Activities Galore on Grand Bahama

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Population: 354,563 (throughout the Bahamas)
Language: English
Currency: Bahamian dollar

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Nonstop sports, shopping, and entertainment activities are offered at Grand Bahama, the most northern of the major Bahamian islands.


Grand Bahama is the most northern of the major Bahamian islands and lies just 75 miles off the coast of Florida. About 75 miles long and four to eight miles wide, it has little elevation, and the highest point is only 68 feet, making it one of the flattest islands in the entire archipelago.

In the 1950s, Wallace Groves of the Abaco Lumber Company formulated a plan for making Freeport a major industrial and shipping center. This plan was formalized in 1955 through the Hawksbill Creek agreement, which established 150,000 acres of land as an international duty-free port and industrial complex. Recent investments in Freeport include a new plastics factory and one of the largest container transshipment terminals in the world.

Most of the action is to be found in the Freeport and Lucaya areas. Freeport also has easy access to the rest of the world with numerous flights to American and European cities. The town has three 18-hole golf courses and one nine-hole golf course, as well as an array of other sports including sportfishing, sailing, scuba diving, swimming, waterskiing, cycling, jogging, riding, and tennis.

In the Freeport area, one can find all the conveniences of a city while being only minutes from beautiful white-sand beaches and a short drive to "Out Island life." Freeport is different from any other location in The Bahamas because it was a planned city and it is still maintained and governed by The Port Authority. This is a duty-free zone and there is no property tax. Some items, including cars under certain circumstances, can even be imported duty-free.

Probably the most famous landmark in all of the Grand Bahama Island is the International Bazaar in downtown Freeport. True to its name, it has dozens of shops selling goods from around the world. Goods at the International Bazaar sell for about 10 to 40 percent below retail, but you can strike your own bargain at the nearby Bahamian straw market. Take your pick of hand-crafted handbags, placemats, hats, jewelry, and mahogany and pinewood carvings.

After shopping you can delve into nearly every sport under the sun. The Underwater Explorers Society (UNEXSO) has excellent facilities for scuba diving and snorkeling to the many sea gardens, caves, colorful reefs, and fascinating shipwrecks that lie just off the coast of Grand Bahama Island. You can even snorkel alongside dolphins in a program called the Dolphin Experience. The marinas in Freeport and Lucaya offer parasailing, windsurfing, water-skiing, sailing, and deep-sea fishing, and are also the departure point for glass-bottom boat tours and dinner cruises.

Grand Bahama isn't all nonstop sports and activities. Should you choose to slow down, you'll find that there is ample opportunity to enjoy rest and relaxation. After all, it was the native Bahamians, the Lucayan people, who invented the ultimate in relaxation: the hammock. And with 57 miles of beach surrounding Grand Bahama Island, there couldn't be a better place to enjoy one.

To get away from all of the activity you don't have to go far. Taino, Williams Town, and Xanadu beaches are just a few lovely places to escape to for the afternoon. The Bahamas National Trust Rand Memorial Nature Centre is just five minutes from Freeport, but it's an entirely different world. Its nature trails wind through 100 acres of protected Bahamian forest where you can see graceful pink flamingos, the national bird of The Bahamas, and 21 species of native orchid. Garden of the Groves is close by with thousands of exotic plants and flowers from around the world amid waterfalls, streams, ponds, flamingos, and a lush fern gully.

This island also has its own sprawling national park as well as miles of beautiful beaches surrounded by shallow seas and coral reefs, treacherous for the ships of centuries past, but now a precious treasure for divers. Venturing into the smaller settlements outside Freeport, you can even try your hand at the age-old pastime of bonefishing.

The Lucayan National Park is only a few miles away, though it seems considerably more removed. After journeying through a pine forest you'll see signs for the park, which features the largest explored underwater cave system in the world, along with trails leading through a forest of native trees, a mangrove swamp, and a number of blue holes. Just across the road, a path leads over some of the highest dunes in The Bahamas to a gorgeous isolated beach. This is Gold Rock Beach where the white sand seems to go on forever before slipping into the ocean.

There are scenic beaches and scattered fishing villages that line the road until it ends at the last mainland settlement, McLean's Town. More accessible, but still retaining the small-town feel of eastern Grand Bahama Island, are the settlements extending west of Freeport.

West End is the island's oldest and westernmost settlement, where you can watch fishermen pulling in their catches each day in much the same way as generations before them. If you like, you can rent a boat yourself and go bonefishing, considered by experts to be one of the toughest challenges.

There are some fantastic Bahamian events that take place in Grand Bahama—Junkanoo, a famous African-inspired festival, is celebrated on Boxing Day (December 26), and once again on New Year's Day (January 1). The festivities take place in downtown Freeport but samplings of Junkanoo are also held throughout the year in clubs and hotels.

An island as active as Grand Bahama Island certainly doesn't slow down when the sun sets. There are two very popular casinos on the island, Princess Casino near the International Bazaar and the Lucayan Beach Casino, both of which feature cabaret shows, spacious lounges and all the games of chance: blackjack, craps, roulette, baccarat and slot machines. There are also countless nightclubs and discos offering everything from live Goombay bands to Las Vegas style revues to native floor shows and limbo competitions.

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