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Spread across the lower Atlantic between Florida and Cuba, the 700 islands of the Bahamas — most are inhabited — offer a merry mix of buzzing playgrounds, tranquil escapes and ample underwater delights.

Before You Go: Need-to-know info

Language: English
Flight time (to Nassau): 4 hours from New York City; 7 hours from LA; 5 hours from Chicago and Dallas
Getting around: Taxi, bus and golf cart
Entry requirements: Passport and return ticket
Currency: Bahamian dollar and US dollar

When To Go: The Bahamas at its best

Best weather: December to April
Best prices: July to November; exact dates vary by hotel. (Nassau is extra-crowded during March and April, when spring breakers invade, so you may want to avoid visiting during those months.)
Festivals: Don’t miss Junkanoo, a uniquely Bahamian costume parade in which people dance to copper cowbells, Goombay drums and whistles from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. on December 26 and January 1.

What to Do

Nassau/Paradise Island: A tropical blend of vibrant energy and romantic atmosphere keeps the tourists flocking to the sandy shores of Nassau. The lively city, located on the northeast shore of the island of New Providence, is the capital of the Bahamas and one of the world’s busiest cruise ports. Paradise Island is just an eyebrow-arched bridge away. Compact and colorful, Nassau and Paradise Island offer easy access to water sports, shopping, casinos and nightlife.

Grand Bahama Island: This fifth-largest island in the chain is only a 50-minute flight from Miami and exudes an airy, spread-out feel compared to Nassau. Its allure is a mellow mix of entertainment, back-to-nature treats and beautiful beaches. Meet the West Indian Flamingo, the islands’ national bird, at Rand Nature Centre or explore huge caves at Lucayan National Park; take diving lessons; browse the duty-free bounty at International Bazaar in Freeport; and, when the sun sets, dance beneath the stars. Or just sit back and sip a Kalik beer as you watch steel pan drum players, limbo and fire dancers at the Yellow Bird Show Club.

Out Islands: The Out Islands have a bit of shopping and nightlife, but their real appeal is in and under the sea. Succumb to the stunning pink sands and charming gingerbread houses of Harbour Island, dramatic views and soft white beaches of Long Island; sailing and bird-watching around the Abaco Islands, the land and sea parks of the Exumas and Pelican Cays, and sport fishing off the Bimini and Berry Islands.

Swim and snorkel: Snorkelers and divers alike will swoon over the prismatic pleasures that await them in the coral reefs, blue holes (caves), wall dives and shipwrecks off the Bahamas. In fact, the water is so beautifully clear that divers experience visibility of up to 200 feet! The biggest eyefuls are off Andros (home to the third-largest barrier reef in the world, with 140 miles of coral and cathedral-like caves with stalactite and stalagmite parishioners), Bimini (rumored remnants of the lost City of Atlantis lie offshore), Eleuthera/Harbour Island (Devil’s Backbone is several miles of pristine reef — and the graveyard for dozens of vessels, including a train!) and the Exuma Islands, site of the famous Thunderball Grotto.

Experience local flavor: If you like to eat, you’ll love the Bahamian cuisine. Begin by combining homegrown resources such as guava, mangos, papaya, pineapple and plantains with the daily catch of conch (believed to be an aphrodisiac), kingfish, wahoo and grouper. Add a dash of Caribbean spice — curry, ginger, thyme and saffron — and wash it all down with pineapple wine from Eleuthera. Don’t miss a chance to try island classics such as johnnycakes (a pan-fried bread), chicken souse (a spicy chicken soup) or guava duff (a sweet, pudding-like dessert).

Go sailing: There are plenty of boats bobbing in the crystal-blue water, and many are available for chartering or group tours. But the real thrill is in joining the crew onboard one of New Zealand’s former racing yachts for some America’s Cup-style racing! Bring your honey to the deck of one of Sail Nassau’s two multimillion-dollar racers, where you can take the helm or just sit back and feel the wind in your hair.

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