|Small Hope Bay beach on Andros Island.|
|Reef Fish Identification|
|The Unofficial Guide to the
World's Best Diving Vacations
It's a diver's eternal struggle--you want to immerse yourself in adrenaline-pumping action, but you want to be safe. You want to get mask-to-snout with a shark, but return to your resort at the end of the day with both your arms attached to hoist that piña colada to your mouth. The travel industry buzzword for this kind of experience is "soft adventure," and perhaps no other dive destination delivers it better than the Bahamas.
The 700-plus islands of the Bahamas have built a reputation on dishing out more scuba experiences than you could ever hope to cram into a single vacation--from wall dives to wreck dives, shark encounters to underwater scooter adventures, blue holes to bottlenose dolphins. Some of the islands, like New Providence and Grand Bahama, boast resort skylines that rival many medium-sized U.S. cities, while on others, the only sound you'll hear is waves licking the shore, the creak of your hammock and the pages of your favorite book rustling in the breeze. Perhaps best of all, you don't have to travel far to find this place--it all starts just 50 miles off the coast of Florida.
Tame is the Name of the Game
Whether or not your family dives, you'll be able to vacation in the Bahamas guilt-free. There's plenty to keep the spouse and kids entranced while you suck a couple tanks dry. Whether it's scavenging for bargains at the Straw Market, combing the beaches for shells, snorkeling with dolphins, golfing, hiking, fishing or just reading a book, no C-card is necessary here to escape life's harried pace.
The Bahamas has gone to great lengths to make this a family-oriented destination of the highest caliber. An outstanding tourism infrastructure means there will be no surprises or headaches. In fact, the hardest part of vacationing here is figuring out where to stay, what to eat and what to do for fun.
Dry Bahamas: Best Things to Do Topside
On the main islands of Grand Bahama and New Providence, expect all the topside attractions and activities that you'd want from a major Caribbean tourist destination--shopping, historic sites, golfing, tennis, casinos, a wide array of restaurant and nightlife options, as well as resort-based land and watersports. On the smaller islands, you're more likely to have to invent your fun and enjoy the natural beauty that makes the islands unique. Here are a few popular Bahamas pastimes.
SNORKEL: Wherever shallow reefs and clear water collide, you'll find people snorkeling. Take along a mask, fins and snorkel for each member of your family.
RIDE A BIKE: Hop on a two-wheeler and work out those legs. Traffic's nearly nil on the Out Islands.
FISH: If you enjoy catching fish as much as observing them, you'll be hooked. Each island offers it, but the angling epicenters are Andros and Walker's Cay.
SHOP: This is a duty-free paradise, especially Nassau and Freeport.
GO TO THE BEACH: The Bahamas boast a combined coastline of more than 2,125 miles. Pick a beach, any beach.
Bahamas with Child: Best Places to Take the Kids
The Bahamas have a well-established reputation as the consummate family destination. And in the mega-resorts of Grand Bahama and New Providence, it's easy to see why. Inside the sprawling resort complexes, you'll find family-friendly havens in a safe environment where there's plenty to do for everyone and every taste. Check with individual resorts to find out what activities they offer children. Many resorts offer kids' camps, where you can relax and play sans souci while Junior gets gregarious with his peers.
Conched Out: Six Great Ways to Eat Strombus Gigas
It's a Bahamas staple, and though you may resist it, there's no escaping it. You must try conch at least once during your stay, and if you're like the many millions who've gone before you, it won't be your last. Here are the best ways to enjoy this shelled delicacy:
1) CONCH FRITTERS: A bar staple, this is finely chopped conch mixed with minced vegetables and spices then deep-fried to a golden brown. Served with a dipping sauce and a membership to your local health club.
2) CONCH SALAD: Distant cousin of Mexican ceviche, this Bahamas favorite is prepared with lime juice, cilantro and onions, and occasionally cucumber and tomato. A great guilt-free treat after a long day of diving.
3) CONCH CHOWDER: A Bahamian twist on a New England favorite, typically prepared with a tomato base. Great after a long winter's day of diving in water in the low 70Fs.
4) CONCH STEAK: Only in the Bahamas could you find conch big and meaty enough to earn the name "steak." The conch is typically pan-fried or sautéed and smothered in a zesty sauce.
5) CONCH SOUP: A water-based soup featuring the omnipresent conch plus celery, onion, tomato and okra--and sometimes dry sherry.
6) CRACKED CONCH: Tenderized, deep-fried and served with a good artery-clogging mayonnaise-based dipping sauce.
Bahamas Unchained & Untamed
Like lawyers and doctors who shed their workaday suits and lab coats for black leather chaps and do-rags to jump on their Harleys, advanced divers in the Bahamas enjoy the opportunity to go hog-wild. Whether your idea of fun is surrounding yourself with a seedy crowd of sharks and dolphins, hopping on an underwater scooter, trying to discover the center of the earth in an eerie, open-ocean blue hole or getting narced on a deep wreck, the Bahamas will punch your adventure ticket. The islands are an ideal place to break out of the dive vacation mainstream without breaking the bank.
My, What Big Teeth You Have!
The Walker's Cay Shark Rodeo offers feeding action so close you can almost taste the chum.
The sound was like that of a cotton T-shirt being ripped to shreds, and it came from the center of the swirling pack of sharks.
