Going to Florida this year? You’ve got to do the Bahamas too.

I’ve been to the Caribbean quite a few times over the years, visiting dream destinations like Puerto Rico, The Bahamas, St Thomas, Sint Maartin, Jamaica and even Bermuda although strictly speaking Bermuda isn’t the Caribbean and I’ve loved it every single time. There’s a laid-back atmosphere on every island, the natives are friendly, and they all speak English. Add to that those amazing tropical beaches, swaying palms, calypso music, daiquiris and Pina Coladas so what’s not to like?

I’m heading over that neck of the woods in a few weeks’ time to an island that I haven’t been to before (St Lucia) and it got me to thinking about the fact that relatively few people who visit Florida on holiday, tag on a couple of days in the Bahamas — particularly given that the nearest of the islands, New Providence, is just a 30 minute flight away from either Orlando or Miami.

The Bahamas are a collection of over 700 islands, cays and islets that range over almost a half million square miles of ocean and are located to the southeast of Florida. The capital, Nassau, is located on one of the islands nearest to the Floridian coast and which is called New Providence. The population of the Bahamas is just slightly more than that of Belfast at 391,000. The vast majority of people who visit the Bahamas, go to New Providence and more specifically to a smaller island that lies adjacent to it called Paradise Island which is joined to New Providence by a causeway. It is on Paradise Island that you’ll find Atlantis, a mega resort hotel built in the 90’s by the south African billionaire Sol Kerzner who had built Sun City in South Africa.

Cabbage Beach, located on Paradise Island is one of the most stunning beaches in the world. Indeed, most of the beaches to be found in the Bahamas are stunning so you’ll be spoilt for choice. Given its proximity to the US mainland, Americans dominate the numbers of tourists who visit the islands but you’ll also find plenty of Europeans including a lot of British as The Bahamas are still part of the Commonwealth and Queen Elizabeth 11 is still their monarch. English is widely spoken but Bahamians have their own patois which is called creole and since they also have their own currency, the Bahamian dollar which has parity with the US dollar, the latter currency is widely accepted on the islands, so you don’t have to worry about changing anything. The islands are not a cheap destination so be prepared but a visit there is worth every penny and is always a good introduction to the Caribbean experience.

Things that you absolutely have to do when in the Bahamas is snorkel or scuba dive as the waters are warm, pristine clear and swarming with colourful fish and coral. Indeed, all of the beaches are full of dead coral which has broken down and disintegrated so your feet just sink into this white sand that has the consistency and feel of brown sugar! The Bahamas are also one of the few places in the world where you can swim with black tip sharks which are known for their timid nature. If the prospect of swimming with sharks sends shivers down your spine, then you also have the option of swimming with dolphins which you can do nearby on the idyllic Blue Lagoon, a small ‘Robinson Crusoe’ type island located a twenty-minute boat ride away from Paradise Island where you can go on a day trip and where you’ll find loads of hammocks stretched between palm trees so you can get those picture-perfect photos!

In addition to flying directly to Nassau, you’ll have the opportunity later this summer to avail of short, three- and four-night mini-cruises to the Bahamas and back with Royal Caribbean, sailing out of Port Canaveral which is located just over an hours’ drive away from Orlando. This is an excellent bit of news as it will afford travellers the opportunity to dip their toes in the water to experience both what cruising is like and why the Bahamas have so much to offer, without breaking the bank in the process. If you’re planning on travelling to Florida this year and your final travel arrangements haven’t yet been committed to, then I strongly urge you to consider short break in the Bahamas as it is likely to be the highlight of your trip Stateside!

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