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The Bahamas: beaches

Goodman’s Bay Beach

Goodman’s Bay Beach is a popular public beach access point at Cable Beach. This recreational beach and its bordering park are used by locals for a range of fitness activities, including jogging and flag football, a modified version of American football. Many watersports operators use the ramp at Goodman’s Bay for boat access, so you can find jet skis, banana boats and parasailing. The sand is coarser than other beaches in Nassau, but the water is just as refreshing and clear. There are no restaurants, but at busy times you may find vendors selling hot dogs and soft drinks, and there are shady trees for a beach picnic – local church and other community groups often have picnics on Goodman’s Bay. I don't recommend visiting this beach at night, for safety reasons.

Address: Cable Beach, Nassau, New Providence
Who goes? groups, first timers
Getting there: bus to Cable Beach (10 from Downtown)

Pink Sands Beach

Many people flock to Harbour Island to set eyes on the famous Pink Sands Beach. Sad to say, don’t trust all of the photos you see on the Internet. Some visitors suffer disappointment when they realise the beach is not entirely pink as some doctored photos suggest. A unique mix of coral, broken shells, miniature rocks and calcium carbonate speckles the sand with pink fragments. However, notwithstanding the need to temper your expectations, Harbour Island’s stretch of beach is beautiful – and depending on how the sun falls, the entire beach can glow pink. Long and broad, the beach is cooled by a constant breeze and lapped by calm waters, and is also spacious enough to accommodate a range of activities, including weddings, yoga, beach football and kite flying.

Address: Harbour Island
Who goes? couples, families, groups, first timers, old hands
Getting there: no public transport: drive or walk

Junkanoo Beach

Junkanoo Beach is the only beach in The Bahamas you can characterise as a full-time party beach. It is a small but lively area with music, restrooms, showers and local vendors renting chairs and umbrellas and selling souvenirs. The Tiki Bikini Hut restaurant, which sits on this beach, serves cocktails in the shells of fresh coconuts. Next door is Fat Tuesday, which specialises in alcoholic frozen drinks. In walking distance of Downtown Nassau, the beach is popular primarily because of its proximity to the cruise port: you have a front row view of the cruise ships, sailboats and pleasure yachts which head through Nassau Harbour. The water is just as beautiful as most Bahamian beaches, but the sand has a lot of rocks; it is not as soft and supple as other beaches in Nassau. Just 50 metres west of Junkanoo Beach is Long Wharf Beach, which has a similar atmosphere but less of a crowd.

Address: West Bay Street, Nassau, New Providence
Who goes? groups, first timers
Getting there: bus from Downtown (10) walk or take a taxi

Shroud Cay

The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is one of the most spectacular attractions in the entire Bahamas because it has been a protected zone for more than 30 years. It was the first national park in a network of 26, and its natural habitats have been able to thrive unimpeded by development. Shroud Cay is an uninhabited island lying inside the park with a river-like network of mangrove creeks filled with nursing conch, lobster, turtles and other fish. The adventure of getting to Shroud Cay’s Camp Driftwood Beach is much of its appeal. You have to navigate through the winding creek system and cut across the island. I always love to throw a rope behind the dinghy and trail behind with goggles as we cruise through the creek. The cut where the creek enters the ocean provides great amusement when the tide is coming in. You can ease off the ocean side of the beach and allow the current to wash you around the point on to the creek side of the beach. This spin cycle is addictive, especially for children, who will want to do it again and again. Rent a boat from a local operator to self navigate. Exuma Vacation (exumavacation.com) on Black Boat has free boat delivery to Compass Cay, Sampson Cay, Foul Cay, Staniel Cay and Big Majors Spot. Or hire a captain for a guided experience: ask for Captain Cliff (001 242 535 1474).

