They say “it’s better in the Bahamas.” And after months cooped up at home, you may want to find out for yourself if the Caribbean destination lives up to the hype. (Spoiler: it does.) Spread over 100,000 square miles, the archipelago of 700 islands has been open since July 1. But entry procedures and COVID-19 protocols continue to change as infection numbers fluctuate, both locally and in the United States, so it’s wise to check the country’s official website for current entry regulations.
That was a crucial first step before my recent visit to Andros, an Out Island that’s a 20-minute flight from Nassau and just over an hour from Fort Lauderdale. At 2,300 square miles, the “Sleeping Giant” is the Bahamas’ largest yet least populated island, with only about 2,000 residents. It’s famous as the bone fishing capital of the Caribbean and for having the world’s third-largest barrier reef. But, for the COVID-conscious traveler, Andros’ miles of largely deserted, palm-fringed beaches and small hotels — like Caerula Mar Club, an 18-room, 4-villa resort delivering space and seclusion, along with sun, sea, and sand — make it even more appealing. Here are six useful tips for planning a Bahamian getaway in the midst of coronavirus.
Pick an island
The varying size, number, and geographical spread of the Bahamian islands (16 of which are currently open to visitors) means that you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. Tiny and tranquil Out Islands, such as Andros, Harbour Island, Eleuthera, and the Abacos, suit visitors who want to fish, dive, sail, or just bask on the beach. Nassau (on New Providence) and neighboring Paradise Island is where the action is, and if you want to stay at a large resort with all the bells and whistles, you’ll find them here. Atlantis reopened in December, followed later by Baha Mar’s Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, Rosewood Baha Mar, and SLS Baha Mar soon after. As you decide, bear in mind that because of the diversity of the islands and the distance between them, COVID conditions and protocols may vary from place to place.
Make a pre-flight plan
All visitors (except children under 10) must show proof of negative results from a PCR test performed no more than five days before arrival. So schedule your test accordingly at a facility where you can be reasonably confident you’ll receive results in time. Once in hand, you’ll upload your test results when you apply for the required travel health visa online. The application fee ($40 per person for stays of four nights or fewer, $60 for longer) covers health insurance for the duration of your stay, and travelers must opt-in, even if they have existing coverage. Most visa applications are processed within 48 hours — mine took just two.
Stock up on supplies
In addition to hand sanitizer and wipes, bring plenty of face masks as they’re required at the airport, in all public spaces, on public transportation, and when entering and leaving restaurants and the beach. There’s a penalty of $250 or one month’s imprisonment for non-compliance. You’ll also be expected to maintain social distance when out and about.
For the first five days of the stay, visitors must complete a health survey, emailed each morning. It only takes two minutes, so it won’t eat up all your data, but to receive it you’ll need an international calling plan or WI-FI access.
Get ready to roam
As tempting as the beach may be, you do yourself and the Bahamas a disservice by not seeing anything beyond the turquoise waters. While operating hours and potential curfews vary island to island (get a solid rundown here), for the most part, visitors are free to explore their surroundings. On South Andros, I punctuated my beach time with a two-hour forest walk led by expert guide Barbara Jane Moore, which culminated in a swim at one of the limestone island’s many blue holes. It was a socially distanced and fun excursion equaled only by the next day’s outing to see the sunrise over the deserted mile-long sweep at Kemps Bay Beach — also arranged by Caerula Mar Club.
Be prepared to get tested twice
Planning to stay five nights or longer? Then you’ll also need to get a rapid antigen test on day five. The test is complimentary, and there’s a list of approved testing sites online. Several testing sites are public, but your hotel may offer testing, too. At Caerula Mar, the general manager has been trained to administer the test herself. In Nassau, Baha Mar has just announced that it will offer guests at its three resorts a complimentary rapid test at check-in, as well as optional PCR ($125) and antigen tests ($25) on request.
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