The Bahamas has successfully promoted itself as a destination for US jetsetters, and a lot of it is Americanised. Yet there are still opportunities among its 700 islands and 2500 cays to disappear into a mangrove forest, explore a coral reef and escape the high-rise hotels and package-tour madness.
The 18th-century Privateers' Republic has become a modern banker's paradise, at least on New Providence and Grand Bahama. On the other islands - once known as the Out Islands but now euphemistically called the Family Islands - the atmosphere is more truly West Indian.
You'll certainly be more in tune with the local environment, and have a less generic experience, listening to a rake 'n' scrape band in a bar on a backwater cay than sunning by the pool at a Paradise Island resort.
Full country name: Commonwealth of The Bahamas
Area: 5,380 sq km
Capital City: Nassau
People: African descent (85%), European descent (12%), Asian & Hispanic (3%)
Religion: Baptist (32%), Anglican (20%), Roman Catholic (19%), other Protestant (24%), other (5%)
Government: independent state within the British Commonwealth
Head of State: Governor General Dame Ivy Dumont (representing Queen Elizabeth II)
Head of Government: Prime Minister Perry Christie
GDP: US$5.58 billion
GDP per capita: US$20,000
Major Industries: tourism, finance
Major Trading Partners: USA, UK, Denmark, Italy, Japan, Switzerland
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Visas: US citizens do not need a passport or visa for stays of less than eight months but must show proof of citizenship. Visas and passports are not required of citizens of Canada or the UK and Commonwealth who stay three weeks or less. Visitors from most other European countries need passports but not visas for stays up to three months. Air passengers must have a return or ongoing airline ticket.
Health risks: sunburn (You can get sunburned quickly and seriously, even through clouds. Use a strong sunscreen, hat and barrier cream for your nose and lips. Calamine lotion and aloe vera are good for mild sunburn. Protect your eyes with good-quality sunglasses), prickly heat (This is an itchy rash caused by excessive perspiration trapped under the skin. Prickly heat usually strikes people who have just arrived in a hot climate. Keeping cool, bathing often, drying the skin and using a mild talcum or prickly-heat powder will help. Or splurge on an air-conditioned hotel), dehydration (This can be caused by any condition that leads to an excessive loss of body fluids, including heat, fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and strenuous physical activity. Signs of dehydration include nausea and dizziness, headache, dry eyes and mouth, weakness and muscle cramps, passing small quantities of dark urine, and raised temperature. The treatment is to drink lots of fluids: take oral re-hydration salts if available, otherwise any fluid will do), heat exhaustion (Caused by heavy and prolonged sweating with inadequate fluid replacement and insufficient time for acclimatisation. Symptoms to look out for are headache, dizziness, nausea, feeling weak and exhausted, only passing small quantities of dark urine and possibly muscle aches or cramps. At this stage your temperature may be normal. Treatment is aimed at cooling down and replacing fluids by resting in a cool environment (fanning and cool water sprays may help) and drinking lots of fluids (water, oral re-hydration salts or diluted fruit juice)), heat stroke (If untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke. Signs include confusion, headache, lack of sweating and flushed and red appearance. The skin feels hot to touch and the person’s temperature is raised. In addition, they may show lack of coordination, fits and finally coma (unconsciousness). Heat stroke can be rapidly fatal, so you need to take immediate action to lower the person’s temperature and to get medical help. Move the person into the shade or a cool environment (get a fan going or use a room with air-con), give them cool water to sip intravenous fluid replacement may be needed once you get medical help, ice packs, sponging or spraying with cold water and fanning will all help; ice packs are most effective if you put them over the groin and under the arms, but wrap them up first), fungal infestions (Sweating liberally, probably washing less than usual and going longer without a change of clothes mean that long-distance walkers risk picking up a fungal infection, which, while an unpleasant irritant, presents no danger. Fungal infections are encouraged by moisture, so wear loose, comfortable clothes, wash when you can and dry yourself thoroughly. Try to expose the infected area to air or sunlight as much as possible (without causing offence) and apply an antifungal cream or powder), diarrhoea (To prevent diarrhoea, avoid tap water unless it has been boiled, filtered, or chemically disinfected (e.g. with iodine tablets); only eat fresh fruits and vegetables if cooked or peeled; be wary of dairy products that might contain unpasteurised milk, and be highly selective when eating food from street vendors. If you develop diarrhoea, be sure to drink plenty of fluids, preferably an oral re-hydration solution containing lots of salt and sugar. A few loose stools don’t require treatment but, if you start experiencing more than four or five stools a day, you should start taking an antibiotic (usually a quinolone drug) and an antidiarrhoeal agent (such as loperamide). If diarrhoea is bloody, or persists for more than 72 hours, or is accompanied by fever, shaking chills or severe abdominal pain you should seek medical attention), Giardiasis (This travellers favourite is caused by a parasite, Giardia lamblia, which you acquire by ingesting food or water contaminated by the hardy cysts of the parasite. Giardia can also infect animals, and may be found in streams and other water sources in rural areas, especially on