Derived from the Spanish word Baja Mar, meaning ‘shallow sea,’ The Bahamas is an archipelago comprised of nearly 700 islands and keys in the western Atlantic Ocean. It is just 50 miles from the Southern coast of Florida at its nearest point, and less than 100 miles from the northern coast of Cuba. The Bahamas’ close proximity and similar culture make for a strong association to the Caribbean, but many are surprised to learn that The Bahamas is actually considered part of the Atlantic.
A Brief History
Although there is little written history, archeological research has found that people may have inhabited the islands of The Bahamas as early as 300 AD. These people were believed to have hailed from what is now known as Cuba. From 900-1500 AD the islands were mainly inhabited by a group of people known as the Lucayans, among the first cultures discovered by Christopher Columbus when he made landfall in the New World. Unfortunately, the Lucayan people were harshly enslaved and quickly replaced by European settlers.
In the mid 1600’s the first European settlement was established in The Bahamas by a group of English Puritans known as the Eleutheran Adventurers. Not long thereafter others recognized the value of the shipping routes throughout the islands, resulting in a period of turmoil and unrest that would later become the stories of piracy many of us hear about to this day.
More than a century after the first Europeans inhabited The Bahamas, the American Revolution led to a new influx of people, American colonists still sworn to Britain, referred to today as the Loyalists. The Loyalists and their accompanied slaves made their way to the island of Eleuthera, eventually driving out Spanish forces, and thus gaining independence in 1783. The Bahamas were secured under British rule until July 10, 1973. While still a member of the Commonwealth of the Nations, from that day on The Bahamas was and is considered a sovereign land.
The Bahamas consists primarily of limestone – mass calcium carbonate deposits produced by the breakdown and regeneration of coral reefs. Hundreds of shallow water islands of The Bahamas are surrounded by some of the most lively and beautiful reefs in the world. Those reefs act as natural filters too, producing some of the clearest waters on Earth. With visibility of up to 200 feet in some areas, its no wonder The Bahamas is one of the most frequently used tropical backdrops for Hollywood films.
While The Bahamas is comprised of nearly 700 islands and over 2,000 keys (or cays) – small, low elevation islands resulting from the ocean’s deposit of sand atop a coral reef – only 30 islands are actually inhabited.
The most notable islands include:
- New Providence – Home to Nassau, the capital city of The Bahamas.
- Paradise Island – Located less than half a mile away from New Providence and home to the popular Atlantis resort.
- Andros Island – The largest yet least developed island in The Bahamas.
- The Abacos – A chain of 120 mostly uninhabited islands offering numerous marine activities from sailing to deep sea and flats fishing.
- Grand Bahama Island – The Bahamas’ northernmost island and the closest major island to the United States.
- The Exumas – A string of 365 islands and keys home to the Bahamas’ Family Island Regatta, a prestigious sailing race.
- Long Island – Known for its world-class scuba diving opportunities.
- Bimini – World renowned for its deep sea fishing opportunities.
- San Salvador – Comprised of the very tip of a submerged mountain that plunges 15,000 feet to the bottom of the ocean.
- Eleuthera – Regarded as the Birthplace of The Bahamas and known for being one of the most fertile islands in The Bahamas.
- Cat Island – Named after a famous pirate, Arthur Catt, and known for being the birthplace of The Bahamas’ unique ‘rake and scrape’ style of music.
- Acklins and Crooked Island – Two of the most remote and most preserved islands in The Bahamas.
- Ragged Island – Inhabited by a mere 72 people, the numerous caves and rocks of Ragged Island were thought to have been a safe haven for pirates in the 1600s.
The islands of The Bahamas all have their own unique sub-culture and attractions. Whether you’re looking for the exciting nightlife of the resort scene, or a more cultural remote experience, there’s an island in The Bahamas for you.
The Bahamas is also home to the world’s 3rd largest barrier reef, the Andros Barrier Reef, which runs parallel to a deep ocean trench known as the Tongue of the Ocean. The Tongue’s deepest point? Over 6,000 feet! A lot can live in that much water.
Flora and Fauna
Numerous species of trees and other plants cover the islands, with roughly 120 native only to the Bahamas. Over seven species of palm trees alone are thought to be indigenous to The Bahamas, yet contrary to popular belief, the tree most commonly associated with The Bahamas, the Coconut Palm, is not actually native to the islands. Instead, it is believed that they made their way to the shores of The Bahamas by sea, drifting aloof on the surface of the ocean while retaining the ability germinate; no surprise the Coconut Palm is commonly found in tropical locations throughout the world. Just be careful, legend has it that falling coconuts account for 150 deaths worldwide each year. That’s 30 times the number of shark-related deaths per year. Take that Jaws!
Aside from the Coconut Palm, numerous other fruit trees are found throughout The Bahamas as well, most of which are cultivated in the outer, less populated islands. The tropical climate of The Bahamas makes for a rich environment for fruits of all sorts to thrive. Many well known fruit trees can be found including avocado, banana, guava, and mango as well as lesser known fruit trees such as sugar apple, pigeon plum, hog plum, coco plum, and paw paw.
While The Bahamas is teeming with life outside the incredibly diverse marine ecosystem, most native species are birds and waterfowl, reptiles (don’t worry, there are no poisonous snakes in the Bahamas!), and insects. There are very few land mammals native to The Bahamas, with fifteen species of bats making up the majority, along with a small native rodent known as the Hutia.
