Nassau exudes a special charm, lent by a blend of romantic Old World architecture and contemporary vitality. Modern Nassau may be a far cry from the rowdy village that was once full of pirates, prostitutes and ragamuffins, but it’s not a sleepy Caribbean village, either. A popular cruise port, Nassau bustles daily with day-trippers looking to cure their ship-cabin fever by bargaining with local hagglers over handmade wares or getting out on that perfect aqua water on a snorkeling excursion.
Ardastra Gardens, Zoo + Conservation Park
The Ardastra Zoo, Gardens and Conservation Park provides the perfect opportunity to get up close and personal with the native flora and fauna of the Bahamas. Home to more than 300 animals, many of them endangered species of the Caribbean and South America, the zoo boasts the largest collection of Bahamian animals in the world. While walking around, don’t be surprised if you run into a boa constrictor, raptor or parrot –trainers regularly walk them on the pathways. The zoo is also known for its vast flamingo collection.
In the gardens, you’ll step into a land full of exotic fruit trees, coconut palms, bromeliads, orchids, brilliantly colored bougainvillea and hibiscus blossoms of every hue, where temperatures rarely fall below 60 degrees F (15 degrees C) or soar above 90 F (32 C). The Ardastra Gardens are the perfect spot to take a stroll and breathe in Bahamian beauty when you need a break from the beach.
Atop Bennet’s Hill, overlooking Nassau, the hulking Fort Fincastle regally rests. The fort, though rather simple in appearance, is impressive due to its huge brick walls with cannons peeking out over the top. Built in 1793 by Lord Dunmore, the governor of the island at the time, this 126-foot-tall (38.5-meter) fort was constructed to protect the island.
Today, you can climb to the top of the fort to explore the cannons and the three rooms dug beneath the lookout. While the fort is interesting, it’s a must-see because of the spectacular panoramic views of the ocean it offers from the top.
On a Nassau City Tour you’ll see the Queen’s Staircase – a 102-foot (31-meter) set of steps that leads to the back of the fort. Carved out of limestone by slaves in 1793-1794, the staircase was named in honor of Queen Victoria a century later to honor her 65-year reign and her role in helping bring about the abolition of slavery in the Bahamas.
Famous for its stretch of soft Bahamian sand, Cable Beach is the place in Nassau to spend a day relaxing in the sun. Known as the hotel district of Nassau, the area is home to hotel resorts like Sandals, the couples-only hotel chain popular with honeymooners. No need to worry if you are not staying in one of the hotels, however – many of them offer use of their pools for the day for a fee.
Some hotels offer activities, as well – the adventurous can partake in parasailing, Jet ski-riding or a thrilling ride in a banana boat. If you just want to enjoy the surroundings, you can stroll up to one of the area’s public beaches to swim in the warm, shimmering water.
Go to Atlantis
Your ticket to Bahamian luxury, Atlantis – an exceptional resort on Paradise Island – is the ultimate hotel and water park. With accommodations ranging from standard hotel rooms to villas, condominium residences to the famous Bridge Suite (once ranked the most expensive suite in the world at $25,000 a night), Atlantis allows you to create your own experience. No worries if you can’t shell out for the Bridge – no matter where you stay, the Atlantis offers premium comfort and service.
The wonder of Atlantis won’t be wasted on your kids, either. While adults appreciate the exquisite rooms, fine restaurants and optimum views, kids have the time of their lives in the hotel’s enormous water park, Aquaventure. The 141-acre (57-hectare), 200 million-gallon (757 million-liter) Aquaventure combines slides, lazy rivers and rapids into one large waterscape. The centerpiece of the attraction is the Power Tower, which contains four waterslides. For the sunburned, the hotel casino offers tables, slots and tournaments.
Swim with Dolphins at Blue Lagoon Island
Blue Lagoon Island is a secluded private island off Nassau’s coast where you can swim with everyone’s favorite creature of the sea – the bottlenose dolphin. The island’s Dolphin Encounters is a top dolphin interaction program – its dolphins have been in movies like Flipper and Holiday in the Sun.
There are two levels of activity: the starter option is the Dolphin Encounter, where you’ll stand in waist-deep water to hug a dolphin, receive a kiss, dance with them and rub them down. The more expensive Dolphin Swim includes everything in the Encounter, plus the foot push – safely ensconced in a life jacket, you’ll feel the exhilaration as the dolphin propels you across the water by your feet. All activities are videotaped and available for you to purchase (at an additional cost, of course).
Breathe Underwater in a SUB
Scuba diving is not for everyone, but breathing underwater is still possible in the Bahamas thanks to the Scenic Underwater Bubble, or SUB. If you thought you’d have to stick to seeing coral and fish from the water’s surface with a snorkel and mask, think again. On a SUB tour, you are basically piloting a personal, seahorse-shaped submarine, giving you the chance to explore the incredible underwater world of the Caribbean without taking scuba-diving lessons.
You’ll receive plenty of instruction on how to drive the SUB and what hand signals to use; anyone at least 12 years old, at least five feet tall and in good physical condition can do this. You’ll descend about 15 feet (4.5 meters) underwater and cruise around, admiring the tropical fish and coral, for about 30 minutes.
Dive with Sharks off of Nassau Coast
Feeling fearless? This is the time to prove it – a shark diving tour in Nassau will get you so close to reef sharks you can reach out and touch them. The two-part dive starts with a free swim. Because you’ll be near the feeding site, the sharks will follow you around, knowing that dinner time is soon. No bait will be out though, so don’t worry about snapping jaws; the sharks will simply be curious.
Your second dive is a feeding dive. Unlike ordinary dives, you’ll kneel in front of a shark feeder, who will place a bait box on the ocean floor. Watch how the shark feeder keeps the sharks in a “polite” feeding posture by using the spear to control the release of food, influencing the shark’s behavior. The sharks will come very close, but even though your heart may be pounding, there’s no reason to be scared – the sharks are more interested in the bait than you.
- The Viator Travel Team