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Bahamas

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Abaco Beach Resort at Boat Harbour
Abaco Beach Resort at Boat Harbour - dream vacation

Bay Street. Marsh Harbour, Marsh Harbour

Pelican Bay Hotel
Pelican Bay Hotel - dream vacation

Sea Horse Road At Port Lucaya, Freeport

Old Bahama Bay
Old Bahama Bay - dream vacation

Bayshore Road, West End

Towne Hotel
Towne Hotel - dream vacation

40 George Street PO Box N4808, Nassau

The Bahamas (officially named The Commonwealth of The Bahamas), or The Bahama Islands, is an archipelago consisting of many islands located in the Atlantic Ocean east of Florida. The country is made up of about 2,000 islands if you include the cays, which are small islands that are formed on coral reefs. Not densely populated, the Bahamas is renowned for its natural beauty, unique culture, and is a popular tropical vacation destination.

Understand

The word Bahamas is of Spanish origin and means "Shallow Water".

History

Arawak Indians inhabited the islands when Christopher Columbus first set foot in the New World on San Salvador Island in 1492; see Voyages of Columbus. British settlement of the islands began in 1647; the islands became a colony in 1783. Since attaining independence from the UK in 1973, The Bahamas have prospered through tourism and international banking and investment management. Because of its geography, the country is a major transshipment point for illegal drugs, particularly shipments to the US, and its territory is used for smuggling illegal migrants into the US.

Culture

The official language spoken in the Bahamas is English. The populace is predictably friendly and more religious than one might expect: the Bahamas have one of the highest ratios of churches per capita in the world, with Baptists being the largest single group. Local newspapers will reveal religious references by elected officials in a manner that exceeds what would be found in the United States. This devotion does nothing to prohibit the activities of visitors nor is it intended to. There is a very "libertarian" attitude about personal morals.

Festivals

The biggest event in the Bahamian calendar is Junkanoo, a street carnival held on Boxing Day (December 26) and New Year's Day (January 1). Junkanoo groups "rush" through the streets of towns, especially Nassau, wearing spectacular yet disposable costumes of crepe paper and playing distinctive Junkanoo music, which combines African rhythms with loud brass and cowbells, fusing them together in a medley that veers on cacophony but is exceedingly dancable. The costumes, made from scratch every year, are disposed of on the streets as the party ends and make a great free souvenir to bring home!

Music

There are many types of music known in the Bahamian culture but the four most prevalent forms of music are Calypso, Soca, Junkanoo and Rake and scrape. The music of the Bahamas is associated primarily with junkanoo, a celebration which occurs on Boxing Day and again on New Year's Day. Parades and other celebrations mark the ceremony. Groups like The Baha Men, Ronnie Butler and Kirkland Bodie have gained massive popularity in Japan, the United States and elsewhere.

Calypso

Calypso is a style of Afro-Caribbean music that originated in Trinidad and Tobago during the early to mid 20th century. This form of music has spread through many parts of the Caribbean, mainly the Bahamas.

Soca

Soca is a form of music which involves dance and originated from calypso music. Originally it combined the melodic rhythmic sound of calypso with firm percussion and local chutney music. Soca music has grown in the last 20 years primarily by musicians from various Anglophone Caribbean countries including Trinidad, Guyana, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, United States Virgin Islands, The Bahamas, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Jamaica and Belize.

Rake and scrape

Rake and scrape music comes from the musical traditions of the Turks and Caicos Islands, and is characterized by the use of a saw as the primary instrument. It was brought by immigrants from those islands from the 1920s to about the 1940s, who settled on Cat Island, and elsewhere. Rake and Scrape is traditionally used to accompany the Bahamian Quadrille and the heel-toe polka all relics of the initial mixture of Africa and Europe [1].Many of these Turks and Caicos Islanders became some of the most famous musicians in the Bahamas. Many eventually moved back to their homelands, bringing with them junkanoo. Turks and Caicos are now the second home for junkanoo.

Climate

Tropical marine; moderated by warm waters of Gulf Stream. Hurricanes and other tropical storms cause extensive flood and wind damage. Can be cool if trade winds shift. During summer months, temperature in the Bahamas rarely goes above 90°F (32°C). The normal climate during winter is mild with temperatures around 60°F (16°C). The Northern and Western islands, Grand Bahama Island, Great Abaco, Andros and Eleuthera are somewhat cooler than the southern islands. The Bahamas hurricane season runs between June and November and rain storms are expected during this period.

Geology

The Bahamas archipelago are in fact the tops of banks that were formed some time between 90,000 and 120 years ago from coral reef formation. The well known pink sand beaches of the Bahamas get their vibrant appearance from the fractured pieces of seashell combined with the sand. The highest point in the Bahamas is Mount Alvernia on Cat Island, which is 63 meters (over 200 feet) high.

Wildlife

Wildlife in Bahamas contains various species. Many different breed of crabs can be found on the beaches. Hermit and Cardisoma guanhumi are two of the land crabs to be noted frequently in the island. The wild horses of Abaco are famous in The Bahamas.

During a tour of the Bahamas, tourists can come across various other species including the Bahamas Hutia, numerous frogs, rocky raccoon, snails such as Cerion, cicada, blind cave fish, ants and reptiles.

Bahamas Wildlife features a wide range of amazing birds. Parrots and pigeons are two of the most common and popular birds found in The Bahamas.

The Bahamas is also home to numerous aquatic life. Sharks, manatees, dolphins, frogfish, angelfish, starfish and turtles can be viewed in the waters surrounding The Bahamas. Apart from numerous species of fish, tourists can spot several types of worms also.

Terrain

Long, flat coral formations with some low rounded hills. The highest point is Mount Alvernia (63 m), on Cat Island. Grand Bahama Island features breathtaking white sandy beaches, beautifully clear turquoise blue waters and plenty of lush, tropical foliage.

Electricity

Officially 120V 60Hz, which is identical to the U.S. and Canadian standard. Outlets are North American grounded outlets, identical to standard U.S. and Canadian wall outlets. Occasionally non-grounded outlets may be found, which do not accept the third, round pin present on grounded plugs, and require an adapter. Older North American outlets may not be polarized (with one slot wider than the other). Otherwise, adapters are available which accept a polarized plug and adapt it for use with a non-polarized outlet.

Government

The Bahamas is listed as an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The political and legal traditions of Bahamas closely follow the British ones, owing to their commonwealth membership.

The country has a parliamentary form of democracy and regular elections are held. The Bahamian senate consists of 16 members, who are appointed by the Governor-General. The Governor-General also appoints the Chief Justice on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Privy Council of the United Kingdom serves as the highest appellate court.

The local government districts in Bahamas elect local councils for town planning, business licenses, traffic issues and maintenance of government buildings. Lower level town councils are also accorded minor responsibilities in some large districts.

Islands

Cities

Other destinations

Several cruise lines operate private island retreats in the Bahamas. Disney Cruise Line owns Castaway Cay, Norwegian Cruise Line owns Great Stirrup Cay, Princess Cruise Line owns Little Stirrup Cay, Carnival Cruise Line owns Half Moon Cay, and Royal Caribbean owns Coco Cay. To visit these islands you usually have to be a passenger on the cruise line that owns the island.

Dolphin Encounters is an all natural seawater dolphin facility with Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins and California Sea Lions located on Blue Lagoon Island (Salt Cay), a private island retreat and tourist attraction 5 km (three miles) from Nassau, Bahamas.

