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The islands, lacking natural resources other than their agreeable climate and picturesque beaches, have become heavily dependent on the income generated by the extensive tourist facilities and the financial sector that have been developed, often as a result of the injection of foreign capital. The continued popularity of the islands with tourists, largely from North America , has helped to maintain a relatively high standard of living among the population, most of whom are of African descent.

The capital, Nassau , is located on small but important New Providence Island.

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Lying to the north of Cuba and Hispaniola , the archipelago comprises nearly islands and cays, only about 30 of which are inhabited, and more than 2, low, barren rock formations. It stretches more than miles km southeast-northwest between Grand Bahama Island , which has an area of square miles 1, square km and lies about 60 miles km off the southeastern coast of the U. They include Grand Bahama, which contains the major settlements of Freeport and West End; Andros 2, square miles [6, square km] , the largest island of The Bahamas; Abaco , or Great Abaco, square miles [ square km] ; and Eleuthera square miles [ square km] , the site of one of the early attempts at colonization.

The Bahamas occupies an irregular submarine tableland that rises out of the depths of the Atlantic Ocean and is separated from nearby lands to the south and west by deepwater channels. Extensive areas of flatland, generally a few feet in elevation, are the dominant topographic features of the major islands; the Bimini group 9 square miles [23 square km] , for example, has a maximum elevation of only 20 feet 6 metres.

A number of islands fronting the Atlantic have a range or series of ranges of hills on the northeastern side that parallel the longer axes of the islands. These ranges are formed of sand washed ashore and blown inland by the trade winds. The newer hills adjacent to the seashore are normally sand dunes. Solidity increases toward the interior, where the particles become cemented to form Bahama limestone. Eleuthera and Long Island square miles [ square km] have the greatest number of hills exceeding feet 30 metres.

The highest point in The Bahamas, Mount Alvernia, at feet 63 metres , is on Cat Island square miles [ square km]. Beneath the soil, the islands are composed of limestone rock and skeletal remains of coral fossils and other marine organisms. There are no rivers, but several islands—particularly New Providence, San Salvador 63 square miles [ square km] , and Great Inagua—have large lakes.

There is abundant fresh water on Andros Island. You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience and security. The fantasy sea theme continues throughout, capturing the imagination of young and old alike. Accommodation: Where to Stay on Paradise Island. One of the most popular cruise ship ports in the Caribbean, Nassau still manages to charm visitors despite the crowds of camera-toting tourists. Visitors come here to bask on the white sands of Cable Beach ; explore the shops, restaurants, museums, and candy-colored colonial buildings of downtown and Bay Street ; and shop for souvenirs at the Nassau Straw Market.

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A short catamaran ride away from Nassau, animal lovers can cavort with dolphins on a day trip to Blue Lagoon Island , while Ardastra Gardens, Zoo, and Conservation Center also offers a slower pace, with its endangered and threatened species amid four acres of tropical gardens. Paradise Island , home to the perennially popular Atlantis resort, shimmers on the horizon about five kilometers offshore from Nassau.

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  • The park boasts some of the most striking seascapes in the Bahamas, with luminous water in electric blues and bone-white sand. The area is popular with divers and boaters, who come here for the quality anchorages, abundant marine life, and crystal clear waters.

    On a good day, divers and snorkelers can enjoy meter-plus visibility. Most people visit this underwater wonderland on private boats or live-aboard dive charters.

    Bahamian Officials: Islands Still Open for Tourism

    No fishing or shelling is permitted within the park boundaries. The Exuma Cays are also beautiful. Some are home to movie stars, such as Johnny Depp and David Copperfield, while others are home to exclusive resorts. Great Exuma, the largest of the Exumas, Little Exuma , and Staniel Cay are popular with boaters, who come here to enjoy the convivial restaurants. Accommodation: Where to Stay near Exuma Cays. Pretty Harbour Island, northeast of its big sister, Eleuthera , is one of the oldest settlements in the Bahamas, as well as the site of the first Bahamian parliament; English Loyalists settled here in the s.

    Famous for its pink sand beaches and chic resorts, the island, which is affectionately known by the locals as "Briland," has long been a hideaway for the rich and famous. Golf carts rule the streets here, and visitors feel as though they've stepped back in time as they cruise past the cute, pastel-colored Loyalist cottages lining the streets of Dunmore Town , the island's only settlement.

    Popular things to do include diving, snorkeling, fishing, and basking on the beautiful pink sand beaches.

    By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

    Accommodation: Where to Stay on Harbour Island. The northernmost of the Bahamian islands, Grand Bahama is a popular destination for package tourists and cruise ships. The capital, Freeport, is the second biggest city in the Bahamas, though Port Lucaya has now replaced it as the tourist hub for shopping, dining, and entertainment. Port Lucaya Marketplace sells jewelry and straw goods as well as other souvenirs, and the marina is a social hot spot for tourists and boaters.

    Despite the island's large all-inclusive resorts and hotels, it's still possible to escape the crowds. Grand Bahama is home to one of the world's longest underwater cave systems, and nature-lovers can spot many native bird species in the three national parks.

    The Other Side

    Andros, the largest landmass in the Bahamas, has the third largest barrier reef in the world, as well as many freshwater blue holes and underwater caves. It's no surprise then, that this is a popular destination for divers. The island's vast wetlands create channels, which are prime boating and fishing areas. Fly fishing is big here, and Andros is often called " the bonefishing capital of the world. Nature lovers will appreciate the rich bird life in the mud flats, mangrove swamps, and forests, as well as the island's eco-resorts.

    In addition to all these natural attractions, tourists can visit the Androsia Hand Made Batik Factory , which sells brightly-colored fabrics featuring bold Bahamian motifs. Accommodation: Where to Stay in Andros. Skirting the eastern shore of Great Abaco, Treasure Cay Beach is often voted one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. This spectacular stretch of flour-soft sand and aqua water wows visitors who come here to bask on its creamy, crescent-shaped shore. The beach lies in the upscale resort community of Treasure Cay, which hosts one of the most popular fishing tournaments in the Bahamas.

    Accommodation: Where to Stay in Treasure Cay. Colorful cottages line the main streets of Hope Town, the island's principal settlement, and the center of town is off-limits to vehicles, lending a relaxed, village feel. Famous for its candy-striped lighthouse, Hope Town is home to a thriving expatriate community who appreciate the island's pretty palm-lined beaches; proximity to Marsh Harbour , the nation's third largest town; and the excellent boating opportunities.

    Hope Town also boasts a well-developed marina.