Address: Exuma Cays
Who goes? families, groups, old hands
Getting there: no public transport: take a boat from Black Point or Staniel Cay

Greenwood Beach

On this beach on the southern heel of Cat Island, near the historic village of Port Howe, you can bet on finding solitude. Greenwood Beach is remote. It is also stunning, with pink coral fragments creating a blushing effect on the soft, white sand. And you can walk for over five miles without encountering another set of footprints. The hardest decision you will have to make is which direction to head off in, because the sandy horizon stretches for miles and miles no matter which way you head. The coral reefs offshore are not the most active, but they provide enough adventure and activity for novice snorkellers. You might need another reason to justify the one hour drive from Arthur’s Town in the north to Greenwood Beach, like a tour of the plantation ruins in Port Howe. But if you are staying in one of the southern settlements, you should definitely allow time for a day of relaxation on Greenwood Beach.

Address: Port Howe, Cat Island
Who goes? couples, old hands
Getting there: no public transport: drive or take a taxi

Gold Rock Beach

Gold Rock Beach lies inside the protected Lucayan National Park, about 40 minutes' drive from Grand Bahama’s city centre. What makes Gold Rock special is how its beach turns into a massive sandbar at low tide with tiny rippling sand dunes. This is not a beach for lounging; it’s a beach for playing. Like an infinite paddling pool, Gold Rock Beach is fun to splash around in while searching for sand dollars, starfish, sea biscuits and the occasional stingray. The shallow waters make it ideal for young children to romp and play, but not so great for snorkelling – and don’t visit at high tide as the beach basically evaporates. There are picnic tables and benches on the beach, but no beach chairs or hammocks to lounge on – or food and beverage vendors. You have to trek across a scenic mangrove trail to reach the beach. The boardwalk may feel never ending, but just wait for the beach to reveal itself.

Address: Grand Bahama Island
Who goes? families, first timers, old hands
Getting there: no public transport: drive, take a taxi or tour bus with Grand Bahama Nature Tours; grandbahamanaturetours.com

Pipe Creek Sandbar

The sandbar beach is a special trait of The Bahamas’ shallow banks. During every tidal cycle, islands of soft, supple sand emerge from beneath the sea and then disappear in a watery tomb. The Pipe Creek Sandbar is a spectacular sandbar in the Northern Exuma Cays. It is the centrepiece in a wider tapestry of sand art: around five small cays surround this sandbar and, together with the swirling shallow banks and deep water anchorages, they create a stunning canvas. The sand on this sandbar is particularly soft; your footprints can have six inches of depth. This can throw you off balance, so take your first steps carefully. If you go shelling you might find sand dollars and other fully formed shells. Rent a boat from a local operator to self navigate. Exuma Vacation (www.exumavacation.com) on Black Boat has free boat delivery to Compass Cay, Sampson Cay, Foul Cay, Staniel Cay and Big Majors Spot. Or hire a captain for a guided experience. Ask for Captain Cliff (001 242 535 1474).

Address: Northern Exuma Cays, The Exumas
Who goes? couples, families, groups, first timers, old hands
Getting there: no public transport: take a boat from Black Point or Staniel Cay

Rose Island

The quickest way to escape Nassau is by taking a boat trip to Rose Island, where you can pick and choose from dozens of secluded beaches. When I was a child, Sunday beaching on Rose Island was tantamount to going to church, particularly in summertime. We always took a bag of mangos, a bucket of KFC chicken and lots of family. These days, I go with a crew of girlfriends. We fish on the way over and grill our fresh catch on the beach, eating off plates made from handpicked sea grape leaves. There are virtually no amenities on Rose Island, even though we once got lucky and found a grill left behind on a beach; bring ice, booze and food. The main exception is Sandy Toes, a lively beachfront bar and restaurant with its own transportation to the island (see separate Drink recommendation). Several charter companies offer private trips to the island, including Bahamas Boat Excursions (bahamaboatexcursions.com): request a stop at Sandy Cay to swim with turtles.

Address: Six miles east of Nassau
Who goes? couples, families, groups, first timers, old hands
Getting there: 25-minute boat ride from Paradise Island Ferry Terminal

Colins Beach

Inagua is not a well-known beach destination: its top attractions are wild birds and deep sea fishing, and jagged rocks run along much of its coastline. However, at Colins Beach you will find a long stretch of sandy coastline for your private pleasure. Except on a Bahamian public holiday, you can expect absolute tranquillity. The drive is out of the way from Matthew Town, the lone settlement on Inagua, but that is a perk. At the beach you'll find ample shade, along with a gazebo as an extra measure, and wooden picnic tables, so plan for a day out. Have a leisurely sway on a tree swing hung on the borderline between the trees and the sand, and pack snorkelling gear: there are large coral heads and beautiful underwater seascapes a stone’s throw from the beach. Bathroom facilities are available. They are basic.