Get in

Entry requirements

Foreign nationals of the following countries/territories do not require a visa to visit the Bahamas: American Samoa, Andorra, Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Azores, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bermuda, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Canada, Cape Verde, Cayman Islands, Chile, Colombia, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Croatia, Curaçao, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Falkland Islands, Fiji, Finland, France, French Guiana, French Polynesia, Gambia, Galapagos Islands, Georgia, Germany, Gibraltor, Greece, Greenland, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guam, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Hong Kong SAR (HKSAR passport or CI), Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kiribati, Korea-South, Kuwait, Latvia, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Martinique, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Montserrat, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norfolk Islands, Norway, Northern Mariana Islands, Oman, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Pitcairn, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Reunion, Romania, Russia, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Helena, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Martin, Saint Vincent & The Grenadines, Saint Marten, Saint Pierre & Miquelon, San Marino, Sao Tome & Principe, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tahiti, Tanzania, Tokelau, Trinidad & Tobago, Tonga, Turkey, Turks &Caicos, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States Of America, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vatican City, Venezuela, Virgin Islands (Us & Uk), Western Samoa, Zambia and Zimbabwe

Visitors do not need to complete the Customs form.

If you require a visa to enter the Bahamas, you might be able to apply for one at a British embassy, high commission or consulate in the country where you legally reside if there is no Bahamian diplomatic post. For example, the British embassies in Al Khobar[1], Amman[2], Belgrade[3], Budapest[4], Damascus[5] , Guatemala City[6], Helsinki[7], Jakarta[8], Jeddah[9], Kiev[10], Moscow[11] , Phnom Penh[12] , Prague[13], Pristina[14], Qatar[15], Rabat[16], Riga[17], Riyadh[18], Rome[19], Sofia[20], Tallinn[21], Tashkent[22] , Vienna[23], Warsaw[24] and Zagreb[25] accept Bahamian visa applications (this list is not exhaustive). British diplomatic posts charge £50 to process a Bahamian visa application and an extra £70 if the authorities in the Bahamas require the visa application to be referred to them. The authorities in the Bahamas can also decide to charge an additional fee if they correspond with you directly.

Travellers returning to the United States from the Caribbean must display their passport to get back into the States. This applies to minor children as well as adults. US immigration pre-clearance facilities are available at Nassau and Freeport.

By plane

The largest airports in the Bahamas are at the capital Nassau, on New Providence, and Freeport, on Grand Bahama. Smaller airports are scattered amongst the other islands. The Bahamas has six international airports the largest being the Lynden Pindling International Airport located on the west side of Nassau.

By boat

The Bahamas are a popular port of call for cruise ships plying the Caribbean. The capital, Nassau, on New Providence Island is one of the world's busiest cruise ship ports, and is well served by ships that originate from Florida. Freeport on Grand Bahama Island is a growing destination as well.

Most island groups have customs and immigration available for those arriving by yacht. The customs fee for a private yacht is $150 for 35' and under and $300 for over 35'.

Royal Caribbean has their own island in the Bahamas called Coco Cay. This island is leased by Royal Caribbean, rather than being fully owned such as Disney's ownership arrangement for Castaway Cay. It is strictly for Royal Caribbean cruisers. The island has 25 little shops for souvenirs and their own private beaches, as well as water games in the middle of the clear crystal blue ocean. They have a bbq and main picnic area with the cruise employees as well as the people that Royal Caribbean hire to live and work on the island. Royal Caribbean is busy all year round because of the hot climate in the Bahamas, that they have frequent travelers through all the months of the year.

Disney's Castaway Cay, formerly known as Gorda Cay, is a privately owned island near the island of Abaco, close to Sandy Point. This island differs from most of the leased cays in the fact that it is privately owned by The Walt Disney Company and has its own dock so that tendering is not necessary. Castaway Cay has separate areas for families, teens an adults. The island also contains a fiber optic network which connects to the ship.

Get around

By plane

Bahamasair offers a comprehensive network radiating out from Nassau and covering most population centers. However, fares are expensive, frequencies are low, planes are small and the airline is notorious for extensive delays, and many travellers in a hurry opt to charter planes instead.

By bus

Nassau/New Providence have a system of buses called jitneys, discussed in the Nassau article. Bus travel on the other islands (with the exception of Grand Bahama) is very limited.

By taxi

Taxis are very expensive. A short ride from the airport to Cable beach costs $18, to downtown is $26. Between Cable beach and downtown expect to pay $15-$20 with no room to negotiate.

By boat and yacht

  • Mail boats serve almost all populated islands in the Bahamas, and are amongst the cheapest way to reach many areas, though far from the fastest or most comfortable. The government has a mailboat schedule of mailboat routes online[26] which may or may not reflect reality.
  • Windward Islands[27] - [28], a yacht charter company, can take care of all charter requirements, from bareboat to crewed yacht in the Bahamas (starting Abaco).

Talk

English is the main and official language of the Bahamas. Tourist resorts may have staff that can speak other languages, including Spanish, French, German, and, less frequently, others.

See

  • Lucayan National Park and Port Lucaya in Freeport
  • Dolphin Cay on Paradise Island
  • The Thunderball Grotto in Exuma
  • Flamingos, iguanas and other tropical wildlife.
  • Fort Fincastle, the Old Town and the Pirate museum in Nassau

Do

Buy

The local currency is the Bahamian dollar (B$), but it's tied to the US dollar at a 1:1 ratio and US dollars are accepted everywhere at par. There is thus no need for Americans to change money, and many tourist-oriented businesses will even give change back in US$. Keep an eye out for the famous (but now rare) three-dollar bill and 15-cent coin, both made to ease the 1966 transition from British pounds to dollars, $3 being roughly equivalent to £1 and $0.15 approximating a shilling.

There is very little made in the Bahamas, but some luxury goods can be purchased at a bargain. Salespeople in the straw market have a very direct but often humorous manner of negotiating the price of a product. A sense of humor is greatly appreciated in this island nation.

Beware of purchasing Cuban cigars. The vast majority of "Cubans" for sale in the Bahamas are counterfeit. Only buy cigars from reputable and dedicated tobacconists, do not buy on the street, in the market, or from rinky-dink combination cigar/liquor shops. Real Cubans cost upwards of $30 per cigar. If the price is $10, it's 100% fauxhiba. If you do plan to buy cigars, some online research may assist you in identifying authentic Cubans. The Ultimate Counterfeit Cuban Cigar Primer [29] and The Havana Journal Counterfeit vs Real Cohibas [30] pages may be particularly useful to you.

Eat

As you'd expect in an island nation, seafood is very popular. The national dish is conch (pronounced "conk" with a hard K), a type of mollusk, served deep-fried ("cracked") or raw with a twist of lemon, and as elsewhere in the Caribbean, the classic accompaniment is peas and rice.

Ordinary meals can be purchased for anywhere from $5-25 a plate. Authentic island food can be found at the Fish Fry, a collection of small open air restaurants where many locals hang out. Meals can be had for about $8. Sunday night the locals flock to this area for some authentic Bahamian nightlife. You can find fast-food chains such as KFC or McDonalds, especially in the downtown areas, but as it is a highly touristed country, you can find many nice restaurants serving many different cuisines. Most restaurants serve American or British food, though you can easily find the normal island flair, especially during the Fish Fry during June. A 15% service charge is added to the bill at most establishments; additional tips are optional.

Service is distinct from the American standard. There is a concentration on the customer at hand. You are expected to patiently wait your turn. At fast food restaurants the server will take care of only the first customer until they have left the service area. Don't expect to be in a hurry even at a fast food establishment.

Service in the Bahamas takes place at a relaxed pace. Travelers can expect a leisurely pace to their meal. Expect polite, if slow, service at most establishments.

Drink

Soda

Soda can be pretty pricy in the hotels, and you will find it only on a soda tap if you are in a good restaurant; otherwise, you will usually get it in a can. The cheapest way to get this would be to go to a local "Food Mart."

"Goombay Punch" is the local soda. It has a pineapple flavor and is what the locals call a "Sweet" soda versus a cola. It is sold in cans at all grocery stores and also available in almost every Bahamian eatery.

Non-alcoholic malt beverages are also very popular. The primary brand of choice is Vita-Malt.

Beer

Kalik is the national beer of the Bahamas and is always served at "all-inclusive" resorts. There are three rather distinct types: "Kalik regular" which has 4% alcohol and a smooth refreshing taste, "Kalik Light" which has been often compared to a Budweiser is a light lager which delivers the same great taste as the regular kalik but with a lower alcohol content and less calories, "Kalik Gold" has 7% alcohol, though very potent it has an excellent taste, which gives you an extra feel of the island. Guinness is also very popular.

A new beer is available -- called Sands. It can be obtained at many resorts and in the local liquor stores. It is a similar style product to Kalik. Sands is now readily available in both regular and light.

Imported beer can be incredibly expensive in the hotels but is not overly priced in bars and liquor stores. Cases of beer are available in a variety of Duty Free liquor stores.

In Freeport, the Port Lucaya Marketplace and Marina has many bars offering two Kaliks (and some other brews) for $5.

The drinking age is 18, however it is weakly enforced and teenage drinking is common.

Hard liquors

The Bahamas has a lot of of liquor stores in relation to the population of the country. You can find liquors stores downtown, in the hotels, the port lucaya marketplace and as you continue to tour the island, if you may not be sure of exactly where one may be located please feel free to ask for assistance.

Rum

This the best choice of drinks in the Bahamas. It's as cheap as you can get ($2-$10 a bottle), tastes great, and it's made fresh by 3 different companies, the largest being the Bacardi Rum factory on New Providence south of Nassau, where you can take tours and get free drinks if you go on a 2-hour bus ride (Bacardi closed down!).

The Bahamas has its own native rum to offer with a variety of brands which include Ron Ricardo rum, Ole Nassau Rum and a very popular Fire in the Hole Rum, while this fire in the hole rum is gold in color it has a very distinct bottle label which is sure to be a good converstion piece in the home. The Ron Ricardo rums and Ole Nassau rums both come in a variety of flavours. Ron Ricardo has the best leading coconut rum which is used to make the ever so popular island drink "The Bahama Mamma". Other flavours include mango, pineapple and banana, a gold rum, light rum and one 151 rum. The Ole Nassau rum also offers all of the flavors to that of the Ron Ricardo. Its bottle label too is very unique and creative portraying a pirate ship along the Bahama Islands.

Sleep

Accommodation on the Bahamas is expensive, and there is virtually no backpacker/hostel-type lodging. The cheapest hotels start at around US$ 70, and most hotels cost US$200-300/night, with the very best resorts easily pushing up above US$500. Deals may be available in the summer off-season though.

Be aware the Bahamas charge a Service Fee or Resort Fee to every person staying overnight. Hotels collect the fee of $18 per night per person as well as a $6 per person one time bellhop fee. This is an addition to the rate of the room and is not optional and cannot be waived. Often tourists first hear about this when checking into their hotel for the first time.

The Bahamas Government levies a Hotel Guest Tax which is payable by each guest. This tax is 10% of the hotel rate, it submitted monthly to the Bahamas Government by the hotel operator.

Hotels in the Bahamas may levy a number of other charges upon guests in addition to the standard bill, including; gratuities-maid/bellman), a hotel 'Levy' (Promotion Board), cable, telephone, water & sewerage, energy surcharge, pool/towels.

Most hotels and resorts in the Bahamas are located in New Providence (Nassau) and neighboring Paradise Island. The rest of the country remains rather off the beaten track for tourism, and places like Eleuthera, despite being 100 miles long, has only three hotels.

Learn

School attendance in Bahamas is required between the ages of 5 to 16. Out of the 210 primary schools run in the country, 158 are operated by the government. The remaining 52 schools are operated by private owners. Higher education is also offered by many non-Bahamian colleges in the country.

The College of the Bahamas is the main institution that offers post secondary education in the country with several schools including and undergraduate business school, an undergraduate social science. Other tertiary educational institutions in the country include Success Training College, Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute and Nova Southeastern University. The University of the West Indies also has a campus in the Bahamas.

There are also some international universities that offer programs in the country such as the University of Miami's MBA programme.

Work

In most cases non-citizens may not work within The Bahamas. There are exceptions for those possessing skills not available from a Bahamian, as well as migrants of Creole descent who may or may not be in the Bahamas legally. The employer must show legitimate proof of strenuous searching for a suitable Bahamian prior to applying for a work permit for the foreign candidate. However any ordinary position that does not require any specialized skills will not readily qualify as an employment opportunity for a foreigner. Should a foreign nation apply for a position as a maid or anything along that line of employment, they would definitely be denied the occupation. This line of employment shows no necessary skills that a Bahamian could not possess.

Tourism is the main industry followed by banking.

50 percent of the national GDP is generated by tourism.

Stay safe

By the middle of the year 2007, the country had already recorded 42 murders. The murder count for 2010 was 96. Police statistics will show that most murders are linked to domestic violence or gang related disputes, mostly fueled by competition in the illegal drug trade. In 2011 the Commissioner of the Royal Bahamas Police Force stated that the vast majority of murder victims in New Providence (Nassau), were already well known to police. A report done by an international body stated that The Bahamas ranks amongst the top for crimes committed against women. However, to maintain good local and international relations, the police have increased their presence and the judicial system vowed to bring about "swift justice".

Visitors should exercise caution and good judgment when visiting The Bahamas. Violent crime has increased in the recent past, and the American Embassy has received several reports of sexual assaults on American tourists, including teen-aged girls.

Firearms

It is illegal to import a firearm or ammunition into The Bahamas or to possess a firearm in the country without appropriate permission. Tourists who arrive by private boat are required to declare firearms to Bahamian Customs and leave firearms on the boat while in The Bahamas. Penalties for illegal possession of a firearm or ammunition are strict, and can involve heavy fines, lengthy prison terms, or both.

Penalties

Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Bahamian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Police enforcement is aggressive in tourist areas, as drug dealers are known to frequent areas where tourists congregate. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the Bahamas are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Stay healthy

The adult HIV/AIDS prevalence rate has reached 3.0% or 1 in 33 adults.

Respect

Bahamians are good-natured but do not suffer fools gladly.

Connect

Vibrant colours, friendly people, classic cars rattling down potholed streets, interesting geology, amazing beaches. Rum. Cigars. Music. Cuba is spectacular.

The country’s turbulent history has left it stranded in time in some regards: there are only 21 cars per thousand residents, pay phones are still a major form of communication, the Internet is almost completely absent. A visit to Cuba means cutting yourself off from the world a little (or a lot) — it’s a full immersion experience.

Pinterest pinPin me on Pinterest!Tourists are a major source of income for the country in general and for local people in particular; sometimes we felt like walking wallets as everyone wanted a share of our money. We were constantly saying no to offers of taxis, meals in restaurants, drinks in bars, erotic services. It’s understandable though: while the socialist government makes sure everyone has the bare minimum to survive, locals don’t have a lot of luxury. The tourist dollar is a way to supplement the average salary of less than US$20 a month.

Despite this, we found Cuba to be very reasonably priced: we stayed in casas particulares (local houses that rent out rooms) rather than hotels, and picked up snacks from street vendors rather than always eating out. Transport was the big expense, but didn’t break the bank, tours weren’t too expensive either, and a mojito in a bar could cost as little as US$2.

To listen, hit play below or find episode 312 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:

Where is Cuba?

Cuba an island nation in the Caribbean Sea. The main island is the largest in the Caribbean, and the country also includes thousands of smaller islands as well. The US and the Bahamas are to the north, Mexico is to the west (Cancun is a 45-minute flight from Cuba’s capital, Havana) and Jamaica is to the south. A chain of Caribbean islands stretches off to the east, starting with Hispaniola, the island which houses both Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

A tiny bit of Cuban history

Cuba was inhabited by various mesoamerican tribes until 1492, when Christopher Columbus landed and claimed it for Spain. After 400 years of Spanish rule, it was briefly ruled by the US after the American-Spanish war, and gained independence in 1902. The twentieth century was a turbulent one, most notable for the Mafia invasion during American Prohibition followed by the 1959 revolution which overthrew a dictator and brought in Fidel Castro as leader of a now-communist society.

This revolution saw all land holdings over 400 hectares appropriated by the government, with no compensation given to the landowners. Since a huge proportion of the land seized belonged to US citizens, the USA was understandably angry and not only stopped all trade with Cuba, but also prohibited its citizens from visiting the country. President Obama has recently overturned the embargo, so Americans will be able to legally visit very soon. This, along with the loosening of restrictions for Cubans to start small businesses means that change is on its way to Cuba — visit now if you want to see a society on the brink of change.

Cayo Jutia beach CubaCuba is pretty great for beaches.

Get to Cuba

Some cruise ships stop at Cuba, but there aren’t any ferries at present to other countries. This will be changing soon when US Americans have free movement to Cuba; we found several websites advertising ferry services from Florida, which will start operations as soon as it’s permitted.

This means that you’ll almost certainly arrive by air, and probably into Havana. The easiest way to get into the city is by taxi, which costs 20-25 CUC. Until recently, passenger flying out of Cuba were charged a 25 CUC departure tax: this was abolished on May 1, 2015.

A car in Trinidad, a href=The best way to get around Cuba is by taxi… and that might mean a car like this one.

A word about money in Cuba

We read a lot about Cuba before heading there, and most of the articles dwelt heavily on the country’s dual currency system. It’s nowhere near as hard to grasp as these articles will make you think — don’t worry about it!

The currency you’ll be using the most is the convertible peso, or the CUC. It’s pegged 1:1 to the US dollar, so one CUC is the same as a US dollar — easy, right?

The other currency is the moneda nacional (MN or CUP). One CUC is worth 24 MN, and it’s definitely worth carrying some of these, in a separate wallet if possible. You can use them to buy street food like pizza, pastries and sandwiches, as well as drinks and ice cream from vendors or fruit from street carts. If you don’t have any MN on you, many vendors will accept CUC and give change in MN — just make sure to give the smallest denomination possible as they won’t have change for 20 CUC.

Many government-run shops will now accept both currencies and display prices in both CUC and MN. Apparently the dual-currency system is on its way out, but this might take some time!

A typical Havana street. A typical Havana street.

Getting money in Cuba

It can be a challenge to get your hands on Cuban cash. It’s not transferable outside of the country, so you’ll have to wait until you’re there to get it, and that often means standing in ridiculously long lines. The information below was correct as of mid-December 2015.

We decided to rely on plastic, and had no problems withdrawing cash from the ATM at the airport using a Visa debit card. There are ATMs on the departures floor and at the exchange office outside Arrivals. (Turn right out of the door, and — if no-one is using the ATM — talk to the security guard to skip the queue.)

Our Visa Debit worked everywhere, however, most regular debit or MasterCard debit cards don’t work at all, and US cards won’t work either. You can also withdraw from a Visa credit card, but you’ll get charged interest immediately on the amount you take out so it’s not an economical option.

There’s a 3% fee on all ATM withdrawals and currency exchanges, so when we withdrew 800 CUC at the airport, it cost us US$824 plus our normal bank charges.

The other way is to bring cash and change it at a bank or cadeca exchange office. Don’t bring US dollars as there’s an extra 10% tax on them: pounds, euros and Canadian dollars are your best bet. Be prepared to wait in line, usually outside the office: a security guard allows one person to enter at a time.

Trinidad CubaGoing to Cuba can feel like going back in time.

Where to go in Cuba

Havana

Havana seemed to be crumbling around us, with many buildings in a bad state of repair and piles of rubbish decorating the streets. It’s an interesting place to wander around; though — we used an app to explore the main sights but didn’t go into any of the museums. Make sure to see the Capitol building, the pleasantly asymmetrical cathedral, the Castillo de Real Fuerza fortress, and the Partagas tobacco factory. Walk along the malecón (seawall) and buy snacks from the peso shops of street vendors using moneda nacional. We did a tour of one of the tobacco factories, which was very interesting, though quite short. Tickets cost 10 CUC and you have to buy them from any one of the big hotels in the city centre, not from the factory itself.

Viñales

Viñales has boomed in recent years to become a tourist hub. Almost all of the houses are casas particulares and budget street food is hard to come by. It’s worth a visit though: do a tour of the national park on foot or by horse to see tobacco and coffee plantations, visit a cave and swim in a small lake. It’s also a good base for heading to one of the beaches on the northern coast: Cayo Levisa and Cayo Jutias are both around 60km and 90 minutes drive away. Going to Cayo Levisa means hopping on a day tour as going independently is a lot more expensive; we chose Cayo Jutias as it was a little cheaper to get there and seemed less commercial and more laid back.

Viñales, CubaViñales, Cuba

Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Santa Clara

Just an hour or two away from each other, these three colonial cities are all worth a visit. We spent two days each in Trinidad and Cienfuegos, and just visited Santa Clara for the Che Guevara memorial. Trinidad was great for the nightly outdoor concerts at the Casa de la Musica, and Cienfuegos charmed us with its beautiful colonial buildings and seaside location.

Other destinations in Cuba

Twelve days isn’t enough to scratch Cuba’s surface. We limited ourselves to the western side of the island due to time constraints, but there’s plenty to see on the other side as well. We’ve heard that Santiago de Cuba and Guardadlavaca are interesting cities, and there’s snorkelling, scuba diving and hiking opportunities all over the place. There’s no overnight hiking possible: everything we found out about required a guide, a park fee and only comprised 4-15km loops (1-4 hours, maximum hiking time).

Eating in Cuba

Rumours of terrible food in Cuba didn’t match our experience there. Perhaps because new private restaurants have a financial incentive to ensure customers enjoy their food and come back for more, we found the food to be pretty good, on the whole. There was certainly a lot of rice and beans, but in almost every restaurant we could choose from chicken, pork, beef, shrimp or lobster, and side dishes of vegetables were also available. For variety, we had the occasional hamburger or pasta dish, and bought snacks from street stalls in moneda nacional.

As well as eating in restaurants, we also had dinner in our casa particular at least once during each stay. We found the food to be excellent in each case, and the price (7 or 8CUC per person) to be fair. If you’re travelling solo, prices may be a little higher to offset the labour-to-income ratio.

Drink and smoke

Cuba is famous for rum, and for good reason — it’s fantastic. We stuck to Havana Club, the best quality of the brands available, and also the brand you’re most likely to find in bars. Choose from white rum (3 year old) or barrel-aged darker varieties, such as our favourite, the Añejo 7 años. Our cocktail of choice was the mojito, but the daiquiri was also created in Cuba if you want to try it out.

We don’t smoke as a rule, but a few puffs on a Cuban cigar is an experience worth having. Buy your cigars from a temperature-controlled store if at all possible, and never buy on the street. You can tour the cigar factory that produces Partagas, Romeo y Juliet and Cohiba in Havana and see the more casual way cigars are rolled in the tobacco plantations near Viñales.

A tobacco farm in Viñales, a href=Visit a tobacco farm while you’re in Viñales, Cuba.

Get around

The Viazul buses provide a comfortable journey between Cuba’s main cities, but places are limited in high season and you’ll need to buy your tickets (in person) a day or two in advance. Your other option is to hire a car and driver, which we found to be the most convenient way to travel as we were a group of four. Prices are similar to what you’ll pay for the bus, though you might be able to negotiate a small discount if you’re lucky.

Solo travellers can book a seat in a car travelling in the direction they’re heading, though drivers might try to cram four people in the backseat to earn more money. You can ask for advice at the Infotur office in each city, or your casa particular host might have a contact for you.

Classic car in a href=Cuba is full of awesome classic cars.

Warnings

Most Cubans earn less than US$20 per month, which isn’t really enough to live on. Tourists represent a chance to earn more, and while many people have legitimate businesses, others make a living through scams. Jineteros (touts) are a constant issue: they get a commission if they take you to a casa particular or restaurant, so you’ll end up paying more than you should if you show up somewhere with one in tow. Some restaurants seemed to charge different prices depending on the day, and Craig was once charged three times as much as he should have been for a lemonade by a waitress who wanted to line her pockets. It’s hard to avoid all the scams all the time, even for experienced travellers, so be prepared to be ripped off at least once during your trip.

Final thoughts

Cuba is a fascinating country that’s slowly incorporating capitalist values into its socialist system. You’ll undoubtably be frustrated by its contradictions, but it’s definitely worth a visit.

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Photo: libargutxi

Photo: libargutxi

Most people do not know that hands-on wildlife experiences are doing animals a major disservice, and so aren’t malicious in their intent when paying to be near wild beasts; they just jump at these rare chances to connect with nature.

Here’s the thing: the most humane wildlife experiences you can have will always be the ones in which animals are free to perform their natural behaviors in the wild. That doesn’t mean connecting with wild creatures isn’t possible, it just means that it needs to be done in an educated manner, which is why we’ve listed 8 of the most notable and egregious violations of wildlife tourism, and their ethical alternatives.

Riding Elephants

Photo: Beyond Neon

Photo: Beyond Neon

The problem: Centuries of exploitation have twisted our impression of elephants into entertainment, despite the fact that they are deeply emotional, intelligent creatures. These giant animals are tortured into carrying humans, performing tricks, and even posing for photos. Tourists are attracted to the exotic creatures, who are brutalized into performing these seemingly delightful tricks, ultimately leading miserable lives.

The alternative: There’s no doubt that getting up close and personal with such a majestic animal is a treasure, but it’s possible to form that connection without torturing elephants. Matador Network researched 3 reputable elephant sanctuaries that can even enable tourists to bathe the big creatures. Elephant Nature Park in Thailand is the most highly vetted facility and can ensure that no elephants suffer for the sake of a photo.

Selfies with tigers, walking with lions.

The problem: Tigers are vicious predators. They’re the world’s largest cat species and there’s a good reason they dominate the top of the food chain. Yet tourist attractions from Southeast Asia to Cabo San Lucas offer opportunities to pose and walk with the fierce creatures, and the only way they can get these otherwise ferocious animals to pose with tourists is to heavily drug them. Not to mention many of these animals are stolen from the wild, where their numbers remain very low.

The alternative: Look for big cats in the wild. Safaris in Africa and wildlife tours in India enable tourists to witness big cats in their native habitats, roaming free without the influence of humans looking to make a buck off of unaware tourists. Travel4Wildlife has tips on the best safari etiquette. Point is, touching a sedated, imprisoned predator doesn’t make you look like a badass; it makes you look like you got conned into paying to abuse an animal.

Swimming with pigs

Photo: bookfinch

Photo: bookfinch

The problem: Those adorable feral pigs that tourists can swim with in the Bahamas are destroying local ecosystems and displacing local wildlife. Yes, the pictures are cute. Yet pigs look like they’re smiling. But the more tourists are willing to pay to get pictures with piggies, the more incentivized locals are to encourage the growth of the feral pig population, further damaging the livelihood of other animals. And when the pig population gets too large, they’re killed. It’s like posing with the steer that is about to become your hamburger.

The alternative: Head to an animal-friendly farm sanctuary where tourists are free to interact with happy animals that don’t affect the surrounding ecosystem and do not ultimately end up as lunch.

Performing orcas

The problem: Killer whales are huge, intelligent, and curious. Confining them to small pools to perform tricks for the masses is without a doubt, inhumane. In many cases some of the 55 currently captive orcas are mistreated, often dying years before they would naturally in the wild.

The alternative: Like many of the alternatives in this list, orcas are best experienced in their natural element. They live all over the world, from the sounds of British Colombia to the coral shores of Belize and beyond. There is a lot of information about where to spot them in the wild, and we encourage lovers of these great creatures to pursue travel opportunities that allow them to see orcas where they belong.

Releasing baby sea turtles

Photo: Geoff Stearns

Photo: Geoff Stearns

The problem: They really do make you think you’re doing a good thing by releasing baby sea turtles into the sea. But these poor babies are sick from being handled by germy human hands, hatchlings suffer from sun damage since they normally hatch at night, and the effort to accommodate tourists leads to overcrowding of turtle hatchlings. Another aspect of this is grabbing an adult turtle in the sea and holding onto it for a photo — this is extremely stressful for the animal.

The alternative: According to Cristina Brindley of Travel4Wildlife.com, “the most ethical sea turtle tourist attraction would be the one that either takes tourists to see natural laying and hatchlings, one where tourists can go and see recovering sea turtles like at the Sea Turtle Hospital in Florida, or the one where you can go on a sea turtle conservation vacation and your money is invested in the community.” Ultimately, as with all wild animals, a hands-off approach is the best approach.

Swimming with dolphins

The problem: Like orcas (which are actually the largest of the dolphins), bottlenose dolphins are held captive and made to perform activities with paying tourists. The dolphins kiss, laugh, and do tricks on command for delighted audiences, who continue on with their lives, leaving the imprisoned dolphins to suffer in tanks, only to be disturbed the following day by continual intrusions in their environment. Not worth the photo.

The alternative: Swim with belugas on their terms. In Churchill, famed for polar bear sightings, there exists a tourist attraction wherein guests can swim with belugas in the wild. The difference here is that people hang from the back of boats in the chilly Hudson Bay, and the belugas will come to them (or not). This gives the animals the ability to consent to human interaction, making the experience a fun one for all, instead of just for the humans.

Civet cat coffee

Photo: stefan magdalinski

Photo: stefan magdalinski

The problem: Civet Cats in Indonesia eat coffee cherries and then poop coffee beans, creating the very popular and very expensive kopi luwak coffee. The phenomenon has become a tourist attraction and an exceedingly cruel one at that. The civets are housed in battery cages, cramped and injured while forced to poop out expensive coffee. Not to mention the coffee itself is of questionable quality, healthwise.

The solution: First of all, stop buying kopi luwak. Second, don’t tour so-called civet cat coffee plantations. Civets are meant to roam in the wild, so the best way to enjoy them is to spot them there, happily eating food beyond the coffee cherries forced down their throats at coffee farms.

Crocodile farms

The problem: Overpopulated, cramped crocodile farms provide tours for people to look at the dinosaur-like creatures. What happens when tourists leave? The perfect predator is slaughtered for its meat and its skin, typically while fully alive and conscious.

The solution: There are many ways to see crocodilians humanely and in the wild that the idea of a crocodile farm even being profitable is unbelievable. Crocodile Encounter in Texas is a zoo-like facility that gets tourists close to the action, or anyone can venture into the Everglades in Florida to see alligators lounging about. Of course, there are plenty of tours there as well. Point is, if you want to see a big, toothy reptile, it’s extremely simple to find one that won’t later be slaughtered.  

The list goes on and on. From dancing monkeys to kissing cobras and charming snakes, to people baiting polar bears with their own dogs so tourists can get a good photo, we as responsible travelers need to do a better job of ensuring that when we interact with wildlife we aren’t contributing to animal abuse. The best way to do this is to take a step back when faced with a wildlife attraction and consider the circumstances in which those animals live. Asks questions. Do research. And finally, ask yourself if what attracts you most about being able to get close to that animal is the picture that comes with it. More liks this: How to see elephants responsibly on your trip to Thailand

Photo: Ahron de Leeuw

Uplifting news from around the world

A massive and ancient statue was just discovered in a Cairo slum. The 26-feet high, 8,000-pound statue was found submerged in groundwater and most likely depicts Pharaoh Ramses II, an Egyptian ruler who reigned more than 3,000 years ago. [Reuters]

A post shared by Agenzia ANSA (@agenzia_ansa) on Mar 10, 2017 at 6:06am PST

They’re playing elephant polo in Thailand. And it’s in the name of elephant conservation. Thirty players and elephants just competed in Bangkok’s King’s Cup which is now in its 15th year. [Reuters]

A 5-year-old girl just spelled a Sanskrit word correctly, becoming the youngest National Spelling Bee champion in the U.S. Edith Fuller spelled the Sanskrit word for knowledge, “jnana”, correctly after asking for the definition. [Slate]

Travel in the year 2017

Several U.S. states have already begun to challenge Trump’s new Travel Ban. President Trump revealed his revised ban on Monday after legal efforts led by Washington and Minnesota defeated his original order in the courts. Lawyers are claiming their arguments still stand for the revised ban and Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts and Hawaii have all begun to challenge it. Hawaii, specifically, is taking a unique approach, claiming that the Travel Ban would drastically hurt its tourism industry and foreign student population. [BBC]

At least six nations have posted travel warnings against the U.S. on their websites. The UAE, Bahrain, the Bahamas, France, New Zealand and the United Kingdom are all warning travelers — especially travelers of color — about gun violence in the United States. [New York Daily News] Read more like this: 3 Reputable elephant sanctuaries in Thailand

TODAY IS THE UN International Day of Human Space Flight. It’s also the 56th anniversary of the first human going into space. On April 12, 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin launched into space, becoming the first human to leave our atmosphere. Since then, hundreds of people have been in space, but it still remains mostly untouched by humans.

That seems to be on the brink of changing: next year, SpaceX will take paying tourists around the dark side of the moon, a place no one has been since Apollo 13. And there’s an okay chance that, in the not-too-far-off future, humans will land on Mars.

In honor of the day, we plunged into the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Flickr account. It is one of the coolest photo pages on the internet, so we’ve selected a handful to share in honor of space flight. With any luck, we’ll get to see these sights for ourselves someday. 1

Mergui Archipelago

In the southernmost reaches of Burma (Myanmar), along the border with Thailand, lies the Mergui Archipelago. The archipelago in the Andaman Sea is made up of more than 800 islands surrounded by extensive coral reefs. All photos and captions by The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

2

Hubble reveals heart of Lagoon Nebula

A spectacular new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image reveals the heart of the Lagoon Nebula. Seen as a massive cloud of glowing dust and gas, bombarded by the energetic radiation of new stars, this placid name hides a dramatic reality. The Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured a dramatic view of gas and dust sculpted by intense radiation from hot young stars deep in the heart of the Lagoon Nebula (Messier 8). This spectacular object is named after the wide, lagoon-shaped dust lane that crosses the glowing gas of the nebula.

3

Fires on Madeira Island

Smoke from several large fires burning on Portugal's Madeira Island were seen blowing over the Atlantic Ocean on Aug. 10 when NASA's Terra satellite passed overhead. Madeira is an archipelago of four islands located off the northwest coast of Africa. They are an autonomous region of Portugal. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this natural-color image at 8:25 a.m. EDT (12:05 UTC). Places where MODIS detected active fire are located in red.

Intermission

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10 drink recipes you can light on fire

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Sponsored 4

Cyclones across the Pacific

This GOES-West satellite image shows four tropical cyclones in the North Western, Central and Eastern Pacific Ocean on September 1, 2015. In the Western Pacific (far left) is Typhoon Kilo. Moving east (to the right) into the Central Pacific is Hurricane Ignacio (just east of Hawaii), and Hurricane Jimena. The eastern-most storm is Tropical Depression 14E in the Eastern Pacific.

5

A cosmic megamaser

This galaxy has a far more exciting and futuristic classification than most — it hosts a megamaser. Megamasers are intensely bright, around 100 million times brighter than the masers found in galaxies like the Milky Way. The entire galaxy essentially acts as an astronomical laser that beams out microwave emission rather than visible light (hence the ‘m’ replacing the ‘l’).

6

Hurricane Joaquin

Major Hurricane Joaquin is shown at the far eastern periphery of the GOES West satellite's full disk extent, taken at 1200Z on October 1, 2015.

7

Seaweed

Though the above image may resemble a new age painting straight out of an art gallery in Venice Beach, California, it is in fact a satellite image of the sands and seaweed in the Bahamas. The image was taken by the Enhanced Thematic Mapper plus (ETM+) instrument aboard the Landsat 7 satellite. Tides and ocean currents in the Bahamas sculpted the sand and seaweed beds into these multicolored, fluted patterns in much the same way that winds sculpted the vast sand dunes in the Sahara Desert.

8

Sea Ice in Greenland

The MODIS instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite captured this visible image of Sea Ice off eastern Greenland on October 16, 2012.

9

The US covered in snow

NOAA's GOES-East satellite provided a look at the frigid eastern two-thirds of the U.S. on Jan. 7, 2015, that shows a blanket of northern snow, lake-effect snow from the Great Lakes and clouds behind the Arctic cold front.

Intermission

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10

Liege, Belgium

A nighttime view of Liege, Belgium is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 34 crew member on the International Space Station.

11

Jupiter up close

At about 89,000 miles in diameter, Jupiter could swallow 1,000 Earths. It is the largest planet in the solar system and perhaps the most majestic. Vibrant bands of clouds carried by winds that can exceed 400 mph continuously circle the planet's atmosphere. Such winds sustain spinning anticyclones like the Great Red Spot—a raging storm three and a half times the size of Earth located in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere. In January and February 1979, NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft zoomed toward Jupiter, capturing hundreds of images during its approach. The observations revealed many unique features of the planet that are still being explored to this day.

12

Earthrise

View of the crescent Earth rising above the lunar horizon over the Ritz Crater. Image taken during the Apollo 17 mission on Revolution 66.

13

Bubble Nebula

“As Hubble makes its 26th revolution around our home star, the sun, we celebrate the event with a spectacular image of a dynamic and exciting interaction of a young star with its environment. The view of the Bubble Nebula, crafted from WFC-3 images, reminds us that Hubble gives us a front row seat to the awe inspiring universe we live in,” said John Grunsfeld, Hubble astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in Washington, D.C. The Bubble Nebula is seven light-years across—about one-and-a-half times the distance from our sun to its nearest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri, and resides 7,100 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia.

14

Volcanic plumes over Mt. Etna

Twin volcanic plumes—one of ash, one of gas—rose from Sicily’ Mount Etna on the morning of October 26, 2013.

