First stop, Nassau, Bahamas! My husband and I recently returned from our first voyage on Carnival Cruise Lines through the eastern Caribbean. (No, I don’t recommend Carnival but there may be more on that, later.) Our first port, Nassau, is the capital of the Bahamas and a beautiful day trip for anyone stopping at the port during a cruise.
Nassau is a quaint, beautiful tourist trap. The port is lined with brightly colored kiosks offering the typical assortment of items: handbags decorated with the location name, inexpensive jewelry and toys, and good ole’ Caribbean hair braiders.
For those who want to escape the port, taxis and tour guides are readily available. Prices seemed fair. A taxi to the nearest beach was only $7USD, for example.
We opted to tour by foot. Just outside of the port await more shops and restaurants ($$$$) but it was hard to find food or crafts that were unique to Nassau. We passed many small restaurants offering burgers, fries, and tacos. The goods sold were replicas of items seen at other ports throughout the Caribbean and Gulf or name brands at crazy prices. In all honesty, it was a bit sad.
One ray of sunshine near the port, however, was Pasión Tea shop. I noticed it because 1.) I love tea. 2.) There were brown people coming in and out of it. True story. I was looking for somewhere that even the locals thought was cool. I assumed their presence would assure fair prices and interesting products. I was right.
Julie Hoffer, a born and raised Bahamian, opened the shop at the turn of the millenium. Though the website uses the word “exotic,” which I loathe, her heart seems in the right place: the company sources its ingredients locally, supporting gardeners and their small holding produce. Many recipes are “bush medicine remedies” that are guaranteed to be Fair Trade Certified and are often organic.
I purchased the French Roast coffee, Bahamian Cerasee Tea, and Pomegranate Green Tea. Each is delicious! The Cerasee tea is recommended as a cold a flu remedy; my mother reports that it cleared her sinus passages with one cup! I recommend supporting the shop if you’re in the area, or you can shop online.
Within a few blocks of the port, the city dissolves into a sleepy residential area with low-lying buildings, each in a state of salt- and wind-induced disrepair. It’s beautiful. The city even does a great job of maintaining the alleyways. Many have been transformed into tiny storefronts with container gardens. Several shops were closed in honor of Majority Rule Day, unfortunately, but there are likely some gems hidden in those alleyways off of the beaten path!
Due to the holiday, I wasn’t able to go into the Yoruba House, which otherwise would’ve been my first stop. The Yoruba peoples are an African tribe that first settled in Grants Town and Bain. The building serves as a cultural center, museum, and meeting place. You can find the Yoruba House on Augusta Street and I recommend that you pop in if you can.
We traveled in January, enjoying temps in the mid 80s with a warm breeze. During that time of year, there are a few activities that are worth checking out. On December 26 and January 1, look out for Junkanoo, an energetic festival that starts at the crack of dawn. There are parades, bands, block parties, handmade crafts, and lots of delicious food. We walked along one of the parade routes but it was, alas, the wrong month to see the festival.
Also in December, you might catch Bahamas Speed Week Revival races. We passed the headquarters but it looks like the events need to be revived–again–because there were no races in 2014. If you’re in town in December 2015 or later, look it up and see if the races have been revived during your visit.
If you’re traveling with kids, I recommend the Pirates of Nassau Museum and the Ardastra Gardens, Zoo and Conservation Center. Both are tiny but can keep young kids from getting too bored when they’re too sunburned to be at the beach. Teens and adults may enjoy the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas but it was closed during the holiday so I can’t vouch for what you’ll see there. Note: avoid traveling during this holiday since so much of the island shuts down.
In all honesty, though, the best thing to do in Nassau is enjoy the beaches, anyway!
The local population, overall, seemed friendly but distant. They’re certainly accustomed to tourists and I was clearly a tourist. Even with my skin and hair, I wasn’t fooling anyone thanks to the huge DSLR hanging from my neck. (“Hi, y’all! I’m a tourist!”) The city and beaches are both relatively safe. The cops in Nassau were more like crossing guards in fantastic, crisp white uniforms.
Would I recommend Nassau to visitors? Of course, particularly for those who want to chill at the beach. Those seeking deep cultural experiences and adventure seekers may have to dig a bit deeper.