Before we left for Nassau, Bahamas we had a full itinerary—snorkel, swim with sharks, visit Paradise Island, take two to three ferry tours to different islands, explore downtown Nassau, eat at the Filipino Restaurant we found online. On the first full day we had after we arrived, we already checked off a few items on our list, including swim with sharks through Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas. We both felt like we’ve already done a lot in just one day and realized that what we really wanted from this trip was to relax and get to know Nassau.
On our first full day after we arrived, we explored downtown Nassau in search of the Filipino restaurant Manila Grill. We walked deep into downtown, realizing that we were already a few blocks away from the tourist-filled areas, with Manila Grill still nowhere in sight. Most of the buildings around us were abandoned, boarded-up, and damaged, and we thought about turning back, concerned for our safety, but our determination to find the restaurant pushed us to keep going. We are definitely glad we kept walking. Meeting the owners and staff reminded us of the hospitable and friendly nature of Filipinos, wherever they are in the world. Throughout the week, they offered us rides home, tours around downtown Nassau and the entire New Providence Island, and of course, delicious food, not only from their restaurant, but also from other local eateries. Because of them, we discovered the chicken and seafood combo meals from Bamboo Shack and found out about the fresh conch salads served at the stalls by the pier. Also because of them, we got the opportunity to see parts of New Providence Island that not all visitors get to see—where the beaches are lined with garbage, mansions and gated communities are just a few streets away from dilapidated houses, and abandoned buildings and closed down businesses line the streets.
Throughout our weeklong stay, we also noticed how often jokes about politicians’ greediness and disregard for the citizens came up in conversations with random locals, from jitney drivers to tour guides. We felt the frustration and disappointment surrounding the yet-to-open Baha Mar resort. We wondered how locals could enjoy their beautiful beaches when giant resorts like Atlantis and Sandals privatized many of them, yet we also understood how much tourism contributed to the Bahamian economy.
Like many other places in the world, Nassau, New Providence Island, Bahamas is a complex place, with its foundations built by a rich, oftentimes oppressive history, and its structure a mix of politics, culture, tourism, economics, and community. It is not all about crystal clear waters, pristine beaches, and delicious food, though the entire country is filled with them, nor is it simply defined by poverty, crime, and corruption. It is also about the people. Not just the few people who add to the crime statistics that many outsiders like us read or hear about, or imagine as we walk by abandoned buildings. It is also about the Bahamian people who welcome you into their home and share meals with you; offer newcomers valuable information and free tours; greet everyone in the jitney when they board; randomly ask you if you’re enjoying your time in the Bahamas; tell you about the best restaurants in town; go out of their way to help you with anything you need; greet you with a big grin and make you fresh-fruit daiquiris by the beach; manage to make jokes and entertain you despite their already long day under the heat of the sun; and converse with you about politics, marine life, and life in general as you float at sea.
On the last day, I (Candice) got my phone wet and possibly lost all of our photos, hence the very few photos in this post. (Its fate is still unknown.) Despite this, we will always remember our time in Nassau not only for the beautiful beaches we went to see, but most especially for the amazing people we were lucky enough to have met.
(If my phone recovers, I will post more photos here and on our social media accounts. Otherwise, please follow @almostspontaneous on Instagram; we were able to post a few photos on there.)
Keep in mind…
- Nassau is the capital of Bahamas, which is located in New Providence Island. There are 700 islands in the Bahamas, but most people in the Bahamas live in New Providence Island.
- We were there during the last week of June, which is within the hurricane season, so we had a few light rain showers during a couple of the days we were there, but they only lasted less than an hour. There were days when the clouds were greatly appreciated by our burning skin. Many locals told us that September is when hurricanes can truly be a problem.
- Patience and chill are important. Island time means schedules are not always followed.
- When visiting Paradise Island during a cruise ship stop via the water taxi, remember the concept of island time. Although the water taxis are scheduled every 30 minutes and trips usually only last about 10 minutes, give yourselves at least an hour to get to Paradise Island and an hour to get back to your ship from Paradise Island.
- Most establishments downtown close at 5pm, especially on Sundays.
- The other islands are accessible from Nassau by boat tours, ferries, mail boats, or planes. Prices and schedules vary.
- Bay Street is the main coastal highway of New Providence Island where most popular attractions are located. This street will bring you to downtown, Junkanoo Beach, Arawak Cay, Sandals/Cable Beach, Baha Mar, etc.
- US and Bahamian dollars are equivalent in value, so they are interchangeable and accepted everywhere. Even locals carry a mix of Bahamian and US dollars.
- Jitneys (buses) run until about 6pm (except during big events such as festivals, where the jitneys stop running around 7:30pm) and costs $1.25 one way, no matter where you go. Jitneys were our primary mode of transportation and we enjoyed going on our jitney trips everyday. You can either let the driver know in advance where you want to stop, or just loudly say, “Bus stop ahead” when you’re almost at your destination. The jitneys stop anywhere along their routes.
- Taxis are expensive, but they are the best option when jitneys are not available (e.g., late-night trips, routes outside the major highways). Taxis have yellow-colored plates. A trip from the airport to downtown Nassau costs about $32.00.
- Water taxis from downtown Nassau (docked behind the Straw Market) to Paradise Island costs $4.00 per person, one way. A land taxi crossing the bridge from downtown Nassau to Paradise Island costs about $15, one way.
- Although many businesses accept credit cards, cash is still needed for the jitneys, markets, taxis (water and land), beachside daiquiri stands, and other small businesses.
- Scooter and car rentals are available, although they can be expensive. For example, J&S Scooter and Buggy Rentals charge $85 for an eight-hour scooter rental. It might also be tough to drive in the Bahamas for those not used to left-side driving/British driving laws (although steering wheels can be on either the left or right sides).
- We stayed at Kweku and Janay’s Sea Beach Hideaway through Airbnb and we highly recommend it for solo or duo travelers who want to be far enough from the crowds, yet close enough to easily commute to most beaches and attractions. They were great hosts—friendly, accommodating, and well-prepared for guests—and their home is lovely! They are located just about a couple-minute walk to the jitney/bus stop, and the daiquiri stand by the beach.
- The Atlantis resort is located on Paradise Island and contains an aquarium called The Dig, a sprawling waterpark, and its own private beaches. Day passes are also available for those who just want to experience the attractions, but not stay at the resort.
- Sandals is an all-inclusive resort located west of downtown Nassau, right on the jitney/bus line. Its private beach is marked by buoys on the water, but the public can easily access the beach area outside its perimeters. Activities like kite surfing, paddle boarding, and sailing are included amenities.
- The British Colonial Hilton in downtown Nassau, we were told, is the oldest hotel in Nassau, but is still in great condition. It is the pale yellow building close to the docks and the Straw Market.
- There are many other hotels and Airbnb accommodations in Nassau, with varying prices and amenities. Those closer to downtown offer more convenience when it comes to accessing popular attractions, but these places tend to be busy and overcrowded.
Food and Drink
- Food in Nassau can be expensive. Paradise Island restaurants are a lot more expensive than restaurants in Nassau. Appetizers tend to be around $10, while entrees average around $18-$25 for simple meals like fried fish and rice.
- Kalik and Sands are the local beers, therefore usually the cheapest. Rum is also usually cheaper than other types of hard liquor.
- Manila Grill is a newly opened Filipino restaurant serving well-priced authentic Filipino dishes in downtown Nassau. Tell the owners we said, “Hi!”
- The streets of Arawak Cay (Fish Fry) are lined with colorful restaurants that serve delicious Bahamian dishes such as conch salads, conch fritters, fried fish, peas and rice, plantains, and many others. Go for an early lunch (most open at 11am) to avoid the crowds.
- Bahama Grill is located west of downtown Nassau and offers delivery to certain areas. We definitely recommend getting their rotisserie chicken.
- Bamboo Shack is located in the inner Nassau neighborhood, which we only discovered because our new friends from Manila Grill drove us there. The service was quick and the food was delicious and reasonably priced.
- The Cricket Club, unknown to most visitors, is a resto-bar located across the street from Arawak Cay. Take note that the prices are similar to that of the restaurants in Arawak Cay, but the servings are almost double.
- The daiquiri stands on West Bay Street are great places to just hangout, meet other people, and drink a few fresh-fruit daiquiris while enjoying the amazing beach views on any night. Daiquiris usually cost $10 for about a one-and-one-fourth-Solo-Cup-sized drink.
- Señor Frogs, according to many locals, is where tourists go to get wasted. We never went, so we can’t truly weigh in.
- The Cable Beach public access next to Sandals Resort is our favorite beach in Nassau. We went there often and every time, it felt like it was our private beach despite its proximity to the Sandals Resort. With very few people, fine sand, and calm waters, this is where we went to just relax and swim for hours.
- The Cabbage Beach public access by the Riu Palace in Paradise Island is also a beautiful beach with fine white sand, although busier than the Cable Beach access next to Sandals Resort in Nassau. Also, the water current can be strong at times and there are a lot more people who try and get you to rent jet skis, umbrellas, and beach chairs.
- Junkanoo Beach seems like a very commercialized beach, lined with stalls that offer drinks, food, and beachside massages. The beach area also seems small, overpopulated, and too close to the wharf.
- The Nassau Straw Market downtown is filled with merchants selling local and mostly handmade goods, such as bags, hats, and jewelry. Some of them carve their wooden sculpture creations right at the market. Most of the vendors only accept cash, although some do accept credit cards. Be prepared to face aggressive marketing strategies and do not take anything offered to you that you don’t intend to buy.
- The Pompey Market located west of downtown Nassau is similar to the Straw Market, but less busy.
- There are many shops in downtown Nassau that sell souvenirs, fine jewelry, and designer watches, such as John Bull and Little Switzerland. We were told by some of our new friends that jewelry sold in the shops are authentic, cheap, and tax free in Nassau.
- Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas is the snorkeling tour we took on our first day in the Bahamas and other than bringing us to a couple different coral reefs to snorkel around, the tour also gave us the opportunity to snorkel on the water surface while reef sharks were being fed at the bottom of the ocean bed by experienced divers. They offer transportation to/from hotels and the entire snorkeling tour took about half the day. It was a great experience for a reasonable price ($169 for two people).
- Clifton Heritage National Park offers different types of tours since it has a park on both land and water. We did the snorkeling tour that brought us to an underwater mini art gallery that contained about two to three sculptures and an airplane prop built for a James Bond film. The tour cost $129 for two people, which included delicious lunches and transportation to/from hotels.
- Powerboat Adventures was highly recommended to us by multiple people we’ve met, but we didn’t get the chance to experience their tours firsthand because we didn’t intend on heading to the Exumas. According to their website, the tour lasts a full day and includes food and drink, snorkeling, and wildlife experiences in the Exumas.
History – Due to the Bahamas’ rich history, there are many forts and museums located in and around Nassau, such as Fort Charlotte across the street from Arawak Cay and the Pompey Museum of Slavery & Emancipation in downtown Nassau. Also located downtown is Queen Victoria’s statue in Nassau’s Parliament Square and the Queen’s Staircase (65-66 steps) which is said to have been manually carved by slaves. Also, on the front steps of the Government House in downtown Nassau is a statue of Christopher Columbus, who landed in the Bahamas in the 1490s.