The Essential Bahamas Travel Guide for First-Time Visitors

Diana Rowe Avatar

Girl walking on the beach by The Cove at the Atlantis Resort in The Bahamas.
The beach near The Cove at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in The Bahamas. Photo credit: Heidi Gollub


Dive into crystal-clear turquoise waters, sink your toes into pristine white sand, and experience a rich cultural tapestry – all just a stone’s throw from Florida! The Bahamas offer an unforgettable escape for families, beckoning with endless sunshine, delicious seafood, and adventure around every corner.

Craving the perfect Bahamas family vacation? Look no further! This comprehensive guide equips first-time visitors with everything you need to know. Whether you’re dreaming of building sandcastles on Nassau’s shores or seeking hidden gems, this guide unlocks the secrets to an incredible Bahamian adventure.

Visiting The Bahamas

On my first visit to The Bahamas, I fell in love with its postcard-perfect white sand beaches and blue waters — both literally inviting travelers to dip their toes in the sand and sea. Since then, I’ve visited multiple times by air and on cruises with friends, family, and most recently on a skip-generational vacation with my grandson.

Do you want to lay on its famous beaches or splash around doing water sports such as snorkeling, diving or parasailing? Maybe you’re a nature lover and prefer to take to its trails or visit its marine habitat, wildlife reserves, or national parks. Or perhaps you’d prefer to step back in time with a cultural walking tour, pose for pictures with its famous swimming pigs or indulge in a few days of fun and pampering at Atlantis Resort, The Bahamas’ most famous place to stay.

Yes! You can do all of that and more in The Bahamas. With so many Bahamian islands and so little time, I still have more to discover and share with my family.

Here’s your guide to visiting the Bahamas, whether it’s your first visit or you’re a Bahamas regular.

Which Bahamas Islands Should I Visit

blue oceans waters in the bahamas
Blue ocean waters in the Bahamas. Photo credit: Breeze Leonard

Nassau, Bahamas

New Providence Island, home to the capital city Nassau, is the most visited of all the Bahamas islands. It offers endless opportunities for attractions and entertainment for families. More than 70% of the country’s people live in Nassau; it is the liveliest of the Bahamas islands.

Just 179 miles southeast of Florida, Nassau is a popular cruise line port as well.

Explore Nassau on your own, or hire local tour operators for a downtown tour of Nassau, walking tours or day trips.

Paradise Island, Bahamas

Paradise Island is across the harbor from Nassau. It’s the home of the famous Atlantis Paradise Island Resort. We recommend spending at least a few nights of your Bahamas vacation at this luxury resort destination.

At Atlantis, you’ll find the thrilling Aquaventure waterpark. Home of The Current, an exhilarating river that is the opposite of lazy, with waves to ride and rapids to run. Or you can take the laid-back route and spend time on the miles of white sand beaches or chill at one of the many resort pools.

Or you can visit one of the many marine exhibits showcasing habitats such as lagoons, caves, coral formations and more.

Freeport, Bahamas

The second-largest Bahamian city is Freeport, located on Grand Bahama Island. This is the place to find upscale resorts, cultural and historical sites, 18 of the 28 species of native birds, and a delightful mix of local and international cuisine.

Make time to visit the island’s waterfront hub, Port Lucaya Marketplace. You’ll find lovely boutiques selling local Bohemian handmade goods, fine dining, and open-air entertainment in the colorful Count Basie Square.

This island is also home to a national treasure, Lucayan National Park, the second most visited park in The Bahamas. Known for its underwater cave system, it is also home to preserved remains of the Lucayan Indians, and a prime combination of natural environments including pine forests, mangroves creeks, and coral reefs. This national park is the place to discover the world-famous Gold Rock Beach.

Worth noting is that Grand Bahama Island was one of the hardest-hit islands when Hurricane Dorian made landfall in 2019. The bulk of the damage happened on the eastern and northern parts of Grand Bahama and recovery continues today. Freeport was spared the worst of the damage.