Address: Coconut Grove, Great Inagua, Inagua
Who goes? couples, families, groups, first timers, old hands
Getting there: no public transport: driveCape Santa Maria Beach

Cape Santa Maria Beach is a romantic sunset beach in the north of Long Island. The gently curving, western-facing coast has unimpeded views, and most evenings the sky is painted a combination of orange, yellow and crimson as the ocean's horizon swallows the sun. This beach shares its name with the Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort and Villas (see Stay recommendation), where you will find useful amenities to enjoy a day of relaxation. There is a restaurant and bar, non-motorised watersports, and you can pamper yourself with a beach massage, letting the firm hands of local masseuse Omar Daley spirit you away to a stress-free place. On a new moon night you can rock away in one of their beach hammocks and stargaze. This beach makes a great wedding venue or honeymoon spot. It delivers remoteness, privacy and beauty without the need to rough it.

Address: Long Island
Who goes? couples, families, groups, first timers, old hands
Getting there: no public transport: drive or take a taxi

Treasure Cay Beach

The heart of this beach is an active area with restaurants and hotels, lined with beach chairs, picnic tables and thatched shades. The watersports are mainly non-motorised; beach sports include volleyball and an inflatable waterslide. But despite the full range of amenities available at Treasure Cay, this is not your typical resort beach. The atmosphere is very chilled, and the beach is over three miles long, with the resort area taking up only a small portion in the centre. There is a golf course in walking distance to the beach, and about 15 minutes' drive away there is a blue hole nestled inside a pine forest. Most visitors fly into Marsh Harbour and drive to Treasure Cay, which takes about 30 minutes. There are direct flights from some US cities to Treasure Cay.

Address: Great Abaco, The Abacos
Who goes? couples, families, groups, first timers
Getting there: no public transport: drive or take a taxi

Joulter Cay Beach

Andros is not usually considered a beach destination, but the off-the-grid Joulter Cays easily win a top spot among the best beaches in The Bahamas. This little-known cluster of uninhabited islands off the northern point of Andros is an awe-inspiring place, a serene refuge for birds, turtles and other marine life. Take care of this well-kept secret when you visit, as the cays are designated an Important Bird Area, in keeping with Andros’ appeal as an ecotourism destination. Keep a day free to picnic by the cays' shallow flats and tidal creeks, but tread lightly; these lands hold ecological secrets in their ancient grains of sugar-sized oolitic sand. To explore the Joulter Cays, you need to charter a boat: the closest place on Andros is Nicholls Town, a 40-minute boat ride to the cays

Address: Andros
Who goes? families, groups, old hands
Getting there: charter a boat with Captain Phillip Rolle; northandrosflyfishing.com

Lighthouse Beach

It takes just over an hour by car to reach Lighthouse Beach from Governor’s Harbour, including a very rugged off-road ride that requires a four-wheel drive. Set aside an entire day to enjoy this beach. It is a must when visiting Eleuthera. If you mistake Lighthouse Bay for Lighthouse Beach you will know, because your first impression will be a disappointed “that’s it?” So continue on a little further in the direction of the actual lighthouse. When you reach the spot, your reflex response of “wow!” will confirm you've arrived. The beach consists of two crescent-shaped coves: sunrise- and sunset-facing beaches that meet at a point. The waters are calm and shallow. The reefs offshore have large coral heads and are safe for snorkelling. Parts of the beach are lined with limestone cliffs that have tide lines sculpted into their walls. Overhanging ledges provide shade on the beach, and create interesting contours to examine. Bring water, food, beach towels and chairs, snorkelling equipment, hiking shoes and even camping gear to enjoy all that Lighthouse Beach has to offer. If you don't want to drive yourself, go with tour company Eleuthera Tours (eleutheratours.com).