Other non-indigenous animals exist in the wild of The Bahamas as well, including horses, pigs, raccoons, goats, and donkeys. Dog lovers visiting The Bahamas may notice a unique breed of wild and domesticated dogs present on most inhabited islands. Known locally as ‘Potcakes’, they are named after the leftover scrapings of the traditional Bahamian dish of peas and rice often fed to the canines. Potcakes are the result of a long line of mixed breeding throughout the islands that has since created its own identifiable line of pooches. Known officially as the Royal Bahamian Potcake, these dogs are now recognized as a distinct breed.
The vast marine environment of the Bahamas is home to thousands upon thousands of creatures, from the smallest native sponges to several species of migrating whales. Numerous species of fish sought after by anglers of all kinds are also present. Notable targets include, but are certainly not limited to, Nassau Grouper, Barracuda, numerous sharks, Permit, Tarpon, and the National Fish of The Bahamas, the Blue Marlin.
Also widely available in The Bahamas is the Bonefish, an elusive game fish found mostly in the sandy and coral based shallow water environs known as ‘flats.’ The Bahamas is known among the angling community as one of the best destinations in the world for bonefish, making them one of the most important fishes to The Bahamas’ economy. They are considered so important in fact, that a pair of bonefish is depicted on the Bahamian ten-cent piece.
Tourism accounts for roughly 50% of Bahamian gross domestic product – employing nearly the same proportion of the nation’s workforce – much of which occurs on or near the country’s vast marine ecosystem. The waters surrounding the islands are rich with life, offering opportunities in water-based activities including fishing (offshore and flats fishing), diving, snorkeling, kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, and much more.
Offshore banking and financial services makes up the second most important industry to the Bahamian economy. Exports such as cement, petroleum products, timber, rum, and salt are also important. The Bahamas’ own Great Inagua Island is home to the second largest saline production operation in North America, accounting for approximately one million pounds of salt per year.
Along with salt, aragonite, a carbonate mineral used in the manufacturing of cement, glass, plastics, and as a soil neutralizer is among the most important minerals to the Bahamian economy.
Additionally, The Bahamas produces some agricultural products, including onions, okra, tomatoes, oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes, cucumbers, sugar cane, and commercial fisheries, while developed primarily for domestic consumption, also make a trade contribution. When compared to tourism and financial services, however, domestic exports account for only a small percentage of the Bahamian economy.
Despite close proximity to both the United States and Cuba, the country of The Bahamas exhibits a culture all its own, and music and dance play a huge part. Various forms of ‘Goombay’ music, performed with percussion from a goat skin drum of the same name, have evolved into other forms of music still popular throughout The Bahamas, including Calypso and rake and scrape. The Junkanoo celebrations – a widely popular competitive parade where teams ‘rush’ in extravagant costumes, play music, and dance to a specific theme – are akin to the US’s National Football League Super Bowl.
Bahamian cuisine is characteristic of many bold flavors have been influenced in part by cuisine common to the Southern United States. Fresh seafood serves as a staple to the Bahamian diet with popular delicacies including conch, spiny lobster, and a wide range fresh fish to name a few.
Conch (pronounced ‘konk’), a large mollusk known for its firm white meat, is a fan favorite for many visitors to the Bahamas. It is served in a variety of ways, including: Deep fried (referred to as ‘cracked’), steamed, cooked in stews or chowders, battered and fried into fritters, or raw and cured ‘ceviche style’ with lime juice and spices. The last is an extremely popular treat commonly referred in The Bahamas as ‘conch salad.’
The abundant marine resources of The Bahamas means Fresh Fish Served Daily. Popular table fare includes grouper, snapper, and dolphin fish (mahi mahi). Fish is often prepared either deep fried or ‘stewed’ in a variety of spices and vegetables, in a tomato base. It is often served with a side of ‘peas and rice’, a traditional Bahamian side dish made from browned white rice and pigeon peas, and sweetened with coconut milk.
Another dish unique to The Bahamas is known as souse (pronounced ‘sowse’). A thin-based soup, souse consists of only a few ingredients: water, vegetables, peppers, and lime juice. Souse is usually served with meat, often left bone-in to absorb the citrus flavor of the broth.
Unique alcoholic beverages are common throughout The Bahamas. Popular drinks include:
- Gully Wash (also known as ‘sky juice’) – a creamy coconut flavored cocktail made from coconut water, rum, gin, and sweetened condensed milk.
- Bahama Mama – a local rum punch concoction typically made with light and dark rums, coconut and coffee liqueurs, pineapple and orange juices, and occasionally grenadine, served over crushed or slushed ice depending on the maker.
- Gin and Coconut Water – Just what it says, the abundance of fresh coconut water makes this a popular cocktail in The Bahamas.
- Goombay Smash – Named after the Island’s unique Goombay music, the Goombay Smash is a popular tropical drink of some debate, but is often prepared with dark rum, coconut rum, apricot brandy, and pineapple juice.
And let’s not forget … Kalik Beer, the official beer of The Bahamas! It is named after the sound made from cowbells, an instrument traditionally used during the country’s Junkanoo festivals.
How Do I Get There?
There are several international airports in The Bahamas. The two largest, Grand Bahama (on Grand Bahamas Island) and Lynden Pindling (on Nassau) serve many major airlines and from numerous international origin points. If you’ve decided to visit outlying islands, local carriers such as Western Air can get you around with multiple flights a day, making international connections a breeze. Additionally, there are smaller carriers such as Watermakers Air that make the short hop to several outlying islands of The Bahamas direct from Florida.
Why We Love The Bahamas
The Bahamas is far from just another travel destination. It is a tropical paradise enjoyed by folks of all interests. There are so many reasons to visit this interesting place, and we sure hope that you do. Should you find yourself on any of the beautiful islands in The Bahamas, make sure to try a little bonefishing. Better yet, why not fish with us at Andros South Lodge? We look forward to seeing you!
Photo credits: Tosh Brown and Louis Cahill