Bahamas Graced with extensive beaches bleached white by the year-round sun and surrounded by turquoise waters filled with varied and colorful sea life, the Bahamas is a Mecca for divers, sailors and sun-worshippers alike. Although often thought to be part of the Caribbean, the Bahamas is actually an archipelago of 700 islands with thousands of small 'cays' strung out in the ocean starting 55 miles (89km) from Miami in the Atlantic Ocean. The islands' first inhabitants were the Lucayan Indians who lived there from the 9th century until after Columbus discovered the islands in 1492, his first step into the New World. The resulting exploitation led to the native population being virtually wiped out. For two hundred years until independence in 1987 the Bahamas was a British Crown Colony and a strong British influence can still be seen in the architecture and culture. However, the mood of the island is now more Caribbean with a strong American influence, particularly in the capital, Nassau. Due to its proximity to the US, the Bahamas has become an offshore banking and financial centre. Tourism however remains its most important industry. The long stretches of empty beaches, clear waters and excellent facilities have made the Bahamas a popular destination throughout the year and the varied attractions of each of the islands ensure that there is something for everyone. Basics Time: GMT –5 (GMT –4 from first Sunday in April till last Sunday in October). Electricity: Electrical current is 120 volts, 60Hz. Two-pin flat blade plugs and flat blade plugs with round grounding, are also standard. Money: The official currency is the Bahamian Dollar (BSD), which is divided into 100 cents. The Bahamian Dollar is equal in value to the US Dollar and both currencies are accepted throughout the islands. Currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaus de change and many hotels. There are ATMs in the main tourist centers and credit and debit cards are widely accepted in all the big resorts. Traveler’s cheques can be changed at all banks, although those in US Dollars receive the best rates. Banks tend to be open from 9.30am to 3pm (Monday to Thursday) and 9.30am to 5pm (Fridays). Currency Exchange Rates BSD 1= US$ 1.00 £ 0.61 C$ 1.23 A$ 1.50 R 8.32 EUR 0.78 NZ$ 1.67 Note: This is not updated daily and should be used as a guide only. Language: English is the official language. Entry Requirements for Americans: United States passport holders must have a valid passport or a Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) compliant document, or a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license, as well as proof of citizenship, such as an original or certified birth certificate. A visa is not required for travel to the Bahamas for visits not exceeding eight months. Entry Requirements for UK nationals: UK nationals do not require a visa for stays of up to eight months. A passport is required, valid for six months after entry, or some form of official photo identification with a birth certificate and/or citizenship card. Entry Requirements for Canadians: Canadians should take a passport or other form of government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license, as well as proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. If traveling with a passport, Canadians may stay in the Bahamas for up to one month without a visa; if traveling with other identification documents the maximum stay without a visa is 21 days. Extensions may be granted. Entry Requirements for Australians: Australians do not require a visa, but a passport valid for a minimum of six months is necessary. Entry Requirements for South Africans: South African nationals must hold a passport valid for at least six months, but no visa is required. Entry Requirements for Irish nationals: Irish nationals require a passport valid for at least six months, but no visa is needed for stays of up to three months. Health: A yellow fever vaccination is required by travelers aged more than one year arriving from infected areas, and Hepatitis A immunization is recommended for visitors over two years. There is a risk of malaria and travelers should take precautions before travel. Food and water is considered safe. Visitors should note that some types of fish, including tropical reef fish, are poisonous to eat even when cooked. Medical facilities are good in Nassau and Freeport, but expensive and usually require payment in cash on treatment. Medical insurance is advised. Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau, where most emergency surgery is performed, is experiencing a chronic shortage of blood so those with rare blood types are advised to know the names and locations of possible donors in the event of an emergency. The Lyford Cay Hospital has a hyperbaric chamber for treatment of decompression illness. Tipping: Many hotels and restaurant bills automatically include a service charge of 15% to cover gratuities, otherwise a 10-15% tip is expected for most services, including taxi drivers. Hotel staff usually receive US$1 per bag. Safety: Most visits to the Bahamas are trouble-free though care should be taken in the major cities of Nassau and Freeport. Visitors should take sensible precautions and not carry large amounts of cash or jewellery on their person or wander away from the main tourist areas, especially after dark. In light of several fatal accidents and serious injuries that have occurred using rented watersports equipment, it is advisable that only those experienced on jet skis consider renting them on New Providence and Paradise Island. The watersports industry here is poorly regulated and visitors should only rent equipment from reputable operators and make sure that they have received adequate training before going out onto the water. Hurricane