Between huge resorts and cruise-ship crowds, Nassau welcomes millions yearly
For many American travelers, the ease of a nonstop flight to Nassau, the capital city of the Bahamas, makes it an obvious choice for a sun-soaked vacation. But it may not be the best choice if you are crowd-averse; more than 1 million people arrive yearly by air and more than 2.5 million by sea.
Supersized casino-studded resorts such as Atlantis, home to a 14-acre “waterscape” and five hotels (3,300 rooms, starting at $205); Melia Nassau Beach (694 rooms, starting at $329); and the sprawling Baha Mar compound with golf courses, dozens of restaurants and three luxury hotels (2,336 rooms, from the low $300s to the low $700s) can feel like Vegas-by-the-beach. Cruise ships feed the gridlock, dumping thousands of additional tourists upon hotel pools (a day pass allows non-guests entry for a fee) and popular Bay Street.
Try avoiding the scrum by snagging a room at one of the smaller properties on New Providence Island — such as the Island House ($544), Ocean West Boutique Hotel ($215) or Sandyport Beach Resort ($186) — which stand away from the fray and offer white sand beaches and a low-key island vibe.
Eleuthera and Harbour Island provide small-town charms and simple pleasures
If you really want a retreat in the Bahamas, opt for Eleuthera and Harbour Island (which requires a change of plane in Miami, Charlotte or Atlanta). These two islands (Eleuthera is 110 miles long; Harbour Island stretches only 3.5) are rustic, thatched-hut-for-lunch paradises devoid of large commercial buildings and throbbing music, where entertainment stems from nature.
On Eleuthera, you’ll discover secluded beaches whose turquoise waters teem with loggerhead turtles and stingrays and, tucked behind lush foliage, sites such as the Queen’s Baths (ocean-adjacent “hot tubs” within rock formations), Preacher’s Cave (where shipwreck castaways took refuge in 1648) and a swimmable sapphire-blue sinkhole.
To embrace the castaway vibe, stay at the Other Side (rates start at $600), a cluster of luxury tents (think hardwood floors, four poster beds, alfresco soaking tubs) where chilling out on the private beach is the main event.
Harbour Island, seven minutes away by boat, is celebrated for coral-limestone rimmed beaches and a buzzy East Coast vibe. Here, golf carts and bicycles are your transportation. Maneuver them through streets shaded by palm and tamarind trees (avoiding the ubiquitous roaming chickens) to pink sand beaches, past colorful cottages selling embroidered tunics and espadrilles (Blue Rooster and Dake’s Shoppe) and over to charming cafes including Arthur’s Bakery for a banana bread pick-me-up.
The 11-room bougainvillea-draped Bahama House is coastal cool: plantation shutters, rattan furniture and objects artfully placed throughout the whitewashed space. It has a tiki bar (a lively hub at sunset) and rum tasting room, as well as “experience managers” to organize your day. (Rates start at $700.) Also near the harbor, the Landing (starts at $300) and Rock House (starts at $375) offer quaint and less pricey lodgings, plus popular restaurants. Other dining options abound: lobster quesadilla at Sip Sip; mango-flecked conch salad at Queen Conch; and burgers at Coral Sands.
On Eleuthera and Harbour Island, the small-town rhythms and easy access to simple pleasures make for a truly gratifying getaway.
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