Let’s Put the Bahamas Back on Your To-Visit List
New (and newly renovated) hotels, the return of Junkanoo and more excuses to book
Have you figured out your spring break destination? (Maybe you’ve got your eye on St. Lucia, as recently suggested.) The Caribbean rewards travelers coming after Easter as much as it does those who show up in March — and the Bahamas has a full year’s worth of attractions, including an intriguing exhibition coming to the National Art Gallery in April, the independence parade in the capital of Nassau on July 10 and a summer of Junkanoo-themed performances if the winter’s grand celebrations feel too far away. All of these — plus stellar beaches, great food and new hotels — into our five reasons to visit Nassau in the months to come, whether or not you’re partaking in spring break.
The Junkanoo Festivals
Junkanoo in the Bahamas is a year-round event. Bahamians kick off the year with all-night Boxing Day and New Year’s Day parades, but it’s also celebrated with the Junkanoo Summer Festival, with performances taking place every Saturday in July.
At the end of 2022 and beginning of 2023, the Boxing Day and New Year’s Day parades returned after a two-year hiatus. “Not only have we been resilient and rebounded in the tourism sector, but from a cultural perspective, we’ve longed for the return of Junkanoo,” said Latia Duncombe, the acting director general of tourism, investments and aviation. “The fact that we were able to celebrate this year shows our strength and our resilience as a people.”
Junkanoo celebrations feature themed bands with skillfully designed floats, costumed dancers, brass horn players and lively drummers. Visitors to Nassau, on the island of New Providence, can also learn about Junkanoo any time of the year by visiting the Junkanoo World Museum and Arts Center and the Educulture Junkanoo Museum and Resource Center.
Hotel Openings and Expansions
In the past few years, several new hotels have opened in Nassau, including the Margaritaville Beach Resort. Opened in 2021, the beachfront hotel includes two oceanfront pools, a waterpark with a lazy river, FlowRider and rock climbing wall. During our recent stay, my kids loved sitting on the balcony and watching the cruise ships come in, and the resort was also within walking distance of the sights in downtown Nassau.
This year, the iconic Atlantis, Paradise Island resort celebrates 25 years, and along with updating the Atlantis Casino, the hotel recently renovated all the guest rooms in the Royal Towers. Several new restaurants have also been added: Paranza, an Italian seafood restaurant; Frezca, a beachside casual cafe; and Bimini Road, an eatery that celebrates Bahamian cuisine. Opening later this year is Bar Sol, a bar and lounge serving up drinks and live entertainment, and Moon Bar, a spot for bites like sushi and flatbreads.
The Local Food
Nassau is a great foodie hub. A Bahamian specialty is conch, which can be found on menus across the capital, but one of the best places to try it is along the Fish Fry, a strip of local restaurants near downtown. Junkanoo Beach is also home to several food shacks and bars — brightly painted food stands like Crabs-n-Tings and Tiki Bikini Hut serve up cold drinks and fresh seafood right on the sand.
If you want to escape the buzz of downtown Nassau, several local restaurants are just a short drive away. The west end of Nassau is a more laid-back setting, where locals, ex-pats and long-term travelers gather. Among my favorite spots was Traveller’s Rest, an indoor/outdoor restaurant with delicious conch fritters and crawfish bites on the menu. Studio Cafe is another fantastic restaurant on this side of the island; the space — once a music studio for the likes of the Rolling Stones and Bob Marley — now has a breezy second-story deck for afternoon cocktails.
Bahamian beaches are some of the best in the Caribbean — very few rival the white sand and turquoise waters here. On the advice of locals, we spent a day on Jaw’s Beach, a nearly secluded stretch on the western tip of the island. Another great option is Cable Beach, located in central Nassau — it has a wide shoreline, soft white sand and aquamarine water. If you really want an off-the-beaten-path locale, head to Love Beach. The mile-long beach is great for laying out on the sand, with shallow waters perfect for snorkeling.
The Cultural Attractions
For something other than sun and sand, travelers can head to the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas. The two-story museum has a permanent exhibit on the lower level, and upstairs there’s a rotating exhibition space. Opening on April 1 is “Thirty: Island Life Perspectives,” the title a reference to the 30 inhabited Bahamian islands (out of 700) — which, say organizers, “live in a space of siblinghood” and offer disparate experiences.
Another great stop is Hillside House Art Gallery, an 1880s-era home that has been repurposed as an exhibition and community space. Located just off the main street in downtown Nassau, the space includes a small gallery and installations by local artists. It also serves as a community space and a bar offering up refreshing drinks in an intimate courtyard.
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