The Bahamas archipelago, located south-east of Florida, is famous not only for its incredible crystal blue waters but also for its vibrant culture and luxurious accommodations. The story goes that Christopher Columbus first set foot here after crossing the Atlantic. During my trip to the Bahamas last January, we focused on one destination in particular: Grand Bahama Island.
Among the 700 islands that make up the Bahamas, Grand Bahama stands out mainly because of its main city, Freeport, the second largest population center in the country. On this island, you’ll find less extravagant (and therefore less expensive and more accessible) accommodations than those found in other Bahamian destinations, such as Nassau and Paradise Island. The hotels in Freeport are more of a 3 and a half star category on average.
As the fourth largest island in the Bahamas, Freeport is divided into three districts: West End, East End and Freeport. The activities proposed on the island are numerous. It is well worth leaving your hotel to discover the beautiful secluded white sand beaches, natural parks, gastronomy and cultural attractions.
In the past, the Ciboneys, Lucayans, Spaniards, and British have all claimed Freeport as their own. Freeport was a key market for the British and Confederates during the American War. The Spanish conquerors gave the island the name of “Gran Bajamar”, which means great shallows.
Of all the 700 islands and cays, Freeport has the second highest number of native bird species. The region is also home to one of the world’s largest man-made ports.
How to get to Freeport with points
There are many options for getting from Canada to the Bahamas. From Montreal, Sunwing now offers an affordable, short, non-stop flight to Freeport, making the destination particularly attractive this year for Quebecers.
However, Air Canada does not offer direct flights from Montreal or Toronto. Therefore, it is difficult to use Aeroplan points to go to Freeport (FPO).
The best tip for getting there with the points is to :
- Take Aeroplan points from Montreal to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood (FLL) or Miami (MIA) and complete with a cash flight with American Airlines to Freeport (FPO)
- Fly direct with Sunwing and pay for that travel expense with flexible points like :
You can use the same principle to take your points to pay for accommodation. Because the big hotel chains (and their rewards program) are not very present on the island.
Plus, the advantage of the Scotiabank Visa Infinite* Passport® card is that you don’t have to payconversion fees when you travel to Grand Bahama … and anywhere in the world!
National Bank’s World Elite Mastercard® provides you with excellent insurance while on vacation.
It’s up to you, depending on your needs.
What to do in Freeport and Grand Bahama, Bahamas?
Port Lucaya Marketplace
Port Lucaya Marketplace is a lively and colorful seaside resort with over 40 local businesses including boutiques, restaurants and bars. You can also take the opportunity to visit the interesting Bahamas Maritime Museum which tells the story of the country’s rich maritime heritage.
Lucayan National Park
Those who love national parks should visit Lucayan National Park which has one of the largest underwater cave systems in the world. The park was established in 1982 and is 40 acres in size.
Gold Rock Beach
With endless white sand and crystal clear water like no other, this beautiful secluded beach is located in Lucayan National Park, 40 km from Freeport. It is known as “The Welcome Mat of Freeport”.
Beer lovers will love a visit to the Bahamian Brewery, a brewery of local Bahamian beers. You can learn about the 25-step process from malt to beer, check out the lab’s quality control and enjoy a free beer tasting!
Unique experiences not to be missed
Fish Fry Night
A must-see experience in Freeport is the Fish Fry party. Smith’s Point comes alive every Wednesday night to bring us the most iconic event that takes place on Grand Bahama Island. Starting at 6:00 pm, you can dine, socialize and participate in a dance party.
The menu includes conch salad, fried fish and other authentic Bahamian dishes. Be sure to try the traditional Gully Wash cocktail or the local beer, Sands.
People-to-People is a wonderful program from the Ministry of Tourism that matches visitors with a Bahamian resident for a unique island experience!
During my stay in Freeport, it was a charming Bahamian woman who warmly welcomed us in her house to serve us a succulent (and very generous!) traditional breakfast. The activity allows you to learn more about the Bahamian way of life, culture, cuisine and history.