For the last 20 minutes of the Shark Rodeo dive at Walker's Cay, the animals had formed a slowly circling pack, an almost orderly procession to gnaw at the suspended "chumsicle" of frozen fish parts. Now a small gray reef shark had cut his way to the front and clamped down on a particularly large hunk of chum--only to find his prize still frozen in place. He furiously shook his head until the gristly chunk came loose with the coarse sound of ripping flesh and cracking ice.
Instantly, every shark within 10 feet lunged for loose pieces of chum. Others went for the oversized carcass still trailing from the gray's mouth. The Pavlovian bell had been rung--hard--and the intensity level surged from that of a school lunch line to that of a combat zone.
The best part: I was practically in the middle of it. After spending most of the dive kneeling on the bottom, I'd screwed up enough courage to swim in for a closer look. When the gray made his move, I was hovering just above and about 15 feet aft of the melee, my fins dangling low enough that two sharks barreled right through them.
The chumsicle concept was pioneered at Walker's Cay and the Shark Rodeo is one of the most exciting shark dives in the Bahamas, offering more than 100 animals on a typical day and the chance to get close to all the action.
Best Dry Dives: Top 8 Places to Party
1) VIC HUM CLUB Harbour Island: Don't think a disco, museum and basketball court go together? Then you haven't been here.
2) COMPASS POINT New Providence: This could be your best chance in the Bahamas to encounter a knockout supermodel or famous actor.
3) COMPLEAT ANGLER Bimini: Dance the night away to "Rake 'N' Scrape" tunes at Ernest Hemingway's old stomping ground.
4) MISS EMILY'S BLUE BEE BAR Green Turtle Cay: The Goombay Smash was invented here. Need we slur more?
5) THE ZOO New Providence: Upscale, expensive and trendy dance club on Cable Beach.
6) THE 601 CLUB New Providence: The now-popular BahaMen used to be the house band. Who let the dogs out?
7) KAPTAIN KENNY'S Grand Bahama: You'll feel 18 all over again swilling beer at this popular Spring Break mecca with live music.
8) WALLY'S Marsh Harbour: Home of the famous "Wally's Special," a potent mix of rum and fruit juice.
Best Beginner Sites: Eight Great Dives
1) SHIPYARD (New Providence): This site boasts four wrecks, including a 150-foot steel freighter and a wooden-hulled ship. The sandy bottom maxes out at 90 feet and is home to garden eels and stingrays.
2) PIRATE'S CATHEDRAL (Walker's Cay): Follow a surreal maze of twisting tunnels, caves and swim-through tunnels in 35 feet of water past schools of silversides. The trail ends in a cavernous grotto where you can see and photograph light streaming in from an overhead opening.
3) SAN JACINTO (Green Turtle Cay): History buffs will dig the encrusted ruins of the first steamship ever built in the U.S. This Civil War-era ship met its fate on the reef near Green Turtle Cay, and the coral-encrusted remains now rest in 40 to 45 feet of water where they are a haven for reef fish and moray eels.
4) TRAIN WRECK (Eleuthera): In the midst of a storm, a Confederate smuggler departed from North Eleuthera in 1865 with cargo that included a locomotive and several railroad cars. She never made it--the overloaded boat sank just offshore. Close by lies the Carnavon, a 200-foot freighter that sank in 1919 in just 35 feet of water.
5) PAGODA REEF (Exumas): Take four acres of reef, scatter 29 species of corals generously across nooks and crannies, add water and reef fish. The result is an ideal shallow reef where you can observe all sorts of interesting behavior--like the sneaky wrasse blenny masquerading as a cleaner fish in order to snack on the fins of larger fish.
6) SCHOOLHOUSE (New Providence): A nice, shallow reef site in 20 feet of water, Schoolhouse is a dense cluster of gorgonians, sea rods and purple sea fans, along with brain, staghorn, fire, star and mustard hill corals.
Best Beginner Sites: Eight Great Dives (cont.)
|7) MAMA RHODA ROCK (Berry Islands): A bright, sunlit forest of elkhorn and staghorn corals in about 20 feet of water abounds with colorful tropical reef fish.|
Bahamas for the Brave: Best Advanced Dives
12) OVER THE WALL AT NIGHT (Andros): Here's your chance to experience the Tongue of the Ocean firsthand. Descend to the edge of the wall at 70 feet, then follow a permanent guideline down to a 25-foot by five-foot sandy ledge at 185 feet. Cut your light at max depth for a phosphorescent light show.
13) THIRD BASIN REEF WALL (Cat Island): At the edge of the bank on the outer reef tract, divers follow a nearly vertical wall to a deep reef ledge at 110 feet. Schooling jacks flash through stands of enormous black coral, and the sunlight occasionally dims as giant eagle rays soar silently by.
14) DOOLITTLE'S GROTTO (San Salvador): A series of crevices leads divers down a sloping bank of coral with swim-throughs galore. A second sandy ledge that slopes from 90 to 160 feet is the last stop before the vertical drop-off and is peppered with towering skyscrapers of coral.
15) CURRENT CUT (Eleuthera): A favorite of adrenaline junkies, the dive combines the sensations of scuba and skydiving. Divers willing to take on the six- to 10-knot currents are dropped off at one end of the passage between North Eleuthera and Current Island to ride the tide past walls of coral about 75 yards apart, often accompanied by schools of jacks, groupers and stingrays.
16) MV COMMERBACH (Long Island): Upright, intact and sitting on the edge of a deep drop-off, it's hard to imagine a more picturesque wreck dive. With more than 10 years of encrusting growth, this intentionally sunk vessel in 100 feet of water is now home to curious grouper and enormous purple tube sponges.