trekking routes. The illness usually appears about a week after you have been exposed to the parasite, but it can appear several weeks after. It may cause a short-lived episode of typical ‘travellers diarrhoea’, but it can cause persistent diarrhoea. You often notice weight loss with giardiasis, as it can prevent food from being absorbed properly in the upper part of your gut. Giardiasis can start quite suddenly, with explosive, watery diarrhoea, without blood. More often you get loose, bulky, foul-smelling faeces that are hard to flush away (assuming you have the luxury of flushing, of course), with lots of gas, bloating, stomach gurgling and cramps. You can sometimes get a mild fever and often feel nauseated, with little or no appetite, 'indigestion' (heartburn) and rotten-egg burps. Although all these symptoms commonly occur in giardiasis, note that they are nonspecific symptoms and can occur in other types of diarrhoea too – eg you can't assume you've got giardiasis just because you've got rotten-egg burps. You should ideally have a laboratory test to diagnose your illness before starting a course of antibiotics, but if you are in a remote area away from medical help, you could take either metronidazole (250mg three times daily for five to 10 days) OR tinidazole (2g single dose -tinidazole is not currently available in the USA).), HIV/AIDS (HIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) develops into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), which is a fatal disease. Any exposure to blood, blood products or body fluids may put the individual at risk. The disease is often transmitted through sexual contact or dirty needles - body piercing, acupuncture, tattooing and vaccinations can be potentially as dangerous as intravenous drug use. HIV and AIDS can also be spread via infected blood transfusions, but blood supplies in most reputable hospitals are now screened, so the risk from transfusions is low. If you do need an injection, ask to see the syringe unwrapped in front of you, or take a needle and syringe pack with you. Fear of HIV infection should not preclude treatment for any serious medical conditions. Most countries have organisations and services for HIV-positive folk and people with AIDS. For a list of organizations divided by country, plus descriptions of their services, see www.aidsmap.com), tetanus (This infection is caused by a germ that lives in soil and in the faeces of horses and other animals. It enters the body via breaks in the skin, so the best prevention is to clean all wounds promptly and thoroughly with an antiseptic. Use antibiotics if the wound becomes hot or pus-filled, or throbs. The first symptom may be discomfort in swallowing, or stiffening of the jaw and neck; this is followed by painful convulsions of the jaw and whole body. The disease can be fatal, but is preventable with vaccination), jellyfish sting
Time Zone: GMT/UTC -5
Dialling Code: 242
Electricity: 120V ,60Hz
Weights & measures: Imperial
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The boomerang-shaped Abacos chain is the second-largest land mass in the country and comprises Abaco (the main island) and the Abaco Cays, a necklace of dozens of smaller cays. The Sea of Abaco, the protected waters in the cays' lee, is a major hotspot for yachters.
The chain dubbed the 'Sailing Capital of the World' technically consists of Great Abaco, the lower part of the island, and Little Abaco, its northwestern extension. Instead of large, showy hotel resorts, the Abacos boast homey cottages and inns on talcum-fine beaches or alongside the many marinas.
Perched on the edge of the Gulf Stream, just east of Miami, the Biminis are barely 26 sq km (10 sq mi) and flat as a flounder. North Bimini is shaped like an inverted crab's claw while below it lies South Bimini, a chunkier and virtually uninhabited plot of land.
Most everything happens in Alice Town on North Bimini (or simply 'Bimini'), especially in midsummer, when visitors arrive in flocks to fish, relax, sit around drinking beer, and tell big-fish stories. The scene gets a little crazier during spring break, when college students come to whoop it up.
This slender wisp of an island with its scenic headlands and seascapes has traditionally been the destination of choice for hobnobbing socialites, drawn here by chic club resorts and sands the delicate hue of Cristal Rosé.
The mainland has declined in recent years though, and now the place du jour is the offshore cay of Harbour Island just east of the northwestern tip of the mainland. One of the juiciest places in The Bahamas, it boasts Dunmore Town, 200-year-old architecture, Pink Sands Beach and great snorkelling.
Grand Bahama is the second most popular destination in The Bahamas - meaning that it's largely overrun with North American snowbirds. Unless you come for the smattering of natural attractions, you'd better be sure that gambling, duty-free shopping and beach lounging are your thing.
Luckily, the island's few natural assets are worth the trip: sugar-white beaches, thick forests of Cuban pine and abundant wildlife. The island's most popular area, Freeport/Lucaya, is a modern, planned affair with little charm and less that's authentically Bahamian.
Nassau exudes a special charm lent by a blend of Old World architecture and contemporary vitality. Modern Nassau is a far cry from the rowdy village that was once full of pirates, prostitutes and ragamuffins. The city is steeped in modern US ways which blend well with the quasi-Caribbean flavour.
Downtown Nassau is a bustling centre of commerce and government, that hums daily to the beat of pinstriped worker bees and starched police officers. The tourist hub extends along the waterfront and along Bay St, one block inland. You can't miss the ever-present cruise ships, and their blue-rinse passengers, who descend on the town in waves.
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