From the finding true local cuisine to discovering more about the history of the islands, here are the best ways to get under the skin of The Bahamas.
1. ‘Jump Up’ at the Educulture Junkanoo Museum
Found in the childhood home of Bahamian, Arlene Nash Ferguson, this unique, mini museum celebrates the history of The Bahamas’ cultural festival called Junkanoo. Dating back over 200 years to the days of slavery, Junkanoo takes place every year on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Dubbed the ‘Queen of Junkanoo’, Arlene, an historian and educator, has ‘jumped up’ in the parades since she was four-years-old and over time has painstakingly documented the history of the event.
Each room is filled with costumes and headpieces, from replicas of the earliest outfits, made from paper and sponge, to the modern-day elaborate versions created with feathers, sequins and beads. Junkanoo was originally seen as a form of resistance, with costumes poignantly made from newspaper that the enslaved people were not allowed to read. Since then it has evolved over the years to incorporate further cultural significance – from musicianship to artistic prowess, with some costumes taking a year to create. As well as showcasing costume pieces, musical instruments and historical artifacts depicting Bahamian life, the museum experience also includes a presentation on the history of the festival; an audio-visual presentation of the parade and an interactive demonstration which sees you help create authentic Junkanoo music with Arlene.
2. Swim with the pigs
When in the Caribbean, you’d typically expect to swim with tropical fish, sting rays or sea turtles and The Bahamas is no exception. Except… it also offers a swimming animal of a different kind. Found on Big Major Cay, an uninhabited island found in The Exumas (an archipelago of 365 tiny cays and islands located 35 miles south-east of Nassau) is Pig Beach. Here, around 20 pigs and piglets call the sandy shores their home, regularly swimming in the aquamarine waters. Thought to have been left on the island by sailors, who planned to use them for food (the sailors then left and the pigs were left to their own devices), the pigs are friendly creatures, especially if you have a carrot or two to feed them. You can visit the island with Powerboat Adventures, who organise day trips to The Exumas, also stopping off at Allen Cays, where you can visit a unique species of endangered iguanas, the Allen Cays Rock Iguanas.
Exuma Escapes full-day tour ($275 per adult) with Powerboat Adventures
3. Dine at Oia Restaurant
Offering a culinary feast of ‘MediterrAsian’ specialties – a fusion of Mediterranean and Japanese dishes – Oia Restaurant is one of The Bahamas’ newest and most glamorous dining spots. Found at the recently-opened Goldwynn Resort on Cable Beach, New Providence, the light-filled restaurant gives far-reaching sea views and comes alive after dark with entertainment in the form of a resident DJ, open kitchen and sushi bar. The menu is inventive with a sharing-plate concept – from tapas-style starters, such as Frito Misto or Crispy Rice with Tuna Tartare, to delicious Maki (try the Oia Roll which has shrimp tempura, white tuna, avocado and aioli). For mains, order a selection of dishes cooked on the robata grill – there are silky Korean short ribs and the signature Organic Half Chicken, which has been marinated in kare-kare sauce. Everything is served ‘kazoku no sutairu’ – or family-style – so be prepared to share.
4. Tuck into Conch Fritters on a Bahamian Food Tour
Join a food tour around Nassau’s local dining spots and you’ll not only sample rum cake, fish tacos and Bahama Mama (rum punch), but you will also be able to taste one of The Bahamas’ tastiest snacks – conch fritters. Served at Bahamian Cookin’ Restaurant, on Parliament Street, the oldest restaurant in Nassau run by three generations of women, the fritters are served up with a typical Bahamian meal. (Be warned: go hungry as you are served a hearty meal of baked mac and cheese, fried plantain, peas n rice, steamed chicken and chickpea curry.) The fried treats are mouth-watering deep-friend balls of dough made with chopped conch meat, onions, peppers and seasonings. Conch is one of the region’s most popular and abundant shellfish, which is eaten in a variety of ways across the islands – from conch salads to conch chowder. As you fill up on local delicacies, the tour will also take you past some of the city’s most noted landmarks and historical sites.
The three-hour Bites of Nassau Food Tasting & Cultural Walking Tour ($79 per adult), Tru Bahamian Food Tours
5. Have a planter’s punch at Towne Hotel
For a step back in time, pop into Towne Hotel, in the heart of downtown Nassau. Here, you can order a Planter’s Punch cocktail at the retro Talking Stick Bar, complete with talking parrot and kitsch artefacts. The cocktail dates back to the late 1800s and includes rum, grenadine, orange and pineapple juice, bitters and fresh lime.
6. Visit The Queen’s Staircase
Commonly referred to as The 66 Steps, the dramatic walkway was cut of out of solid limestone rock by some 600 slaves between 1793 and 1794, to create an escape route from Fort Fincastle, found above, to Nassau. In the late 19th century, the steps were renamed after Queen Victoria, who was in rule when slavery was finally abolished in 1838.
7. Soak up local art at Baha Mar
Championing the local art scene, the sprawling Baha Mar resort is home to The Current Gallery and Art Centre, which also encompasses the Eccho museum and the highly-acclaimed Fairwind Exhibition, one of the largest collections of Bahamian Art in the world. Art on display includes pieces by Dede Brown, including one of her permanent sculptures; photography by underwater cinematographer Andre Musgrove and pieces by artist John Cox, who also happens to be Rosewood Baha Mar’s executive director of arts & culture. Cox and Rosewood, which is one of the three luxury resorts found at Baha Mar, are on a mission to bring the Bahamian art scene to international attention. As well as events and immersive experiences, the gallery plays a central role in Baha Mar’s efforts to be at the forefront of Bahamian culture, by recognizing and supporting a strong creative community in The Bahamas, through exhibitions, workshops and lectures, artist residences, and partnerships. Watch out for the upcoming Bahamas Culinary & Arts Festival (27-29 October 2023).
8. Help marine life conservation at Atlantis
Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the mega-resort that is Atlantis is not only home to the largest casino in the Caribbean, Aquaventure water park and some 21 restaurants, including the new Paranza restaurant by New York chef Michael White, but it is also famous for its conservation efforts at its Dolphin Cay and outdoor marine habitat. With over 65,000 aquatic animals, from 250 species making their home in natural ocean-fed lagoons and habitats, Atlantis’s open-air marine habitat is one of the largest in the world. It also encompasses Dolphin Cay, a marine animal conservation and education centre.
In its 25-year history, Atlantis has established itself as a leader in sustainable tourism with ongoing work to protect, rehabilitate and conserve marine life in The Bahamas. Through its purpose-led efforts with Dolphin Cay and the Atlantis Blue Project Foundation (ABPF), Atlantis has committed to sustainability, and environmental stewardship through marine education, animal rescue and rehabilitation, and restoration of sea species and their habitats throughout The Bahamas and the Caribbean. The resort has also recently announced that it will be home The Bahamas’ first coral gene bank, whichn aims to make strides in the global fight against Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD), an affliction decimating coral populations in The Bahamas and beyond
For more information on all experiences, visit: bahamas.com