Partially protected from commercial activity since 1959, the Exuma Cays are normally the domain of cruisers—and a few privileged landowners such as Johnny Depp. But guests at Sampson Cay have access to the area’s thriving patch reefs and isolated islets. At the Sampson Cay Club (877/633-0305;; doubles from $275), the five modest villas include wide patios that are perfect for watching the sunset. While the limestone karst terrain may be rugged, every path ends on a stretch of secluded white sand.

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With 700 islands to explore and just an hour's flight from Miami, the Bahamas are as accessible as they are magical.

By Bob Curley

Nassau, home to the Atlantis and Baha Mar mega-resorts, is the most familiar and accessible destination in the Bahamas, but it’s only a small taste of this diverse archipelago nation’s charms. Bahamas visitors can chase big-game fish in the waters of Bimini, walk the seemingly endless beaches of Grand Bahama Island, meet the traditional boatbuilders of the Abacos, and swim with pigs in the Exumas.

Cabbage Beach, Nassau, Bahamas
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The Best Beaches in the Bahamas

Cabbage Beach, home of the Atlantis and Four Seasons Ocean Club resorts, has soft sand, steady surf, and plenty of watersports options including underwater exploration at Snorkeler’s Cove. Walk east toward the Ocean Club to avoid the cruise-ship crowds.

Rose Island, reached by speedboat from Nassau, is an uninhabited sliver of sand that feels completely remote and is a great destination for a beach picnic getaway.

Related: Even More of Our Favorite Bahamas Beaches

Gold Rock Beach is east of Freeport on Grand Bahama Island, within the protected Lucayan National Park, and features a wide, white sand beach accessed by a long boardwalk that snakes through mangrove trees. While there, explore the park’s limestone caves and paddle on Gold Rock Creek.                                                                                

Pink Sands Beach on Harbour Island in the Out Islands is a gorgeous 3-mile swath of cool coral sand that’s protected by offshore reefs that keep the waves low and the water calm.

Pig Beach on Big Major Cay in the Exumas boasts crystal clear water and a friendly community of feral, water-loving pigs.

Related: Perfect Weekend in Harbour Island, Bahamas

The Best Things to Do in the Bahamas

Get on the Water with the ultimate day sail aboard Sail Eleuthera's elegant sloop Eventide: Beachcomb on uninhabited islands, snorkel crystalline waters, and enjoy a gourmet picnic lunch.

Aquaventure, the combination waterpark and aquarium at the Atlantis, may be the best argument in favor of a stay at the resort, though savvy travelers can also gain access by booking the neighboring Comfort Suites Paradise Island.

The Pirates of Nassau museum chronicles the island’s history as an 18th-century swashbuckling hub and is worth a visit.

John Watling’s Distillery in historic downtown Nassau offers tours and tastings of its rums.

Stuart Cove on Nassau is home base for some unique aquatic adventures, including diving with wild sharks.

Lucayan National Park on Grand Bahama Island is 40 protected acres that can be explored at your own pace: kayak the mangroves, explore the park’s limestone caves, and take in the endless sands of Gold Rock Beach from horseback—or on your own back resting on a beach towel.

Sport fishing is everywhere in the Out Islands except in the protected waters of the Exuma Cays, whose famously clear waters and abundant marine life make it a favorite for divers.

Related: The Perfect Weekend on Harbour Island

The makings of a traditional conch salad
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The Best Restaurants and Bars in the Bahamas

Stuart’s and Joe’s Conch Shack on Bimini are purveyors of fresh conch salad, a must-try while in the islands. Bimini is also known for its local sweet bread, a doughy delicacy that’s commonly infused with coconut and sometimes with dried fruits and spices.

Dune at the Ocean Club on Paradise Island showcases the French-Asian cuisine of Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Graycliff Restaurant, the five-star restaurant at Graycliff Hotel, is home to one of the most extensive wine cellars in the Americas, stocked with more than a quarter-million bottles.

Cafe Matisse serves an ever-changing selection of upscale Italian dishes in a quiet courtyard in downtown Nassau.

The Landing restaurant, at Harbour Island’s historic Landing Hotel, brings locally sourced lobster and fish straight from ocean to kitchen to plate.

Rock House on Harbour Island is known for its Goombay Smash, the signature Bahamian cocktail composed of white rum, dark rum, and coconut rum in pineapple juice with a Myers's floater. Theirs ups the ante by doing them frozen.

Straw market bags in Nassau
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The Best Places to Shop in the Bahamas

Bay Street in Nassau is one of the busiest duty-free districts in the Caribbean, as well as home to the island’s famous Straw Market, where countless vendors vie to sell hand-woven straw hats and bags as well as a familiar array of t-shirts, wood carvings, and other kitschy souvenirs to hoards of tourists. (Yes, you should haggle over the prices--it’s not only permitted but expected).

The Port Lucaya Marketplace on Freeport offers much the same in a more compact form, complete with its own straw market.

On Paradise Island you’ll find local artwork at the Bahamas Craft Centre and upscale shopping at the Marina Village.

In Dunmore Town on Harbour Island, visit India Hicks’ Sugar Mill Trading Co. on Bay Street and Blue Rooster on King. Dake’s Shoppe on Crowne Street features clothing and home goods.

An “Androsia” batik and locally harvested natural sponges are among the best Out Islands souvenirs (you can find both in the shops on Andros).

Atlantis on Paradise Island
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The Best Hotels and Resorts in the Bahamas

The Ocean View Club's 14 rooms will take your breath away with their dreamy, colorful interiors, Bahamian porches, and turquoise-infused water views off Pink Sands Beach on Harbour Island.

The Graycliff Hotel, a hillside mansion in downtown Nassau, brings a taste of Old Caribbean elegance and features a fine-dining restaurant and on-site cigar bar and chocolatier.

The Landing, in the heart of Dunmore Town on Harbour Island, will seduce you with its plantation-style lines; 13 crisp, white guest rooms; and Instagram-perfect bar.

Ocean Club on Paradise Island is one of the Bahamas’ most admired addresses and recently became a Four Seasons resort, which should do nothing to diminish its reputation for exclusive luxury.

Sandals Emerald Bay, formerly a Four Seasons property, fronts a mile-long beach on Exuma and features a Greg Norman-designed golf course, three pools, and 11 restaurants.

The Resorts World Bimini brings South Beach style to the Out Island closest to the Florida coast.

The splashy Atlantis and Baha Mar mega casino resorts vie for attention in Nassau; the Atlantis is more kid-friendly with its giant water park, while Baha Mar basks in its shiny new appeal, opening in stages beginning in 2017 — the luxury lifestyle hotel SLS Baha Mar is the latest addition.