With more than 5% of the planet's reef mass, The Bahamas offer inexhaustible pleasures and challenges to snorkelers and divers.
Calm waters and cooling tradewinds have rightfully earned The Bahamas an international reputation for sailing, with regattas and races held year-round. The islands are actually the birthplace of the Gulf Stream, a phenomenon that also accounts for their astonishing variety and abundance of marine life. Legendary gamefish draw sport fisherman in search of the "big one," and more than 50 international fishing records have been set in these waters. The great writer / fisherman Ernest Hemingway considered the Bahamian island of Bimini a home. The same conditions that make these islands so amenable to sailors and fisherman draw visitors to the vast and diverse underwater parks. The natural beauty of the water extends to the thousands of miles of shoreline, which has some of the world's most stunningly beautiful and unsullied beaches.
From the pink sands of Harbour Island and Eleuthera to the deserted strands of the Exumas and San Salvador, there is a lifetime of beaches to experience. Further inland are gardens and National Parks with rare and endangered species, such as the exotic Abaco Parrot and the Bahamian Iguana. Although The Bahamas are as diverse and numerous as the days of the year, the reassuring unifier is the charm and hospitality of its people. Over a succulent dish of cracked conch and guava duff, you'll hear tales about the nefarious pirate Blackbeard and the mysterious blue holes of Andros. They'll tell you about the original Eleutheran Adventurers, the playful the Junkanoo troupes. Nassau is the best-known yachting port in the Bahamas, and it is where a good number of charter vacations begin and end.
Several five-star marinas, including the docks at Albany and at the Atlantis resort and casino, are within easy driving or tender distance of the international airport, giving you the option of extending your vacation for a few days on land. Water slides, world-class gaming and gourmet restaurants are all available. Or, you can step onto your charter yacht and leave civilization in your wake as you cruise south to the part of the Bahamas known as the Exumas.
The Exumas archipelago is a shallow cruising ground with depths that allow for private yachts but exclude cruise ships. The ambiance is therefore pristine and quiet, and many charter yachts have secluded white beaches all to themselves. Crystal-clean aquamarine waters are gorgeous not only for sailing, but also for snorkeling and scuba diving. Colorful reefs are alive with parrotfish
and angelfish, which you can spot without using a mask in many cases.
Other highlights in the Exumas include Big Major, where the resident pig Emily wades into the surf to welcome visitors arriving by tender, and Thunderball Grotto, where the James Bond movie "Thunderball" was filmed. You can still snorkel through the cave in which Sean Connery's Agent 007 hid until he was airlifted to safety. Allan's Cay, too, is worth a visit to feed the dozens of iguanas that sprint across the sand.
Another section of the Bahamas that is popular for charter is the Abacos, to the north of Nassau. A small, regional airport at Marsh Harbour provides access to wonderful fishing grounds and quaint harbor life such as the settlement at Hope Town, whose red-and-white-striped lighthouse has been welcoming cruising yachtsmen since the 1860s.