It's Better in the Bahamas
It's Better in the Bahamas
It's Better in the Bahamas

The Bahama Islands are an ideal marriage of sand, sea, and hospitality. The Bahamas are an archipelago of more than 700 islands and 2,400 cayes. From north to south, the chain stretches across 500 miles.

Click to view full-size map.Thirty of the islands are inhabited. New Providence is the home of the capital of Nassau and roughly 70 percent of the nation's population. However, New Providence and Nassau are really just a gateway to the Bahamas. In fact, there's an island for virtually every taste and interest.

From mangrove wetlands to pristine beaches to dense pine forests to stunning coral reefs to secluded fishing villages to swimming pigs to celebrity-owned mansions, the Bahamas has it all.

The Bahamas owes its natural beauty to geology and geography. The islands were formed from the gradual erosion of coral reefs that emerged from the seabed. The reefs were nourished by the nutrient-rich deep ocean trenches that border the archipelago.

The first known inhabitants of the islands were the Lucayan, who settled the area more than a thousand years ago. The Bahamas were the site of Columbus' first landfall in the New World. The introduction of the Europeans meant doom for the native population within a generation. The Lucayans were shipped off as slaves to Hispaniola or died of disease.

British settlers came to the Bahamas beginning in 1648. They established a plantation economy based on the labor of African slaves. Pirates soon followed, taking advantage of the lack of a strong government and the many isolated coves. The era of piracy came to a close as the Bahamas formally became a British colony in 1718. Slavery, however, was not abolished until 1834. The Bahamas remained under British rule until gaining independence in 1973.

Today's Bahamas has successfully blended its British past with Afro-Caribbean culture and cuisine. Junkanoo is one of its most vibrant traditions. An exuberant street parade marked by colorful costumes and pulsating music, Bahamians from all walks of life join the celebration on Boxing Day (December 26) and New Year’s Day.

The Islands have emerged as a stable democracy. An economy driven by tourism and international finance has made the Bahamas among the most prosperous countries in the Caribbean. Nassau is a bustling seaport city of nearly 300,000 people with no shortage of upscale dining, shopping, and nightlife. However, there's an older way of life preserved in the so-called "Out Islands" (any location beyond New Providence and Grand Bahama Island). Locals there still make their living largely from the land and the sea. At the same time, they're always ready to show why Bahamians takes pride in their well-deserved reputation for openness and friendliness.