General information on the Bahamas

The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is located in the Atlantic Ocean, east of Florida, north of Cuba and the Caribbean and consists of 700 islands.

The archipelago of the Bahamas has a total land area of 5,382 square miles and a population of approx. 310,000 concentrated on the islands of New Providence and Grand Bahama.

The islands have a subtropical climate, moderated by the Gulf Stream. Nassau is the capital and largest city, located on New Providence. The largest island is Andros Island. Freeport is the second largest city located on the island of Grand Bahama. The Caicos Islands and the Turks islands in the southeast, are not part of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.

The subtropical to tropical climate is moderated significantly by the waters of the Gulf Stream, particularly in winter. Summer and autumn is hurricane season.

It’s believed that Christopher Columbus first landed on the island of San Salvador in the southeastern Bahamas and exchanged gifts with the Amerindians, (Taino, also known as Lucayan).

Taino Indians moved into the southern Bahamas about the 7th century AD and became the Lucayans. They were deported to Hispaniola as slaves and Taino societies ceased to exist as a separate population due to forced labour, warfare, disease, emigration and outmarriage within 2 decades.

The Bahamian islands were deserted, after the Lucayans were destroyed, until English settlers arrived from Bermuda in 1650. These people established settlements on the island now called Eleuthera.

In 1718 the Bahamas became a British crown colony. It remained sparsely settled until the United States expelled thousands of American Tories and their slaves. About 8000 British Loyalists moved to the Bahamas in the late 1700s from New York, Florida and the Carolinas.

Internal self-government was granted by the British in 1964. In 1973, Bahamians achieved full independence while remaining a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.The Bahamian economy has prospered on tourism and financial services. But the country still faces challenges in areas such education, healthcare, correctional facilities and violent crime and illegal immigration. Today, the country enjoys the third highest per capita income in the western hemisphere due to an urban renewal project to help impoverished urban areas in social decline in the main islands.

Some say the name ‘Bahamas’ derives from the Spanish for “shallow sea”. Others trace it to the Lucayan word for Grand Bahama Island.

About 85% of the Bahamian population is black. The next largest population group are whites at 12%. Nearly all inhabitants speak English, being the official language. A considerable number also speak Haitian Creole, Spanish and Portuguese.

Christianity is the main religion on the islands, with Baptist forming the largest denomination (about one third), followed by the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches.

A large number of immigrants from Haiti, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Jamaica practice Obeah, a spiritistic religion similar to Voodoo. While well-known throughout the Bahamas, obeah is shunned by many people.