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Bahamas

Updated: Sep 18, 2012 04:49 PM EDT


The Bahamas (that's with a capital "The") is one of the most geographically complicated nations of the Atlantic. It's a coral-based archipelago comprising more than 700 islands -- hundreds more if you count the rocky outcroppings that have damaged the hulls of countless ships since colonial days.

Made of more than 100,000 square miles of dry and sometimes barren land, the archipelago comprises The Bahama islands and also, in the south, the Turks and Caicos Islands, which maintain a separate government. Most of the population is centered on New Providence Island (Nassau/Cable Beach) and Grand Bahama Island (Freeport/Lucaya). Paradise Island, the most heavily developed tourist complex, lies directly off Nassau and is reached by a causeway.

The 760-mile-long chain of islands, cays, and reefs that make up The Bahamas stretches from Grand Bahama Island, whose western point is 75 miles almost due east of Palm Beach, Florida, to Great Inagua, southernmost of The Bahamas, which lies about 60 miles northeast of Cuba and less than 100 miles north of Haiti. Cay (pronounced "key") is the Spanish word for small island.

Sandy beaches, fishing (some of the best in the world), boating, nearly perfect weather (even though the islands are in the often stormy Atlantic Ocean), and accessibility to the U.S. mainland put this archipelago on the world tourist map. The Bahamas lies right off the Florida coast. One 20- to 30-minute plane ride can free you from Miami's congestion as you land on Bimini.

The Bahamas is ideal for both quick 4- or 5-day jaunts and longer vacations, if you'd really like to island-hop and see as much as you can.

In the 1940s, when the Duke and Duchess of Windsor ruled The Bahamas (after he'd renounced the British throne), the islands were considered exclusive. Beginning in the 1960s, that reputation changed. Today the islands lure people from all walks of life, whether they want a $500-a-day luxury resort or prefer to rough it for $50-a-day on one of the little-visited Out Islands.

If you've decided that The Bahamas sounds like the perfect place to relax, feel free to start unwinding right now, because we've done all the legwork for you. Here you'll find our carefully compiled lists of the best that The Bahamas has to offer, from beaches and dive sites to resorts, restaurants, and sightseeing -- and nearly everything else you'll want to see and do.

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