Read More: Best All-Inclusive Resorts in the Bahamas for Families

Aerial view of one of the Bahamas Out Island, Exuma.
Aerial view of one of the Bahamas Out Island, Exuma. Photo credit: Unsplash

Bahamas Out Islands

While Nassau and Freeport are amazing, island hopping is also popular and affordable. These islands offer nature lovers seeking a quieter and more authentic Bahamian experience a peek at the 29 lesser populated islands and hundreds of cays.

The Bahamas Out Islands consist of (to name a few) Bimini, Pink Sands Beach, Harbour Island, Thunderball Grotto, Exumas, Dean’s Blue Hole, Long Island, Lighthouse Beach, Eleuthera, The Hermitage, and Cat Island. This travel guide is an excellent overview of these islands, their amenities, and things to do.

The Thrill Waterpark is just one of the things families can look forward to on Perfect Day at CocoCay. You'll definitely want to keep this in mind when planning a Royal Caribbean cruise!
The Thrill Waterpark is just one of the things families can look forward to on Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island in The Bahamas. Photo credit: Kendra Pierson

Cruise Lines’ Private Islands

Many of the cruise lines own or lease private islands in The Bahamas. These private islands offer a wide range of activities including snorkeling, fishing, swimming, sunbathing, waterslides and water parks, restaurants, and more, all reserved for the exclusive use of that cruise line’s passengers.

Coco Cay (pronounced co-co-key) is where you’ll find Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay private island. After a $250 million upgrade in 2019, the island has the Thrill Waterpark (home to the 135-foot-tall Daredevil’s Peak, which Royal Caribbean says is North America’s tallest water slide), an air balloon ride, a huge pool and a gorgeous upscale section. The private island is also used by Celebrity cruise ships.

Located on more than 40 acres, Carnival Cruise Line owns Princess Cays at the southern end of the island of Eleuthera and the nearby Half Moon Cay on Little San Salvador Island in The Bahamas.

Disney’s Private Island

My toddler granddaughter's first ocean experience was one a Disney Cruise at Castaway Cay in The Bahamas' beaches. Photo
My toddler granddaughter’s first ocean experience was during a Disney Cruise stop at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, in The Bahamas. Photo credit: Diana Rowe

Located near Great Abaco Island, the private island of Castaway Cay is an exclusive port for Disney Cruise ships. It’s always a fun stop for families. This 1,000-acre island was originally named Gorda Cay and is the scene for several popular movies including Splash and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

When I sailed the Disney Dream several years ago with my daughter and teen and toddler granddaughters, Castaway Cay was our favorite excursion because there’s so much to do for all ages. While my teen granddaughter chilled on a beach chair, my daughter and I walked to the beach for my toddler granddaughter’s first ocean experience. She was hesitant at first but loved the cool turquoise ocean waters.

What is The Bahamas Weather Like?

Due to its tropical weather, The Bahamas is a year-round destination, with average temperatures between 75°F and 84°F (24°C-29°C) in both winter and summer. Early morning and night temps might warrant a light jacket. Summer is typically humid with hot sun. Don’t forget the sunscreen!

Rain is more common in the summer and fall seasons. During the summer, consider indoor activities or shaded day trips to avoid the hot mid-afternoon sun.

When is the Best Time to Visit The Bahamas?

High season with higher rates is typically from mid-December to mid-April, when travelers book to escape the winter snows. If that’s your plan, book at least 3 months in advance for the best rates; Christmas and February might need more lead time.

The best deals in The Bahamas are available from mid-April to mid-December when the trade winds offer cool breezes.

When is The Bahamas Hurricane Season?

Hurricane season officially starts in June and lasts through November. But hurricanes rarely land in The Bahamas.

If you are traveling during hurricane season, travel insurance is highly recommended, although many Bahamian hotels also offer a Hurricane Cancellation Policy. (Please confirm with your desired hotel prior to booking.)

Is It Safe to Take My Family to The Bahamas?

