The Bahamas' answer to Rio de Janeiro's Carnaval and New Orleans' Mardi Gras, Junkanoo is a festival of parades and parties held in Nassau on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) and New Year's Day. Groups compete with elaborate, colorful costumes and choreographed routines to distinctly Bahamian music created by goatskin drums, clanging cowbells, shrieking whistles, and brass bands.
Head to Eleuthera, Harbour Island, or Cat Island to experience pink-sand beaches. The pink hue comes from the shell of a microscopic sea creature living on the coral reefs offshore. Waves crush the pink and red shells and wash them onto the beach. The most famous pink beach is on the northern side of Harbour Island.
The Bahamas is home to the world's third-largest barrier reef. If diving along the Andros Barrier Reef is too advanced for you, no worries: there are many opportunities right offshore to explore the magnificent undersea world surrounding the Bahamas. Colorful coral, sea fans, and marine creatures abound; take an underwater camera, since the only things you're allowed to bring back to the surface are photographs and memories.
No matter which island you're visiting, there's bound to be a fish fry in full swing at least one night of the week. Clusters of wooden shacks and stalls fry up snapper, goggle eye, or jack fish, served with fries or a thick chunk of sweet island bread. Each stall plays its own music, creating a cacophony of sound; groups gather around wooden tables to play dominoes or to catch up on the local sip-sip (gossip). The fish fry at Arawak Cay in Nassau is open daily, but on the other islands they can be a once-a-week occurrence.
Conch, pronounced "konk," is popular for more than just its distinctive, spiral-shape shells; this sea creature, essentially a giant snail, is one of the mainstays of Bahamian cuisine. Firm white conch meat is tenderized, then turned into a variety of dishes. There's cracked conch, conch salad, conch chowder, and the popular appetizer, conch fritters. Islanders often claim that conch has two other magical powers—as a hangover cure (when eaten straight from the shell with hot peppers, salt, and lime) and as an especially tasty aphrodisiac.
Rake ’n' Scrape
Generations ago, many Bahamians didn't have the money to buy instruments, so they made music using whatever was at hand. Someone played a saw, someone else made a bass out of string and a tin tub, and another musician kept the beat by shaking a plastic jug filled with rocks or dried beans, or beating a goatskin drum. Today the best place to hear authentic Rake ’n' Scrape is on Cat Island, where the style is said to have been born.
The Bahamas has a long history with rum, dating back to the days of bootlegging during the United States Prohibition. Rum consumption is perfectly legal nowadays, and Bahamian bartenders have mixed up some rum-infused concoctions that have become synonymous with tropical vacations: Bahama Mama, Yellow Bird, and the Hurricane. If you're in Green Turtle Cay in Abaco, pop into Miss Emily's Blue Bee Bar, where the Goombay Smash was born.