The Bahamas is a country of 700 different islands and cays, stretching southeast off the Florida coast.
Visitors won't find more interesting islands. The islands differ physically: pine forests, white sandy beaches, limestone caves, lush plantations, bone fishing flats and the world's third largest barrier reef.
They differ historically: Indigenous Arawak Indians, Seminole Indians from Florida, Eleutheran adventurers from England, post-Revolutionary planters from Carolina and pirates all settled there.
Because each island retains its individual character, each has something unique and unexpected to contribute to an island vacation. There are islands so secluded, only the lighthouse keeper has a telephone; islands with everything from casino to golf courses; islands for the country-club set, where tennis overlooks mile-long beaches; islands bustling with colonial charm; islands for frogmen and fisherman.
Grand Bahama Island
Situated 100 miles off the Florida coast, Grand Bahama Island is a tourism center offering great beaches, crystal clear water, excellent offshore diving, resort hotels, casinos, golf courses and shopping bazaars.
It is the fourth largest island in the Bahamian archipelago and has more than 660 miles of beaches and stretches nearly 100 from east to west, but is only 17 miles across at its widest point.
This island has a seemingly endless white sand beach where you can relax in the shade of coconut palms. The crystal-clear water and the multicolored tropical fish are definitely something to see.
You'll enjoy the graceful gestures of the uniformed "bobbies" directing traffic in the bustling downtown.
Nassau will delight you in many ways: the colorful Colonial architecture, warmth of its people and infectious music of steel drums. It's very likely you'll leave this happy place with lots of duty-free gifts and mementos and at least one straw hat.
Where Nassau is a blend of the old and new, Freeport/Lucaya is a modernistic, planned city. It is situated on the Bahamas' second most popular tourist destination: the Island of Grand Bahama.
Freeport is the resort center, where the action can be found. On the eastern and western ends of the island are serene and quaint settings. Finding hide-away spots is not uncommon.
Shopping is also a feature as one can stroll through Port Lucaya and discover treasures from around the world.
For those into nature, Grand Bahama is also home to one of the oldest underwater cave systems in the world, situated at the Lucayan National Park.
This tiny island is set amidst a magnificent blue sea. Bordered by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and by the Great Bahama Bank, Bimini has traditionally been referred to as the big-game fishing capital of the world.
Discovered by Ponce de Leon in 1512 while searching for the fountain of youth, Bimini has long remained a popular destination for adventurers of all types. Pirates and rumrunners took refuge here. Ernest Hemmingway made it a favorite retreat in the 1930s. Thousands more have come to catch prized game fish, explore the undersea world or simply do nothing at all.
Alice Town is at the center of most of Bimini's activity. Everything is nearby, so walking is the usual method of getting place to place. Restaurants specialize in local seafood and other dishes. Shopping consists of duty-free liquors and perfume, native artwork, and a Bahamian straw market featuring a wide variety of souvenirs. Several bars and nightspots, complete with island music, provide upbeat nightlife.
Three hundred years ago a small band of English pilgrims, seeking religious freedom, landed on this island and gave it its name, which means "freedom" in Greek. The name seems to be as apt today as it was then.
Eleuthera delivers on its initial promise by bestowing its gifts upon the lucky who've stumbled upon it, or the smart who know to go there. Miles of glistening pink and white sand beaches, serene colonial villages and rolling acres of pineapple plantations make Eleuthera an island of the most casual sophistication.
The cool laziness of Eleutherean life and dusty yet drenched colors of the island give it the feel of a giant illusion; it seems to have a kind of unbounded air of calm and grace. With its two companions, Harbour Island and Spanish Wells, Eleuthera has long been a favored destination among travelers seeking a bit of quiet charm.
. Bahamas Online www.thebahamas.com
. Signature Travel Network www.signaturetravelnetwork.com
. Bahamas Tourist Information www.geographia.com/bahamas
Karrie Torok is a travel consultant with Gadabout Travel. She can be reached at (321) 253-3674 www.cruisetraveltours.com.