay – Located in Nassau, this area is home to the island’s best seafood restaurants. You will find the freshest conch, shrimp, lobster, and more, all cooked to perfection at a reasonable price. Most seafood is served in the traditional Bahamian style, with fresh lime juice and spicy chili peppers.
- Visit Eleuthera – If you want to escape the mass tourism of Freeport or Nassau, then visit Eleuthera Island. The dozens of beaches here are amazing, and Current Cut is one of the most famous diving spots in the country. Get swept up with schools of stingrays, mako sharks, and reef fish as the current carries you along. In addition to spending time on the phenomenal beaches, take a scenic drive through the island and experience the vibrant expat life. Make sure you go to Tippys for nightly music, great drinks, and some of the most affordable food on the island. Tell them I say hi!