Find out if it's really better in the Bahamas

Sunday, February 5, 2006

Got an itch for palm trees, beaches, warm sunshine and clear ocean water? And you don't want to go very far? The islands of the Bahamas are just a short hop from Florida, and they offer lots of easy relaxation and fun activities.

Your excuses for not going to the islands will fade away after you see the videos and 360-degree photos from Islands of the Bahamas -- www.bahamas.com/bahamas/ -- the official government Web site. If you don't have time for the videos and 360-degree panoramas, look for "Featured Image Galleries" and go right to Exuma Cays for an introduction to bright beaches and clear water. Or go to "Sound Options" at the top of the page and take a minute to listen to the waves.

Scan the "About the Bahamas" section for history, customs and travel tips, then visit the islands and "What to Do" to get acquainted with beaches, fishing, dining, shopping (duty-free!) and ecotourism. That's also the section for local festivals and other events, including the Bahamian Music & Heritage Festival coming up in March. Can you afford it? Check out "Book Online" for room rates and package deals.

The Bahamas is much more than the capital of Nassau and the something-for-everyone Grand Bahama island. Out Islands -- www.myoutislands.com/ -- provides an introduction to Andros, Bimini, Eleuthera and others, with guides to be downloaded in the popular Adobe Reader format. They all offer variations on the Bahamas theme of beaches, diving, sailing, fishing and boating. But Cat Island, named for a pirate, also has the islands' highest point, Long Island offers historic plantation ruins and Shark Reef, and the Abacos have scenic Treasure Cay Beach. With each of the islands, there is a directory of local hotels.

There's an alternate set of Island of the Bahamas guides at Bahamas B2B -- www.bahamasb2b.com/travel/ -- along with a hotel directory. Want to really get away from it all? In their islands guide, click on "Acklins/Crooked Island," a pair of spots with small populations, clear water and empty beaches. For details on other subjects, click on that Bahamas B2B logo in the upper left corner.

Eleuthera also has the islands' best surfing, according to Out-Island Adventures -- www.bahamasadventures.com/ -- which offers introductions to this islands kayaking, beachcombing and snorkeling.

Divers will want to visit the Bahamas Diving Association -- www.bahamasdiving.com/ -- for a directory of dive operators and other helpful information, plus videos.

If you're looking for an all-around guide that isn't put together by the local tourism industry, try Frommer's -- www.frommers.com/destinations/bahamas/ -- and look for their "Complete Guide" section for a comprehensive introduction and trip planning information. Then try their "Best of Bahamas" suggestions for fishing, nightlife, diving and family vacations.

Got time for more browsing? Bahamas Vacation Rentals -- www.vacationrentalsbahamas.com/ -- has a "Bahamas Vacation Guides" section with Web links to sites for just about everything from casinos to fishing guides to bed & breakfast inns.

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