The question isn’t “Why the Bahamas?” Sparkling blue water, year-round warm temperatures, and thousands of miles of beach answer that. The real quandary is “Which Bahamas?” With more than 700 cays, islets, and islands, the choices range from urban and sophisticated to solitary and unspoiled. Even the temper of the ocean changes from one area to the next—it might be choppy and rough in one spot and placid in another. But every island offers unique adventures, including aquatic sports like surfing, snorkeling, and kayaking as well as terra firma pursuits on bicycle or foot. You may think you’ve already seen it all in the Bahamas, but take a peek at the active choices on these isles and you’ll soon be planning a return trip.
FOR SNORKELERS -NASSAU/PARADISE ISLAND
If your style is more Miami Beach than Treasure Island, chart a course to Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, on New Providence Island, and its neighbor, Paradise Island (the two areas are connected by bridge). The easiest isles to reach (there are direct flights into Nassau from New York, Miami, and other hubs), this popular duo marries big-city indulgences like designer shopping and celebrity chef–run restaurants with diversion-packed resorts boasting water parks, gyms, and casinos.
Where the action is
Almost everyone makes a beeline for the ocean, and there’s no better guide to the underwater seascape than Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas. A half-day, three-stop snorkeling trip with the outfitter includes an encounter with Caribbean reef sharks (from $48; snorkelbahamas.com). But don’t worry—the fish swim 40 feet down and the guide will protect you. If you prefer to stay topside, take a tour in one of the fastest sailboats around: On Sail Nassau’s 76-foot America’s Cup racing yacht, you can enjoy a hairwhipping ride or hone your sailing skills ($95 for three hours; sailnassau .com). No matter what your experience level, you’ll learn how to grind, jibe, and tack with the crew in a race against another former contender from Team New Zealand. Once you regain your land legs (and comb out your hair), stretch them in the company of local Verneta Humes, who guides one-hour walking tours of bustling downtown Nassau ($10; 242-323-3182).
You’ll find the best workout amenities in the entire country at the massive Atlantis resort on Paradise Island (rooms from $400; atlantis.com). Its newly enlarged fitness center boasts Pilates and groupcycling classes as well as a four-lane lap pool, and the recently opened 30,000-square-foot spa specializes in Balinese-inspired treatments that include coconut rubs and milk baths (sessions from $30). For more intimate lodging, check into one of 16 rooms named after Bob Marley tunes at the Marley Resort & Spa, run by the family of the late reggae icon (rooms from $450; marleyresort.com). The property’s restaurant and spa menus emphasize organic ingredients, bands perform there regularly, and guests have free access to a nearby gym.
FOR KAYAKERS-GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND
From the quiet cays and fishing villages on the west end to the more developed towns on the east end, this 100-mile-long island is a somethingfor- everyone destination. And like Nassau, it’s easy to get to, with direct flights from New York; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Philadelphia.
Where the action is
Immerse yourself in the wilds of Lucayan National Park, one of three national parks on the island, by paddling a kayak among the mangroves. Grand Bahama Nature Tours offers a six-hour trip ($79; grand bahamanaturetours.com) that begins with a 90-minute paddle to the secluded Gold Rock Creek Beach. Once there guides break out a picnic lunch, and you’re free to snorkel the reef before the tour continues along the boardwalks that protect the park’s foliage. Next you’ll hike to a limestone cavern, where you can take a shiver-inducing peek at the opening of a 7-mile-long and largely off-limits underground trail system. For a look at many of the island’s 18 bird species, explore Rand Nature Center ($5; thebahamasnationaltrust.org).
At the Westin Grand Bahama Island Our Lucaya Resort just outside Freeport, you can request a room outfitted with weights, yoga mats, and a stability ball (rooms from $319; westin.com/ourlucaya). Away from the fray, check into Old Bahama Bay, where you can windsurf and sail aboard the resort’s fleet of boats (rooms from $235; oldbahamabay.com).
FOR DIVERS- ANDROS
The wildest and largest link in the Bahamas chain, Andros is also less developed than most, supporting vast tracts of untamed forest and mangroves. But it’s the many offshore attractions that draw a crowd (relatively speaking). Tourists come to bonefish the shallows and scuba dive the world’s third largest barrier reef. Though accommodations are relatively budget-friendly, be careful choosing your resort—that’s where you’ll be spending most of your time when you’re on land, as the island’s four major regions are pretty isolated from one another.