Coral Vita Farm
Another interesting visit is Coral Vita, a coral farm located in Grand Bahama whose mission is to provide corals for restoration projects. It is a pleasant visit for the whole family that gives the opportunity to learn more about the important role of corals in the environment.
Throughout Grand Bahama, there are a variety of outdoor activities available, including many water sports: snorkeling, scuba diving, sport fishing, kayaking, parasailing, boating and more. Other activities include horseback riding, golf, tennis and cricket, or you can book a Jeep Safari Tour.
Kayaking to meet the blue holes
I loved the Blue Green Outdoors Snorkel / Kayak Tour which offers a half-day kayak trip to the impressive “blue holes”. We had the chance to swim and snorkel, discovering beautiful tropical fish and starfish. A delicious traditional meal on the beach closed the event.
Swim with the rays
One of my favorites was the West End Ecology Tours. If you like the road less traveled, this visit to Sandy Cay on the West End is perfect for you! Thanks to the expertise of an extremely engaging guide, you will have the chance to swim with the rays and even feed them from a deserted island paradise.
Swimming with the pigs
This half-day tour allows visitors to swim with wild pigs at Crystal Beach. I must admit that I was seduced by this experience that makes many visitors curious! From this beautiful beach, you can also enjoy relaxing on the beach, participating in water activities and snorkeling. There is also a bar and grill on site.
Rand Memorial Nature Center
The Rand Nature Center features 100 acres of natural beauty in the heart of Freeport. A 2,000-foot trail winds through pine barrens, native and exotic coppice and leads to an observable freshwater pond and native plant arboretum. A birdwatcher’s paradise, the center is home to a variety of bird species that can be seen year-round. The peak birding season is from October to May, when winter residents and migratory birds arrive.
Resorts and all-inclusive hotels in Freeport and Grand Bahama
Grand Bahama Island offers a few hotels, including two all-inclusives. Those looking for a more traditional all-inclusive with entertainment will enjoy the Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach, while those looking for relaxation will prefer the Lighthouse Point at Grand Lucayan.
Located on a beautiful white sand beach, Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach is a 3 1/2 star rated all-inclusive with four on-site restaurants offering a variety of international cuisines and family entertainment including trapeze and paintball.
Lighthouse Point at Grand Lucayan is another all-inclusive located within walking distance of the bustling Lucaya Harbor. Its beautiful beach offers breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea, and guests enjoy an unlimited golf program at the Reef Course, one of the top 100 courses in the world.
In the heart of Port Lucaya, Pelican Bay Hotel features colorful Bahamian architecture and is located just 300 meters from a white sand beach.
Old Bahama Bay is a colorful resort nestled at the western end of the island, close to homes sometimes rented by celebrities! The hotel features 73 spacious oceanfront suites, a marina service, a pool and a variety of on-site restaurants.
Some useful information about the destination
Capital of Grand Bahama : West End
Main city : Freeport/Lucaya
Area: 154 km long and 27 km wide
Population: approximately 51,756
Currency: US currency is accepted and is interchangeable with the Bahamian dollar.
Climate: Temperatures vary throughout the year, averaging between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius during the day. The temperature of the sea water varies from 22 degrees in February to 27 degrees in August.
Transportation: Grand Bahama International Airport (FPO) is the main airport for departures from and arrivals to Freeport. Several airlines offer inter-island service. One of the main ones is Bahamasair (242) 352-8346.
With nature centers that resemble rainforests, national parks that attract nearly 30 species of birds and a cavernous underwater world, unique culinary experiences and dreamy beaches, there is no shortage of activities on Grand Bahama Island.
Close to the Florida coast, the Bahamas are easily accessible and ideal for relaxation. If you’re looking for a more Caribbean lifestyle, look no further than the less touristy Family Islands.
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Do the Bahamas require a visa?
Canadians traveling to the Bahamas need a visa only if their stay exceeds 8 months.