As I said, I have visited The Bahamas multiple times with and without my family. I’ve never felt unsafe, and in fact, the locals have been nothing but kind and friendly.

However, as with any visit to foreign countries, travelers should always remain cautious and aware of their surroundings. Straying too far from tourist areas alone is rarely safe, especially late at night, no matter where you are.

Best Bahamas Resorts for Families

As a top tourist beach vacation destination, Freeport, Nassau, and Paradise Island offer every hotel chain imaginable.

Look for hotels that provide amenities for families such as free breakfast, suites, pools with a lifeguard, onsite restaurants, onsite activities for children (kids’ programs or crafts), or at the least, easy access to the surrounding area.

The Atlantis Resort Paradise Island is a sprawling playland featuring an aquaventure water park, marine habitat and so much fun for families
Atlantis Paradise Island is a sprawling playland featuring the Aquaventure water park, marine habitat and so much fun for families. Photo credit: Diana Rowe

Atlantis Resort Paradise Island

Located on Paradise Island is the oceanside Atlantis Resort. If your family is into adventures, get ready to explore all the outdoor and indoor fun within Atlantis’ acres and acres…and acres of property.

https://youtu.be/eu102SeLRk8?si=c-jM6fgP70b9ariv

We have a whole post on all the family-friendly fun things to do at Atlantis Paradise Island and tips for getting the most out of a visit. Here, I’ll just highlight some of my family favorites: Aquaventure water park, pools, beaches, extensive marine habitats, golf course and Atlantis Casino.

Staying at the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort is a luxury resort and it comes at a luxury price. But my family has always thought it was worth every penny.

At the end of the day, families at the Comfort Suites Bahamas make new friends at the hotel pool.
At the end of the day, families at the Comfort Suites Bahamas make new friends at the hotel pool. Photo credit: Diana Rowe

Comfort Suites Paradise Island

I stayed at the Comfort Suites Paradise Island on my most recent visit with my grandson, and I was pleasantly surprised. Although it’s not “fancy,” it checks all the boxes for family-friendly and affordable. My grandson loved chilling at the pool, and since the resort is tiny compared to Atlantis, I felt safe allowing him to venture to the pool alone for a short time.

Breakfast is included, and the pool-side restaurant serves delicious food.

SheBuysTravel Tip: The best reason to stay at the Comfort Suites? It’s a 20-minute walk to the Atlantis Resort and day passes to the Atlantis facilities are included in a Comfort Suites room price!

Ocean view from our rooms at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, Nassau, The Bahamas.
Oceanview from our rooms at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, Nassau, The Bahamas. Photo credit: Diana Rowe

Grand Hyatt Baha Mar Nassau

My grandson and I also stayed at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, part of a 1,000-acre resort complex. The Grand Hyatt Baha Mar offers impressive luxury, but for my grandson, the pools, the flamingos, and the pool featuring Dean’s Blue Hole were the highlights. He and another teen boy discovered this pool with its 8-foot and 15-foot waterfalls, stone gardens and a secluded grotto with a view of sea turtles and sharks.

This luxury resort is located on Nassau’s stunning Cable Beach. From the rooms to the dining, the service was impeccable at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar. Just wow!

Freeport Family Friendly Hotels

I’m not as familiar with Freeport, but several of my friends recommended family-friendly Pelican Bay Hotel and Grand Lucayan, Bahamas.

Bahamas All-Inclusive Resorts

In Nassau, just across the bridge from Paradise Island and Atlantis, is the all-inclusive Melia Nassau Beach overlooking Cable Beach. This property, currently under renovation, offers a prime beachfront location just a few minutes from the city center, shops, restaurants, nightspots, museums and Lynden Pindling International Airport.

An all-inclusive option in Freeport is the Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach, located on the southern shore of Grand Bahama Island. It includes a kids’ club among other all-inclusive amenities.

