The Bahamas is, clearly, a beach paradise. But for many travelers, the Bahamian experience can be two-dimensional.
That includes me, actually. I spent two weeks on the shores of Paradise Island, at two beautiful all-inclusive resorts, doing little else than beach-bumming and indulging.
But, it turns out, the Bahamas -- hundreds of unique, lush islands -- has a wealth of lifestyle, cultural, even historical experiences to offer. All of a sudden, the atypical Bahamian vacation can become the perfect getaway.
See Abaco, Skip Paradise
As the capital of the Bahamas, the city of Nassau is a typical focal point for many tourists. And its satellite island, Paradise, to which it's linked by a pair of bridges and which is home to beautiful properties like The Atlantis, is easily one of the Bahamas's most sought-after stops.
But the Out Islands of the Bahamas, a collection of 698 locales peppered across azure waters, deserve the attention of any traveler in the hunt for the idyllic Caribbean escape. Think of them as a more laid-back, more remote, more unhurried version of a Bahamian vacation. Many celebrities flock here to escape the paparazzi (Johnny Depp even bought one of the islands).
Among them is Abaco, flanked by dozens of offshore cays and home to beautiful marinas. This is, indeed, a yachtsman's paradise and home to golf and the famous red-and-white-striped lighthouse.
Be a Hermit, Skip the Crowds
Those beautiful beaches can get packed, so an escape to what was once the monastery of one religiously inspired man might be just what your vacation ordered. Cat Island, named after the pirate Arthur Catt, is located southeast of Nassau and home to the highest point in the Bahamas, Mount Alvernia. Topping out at 206 feet above sea level, it is here that Father Jerome Hawes built his one-man miniature monastery around 1940, complete with steps carved out of rock by hand, which you can still visit today. Lobster diving is big on Cat Island, which offers several rustic, secluded, thatch-roofed beach cottages to spend the night.
Hike the Hills, Skip the Beach
The Bahamas is synonymous with lounging on the beach. But many islands are home to lush nature trails that, while they might take you away from those warm sands, take you toward pristine landscapes. On Bimini, you can follow the Nature Hiking Trail to observe dozens of animals and plants native to the island. And on Andros, where much of the expanse is enveloped by miles of impenetrable and still-unexplored bush, you can explore mangrove marshes and pine forests teeming with wildlife; this island is also dotted with blue holes, fresh water-filled caves found miles in from the ocean's edge.
Sip the Beer, Skip the Bahama Mama
The cocktail culture is alive and well in the Bahamas. I loved discovering the Bahama Mama on my honeymoon, a sweet blend of rum and tropical juices that made everything OK. But the production of quality beer is now starting to take the Bahamas by storm. Kalik is a popular locally made light lager produced by the Heineken folks, who built a brewery on Nassau about 30 years ago. Their most formidable competition is Bahamian Brewery & Beverage, a 5-year-old, locally owned operation on Grand Bahama Island that makes the popular SANDS Beer. Its 60,000-square-foot facility is set on 20 acres near the harbor and features a tour facility and 2-acre sipping garden.
Savor Fine Dining, Skip the All-Inclusive