Have you considered making the Bahamas your destination vacation? The Bahamas is known for its crystal-clear waters and white sandy beaches, making it a popular tourist destination. The Bahamas is home to the world's third-largest barrier reef, the Andros Barrier Reef. The Bahamas is famous for its swimming pigs, which can be found on the island of Exuma. We have a post on the pigs here. Maybe it is time to start planning your vacation. As a traveler, here are some fun facts to consider about a vacation in the Bahamas.
The Bahamas is a group of more than seven hundred islands and islets in the Atlantic Ocean. The islands are located north of Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
The capital of the Bahamas is Nassau, located on the island of New Providence. The Bahamas are a short plane flight from the eastern seaboard of the United States. The current population is nearly 400,000 spread over the islands, with a total land mass of a little more than 5,000 square miles.
The original descendants of the Bahamas were likely from other Caribbean islands or South America. Indigenous people probably arrived somewhere between 500 and 800 AD, although it’s reported that people might have arrived by boat from Cuba as early as 300 AD.
Historical documentation only began in earnest with the arrival of Christopher Columbus. In 400 AD, there was no island or country even named Cuba. However, it is only 243 miles from Cuba to the Bahamas, so it is clearly possible that early settlers came from Cuba.
The people that came to the Bahamas relied on the ocean and the land for food.
The Spanish Arrive
Recorded history shows that in 1492 Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Guanahani which he renamed San Salvador on his first voyage in the area.
Although Columbus and the natives were quite friendly with each other, the Spaniards that followed were not so friendly. Within 20 years, the Spaniards had enslaved or transported the natives. More than 40,000 were transported to Hispaniola, where they died working in mines. This essentially was all the healthy indigenous people.
Although Spain took control of the islands, they had little interest in maintaining a presence. Within 30 years of occupying the islands and capturing the natives and enslaving them, the islands remained abandoned for 130 years. Spain was looking for gold but found none. British pirates also used the islands.
British Take Control
In 1629, the islands were given their first constitution as part of the Carolinas (USA). The first British settlers were refugees from religious persecution under Charles I, much like the other British who arrived in what is now the United States.
The United States ceded the islands to Great Britain in 1783, in exchange for East Florida which today is the majority of Florida. France, Great Britain and Spain governed West Florida over the years before it, too, became part of the United States.
The Bahamas became a British crown colony primarily because the British decided that they had enough of piracy in the region and wanted a defensible outpost to protect their trading ships.
When the British lost the Revolutionary War, they resettled thousands of people to the Bahamas. They brought their slaves with them and established plantations on the islands. Britain abolished slavery in 1834, but the now-free people largely stayed on the islands.
During the US Civil War between 1861-1865, the islands enjoyed some prosperity, because they were a depot for ships running the Union’s blockade against the Confederacy. When the Civil War was over, the economy suffered. A major hurricane in 1866 added to the islands’ woes.
Twentieth Century and Independence
During the early twentieth century, the islands became more financially stable because of trading and the sponge industry, which peaked in 1901. The term rum runner was popular with the American bootlegging trade during Prohibition. When Prohibition was lifted, the United States was deep into the Great Depression. No more rum running negatively impacted island trading.
The islands continued to suffer financially until tourism began in earnest after the Second World War. Offshore banking on the islands also became a major source of income.
The Bahamas were still under British control until 1964, when a new constitution was set up in a new form of government. In 1973, the Britain granted independence to the Bahamas.
The Hotel and Steam Ship Service Act of 1898 opened the Bahamas to tourism. The act provided government support needed for the construction of hotels and subsidized steamship service from United States ports. The closure of Cuba to Americans also improved tourism.
Tourism in the Bahamas employs about half the Bahamian workforce and accounts for approximately half the country’s gross domestic product. Most visitors to the islands come from cruise ships, although this is changing. About 80 percent of visitors come from cruise ships, because the islands can’t support 400,000 hotel guests every month. Cruise ships act as floating hotels; tourists shop and enjoy the Bahamas during the day, and then return to their room on a cruise ship each evening.
The new Baha Mar complex of hotels supports 2500 rooms spread across three hotel properties, including the Grand Hyatt, SLS and Rosewood. In 1967, the total number of hotel rooms on the islands was a little more than 8,000. In 2018, that number has doubled to more than 16,000. Still, with 400,000 visitors each month, the hotel industry can’t catch up.
It’s interesting to name the new hotel complex Baha Mar since the name, Bahamas, comes from the Spanish words baja mar, meaning shallow water or sea.
The main island of the Bahamas is New Providence, where the capital, Nassau, is located. New Providence’s population is about 275,000, which is approximately 70 percent of the country’s population. Tourists outnumber the locals three and a half to one. This might seem unusual, but there are plenty of other places where the tourists outnumber the locals. In Macau, tourists outnumber the residents 25 to one. Many of the Caribbean Islands, including the British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos and Aruba, are in the 10 to 12 to one ratio of tourists to locals.
Again, many of the Caribbean Islands can support this because of cruise ships, which are floating hotels for the region. In Macau, the Chinese easily can take a ferry, but in 2018, a bridge opened between the mainland and the island at a cost more than $18 billion.
See our other post on The Bahamas: