The Bahamas… if anyplace in the world is said to have multiple personalities, it would be the Bahamas. With over 3,000 islands and cays, there are many ways it can be different. The Commonwealth of the Bahamas is a part of the Commonwealth of Nations, formerly called the British Commonwealth. While they drive on the right-hand side of the road. The Commonwealth of the Bahamas and the British Overseas Territory Turks and Caicos inhabit the Lucayan Archipelago. The Archipelago is included in the West Indies, however, it is not a part of the Caribbean. However, most people including those from the Bahamas do consider it a part of the Caribbean. Many Bahamians look at their country as two distinct parts: the main islands and the Out Islands. Each with a different lifestyle and culture. For the tourist and more importantly the scuba diver two very different vacation experiences. The tourism industry is the largest employment sector with over 50% of the jobs being in this industry. Second is the finance sector.
Bahamas Main Islands
The Main Islands of the Bahamas are Grand Bahama Island and New Providence Island along with a few nearby cays and islands. The population of the Bahamas is about 400,000 and 80% of those people live in the Main Islands. Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is located on New Providence Island. This island and the connected small Paradise Island is home to over 70% of the countries population. Nassau is also the center of tourism in the Bahamas. You will find casinos, luxury shopping and hotel chains here. Nassau is the busiest cruise port in the world and 70% of the countries tourist are cruise ship passengers. Grand Bahama Island is the home of the city of Freeport and about 10% of the population.
Darby Island and Rudder Cut Cay, Exumas
Photograph by Christina Hawkins
Diving Bahamas Main Islands
Diving in the Main Islands is legendary. There have been so many underwater scenes filmed around New Providence Island, including iconic scenes in James Bond movies, it is often called “Underwater Hollywood”. Many of the best dive sites are on the western edge of the island and are near the area known as the Tongue of the Ocean. The Tongue of the Ocean is a
The Tongue of the Ocean is a deep-water trench that is between Andros Island and New Providence Island. The reefs around New Province Island are generally in the 60 to 80-foot range. Whereas the floor of the Tongue of the Ocean is between 3,600 feet (1,100 m) to 6,600 feet (2,000 m) deep. The reefs benefit from the deep water as nutrients are brought from the depths. Sharks and other pelagic also visit the shallow reefs. Expect to see sharks on just about every dive. Looking over the edge of the reef into deep water you may see some of them way below you. There really is some great wall dives here.
Meanwhile, Grand Bahamas Island also has a great reputation for scuba diving. The Underwater Explorer Society (UNEXSO) has been in business for over 50 years and is considered the pioneer in shark feeding. They introduced hand feed of sharks in 1993 and are still doing it. They offer a range of shark diving and also diving with dolphins.
The Out Islands – Family Islands
Once you exclude the two main islands and their few nearby cays, the rest are what is called the Out Islands. You will also see them call the Family Islands. Only one percent of these 3,000 islands are considered inhabited. Many of the “uninhabited island” do have homes on them, often a single residence for a wealthy individual. Andros is the fifth largest island in the West Indies and largest of the islands in the Bahamas, many times the size of both of the Main Islands together. While ten percent of the country’s population live on the island, it’s large size means great portions of it are not inhabited.
Eleuthera and the Exuma Cays are also destinations know for its diving. The Exuma Cays start about 35 miles southeast of Nassau. The archipelago of about 365 cays and islands are separated into three sections and they span about 80 miles north to south. Resorts here are more relax and do not have the commercialism you will find in the Main Islands.
The Bimini Islands are the closest to the US mainland and may be the most known of the Family Islands. Here you will find a mix of small resorts and large scale resort complexes. The area is also considered one of the best sport fishing destinations in the world.
Dean’s Blue Hole on Long Island Bahamas. A short distance from shore the Blue Hole drops to 663 feet (203 meters). Photograph by Christian Afonso
Diving the Family Islands
Diving the Family Islands/ Out Islands offers such a range of diving opportunities it hard to believe it is all the same country. Eleuthera and the Exuma Cays are on the eastern side of the Bahamas with direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. This can create some robust diving conditions. However, the western side of the islands are protected and can have calm conditions. This area is a favorite for those seeking a liveaboard destination.
Andros provides the diver many different options. As mentioned the Tongue of the Ocean is between this island and New Province Island. On the Andros side of the Tongue, you will find what is called the Andros Fringing Barrier Reef. This reef system is 190 miles long and is considered one of the healthiest reefs in the world. It extends from near the shoreline of Andros to the Tongue of the Ocean. Some marketing claims it is the third largest reef system in the world. This is hard to confirm as the reef does not meet the definition of a barrier reef nor a fringing reef but is somewhat a hybrid of the two. The reef’s many dive sites both along the wall and closer ashore give divers many types of dives to choose from.
Another aspect of diving Andros is that it has the largest concentration of blue holes in the world. Some of these blue holes are located on land providing an experience similar to the cenotes of Mexico. Others are located in shallow waters and allow divers to drop beyond recreational diving depths. Caver divers will find many underwater cave systems to keep themselves challenged.
Sharks are one of the big draws to the Bimini Islands. Located less than 60 miles from Florida, it is on the deep side of the Florida barrier reef. This deep water is a migratory route for many shark species including hammerheads and great whites. Florida has made shark feeding illegal in the states waters so many of the Florida dive operators have relocated its shark feeding to the waters off Bimini islands. Other large pelagic are found here and the wall diving is incredible.
You can spend years diving the Out Islands and still be amazed what you can find. The many shallow coral reefs and cays have created thousands of ship wrecks many still waiting to be discovered. Wall dives, ship wrecks, caves, coral reefs, drift dives are all waiting for you.