Where the action is
Normally a sedentary sport, fishing—bonefishing, specifically—gets active on Andros. The relatively quick-to-bite-your-bait bonefish are renowned fighters, testing your upper-body strength while you try to reel them in. Contact Rodney “Andros Angler” Miller for a fishing tour of the Andros flats, the clear, sandy-bottomed waters the fish prefer ($400 for two people for eight hours; knollslanding.com). For a look at other species in the area, dive the ecologically rich blue holes—they’re seabed sinkholes— along the legendary Andros Barrier Reef. Small Hope Bay Lodge, the island’s top dive operator, offers one-tank boat dives (from $60; small hope.com). Blue holes occur inland as well: Guide Sharon Henfield leads the way to these natural pools where hikers can take a cool dip ($55 for two and a half hours; book through the South Andros Tourist Office; 242-369-1688).
Guests have to take a boat to the 125-acre Tiamo resort in South Andros (all-inclusive rates from $415; tiamoresorts.com). From there you can make daily snorkeling excursions to the island’s largest blue hole, a half mile offshore. If you plan to scuba more than snorkel, stay at Small Hope Bay Lodge, a favorite in Central Andros that includes both diving and snorkeling outings in its rates, provides maps of self-guided nature walks and biking routes, and offers bonefishing charters (all-inclusive rates from $209; smallhope.com).
FOR BEACHCOMBERS-HARBOUR ISLAND
Quaint but exclusive “Briland,” as the locals call it, is a distinctly Bahamian version of New England—think pink storm shutters and violet front doors. Three-mile-long Pink Sands Beach is the epicenter of resort and recreational life here, where seaside sports, such as bodyboarding and horseback riding, dominate. Islanders get around via golf cart, lending an exhaust-free tranquility to the isle.
Where the action is
Break up a day of swimming and snorkeling at Pink Sands Beach to rent one of Robert Davis’ six horses and sightsee from the saddle ($20 per half hour; 242-333- 2337). For transportation of a different kind, borrow some wheels from Dunmore Golf Cart Rentals ($50 per day; 242-333-2372) at the foot of the Government Boat Dock and buzz around the island. Stop in Dunmore Town, the hub of Harbour, for a walk along the picket fence–lined streets, and try to catch the sunset at Lone Tree, an upright almond tree that washed up on the broad and inviting beach.
For bright rooms with colonial-chic styling, check into the Coral Sands Hotel, where management stocks sea kayaks and lights a tennis court for evening matches (rooms from $295; coralsands.com). Save money without sacrificing too much on location at the basic but wellequipped Tingum Village. It’s a quick stroll to the beach, and the on-site Ma Ruby’s restaurant is a local favorite (rooms from $150; tingumvillage.com).
Named for the Greek word for “freedom,” Eleuthera is truly an escapist’s isle. Slightly more than 100 miles long and roughly 2 miles wide, it’s fringed with beaches, but a sparse population and long rural stretches make you feel like you’re all by yourself. Some trendy development is starting to spill over from upscale neighbor Harbour Island, but locals and visitors alike still praise the low-key vibe.
Where the action is
Tranquil elsewhere, the ocean breaks into rollers at Surfer’s Beach just south of Gregory Town. The guides at Surf Eleuthera will help you find just the right wave to ride, whether you’re a first-timer or a veteran ($100 for four hours, plus $30 for board rental; surfeleuthera .com). After you’ve caught your last break, head over to nearby Hatchet Bay Cave, where a flashlight will help you navigate the stalagmites and stalactites. Spelunkers are attracted to the innumerable caverns that honeycomb Eleuthera, including Preacher’s Cave on the north end, where pilgrim settlers worshipped.
The Cove Eleuthera actually occupies twin coves: One’s sandy and great for swimming and lounging, while the other is rocky and perfect for snorkeling (rooms from $235; thecove eleuthera.com). If you prefer roomier lodging, each condo-like one-bedroom unit at Pineapple Fields includes a kitchen. The hotel keeps bikes and kayaks for guests to use and boasts the island’s most popular beachside restaurant, Tippy’s, where you’ll find the day’s fresh catches on the chalkboard menu (rooms from $275; pineapplefields.com).