If you're lucky, you live in Florida-a stone's throw from the roughly 700 islands that make up the Bahamas. Only 40 of these isles, which cover about 100,000 square miles, are populated. From West Palm Beach, for instance, zip a mere 56 miles across the Gulf Stream and you'll arrive on Grand Bahama.
Grand Bahama is home to Freeport/Lucaya, a popular, planned resort area with plenty of hotels, restaurants, casinos, and shopping opportunities, designed just for tourists. But there's more to Grand Bahama then that: Explore the natural environment of the Bahamas in Freeport's Garden of the Groves, an 11-acre botanical park. The Rand Nature Center offers 100 acres of native Bahamian plants and nature trails. And the limestone caves of the 40-acre Lucayan National Park are not to be missed.
If you like to island hop, then you'll love the Abacos. The Sea of Abaco and a string of barrier islands separate Great Abaco Island and Little Abaco from the Atlantic. Parts of the Abacos were settled by colonists who remained loyal to the crown after the American Revolution, which is why places like Hope Town on Elbow Cay, and New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay, look like New England fishing towns. Man-o-War Cay is a dry island with a conservative culture but it's the boat building capital of the Bahamas and a favorite with yachtsmen. There are 120-miles in this island chain, so take your time checking them out.
Eleuthera is a long, skinny island of pink sand beaches and bright blue water. One of the Bahamas famed outer islands, it's the place to go for a relaxed get-away with lots of snorkeling, diving, kayaking, and sunbathing. Harbor Island and Spanish Wells are two smaller islands off Eleuthera's northern tip that you will also want to visit.
Nassau, on New Providence Island, is the capital of the Bahamas and the center for the nation's offshore banking industry. Nearby is Paradise Island, a beach resort paradise that's popular with vacationers in search of fruity drinks and quality beach time.
On the other hand, many of the exquisitely beautiful Exuma Cays are privately owned. The Staniel Cay Yacht Club is a popular stop for cruisers in the Exumas and anglers can't get enough of the great fishing. George Town on Great Exuma has a little something for everyone, from funky cottages for rent to luxury resorts. There are plenty of great local watering holes, too, like Big D's Conch Shack, and Club Peace & Plenty. Nearby Stocking Cay is home to the legendary Chat 'n Chill.
These are just the best known of the Bahamas many islands. There's so much more. Andros for divers, the Berrys for the reclusive, and Bimini for fishing nuts-not to mention Cat Island, Rum Cay, Long Island, Acklins and Crooked Island, Mayaguana, and Inagua. Let's face it: The only way to get to know the Bahamas is to toss off that bowline and see it yourself.