A former pirates’ haven, pristine pink sand beaches, swimming pigs, the Abaco parrot, blue holes… If you missed it in the title, it’s quite possible that by now you know I’m describing the islands of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas!
Frequented by Ernest Hemingway and notorious as the setting for the infamous Fyre Festival, much can be said about the small but mighty country of under 400,000 people.
How much do you really know about the young, independent country of The Bahamas and the people that call it home? In order to have a more comfortable stay, it helps to know a bit about both to prevent an unpleasant surprise.
Before you hop on an hour-long (or less!) puddle jumper from the Florida coast, check out what the locals want you to know before you go to The Bahamas!
The Official Language Of The Bahamas Is Indeed English
Now when you hear us speaking in the Bahamian dialect to each other and it doesn’t quite sound like the English language you’re used to, that’s another topic altogether! We do speak English though.
There is also a large population of French Creole speaking Haitian-Bahamians in The Bahamas but by and large wherever you go, English is the main language spoken due to our colonial roots.
The name given to a person who’s from The Bahamas is pronounced Ba-hame-ian, not Ba-hah-me-an or bohemian
I am almost certain that every Bahamian reading this is nodding in agreement!
After meeting a first-time visitor to the islands, one of the questions we’re frequently asked is what are people from The Bahamas called? However, some visitors are not always satisfied with the answer!
Often these visitors will present the classic argument of why is the country called The Ba-hah-mas but the people, Bah-hame-ian. The short answer to that? I’ve no idea.
We’re a friendly bunch so if we’ve told you once before and you’ve forgotten, no worries! We’ll still smile and acknowledge that you’re trying.
However, if you ever decide to grow roots here and you wish to sound more like a local, the easiest way to remember is that the second “A” is a long “A”.
The Bahamas Is Not One Island But Hundreds Of Islands And Cays
The Bahamas is an archipelago comprising of The Abacos, Acklins and Crooked Island, Andros, The Berry Islands, Bimini, Cat Island, Eleuthera and Harbour Island, The Exumas, Freeport (Grand Bahama), Inagua, Long Island, Mayaguana, Nassau (New Providence) and Paradise Island, Ragged Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador–along with hundreds of privately owned and Crown Land islands and cays (small islands).
Overwhelmed? You can use this island finder tool to discover which Bahamian island would suit your holidaying needs best!
The islands which see the most tourists annually are New Providence and Grand Bahama most likely due to their facilities and proximity to the United States.
Once you have a valid passport and you have cleared customs and immigration, you can freely travel throughout the islands of The Bahamas, island hopping to your heart’s content! You can rent a boat and be your own captain for the day or you can hire a boat with an experienced captain ready to amaze you.
If you’re arriving by boat, know that immigration is cracking down on illegal landings so be sure to go through the right government channels before you venture off. As you can imagine, being charged with an illegal landing can drastically change the course of your holiday!
The Bahamian Beaches Are As Beautiful As You’ve Seen In Photos
With that being said, I think it’s important to also note that not every settlement or city has the amazing beaches that you’ve seen in adverts. Some are quite rocky, have dark, coarse sand, or the water isn’t that gorgeous turquoise colour which allows you to see tropical fish weave through your legs.
In my settlement, we have a few lovely beaches in the area which are perfect for a quick dip, a picnic under a cabana or a beer or two in the evening. However, my favourite beaches are at least 30 minutes away from where my parents live.
All that to say if the beach nearest your hotel or holiday rental is not as awe-inspiring as the brochure, don’t be afraid to ask the locals where the really nice beaches are located. We don’t like to disappoint so I’m sure someone will be quick to make a suggestion!
If the beach of you dreams is further than 30 minutes away, consider renting a car for the day ($50 and upwards) instead of taking a taxi. With the money you’ll save, you can spend on a couple rounds of rum punch later.
Whilst we’re on the subject, it’s useful to know that the legal drinking age in The Bahamas is 18 and we are not restricted to drinking alcoholic beverages in restaurants and bars. You can order your drink to-go if you like!
