If the Atlantic Ocean somehow acquired its own iPhone, this is where it would take its selfies, over and over and over again.
One has only to hop a cruise ship or 50-mile commuter flight to the closest Caribbean archipelago to the U.S. mainland to see why: these hypnotic, aquamarine water hues may be found elsewhere, but not in such abundance and accessibility.
Simply put, whether you’re crafting a convention or perusing incentive travel destinations, in the Bahamas, you’re never more than a dock-stroll away from island-life perfection.
For centuries dating back to 400 AD, the Bahamas sustained a small native population until a restless Italian chap named Columbus bumped into the Bahamian island of San Salvador. What happened next, in sequence, included slavery, an ill-fated stopover by English Puritans, a century-plus of piracy by sods like Blackbeard, Calico Jack and females-disguised-as-male buccaneers Anne Bonny and Mary Read, and 325 years of relatively peaceful British rule until the Bahamas won independence on July 10, 1973.
Today, tourism is the lifeblood of these 16 diverse island groupings of 700 islands total, spread over 100,000 square miles of crystal-clear, coral-rimmed paradise. Whether you prefer to plop in a poolside hammock or island-hop to savor the abundance of exotic flavors, there’s one all-purpose adjective to describe the Bahamas: unforgettable.
Here are 10 selfie-worthy Bahamian experiences not to be missed:
Dolphin Cay at Atlantis, Paradise Island: Of the many attractions at Nassau’s best-known resort hotel, Dolphin Cay offers the priceless opportunity to shake fins and swim with tourist-tolerant dolphins and stingrays, and even share a high-five (but who’s counting?) with a sea lion.
Ardastra Gardens, Nassau: Take a break from the gill-and-fin set to hand-feed a lory parrot and frolic among flamingos and peacocks at this charming 5.5-acre free-range zoo park. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: $18 adults; $9 ages 4-12; children 3 and under free.
Compass Point, Nassau: Music lovers still make the pilgrimage to this brightly-colored Love Beach cottage resort that Island Records founder Chris Blackwell built across the road from his famed recording studio of the same name. In its day, the Compass Point guest register included AC/DC, Bob Marley, Celine Dion, David Bowie, Maria Carey, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones. The vibe still exists, especially on Thursday music nights.
Lucayan National Park, Grand Bahama Island: The Lucayan people, who relocated here from what is now Cuba circa 900 A.D., developed their own political, social and religious systems until they were decimated, post-Columbus, by diseases, slavery and economic hardship. Lucayan bones were discovered here in more than six miles of caves, caverns and tunnels. Claustrophobic visitors will enjoy the great shelling on secluded Gold Rock Beach.
Island House Bar & Grill, Alice Town, Bimini: A favorite haunt for honeymooners, this local bar and eatery in this charming slip of a town prides itself in great food, wicked tunes and overall laidback islandness. Sign a dollar bill and pin it on the wall for me.
Pig Beach, Big Major Cay, Exuma: Though technically uninhabited by humans, Big Major Cay is a serious tourist draw for its selfie-worthy swimming pigs. It’s not known exactly how the 20 or so feral pigs came to BMC, but one thing’s for sure: they’ll never swim alone again.
Daiquiri Shack, Cable Beach, Nassau: I think there’s an island statute that requires all visitors to sip a daiquiri from this insanely-popular island hooch shack. But if there’s not, there should be!
Ocean Club Golf Course, Paradise Island: It’s possible that PGA Hall of Fame golfer Tom Weiskopf sought creative inspiration at the Daiquiri Shack while designing this 18-hole, par-72 stunner, judging by the distractions he wove into the works, including the world’s largest sand trap. In fact, the breathtaking view from the par-3 14th hole positively tempts you to toss your scorecard into the surf and follow it.
Cafe Matisse, Nassau: Tucked inside a centuries-old building in the heart of Parliament Square, this casual Italian eatery is the perfect place for an al fresco evening of antipasti, grilled local catch and a crème brulee accompanied by a grappa-splashed caffe corretto.
Bay Street/Straw Market shopping, Nassau: While Nassau’s main shopping venues can be wall-to-stall cruise visitors when the fleet is in, the pervasive conviviality of the vendors may be the best deal these islands have to offer.