15

Canyonlands

The desert southwest US is a showcase of geology. Canyonlands National Park in SE Utah is one such example. In this image, the Colorado River in the upper left corner forms the border of an area of outcrops of Permian (~280 million years old) Cedar Mesa Sandstone. Nearest the river, a series of arcuate faults has created a landscape of extremely narrow valleys. Further east a tributary of the Colorado has eroded the landscape into intricate feather-like drainage patterns.

16

Typhoon Haiyan

Typhoon Haiyan approaching the Philippines

17

Greece

Earth observation views taken from the space shuttle orbiter Atlantis during STS-84 mission.

18

The Orion Nebula

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has helped astronomers find the final piece of a celestial puzzle by nabbing a third runaway star. As British royal families fought the War of the Roses in the 1400s for control of England's throne, a grouping of stars was waging its own contentious skirmish — a star war far away in the Orion Nebula. The stars were battling each other in a gravitational tussle, which ended with the system breaking apart and at least three stars being ejected in different directions. The speedy, wayward stars went unnoticed for hundreds of years until, over the past few decades, two of them were spotted in infrared and radio observations, which could penetrate the thick dust in the Orion Nebula.

19

Van Gogh from space

In the style of Van Gogh's painting "Starry Night," massive congregations of greenish phytoplankton swirl in the dark water around Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea. Phytoplankton are microscopic marine plants that form the first link in nearly all ocean food chains. Population explosions, or blooms, of phytoplankton, like the one shown here, occur when deep currents bring nutrients up to sunlit surface waters, fueling the growth and reproduction of these tiny plants.

20

Empty Quarter

White pinpricks of cloud cast ebony shadows on the Rub' al Khali, or Empty Quarter, near the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The lines of wind-sculpted sand are characteristic of immense sand deserts, or sand seas, and the Rub' al Khali is the largest desert of this type in the world. A highland ridge is just high enough to disturb the flow of the lines. In the center of that interruption lies the Saudi Arabian town of Sharurah.

21

The Mississippi

Small, blocky shapes of towns, fields, and pastures surround the graceful swirls and whorls of the Mississippi River. Countless oxbow lakes and cutoffs accompany the meandering river south of Memphis, Tennessee, on the border between Arkansas and Mississippi, USA. The "mighty Mississippi" is the largest river system in North America.

22

Cloud vortices

Cloud vortices off Heard Island, south Indian Ocean.

23

Hubble Sees Monstrous Cloud Boomerang Back to our Galaxy

Hubble Space Telescope astronomers are finding that the old adage “what goes up must come down” even applies to an immense cloud of hydrogen gas outside our Milky Way galaxy. The invisible cloud is plummeting toward our galaxy at nearly 700,000 miles per hour. Though hundreds of enormous, high-velocity gas clouds whiz around the outskirts of our galaxy, this so-called “Smith Cloud” is unique because its trajectory is well known. New Hubble observations suggest it was launched from the outer regions of the galactic disk, around 70 million years ago. The cloud was discovered in the early 1960s by doctoral astronomy student Gail Smith, who detected the radio waves emitted by its hydrogen. This composite image shows the size and location of the Smith Cloud on the sky. The cloud appears in false-color, radio wavelengths as observed by the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. The visible-light image of the background star field shows the cloud's location in the direction of the constellation Aquila.

You can follow the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center for more pics on Facebook here or on Twitter here

  • Located on an uninhabited island in the Exumas, Bahamas
  • Different theories and legends about how the pigs got there
  • Several pigs were found dead in early 2017
  • Autopsies found sand in the pigs’ digestive systems
  • Ingestion of sand likely due to tourists tossing food onto the beach
  • New laws coming into effect to protect the pig population

THE SWIMMING PIGS in the Bahamas can be found at Exuma’s Pig Beach. It’s an uninhabited island, and no one knows for certain how the pigs got there. One theory is that a group of sailors left them there with plans to return to cook them. Another is that they swam to the island from a shipwreck. According to The Today Show though, the pigs were brought over by a couple of farmers who were planning their survival during the Y2K scare (for those that don’t remember, it was thought that the changeover from 1999 to 2000 was going to cause a major system crash and the world would be plunged into the Dark Ages). In any case, they’ve become a big tourist attraction of the Bahamas. There are many boat tours — which often include other activities like swimming with sting rays and snorkeling — that take visitors to see the pigs.

The health of the pigs

Unfortunately, with the unchecked explosion in tourism, there have been some irresponsible visitors who have caused the pig population harm. A lot of tourists feed the pigs not only food, but some dole out alcohol. Some even attempt to ride the feral animals. Recently, a significant portion of the population (which has been at around 20) was found dead. Autopsies eventually revealed that the pigs died from ingesting sand, which cannot be digested. It’s believed that they ate the sand while picking up food from the beaches that tourists leave to feed them.

Be a responsible visitor

It should be noted that local tour operators are being vouched for by the Humane Society. They say the tour operators are respectful but there are also private boat owners who visit the island and can be more careless in their treatment of the pigs. While laws to protect the remaining population are being looked into, visitors can do their own part in ensuring the safety of the animals. First and foremost is to not feed the pigs. Until the relatively recent tourist influx, the pigs have been feeding themselves by foraging in the surrounding forests. And definitely, do not try to ride them!

WE KNOW that Americans are the second biggest spenders when traveling abroad (behind China), but where do they spend all their money? Orbitz researched the American people’s favourite travel destinations and created the map below to illustrate the data found.

Americans travel destinations

Map: Orbitz

Some of the destinations coincide with large populations of immigrants. For example, Indian people are the largest population of immigrants in Texas after Mexican people, therefore it is not surprising that Texas’ favourite travel destination is India (immigrants visiting their family members is an easy explanation). The same goes for The Philipines being Alaska’s preferred destination.

Other destinations do not seem to have any correlation with immigration but show that sunny locales are generally favored for vacations: Jamaica, Aruba, Costa Rica, The Bahamas. More like this: Mapped: The countries that supply the most immigrants to each US state

Fodor's Bahamas (Full-color Travel Guide)

Fodor's Travel Guides

Written by locals, Fodor's travel guides have been offering expert advice for all tastes and budgets for 80 years. Whether a traveler's style is living large at a trend-setting resort or chilling on a secluded island with an icy cold beer in hand, the Bahamas has something for every taste, from all-inclusive resorts to exclusive private-island hideaways. Visitors can enjoy celebrity-chef restaurants and glitzy casinos in Nassau and Freeport, or escape to the pink sands of an undeveloped out island. The Bahamas are the ideal destination to eat lots of conch, get a golden tan, and feel totally revived.This travel guide includes:· Dozens of full-color maps· Hundreds of hotel and restaurant recommendations, with Fodor's Choice designating our top picks· Multiple itineraries to explore the top attractions and what’s off the beaten path· In-depth breakout features on the Bahamas best beaches, the famous Junkanoo celebration, and the best snorkeling and dive spots· Major sights such as Pink Sand Beaches and Coral Reefs· Coverage of Nassau; Freeport; New Providence and Paradise Islands; Grand Bahama Island; The Abacos; Andros, Bimini, and the Berry Islands; Eleuthera and Harbour Island; Great Exuma and the Exuma Cays; The Southern Out Islands; Cat Island; and San SalvadorPlanning to visit more of the Caribbean? Check out Fodor's Caribbean travel guide.

Bahamas Map & Reef Creatures Guide Franko Maps Laminated Fish Card

Franko Maps Ltd.