However, when you do decide to make that drive to the beach, just remember to wait until you arrive at your destination to enjoy your drinks and of course, keep left!
We Love Bahamian Food But Are Becoming More Experimental
Most Bahamian dishes are seasoned well and consist of rice (white, yellow or our national rice, peas and rice), a baked, fried, curried or stewed meat and two sides–usually coleslaw, potato salad, plantain, salad, mixed vegetables, a square of macaroni and cheese or a dinner roll.
Thyme Is Everywhere
The national culinary herb of The Bahamas is probably thyme!
Recently, I overheard a local telling her younger friend that the trinity of Bahamian cooking is onions, tomato paste and thyme. She could have very well been right! These three ingredients make a regular appearance in many popular Bahamian dishes.
Order A “Snack”
When out and about and looking for a relaxed place to eat, you might come across the word “snack” on a menu. This is a meal of battered and fried chicken, fish, conch, shrimp, crawfish (lobster) or even pork chop served with fries and your choice of sauce–ketchup, hot sauce or both.
One of my favourite snacks is cracked (tenderised) conch and fries with ketchup, hot sauce, mayo and sliced, raw onions. Don’t knock it till you try it! It’s so good.
Healthy And International Options Are Growing
In traditional Bahamian cooking, all of the necessary food groups are not always evenly represented. I have noticed a shift in Bahamian menus within the last few years.
There are more healthier options, sometimes but not often vegan and gluten free menu items and at times, smaller portions available. Many households are also prioritising fresh vegetables on Bahamian plates over frozen or tinned.
It helps that there’s more variety in the supermarkets and on my island, for example, the freight boat brings food and supplies twice a week to our island compared to once when I was a child.
Our integration of casual, American-style food continues steadily in restaurants due to our Western neighbours and the volume of American tourists and second-home owners who return to our shores every year.
What is increasing is a fascination with Mexican and Asian cuisine. This latter has led many Bahamian chefs to seek training in Asian-style cooking to meet a growing local demand.
Tipping Is A Massive Part Of Bahamian Culture
“Here a tip, there a tip, EVERYWHERE a tip, tip”… you get the idea.
The tipping culture is observed and learned from childhood. Growing up, I can recall my parents tipping gas station attendants, hair braiders, babysitters, restaurant staff, bag handlers at hotels and airports, bag packers at the grocery store, and putting a little something in a local restaurant’s tip jar.
Have no fear because we use US Dollars (USD) and Bahamian Dollars (BSD) interchangeably so don’t let anyone convince you to exchange your USD because it is 1:1 in The Bahamas–unless you want a souvenir, of course!
How Much To Tip
Tipping is a way of life in this country. For starters, bag packers at grocery stores are usually tipped $1-$2 at the till or up to $5 if she or he has helped you out to your car with a large quantity of shopping or been especially helpful.
Tips for taxi drivers and gratuity in restaurants usually start at 15%.
Before you hop and start piling in the bags, remember to ask your taxi drivers to kindly let you know their:
- Base rate
- Fee per person
- Fee per bag and
- Waiting fee.
Taxi drivers, unfortunately, have a history of overcharging visitors but the likelihood of this is decreasing as there are more government-issued regulations and you might even see the rates displayed in the taxi. Always good to ask though, just in case!
If you can absolutely help it, I suggest not asking or allowing taxis to wait for you because this can become quite expensive on top of the tip that the driver is expecting.
It’s good to know that airports and hotels will phone a taxi for you as a complimentary service.
In busy areas, taxis are usually readily available or you can ask a local business very nicely if you can use their phone to call a taxi. Otherwise, I would recommend purchasing a SIM card from the airport, BTC or ALIV shops (the two mobile service providers) and collect taxi drivers business cards to phone them when you are ready.
Don’t be shy to ask your driver for a recommendation for a good place to eat! They know everything and everyone and will be happy to help usually.