Address: Eleuthera
Who goes? couples, families, groups, first timers, old hands,
Getting there: no public transport: drive or go with a tour company

Tropic of Cancer Beach

The drive from George Town, Great Exuma to Little Exuma takes at least 30 to 40 minutes with no petrol station in sight, but it is well worth the trip if you like the idea of sinking your toes into a pristine beach with positional significance. The Tropic of Cancer beach straddles the Tropic of Cancer circle of latitude (23 26N 75 35W). There is actually a painted line, marked with the coordinates, and it provides a great photo opportunity. Feel no shame if you can’t recall the significance of this coordinate system, which you probably learned about in high school geography. Just know, if you straddle the line, you’ll be standing in the tropics and the subtropics at the same time. A little beach shack and a nifty weather vane crowned with a metal crab points to the landmark. There are no amenities on this long stretch of beach and very little shade, so come equipped with a cooler full of ice and an umbrella if you plan to lounge on the sand. The water is usually very calm and great for swimming.

Address: Little Exuma, The Exumas
Who goes? couples, families, first timers
Getting there: no public transport: drive or take a taxi

Winding Bay

Winding Bay is a beautiful residential area on Eleuthera with a crescent-shaped cove and a soft white-sand beach. A handful of posh private homes sit along this coastline offering bedroom to beach accommodation. Families and small groups can rent these vacation homes relatively affordably for week-long stays. The calm, shallow waters in the cove are suited for families with small children. The southern end of the cove has a man-made canal that empties into a natural mangrove creek. I recommend exploring there in the morning for a sunrise walk, or at high tide by kayak – at low tide the water in the canal is shin deep. You can walk to the creek for an inland swim, or to search the sandbar on the banks for sand dollars, jelly fish and blue crabs. At high tide, you can kayak through the creek and pass over turtle habitats. If you go far enough into the creek, it cuts across the island and empties into a natural harbour. Bring snorkelling gear.

Address: Winding Bay, Eleuthera
Who goes? couples, families, groups, old hands
Getting there: no public transport: drive or take a taxi

Bimini Beaches

North Bimini’s entire western coast is a pristine beach. This island is only 210 metres wide, so you can never be more than minutes away from the beach. If you are staying in one of the guest houses or small hotels along the Top Hill Street (which runs parallel to the beach), then your backyard will actually be the white sandy shoreline. Radio Beach, Blister Beach and Spook Hill Beach have distinct entry points, but they sit on one unbroken stretch. Radio beach is closest to the Alice Town settlement. It has public bathrooms and beach vendors. On Saturdays and Sundays a local deejay sets up on Radio Beach. Spook Hill Beach – which sits next to the public cemetery, an arrangement that is not uncommon in the Bahamas’ Out Islands – is a popular spot for locals to have picnics, as the pine trees along its bordering sand dune create ample shade for a day of beach bumming. Bimini's beaches only have a few feet of shallow water and then they drop off to about 8-10 feet, so they can be intimidating for novice swimmers.

Address: Bimini
Who goes? couples, families, groups, first timers, old hands
Getting there: no public transport: drive or walk

Cabbage beach

From Atlantis to the One&Only Ocean Club, all the hotels on the north-west coast of Paradise Island sit on Cabbage Beach. The glare from the white sand on this long stretch of beachfront is often dazzling, and from the coastline to the horizon the blue of the water varies from aquamarine to royal blue. Because of the resort hotels, there is little privacy on the beach. However, the crowds are usually concentrated on the western end. On the eastern end they are scattered, so it doesn’t feel packed. The beach is a great spot for a romantic evening stroll, particularly when there is a full moon, and for those who like to exercise while on holiday, swim along the shoreline to the eastern tip of the island and jog back along the beach for a refreshing morning workout. In windy conditions the waves can become dangerous. The eastern end is the calmest spot as it is protected by a rocky peninsula.

Address: Paradise Island
Who goes? couples, families, groups, first timers, old hands
Getting there: no public transport: drive or take a taxi