For an intimate, totally all-inclusive island getaway with a laid-back vibe, there’s Small Hope Bay Lodge on Andros Island. One of our favorite all-inclusive resorts, Small Hope Bay features 17 oceanfront cabins and down-home hospitality. Think of it as your personal resort with a fresh hot breakfast, and homemade lunch and dinner buffets.

Getting to The Bahamas

Where is The Bahamas?

Spread across more than 500 miles and 700 islands, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, as the islands are officially named, is often referred to as a Caribbean Island. But the islands actually are located in the North Atlantic Ocean, just over 110 miles from southeast Florida.

With more than 40 non-stop flights from South Florida and less than a three-hour ferry ride from Fort Lauderdale, getting to The Bahamas for a family beach vacation is super easy and very quick.

Do I Need a Passport to Go to The Bahamas?

U.S. citizens are required to present a valid U.S. passport when traveling to The Bahamas. You will also be asked your anticipated date of departure from The Bahamas.

Those cruising to The Bahamas may use a Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) compliant document.

Click here for more details on traveling to The Bahamas from the United States.

Bahamas Airports

Most travelers arrive in The Bahamas through Lynden Pindling International Airport in Nassau. A newer terminal services only U.S. flights. There is another terminal for domestic flights to the Out Islands and international flights from Canada, England, and other parts of the Caribbean.

Grand Bahama International Airport offers direct flights from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, and Nassau.

Leonard M. Thompson International Airport (formerly Marsh Harbour) in the Abaco Islands has daily flights from Nassau, perfect for island hopping. Several more Bahamas islands also offer island-hopping flights.

Up to seven cruise ships can dock at Nassau's Prince George Wharf, and as the port does not require tendering, passengers walk off the ship directly onto the dock.
Up to seven cruise ships can dock at Nassau’s Prince George Wharf. The port does not require tendering, so passengers can walk off the ship directly onto the dock. Photo credit: Diana Rowe

Cruising The Bahamas

The Bahamas are popular ports for cruise ship passengers. Cruise ship passengers comprise the largest percentage of day visitors to the islands each year.

In addition to stops at their private islands, Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian, and Disney Cruise Line arrive weekly at Nassau and Freeport.

Getting Around The Bahamas

The Bahamas were a British colony and remain part of the Commonwealth. That means cars drive on the left side of the road. Even though the country is pedestrian-friendly, and most drivers yield, be extra cautious and look multiple times so as not to step into traffic.

Transportation options include walking, taxis (only use official taxes marked by yellow license plates), renting a car, and smaller islands offer golf carts.

Things to Do in The Bahamas with Kids

Finding all the things to do in The Bahamas with kids is quite the feat as there truly is so much to do and see, depending on your island of choice. Find below my suggestions, but I haven’t even begun to skim the surface of things to do.

I’d suggest checking out our SheBuysTravel Facebook page to ask any questions! Our SheBuysTravel writers are happy to help!

Kid with inner tubes atop a water slide at the Atlantis Resort in The Bahamas
The top of a water slide at the Atlantis Resort in The Bahamas. Photo credit: Heidi Gollub

Atlantis Resort Paradise Island

Our family favorites are the Aquaventure Water park, any kids’ dream vacation with pools, beaches, slides, and adventure everywhere.

Also check out Atlantis’ marine exhibits including an open-air marine habitat and indoor marine adventures with aquariums.

Fun Things to Do in Historic Downtown Nassau

Consider booking an activity from Get Your Guide. The company has a large selection of things to do that are a great choice for a shore excursion, or for first-time visitors. At any given time, Nassau’s calendar is brimming with activities from the arts to history to its culinary and cultural scene.

Take a guided tour of downtown Nassau or go on your own.

These are a few of the kid-friendly things to do in historic Nassau:

Pirates of Nassau

Arrrrgh, matey! Are your kids intrigued by all things pirate? Then don’t miss a visit to the Pirates of Nassau Interactive Museum, located in the heart of Olde Towne Nassau.