Be aware that some restaurants include gratuity in the bill automatically. There’s a lot of debate on whether or not to tip on top of a bill which has included gratuity but I’ll leave you to go with your conscience on that one.
Eating out in The Bahamas will not be the cheapest part of your trip but the concept of happy hours is growing in popularity and I would highly recommend taking advantage of them, when available.
I get it. You’re just strolling along the main street or browsing food and crafts stalls, the sun’s quite strong but there’s a constant breeze blowing. Don’t let that breeze fool you.
We are forever grateful to the northeast trade winds but it can get pretty hot especially at the height of summer. Use your sun block, cover vulnerable areas appropriately, stay hydrated and monitor your sun exposure especially if you’re from a country that doesn’t see many sunny days.
Many Bahamians are professionals at limiting sun exposure. If we own a car or have access to one, we drive to most places in order to avoid the sun by day and the mosquitoes by night! If we do walk regularly in the daytime, we probably know every shady spot along the way.
It Can Get “Cold” In The Winter
Most buildings are air-conditioned throughout the year and yes, sometimes heated in the wintertime. My European friends cannot believe this one but when it’s winter and a cold front is nigh, we do break out the portable heaters.
I’ve even seen parkas with faux fur hoods worn out on the street. Thankfully, not everyone takes it that seriously! A hoodie is more the usual.
Word to the wise, never argue with a Bahamian whether a chilly day of 15.5°C (60°F) is actually classified as freezing cold weather or not. You’ll always lose. Bahamians feel cold differently.
In short, shade is your friend. If you see a group of old men playing dominoes on a piece of wood and cinder blocks under the shade of a tree, follow their lead.
Seek shade when you’re standing around planning your next moves. We’re not judging you. We’ll probably be under the same tree soon having a break from the sun.
Having Good Manners Is Pivotal To Bahamian Life
Of course what is considered to be good manners varies across cultures! Once I reached a certain age, I was never allowed to walk into a room or pass someone on the street without offering an appropriate greeting based on the time of day.
Adults visiting The Bahamas might be surprised and find it quite strange when they are answered with “yes/no ma’am” or “yes/no sir.” This type of address is taught to children at an early age and is considered respectful and acceptable behaviour.
You’ll often hear it coming from a child to an adult, an adult to an elderly person, a person in customer service or the hospitality sector to a customer/guest. We mean no disrespect by it nor is it an attempt at making anyone feel old! It’s just a respect thing.
Plan Your Own Visit To The Bahamas
From the active nightlife of Paradise Island to jet skiing across our shallow waters or a quiet day out fishing in the Family Islands, it won’t be long until you find your place on the islands!
A visitor recently asked me if we ever grow tired of the island views. To be honest, many of us forget and just get on with our day but travelling abroad and social media help to remind us of what’s under our noses.
Although The Bahamas is a young, sprawling country, it is the culture and welcoming spirit of the people which glues the country together. Still, not much is known about the country or its locals beyond its destination image.
Hopefully, on your first or return trip to the islands, you will go knowing what the locals would want you to know before you go to The Bahamas!
We hope that this article has inspired you to visit the Bahamas! If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
Want to share your own travel tips by guest writing for We Are Travel Girls? Go to our Contribute page for guidelines and to submit your article.
Read More About The Bahamas
- The Ultimate Getaway To Bimini Island
- Adventuring Through The Cays, The Exumas
- Paradise Found At Remote Harbour Island
We Are Travel Girls Contributor Brittany Archer of The Travelling MS
In search of the “perfect” home and climate, I’ve met some fantastic people along the way and found ways to cope with an unexpected MS diagnosis in 2016. I’m from The Bahamas and I had the incredible opportunity to travel and volunteer with individuals with Additional Support Needs for several years. Currently, I’m studying in Glasgow–travelling abroad keeps me sane.
Pin For Later
This article may contain affiliate links, if you purchase something using one of our links we may receive a commission. Please see our Disclosures for more information.