Perfect for divers, snorkelers and nature lovers! Side One is a mini-map of The Bahamas with top dive sites named and located. Side Two is a fish identification guide with nearly 80 species colorfully illustrated. This convenient, waterproof reference is made of hard, laminated plastic with holes for lanyard and insertion in dive logs. 5.5" x 8.5"

The Insider's Nassau Travel Guide: All the Info You Need to Know About the Biggest City in the Bahamas

Dustin Jermalowicz

Nassau is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and it also offers some of the best beaches, watersports, shopping, drinking, and diving you'll find anywhere. The Insider's Nassau Travel Guide has been written with the reader in mind, as it provides an array of information to help you find the best spots to spend your time and money. The author himself has made many trips to Nassau and has put all his tips into this short but informative read.

The Cruising Guide to Abaco, Bahamas: 2017

Steve Dodge

This twenty-eighth edition of the only annually updated cruising guide to Abaco includes many updates of the 81 navigational charts and marina maps in the book. The accurate easy-to-read color charts are based on original hydrographic research and 40 years of local knowledge, and they are the only charts which show locations of submerged power lines and "do not anchor zones" in the central part of Abaco. The book also includes recent color aerial photographs of all principal harbours and a proven system of GPS waypoints. Its organization makes it easy to use it is the clear choice of most cruisers and the best selling guide to Abaco. Includes tide tables for 2017, detailed snorkeling/diving charts, up-dated business directories for Abaco, articles on fishing, an offshore bathymetric fishing chart, a lunar calendar for 2017, a guide to the dolphins and whales of Abaco, a brief history of Abaco, and helpful local advertising

Nassau Historic Walking Tour & New Providence Island Bahamas Maps Laminated Card

Franko Maps Ltd.

A detailed walking map of downtown Nassau's historic district on one side. A map of New Providence Island on the other. Both on a handy card with rigid lamination and hole for lanyard. 5.5" x 8.5". Perfect for enjoying the Bahamas' largest city off the beach!

Fodor's Bahamas (Full-color Travel Guide)

Fodor's

Fodor’s correspondents highlight the best of the Bahamas, including lovely white-sand beaches, fun eco activities, top dive sights, and mellow beach bars. Our local experts vet every recommendation to ensure you make the most of your time, whether it’s your first trip or your fifth. MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS from Grand Bahama to the Out Islands PERFECT HOTELS for every budget BEST RESTAURANTS to satisfy a range of tastes GORGEOUS FEATURES on Junkanoo and water adventures VALUABLE TIPS on when to go and ways to save INSIDER PERSPECTIVE from local experts COLOR PHOTOS AND MAPS to inspire and guide your trip

Bahamas 1:500,000 Travel Map (International Travel Maps)

ITM Canada

Detailed travel reference map covers all of Bahamas and includes insets with street maps of Nassau and Freeport / Lucaya and also name index. Printed on synthetic paper durable in tropical conditions.

Bahamas Travel Guide: The Top 10 Highlights in Bahamas (Globetrotter Guide Books)

Marc Cook

Bahamas: Discover the Treasures of the Caribbean

Are you tired of the wind, rain and snow? Wouldn’t you rather be swaying in a hammock soaking up the sun? Aren’t you just dying to enjoy the good life in a place where warm, sunny days are always forecasted? Well, then a visit to the Bahamas is just what you need. Whatever your heart desires, you will find it in the Bahamas.

From gorgeous beaches to beautiful botanical gardens, most will agree the Bahamas are a quintessential relaxing Caribbean vacation. There are historic attractions and bustling marketplaces, but if you're in need of more active pursuits go diving or hiking. Whatever you’re in the mood for, the island Paradise of the Bahamas truly has it all.

With so many sights to choose from in the Bahamas, it’s a real challenge to pick out the best ones. And that’s why you must get this compact book that highlights the most important information on unmissable sights in the Bahamas.

Inside the Bahamas Travel Guide:

Junkanoo Expo MuseumPompey Museum of Slavery & EmancipationPort Lucaya MarketplaceStraw MarketGarden of the GrovesNational Art Gallery of Bahamas Lucayan National ParkCabbage BeachArawak CayParliament Square

Explore the beautiful island oasis with spectacular beaches and lush natural beauty. Dip in the crystal-clear waters or float in a sea kayak. Admire centuries old architecture and be mesmerized by impressive museum collections. Everywhere you turn, you are bound to get a tantalizing taste of Bahamian culture.

Relaxing is key in the Bahamas as Bahamians believe in taking it easy. Live it like the locals and join in the dancing at colorful festivals, or tuck into some delicious fish fry at a waterfront café.

The Bahamas is famous for its clear, warm, turquoise waters, powdery white sands, colorful coral gardens and palm trees. But, did you know you can go on a diving tour of the world’s longest underwater cavern at Lucayan National Park?

Well, in this easy to read travel guide you’ll discover what other fun activities you can enjoy in the Bahamian waters, as well as the most interesting museums, markets and other fascinating attractions you cannot miss out on during your Bahamian vacation.

Don’t hesitate... Get a copy of this Bahamas Travel Guide right now and begin planning your Caribbean paradise getaway!

Exercise normal security precautions

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Crime

Crime occurs in Nassau and Freeport, though it is not usually violent. Tourists have been the targets of robberies. Do not carry large sums of cash or wear expensive jewellery. Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times.

Avoid deserted beaches and do not walk alone, particularly after dark. Criminal activity is minimal on the outlying islands.

Road travel

Traffic drives on the left. Road conditions are different from those in Canada. Traffic accidents frequently result in injuries and death. Roads are generally adequate in Nassau and Freeport, but road travel is limited elsewhere. Road construction is not always well marked. Bicycles, mopeds and pedestrians can be hazards, particularly on the busy streets of Nassau and Freeport.

Air travel

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

General safety information

Rent water sports equipment only from reputable operators, inquire about insurance coverage, and insist on proper training before using the equipment.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in the Caribbean, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in the Caribbean. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!


Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in the Caribbean, certain insects carry and spread diseases like chikungunya, dengue fever, malaria and West Nile virus.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.


Malaria

Malaria

  • There is a limited risk of malaria in this country.
  • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bednet or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.

Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in some areas in the Caribbean, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.

HIV

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks and impairs the immune system, resulting in a chronic, progressive illness known as AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). 

Practise safe sex while travelling, and don’t share needles, razors, or other objects which could transmit infection.

Remember that HIV can also be spread through the use of unsterile medical equipment during medical and dental procedures, tattooing, body piercing or acupuncture. Diseases can also be spread though blood transfusions and organ transplantation if the blood or organs are not screened for HIV or other blood-borne pathogens.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Medical care is good in Nassau and Freeport, but limited elsewhere. Medical expenses can be very high. It is normal for clinics to require patients to sign an undertaking to pay agreement and to take a credit card impression as guarantee of payment prior to providing medical care. Any incidents of sickness or injury requiring hospitalization should be reported to the Embassy of Canada.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Illegal drugs

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict.

Laws

Long-line fishing is illegal in Bahamian waters. All long-line fishing gear must be stowed below deck while transiting Bahamian waters. Stiff penalties are imposed for catching crawfish (lobster) or other marine life in protected areas or out of season.

If you are interested in purchasing property or making other investments in the Bahamas, seek legal advice from appropriate professionals in Canada and the Bahamas before making commitments. Disputes arising from such activities could be prolonged and costly to resolve.

A valid Canadian driver's license is sufficient for driving in the Bahamas for up to three months.

Money

The currency is the Bahamian dollar (BSD). U.S. dollars are widely accepted. Credit cards are accepted. Traveller’s cheques can be exchanged at banks. U.S. dollar traveller’s cheques are recommended. Automated banking machines (ABMs) are located on the larger islands, in airport terminals, banks, casinos and some hotels.

Climate

The hurricane season extends from June to the end of November. The National Hurricane Center provides additional information on weather conditions. Stay informed of regional weather forecasts, and follow the advice and instructions of local authorities.