Mixing history with entertainment, begin your pirate adventure on a moonlit dock with the sounds of the lapping ocean and pirates singing nearby.

End your pirate adventure with a Blackbeard’s Revenge Pirate Cruise. Pirate cruises are campy fun for the whole family. There’s a kid-friendly daytime cruise and a dinner cruise with surprisingly good food.

The beautiful pink buildings of Parliament Square in Nassau, Bahamas
The beautiful pink buildings of Parliament Square in Nassau. Photo credit: UpstateNYer via Wikimedia Commons

Parliament Square

Rich in history and dating back to the late 1700s and early 1800s, the pink buildings of Parliament Square are a frequent stop for visitors in old Nassau. This unique Colonial-influenced architecture includes the House of Assembly, the Senate Building, and the Supreme Court of The Bahamas.

There is also a statue of Queen Elizabeth in the square.

The Queen's Staircase in Nassau, Bahamas
The Queen’s Staircase in Nassau. Photo credit: JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ MD via Wikimedia Commons

Queen’s Staircase

Put on your walking shoes and climb the 66 steps of the Queen’s Staircase, named to honor Queen Victoria. Located on top of Elizabeth Avenue, this staircase was hewn out of limestone rock by slaves in 1793-1794.

When the humidity is at its highest, this staircase is a cool reprieve from the heat. The walkway is lined with palm and native trees. Then at the top, enjoy local shopping stalls and souvenirs.

Fort Charlotte in Nassau. Photo credit: Ahodges7 via Wikimedia Commons

Historic Forts of Nassau

Forts are a natural defense on an island with pirates and potential invasion as a constant threat.

History buffs will enjoy exploring Nassau with several forts including Fort Montagu on the eastern edge of downtown; Fort Fincastle, at the top of the Queen’s Staircase; and Fort Charlotte, farther west as the largest and most impressive fort, overlooking Paradise Island.

Distillery: Yo Ho Ho (And a Bottle of Rum)

Discover the “Spirit of the Bahamas” with a tour in historic downtown Nassau of the John Wattling’s Distillery. When in the Bahamas, of course, you must tour a rum distillery, right?

See how Bahamian Rum is hand-made and bottled and get a free sample of a pina colada.

Straw Market

Go shopping at the world-famous Straw Market.

Smack dab in the middle of Nassau’s high-end boutique shops, discover handmade Bahamian crafts, gifts, and souvenirs from straw hats to conch jewelry and hand-carved wood. The prices are reasonable, but haggling is expected. So bring your negotiating skills!

More Not-to-Miss Downtown Nassau Sights

For those who enjoy history and museums, if you have time, also visit:

Junkanoo Beach Near Downtown Nassau

Junkanoo Beach is located just west of the Prince George Wharf (where cruise ships dock). Enjoy plenty of white sand to dig your toes into, and, of course, that beautiful turquoise-blue water. Stop at any number of local tiki bars and shops.

SheBuysTravel Tip: This is known as the “spring break beach,” so late afternoon into the evening might not be as family-friendly.

The boardwalk at Lucayan National Park in The Bahamas.
The boardwalk at Lucayan National Park in The Bahamas. Photo credit: Pietro via Wikimedia Commons

National Parks in The Bahamas

Since 2002, the National Park System of the Bahamas has doubled in size to reach 32 parks covering two million acres spread out across all The Bahamas islands.

The most popular and most visited parks are:

  • Abaco National Park
  • Blue Holes National Park
  • Exuma Land and Sea Park
  • Lucayan National Park (on Grand Bahama Island)
  • Leon Levy Plant Preserve (the first national park of Eleuthera)
Bahamas Paradise Cruise review -- selfie with the swimming pigs
Selfie with the swimming pigs! Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Famous Bahamas Swimming Pigs

Have you heard of The Bahamas’ delightful swimming pigs? A colony of wild pigs live on Big Major Cay Island and happily “pose for pictures.”

Pink Sands Beaches Bahamas

The 3-mile stretch of pink sand on Harbour Island gets its color from crushed shells.