season is from June to the end of November. Customs: The British and African influences on the Bahamas are still obvious, but the island's proximity to the US has resulted in a somewhat Americanized culture. Some of the islands and resorts are very upmarket and require a certain standard of dress. Beachwear should be confined to the beach and smart-casual dress is usually expected for the evening. Business: Nassau is the business centre of the Bahamas, whose economy is heavily dependent of tourism and offshore banking. Business protocol is fairly relaxed, although appropriate business attire is expected. Meetings are usually held in conference rooms, they begin punctually, and business cards are customarily exchanged. Handshakes on introduction are the norm between both men and women; women are treated as equals in the business environment. Office hours are 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday. Communications: The international access code for the Bahamas is +1, in common with the US, Canada and most of the Caribbean, followed by 242. The outgoing code is 011 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 01144 for the United Kingdom). Calls from the Bahamas can be expensive, so if possible use a calling card. VOIP services are a much cheaper and more popular means of communication. A mobile network operates on the GSM 1900 band. Internet cafes are widely available. Duty Free: Travelers to the Bahamas over 18 years do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, or 50 cigars or 454g of tobacco; 1 liter spirits and 1 liter wine; and other goods to the value of US$100. Prohibited items include firearms and ammunition without a police permit. Pets and dogs from countries with rabies infections are strictly prohibited from entering the country. Contacts Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, Nassau: +1 242 302 2000 or www.bahamas.comBahamian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 319 2660.High Commission for The Bahamas, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7408 4488.High Commission for The Bahamas, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 232 1724.United States Embassy, Nassau: +1 242 322 1181.British High Commission, Kingston, Jamaica (also responsible for The Bahamas): +1 876 510 0700.Canadian High Commission, Kingston, Jamaica (also responsible for The Bahamas): +1 876 926 1500.Australian High Commission, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (also responsible for The Bahamas): +1 868 628 0695.South African High Commission, Kingston, Jamaica (also responsible for The Bahamas): +1 876 978 3160/4457.Emergencies: 911; Travellers In Distress: 326 4357. Activities Diving The Bahamas offer some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the world. Every island is rimmed by coral reefs and crystal clear water. Among the impressive array of coral formations you will experience a dazzling display of colorful sea life including moray eels, barracudas, stingrays, turtles, sand tigers, queen triggerfish, parrotfish and angelfish. Warm temperatures make wetsuits unnecessary. There are popular dive sites off Andros Island, which is bordered by the world's third largest reef, the Biminis. Here you can dive with dolphins and islanders claim that it provides a vantage point of the lost city of Atlantis. Elbow Cay, just off Great Abaco, is a great spot from which to view an amazing array of coral. There is also plenty to offer around New Providence Island including Balmoral Island off the north coast, Clifton Wall and Razorback to the southwest. Many companies rent equipment and offer courses and trips for both novice and experienced divers. Fishing There is some excellent fishing in the Bahamas and people come from all over the world to test their skills out on the wide variety of fish. The archipelago is most famous for the deep-sea sport fishing - with the right guide you will find schools of dolphin fish, wahoo, tuna and above all, blue and white marlin. However many fishermen prefer the challenge of fly and spin casting for bonefish on the sandbanks which surround many of the islands. They can be caught year-round, though April and May is spawning time and hence, the most productive months. Sailing There's plenty of excellent sailing to be done in the Bahamas; the islands offer gorgeous gin-clear waters and a seemingly endless array of uninhabited cayes inaccessible by any other means. Even around the most popular islands you can drop anchor at some remote spot and enjoy sunny, silent swimming and snorkeling far from the shore. The sheltered waters of the Sea of Abaco and Exuma Sound are good for beginners. For the more competitive, or social, each island holds its own regatta, usually in late summer; the best are to be found on Exuma, Long Island, Nassau/Paradise Island, and Freeport/Lucaya. Non-sailors can charter a crewed boat for a few days of quiet and carefree escape. Bird-watching For those who prefer to keep their feet on the ground the Bahamas offer some wonderful bird- watching. Most islands shelter a fairly wild interior where you can find hundreds of different species of birds among the palm savannas and primeval forest. There are dozens of reserves: Great Inagua is best for bird watching, and at Inagua National Park you may see the world's largest flock of West Indian flamingo. Others include Abaco National Park; Man-O-War Cay, off the Abaco Islands; the area around Love Hill on the north-eastern coast of North Andros; and Armbrister Creek, just north of New Bight on Cat Island. Watersports The main islands have excellent facilities for just about every kind of beach and water activity, including parasailing, water-skiing and windsurfing. The larger resort hotels generally include watersports in their rates.