If you picture a tropical escape, most people imagine white sandy beaches, endless stretches of green, tumbling waterfalls and a spirit of pure relaxation that can make every other worry in the world melt away. If you want to stop imagining and experience that sort of heaven on Earth for yourself, take a trip to Nassau, Bahamas.
On my recent trip to this spectacular Caribbean destination, I was shocked by the level of luxury, pampering and adventure that was available for any traveler who wanted to get away from the world for a while. Nassau is the capital city of the Bahamas, and also holds more than 65% of the entire population of the island nation. Despite the cosmopolitan feel in certain areas, it also boasts dozens of incredible resorts, miles of pristine beaches, and water so crystal-clear that you would swear it was a dream.
I had asked a number of my friends about potential hotels to stay at, and I heard nothing but lavish praise for Atlantis, a very well known mega-resort on nearby Paradise Island. Like the legendary city for which it is named, Atlantis is an aquatic masterpiece, with an incredible Aquaventure water park, pools, slides, river rides, and the world’s largest open-air marine habitat. For someone who came to the Bahamas to relax and soak in the sun – like me – there was no better choice on the island. Depending on your mood, you can find tucked away oases, far from the madding crowd of revelers and vacationing families, or you could throw yourself into the mix, plummeting down the Mayan Temple’s Leap of Faith, which sends you shooting past sharks and other wildlife in one of the most exhilarating water slides I have ever experienced.
Once I had gotten my fix of sunshine and water slides, I enjoyed the huge selection of bars and restaurants on the grounds of the resort, quickly realizing that you could spend your entire trip in Atlantis without ever leaving the confines or exploring the rest of the island. Granted, I had traveled to the Bahamas to unwind, but my spirit of adventure is strong, and I eventually wanted to see what else Nassau had to offer.
I didn’t know much about the history of the town, but wandering through city center gave me an idea of what life may have been like in the past. Despite the tourists wandering to and fro, and merchants hawking their “authentic” wares, there was an ancient energy in the streets, bouncing off the old buildings and radiating off the sun-drenched alleys. I stopped in the Pirates of Nassau Museum to learn a bit more about the city, and was surprised to find out that three hundred years ago, it had been named a pirate republic, and more than 1,000 pirates had called this place home.
In some ways, although the pirates are gone, the locals hungry for gold are still here – cajoling passers-by to check out their stands, working the streets, and thriving in this Caribbean paradise. Traditional saltfish
Every person I met was friendly and curious, wondering what had brought me to the island, what I was looking for, and if they could help me find it. That constant sense of hustle was everywhere, in stark contrast to what many visitors, myself included, had come to the island to enjoy. The blend of tropical calm and energetic excitement was an interesting space to explore, but eventually, I wanted to find some peace and quiet. Asking one of the eager advisers on the street about nearby beaches, I was directed to Montagu Beach, a bit east of city center, which is the site of Fort Montagu, the island’s oldest fort. The beach wasn’t nearly as crowded as Cabbage Beach (on Paradise Island, near Atlantis), nor was the view blocked by rows of exotic resorts like you might find on Cable Beach.
Cable Beach was a quiet spot where locals could come to escape the crowds, and when I arrived, it was nearly empty. With a great view of the Atlantic Resort, perfect white-powder sand and warm Caribbean surf, I finally felt like I was disappearing in paradise.Seeing the sharks in the Atlantis marine habitat was amazing, but I wanted to see some underwater creatures without the safety of a glass tube, so the next day, after a delicious breakfast at Murray’s Deli, I took a taxi to Gambier Deep Reef, about ten miles west of city center, and rented some snorkel gear for the day. The beach seemed populated with locals, along with a few scuba diving groups, but I didn’t feel out of place. Wading out through the unbelievably clear water, I strapped on my mask and took the plunge.
I have snorkeled in a number of reefs around the world, but this experience was one I would never forget. The colorful explosion of the coral was shocking, and the slow, gentle wave of sponges and anemones was entrancing. Tiny tropical fish darted all around me once I made it out to the center of the reef, fearless, fast and mesmerizing. Although I stayed near the surface, I could see that the reef dropped at least 50 or 60 feet down, and shadowy stingrays and other stunning marine creatures occasionally flitted past. Emerging from the water a couple hours later, I felt both relaxed and invigorated, connected with this stunning island, its unrivaled natural beauty, as well as the mysterious history.
On my final night in Nassau, I returned to Atlantis, caught one more indescribable sunset, and reflected on what had been an unexpectedly profound trip. I had expected beaches and sunshine, but I didn’t know that Nassau would hold such a rich culture, as connected to its past as it is to the changing present, where it was trying to survive – and thrive.