An incongruous mix of glitzy casinos and quiet shady lanes, splashy megaresorts, and tiny settlements that recall a distant simpler age, land development unrivaled elsewhere in the Bahamas, and vast stretches of untrammeled territory. This is New Providence Island, a grab-bag destination. The island, home to two-thirds of all Bahamians, provides fast-paced living, nightlife that goes on until dawn, and high-end shopping strips. And when all the hustle and bustle becomes too much, it’s easy to find quiet stretches of sandy white beach where the only noise is the waves rolling in.
In the course of its history, the island has weathered the comings and goings of lawless pirates, Spanish invaders, slave-holding British Loyalists who fled the United States after the Revolutionary War, Civil War-era Confederate blockade runners, and Prohibition rum-runners. Nevertheless, New Providence remains most influenced by England, which sent its first royal governor to the island in 1718. Although Bahamians won government control in 1967 and independence six years later, British influence is felt to this day.
Nassau is the nation’s capital and transportation hub, as well as its banking and commercial center. The fortuitous combination of tourist-friendly enterprise, tropical weather, and island flavor with a European overlay has not gone unnoticed: each year more than 2.5 million cruise-ship passengers arrive at Nassau’s Prince George Wharf.
There’s a definite hustle and bustle in this capital city that’s not found elsewhere in the country, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. From shark diving and snorkeling to bicycle tours, horseback riding, tennis, and golf, active pursuits abound in New Providence. Avid water-sports fans will find a range of possibilities, including paddleboarding, sailing, kayaking, and deep-sea fishing. Or simply cruise the clear Bahamian waters for a day trip or an evening ride.
POINTS OF INTEREST
From downtown Nassau, West Bay Street follows the coast west past Arawak Cay to the Cable Beach strip. If you’re not driving, catch the No. 10 jitney for a direct ride from downtown. This main drag runs the length of the new Baha Mar resort development, which was not yet open at this writing, separating the golf course and green space from the resorts and beach. Walk or drive west of the megaresort for a smattering of smaller restaurants and local neighborhoods.
Nassau’s sheltered harbor bustles with cruise-ship activity, while a block away Bay Street’s sidewalks are crowded with shoppers who duck into air-conditioned boutiques and relax on benches in the shade of mahogany and lignum vitae trees. Shops angle for tourist dollars with fine imported goods at duty-free prices, yet you’ll find a handful of stores overflowing with authentic Bahamian crafts, food supplies, and other delights.
With a revitalization of downtown ongoing, Nassau is trying to recapture some of its past glamour. Nevertheless, modern influences are completely apparent: fancy restaurants and trendy coffeehouses have popped up everywhere. These changes have come partly in response to the growing number of upper-crust crowds that now supplement the spring breakers and cruise passengers who have traditionally flocked to Nassau. Of course, you can still find a wild club or a rowdy bar, but you can also sip cappuccino while viewing contemporary Bahamian art or dine by candlelight beneath prints of old Nassau, serenaded by soft, island-inspired calypso music.
A trip to Nassau wouldn’t be complete without a stop at some of the island’s well-preserved historic buildings. The large, pink colonial-style edifices house Parliament and some of the courts, while others, like Fort Charlotte, date back to the days when pirates ruled the town. Take a tour via horse-drawn carriage for the full effect.
The graceful, arched Paradise Island bridges ($1 round-trip toll for cars and motorbikes; free for bicyclists and pedestrians) lead to and from the extravagant world of Paradise Island. Until 1962 the island was largely undeveloped and known as Hog Island. A&P heir Huntington Hartford changed the name when he built the island’s first resort complex. In 1994 South African developer Sol Kerzner transformed the existing high-rise hotel into the first phase of Atlantis. Many years, a number of new hotels, a water park, and more than $1 billion later, Atlantis has taken over the island. From the ultra-exclusive Cove to the acclaimed golf course, it’s easy to forget there’s more to Paradise Island. It’s home to multimillion-dollar homes and condominiums and a handful of independent resort properties. Despite the hustle and bustle of the megaresorts, you can still find yourself a quiet spot on Cabbage Beach, which lines the northern side of the island, or on the more secluded Paradise Beach west of Atlantis. Aptly renamed, the island is a paradise for beach lovers, boaters, and fun-seekers.
WESTERN NEW PROVIDENCE
Immediately west of Cable Beach, the hotel strip gives way to residential neighborhoods interspersed with shops, restaurants, and cafés. Homes become more and more posh the farther west you go; Lyford Cay—the island’s original gated community—is home to the original 007, Sean Connery. Hang a left at the Lyford Cay roundabout, and eventually, you’ll come across the historic Clifton Heritage Park, the local brewery where Kalik and Heineken are brewed and bottled, a new upscale resort development whose financiers include golfers Ernie Els and Tiger Woods, and eventually the sleepy settlement of Adelaide.
The loop around the island’s west and south coasts can be done in a couple of hours by car or scooter, but take some time for lunch and a swim along the way. Unless you’re being taken around by a taxi or local, it’s best to return along the same route, as internal roads can get confusing.
Time your visit to this far-flung beach on the island’s southwestern shore to catch low tide, when the ocean recedes, leaving behind sandbanks and seashells. It’s a perfect place to take the kids for a shallow-water dip in the sea, or for a truly private rendezvous. Popular with locals, you’ll likely have the miles-long stretch all to yourself unless it’s a public holiday. Amenities: none. Best for: solitude; swimming; walking.
If you’re looking for great snorkeling and some privacy, drive about 20 minutes west of Cable Beach. White sand shimmers in the sun and the azure waves gently roll ashore. About a mile offshore are 40 acres of coral reef known as the Sea Gardens. Access is not marked, just look for a vacant lot. Amenities: none. Best for: solitude; snorkeling; sunset