The friendly junkanoo performers posing for photo with me and my grandson at Marina Village on Paradise Island, The Bahamas.
Yummy fried conch fritters. Photo credit: Diana Rowe

Bahamian Food

Bahamian cuisine includes seafood such as fish, shellfish, lobster, crab, and conch, as well as tropical fruits, rice, peas, pork and pigeon peas (a sweeter version of green peas). Be sure to order fresh seafood, especially the local favorites: conch (any way you like), fried fish, and a Bahama Mama cocktail (a sweet rum drink with coconut flavoring).

The best place for tasting local Bahamian cuisine is Arawak Cay, a beachfront entertainment area just a short walk from Nassau Harbor, popular with locals and tourists alike.

Known to the locals as the “Fish Fry,” it began as beachfront shacks but has blossomed into a lively waterfront, home to many restaurants, bars, and outdoor eateries. Popular for lunch and dinner, it’s the place to sample local seafood, such as conch fritters and conch salad, grilled lobster tails and spicy grilled shrimp.

Sip local cocktails or the local beer, Kalik, or refreshing non-alcoholic coconut water. This is also home to an authentic Bahamian Fish Fry, made to order by vendors. You’ll also enjoy traditional junkanoo music and street performers.

Welcome sign at Nassau Bahamas
Welcoming visitors to Nassau Bahamas. Photo credit: BrokenSphere via Wikimedia Commons

Warm and Friendly Bahamas People

I say this often to my friends: Bahamians are truly warm, welcoming and friendly.

An excellent example of this is when my grandson and I stayed on Paradise Island and explored Marina Village. We dined at Frankie Gone Bananas and the local Bahamian server took a liking to my grandson. She gave him extra special attention, lots of laughs, and a big hug at the end of the night.

We also enjoyed a junkanoo parade that same evening, and the musicians selected my grandson out of the crowd to play an instrument and walk with them.

These are just two of many examples of friendly locals.

What is the Bahamas Currency?

U.S. dollars and Bahamian dollars are equal in value. US dollars are accepted in The Bahamas. If you want to exchange your money, do it before you get to The Bahamas for the best rate.

I’d definitely recommend traveling with cash and a major credit card. Taxis are cash-only, but some hotel bars and snack spots only accept cards or room charges. If you pay with US dollars, don’t be surprised to get your change in Bahamian dollars.

In tourist areas, if someone helps you out – guides you to your location, takes your picture for you, etc. – tips are expected.

What Language is Spoken in The Bahamas?

British English is the official language of The Bahamas and is spoken on virtually every island.

However, Bahamians also have their own tantalizing Creole dialect with accents, words and phrases influenced by their personal culture and heritage.

Bahamas History

The Bahamas, a former British colony, gained its independence in 1973. It’s now a member of the Commonwealth and its official name is the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.

The Lucayan people were the original inhabitants of the island. Christopher Columbus famously landed in the Americas. He then infamously, tragically, and strategically annihilated those peaceful inhabitants.

Historically, The Bahamas remained a European-dominated settlement, marked by slave trade and piracy.

Today, the country is a blend of European and African heritage, and due to its perfect climate and picturesque beaches, The Bahamas relies heavily on tourism.

Diana Rowe Avatar
For more than 20 years, Denver-based freelance writer Diana Rowe has specialized in travel, family, and multigenerational family travel — and rightly so, with 10 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. She writes for multiple publications including SheBuysTravel.com and PrimeWomen.com, and her own blogs: TravelingInHeels.com & WineLoversVillage.com.
Read full bio

2 responses


  1. I would recommend using Baggy Rocks. However, I would suggest calling them ahead of time. They have transportation throughout Nassau and they also have car seats if you need them.

    http://www.baggyrocks.com

  2. No car seats required in buses. No Walmart equivalents. You do have the Mall at Marathon for general mall type shopping. Grocery store is Super Value. I haven’t been in a few years so things may have changed a bit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *