Bahamian capital has a long and intriguing history that’s reflected in
its colonial buildings and breezy public squares. Though its narrow
streets are often mobbed with visitors, you can see most of the city’s
historical sites on foot. A pleasant way to get oriented, however, is to
take a surrey ride around town. You can usually find several around Rawson
Square, which is the heart of downtown Nassau, or on Woodes Rogers
Walk. (Expect to pay about US$10 a person for a 30-minute ride.)
you decide to tour the local attractions on your own, you can easily see
the major sights in a few hours. At the very least, stroll through Parliament
Square, where a statue of Queen Victoria presides over an assortm ent
of Georgian-style government buildings that went up in the early 1800s. A
few blocks to the west, on Hill Street, is the regal yet undeniably pink Government
House. Among others, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor lived there when
he was governor during World War II. Check to see when the Changing of
the Guard ceremony is—it can be quite fun to watch. (It’s usually
on alternate Saturdays.) Just south of Parliament Square is the octagonal Public
Library, which was originally a prison (it was built in 1798).
the best view on the island, climb the 66-step Queen’s Staircase
to Fort Fincastle and go to the top of the adjacent water tower
(open Monday-Friday 9 am-4:30 pm and Saturday 9 am-3:30 pm).
could duck into the Pompey Museum on Bay Street, former site of the
slave market—it’s now dedicated to the history of slavery. Don’t
miss the paintings of unschooled artist Amos Ferguson on the second floor
(open Monday-Friday 10 am-4:30 pm, Saturday 10 am-1 pm; US$1 adults,
US$0.50 children). As long as you’re back on the waterfront strolling
along the mosaic promenade known as Woodes Rogers Walk, check out
the Junkanoo Expo with its displays of outlandish costumes used in
the festival (open daily 9 am-5:30 pm; US$2 adults, US$0.50 children).
Then you could stop at the Straw Market to buy straw hats, bags and
mats, wood carvings and T-shirts.
a scrubby feedlot called Hog Island, this spot of land off Nassau has been
transformed into the high-rise gambling and leisure haven of Paradise
Island, which is connected to Nassau by a bridge. The center of it all
is the Atlantis Resort, which South African developer Sol Kerzner
has turned into one of the most complete resort-casino complexes in the
world. The huge property includes a 14-acre/6-hectare waterscape with
cascades, a lazy river for tubing and—the highlight—a giant outdoor
saltwater habitat filled with sharks (you walk through a glass tunnel i n
their midst). In addition, there’s a lagoon for snorkeling—all just
off a gorgeous white-sand beach. Both the Atlantis Casino and the
waterscape are public areas, open to nonguests. The tunnel through the
aquarium is free; you pay fees to rent tubes or mats for the attractions
that require them. There is so much to do that you could easily spend the
day there going from one activity to another. The complex includes two
resort hotels as well as numerous restaurants.
you need to get out of the sun and are interested in formal gardens, the
nearby Ocean Club resort (also owned by Kerzner) contains the Versailles
Gardens and French Cloister. The original developer of Paradise
Island, an heiress of the A & P Company fortune, not only re-created a
formal European terrace garden, but also imported a 14th-century
Augustinian cloister stone by stone—and threw in an eccentric assortment
of statuary besides. Admission is free. Cab fare from Rawson Square runs
about US$5 a person each way. Or take the ferry from the dock on Woodes
Rogers Walk for US$2 each way. Or walk across the toll bridge for US$0.25.
Amalie, St. Thomas
ST THOMAS GENERAL INFO
is the premier duty-free shopping island in the Caribbean. There are
hundreds of incredible shops here so leave plenty of time for shopping.
You might want to do your sightseeing early in the morning and spend the
rest of the afternoon shopping. With a jewelry store every 10 feet, if you
can't find the piece of jewelry you want, it probably doesn't exist on the
planet !! HAVE FUN !!!
the crowds on Main and Back Streets is a Charlotte Amalie rich in history.
If you venture along the less-traveled streets and brick alleyways,
you’ll stumble upon lovely old churches and Danish homes. Pastel-pretty
Charlotte Amalie was built by the Danes in the 1600s as a haven for
seafarers and—despite the intrusion of people and commerce—the town
has maintained some of its 17th-century charm. The best way to see the
sights is on a walking tour—pick up a free map from the visitors
information center at Havensight or in Charlotte Amalie.
Christian, painted red with a clock tower on top, is one of the oldest
structures in the Virgin Islands, dating from 1672. Only part of it is
open, but there is a s mall museum in what used to be a dungeon. Open
weekdays 8:30 am-4:30 pm, but the fort is being restored, so call ahead in
port: 340-776-4566. Near the fort is the pastel green Legislative Building,
where visitors can observe the Senate when it’s in session.
Arches Museum on Government Hill is an impeccably restored
18th-century Danish residence filled with mahogany furniture from Barbados
and other Caribbean islands. Leave yourself plenty of time for this
museum, as owner and restorer Philbert Fluck is as fascinating as the
museum itself. (The fruit punch he serves isn’t half bad, either.) admission fee US$5. Up the hill from the museum is
Blackbeard’s Castle, once the site of a pirate lookout, later a
fort and, until recently, a hotel. There’s still a stonework look-out
tower that’s in good repair, though off limits to visitors. Even so, the
view from the hill makes the climb well worth it: Take the Street of 99
Steps, a relic from the early 1700s. (Try counting the steps on your
way up or down: I tallied 103...lol .)
town has some distinctive old churches and synagogues, all worth visiting.
Beracha Veshalom Vegmiluth Hasidim, for instance, was built in
1833, making it one of the oldest synagogues in the Western Hemisphere.
(Note its sand-covered floors.) The Dutch Reformed Church, built in
1846, is a striking example of Greek Revival architecture. You can also
stop in the Gothic-looking Frederick Lutheran Church, which was
built in 1826, and the Memorial Moravian Church, built in 1884 of
blue-colored volcanic rock.
the outskirts of Charlotte Amalie is Frenchtown, a fishing village
established by the French Huguenots. A cluster of restaurants make the
town a pleasant place to spend an afternoon or evening (it’s not just
popular with tourists—you’ll see plenty of locals, too).
Juan, Puerto Rico
JUAN GENERAL INFO
San Juan is stunning. Narrow streets lined with colorful Spanish colonial
buildings are punctuated with shady plazas. Giant wooden doors grace the
facades of the oldest buildings (some date back 500 years), most of which
have undergone facelifts recently. Bougainvillea spills off balconies.
Around every corner, you’ll find a new treat: an old Spanish wall, a
tiny chapel, intricate street statuary or a marker noting an historic
event that took place at that spot. There will be organized tours from the
ship but you could easily walk the cobblestone
streets for hours and not be bored. But you’ll likely miss something
you’d regret later. So arm yourself with a map and select a few places
that interest you most; then walk or catch a trolley to as many sights as
you can visit without rushing. You can also join an organized walking
tour arranged on the ship. Allow time to rest in one of the shady parks or
plazas and enjoy a pineapple piragua (snow cone).
of the largest islands in the region, Puerto Rico’s landscape
encompasses mountains, underground caves, coral reefs, white-sand beaches
and a rain forest big enough to supply water to most of the island. But
it’s also heavily developed—San Juan is a big city with a bustling
business district, glitzy resorts and casinos as well as one of the most
stunning colonial zones in Latin America.
mix of urban and natural attractions is just one of the reasons Puerto
Rico is such an appealing destination. Another is the fact that the
island, which is a self-governing commonwealth of the U.S., exists in two
worlds. Most islanders have either lived in the U.S. or have relatives
there. Yet they still hold on to island traditions—you’ll see whole
extended families on outings, and men playing dominoes at well-worn
outdoor tables. U.S.-style fast-food restaurants abound in Puerto Rico,
but so do brightly painted roadside stands selling rice and beans. Even
the language reflects the island’s easy biculturalism: English and
Spanish are both official languages, although Spanish is most commonly
Bacardi Rum Distillery, one of the most popular attractions outside
San Juan, is in Catano across San Juan Bay (could it be the free drinks?).
Said to be the world’s largest, the rum plant distills up to 100,000
gallons a day. Many tours feature the distillery, but you can also visit
on your own by taking the ferry from Pier 2 to Catano (they run every half
hour; US$0.50 per person) and then a cab or publico (US$6) right to
the plant. (Open Monday-Saturday 9:30 am-3:30 pm
MAARTEN ~ DUTCH ANTILLES
MAARTEN GENERAL INFO
you had to pick a single island to represent the variety of travel
experiences available in the entire Caribbean, St. Martin/St. Maarten
would be a good choice. It has two nationalities, French and Dutch, which
provide a good sampling of the different European cultures that have left
their mark on the West Indies. It has coral reefs for diving and
snorkeling, lots of beautiful white sand for beaching and lots and lots of
duty-free shopping. It’s partly exclusive and upscale, with pricey
restaurants and boutiques, partly geared to mass tourism, with all the
cruise ships and large resorts that mass tourism entails.
vacation you won’t find there, though: the sleepy island getaway with
pristine tropical scenery. That kind of vacation is getting harder to find
everywhere in the Caribbean, of course, but it’s long gone from St.
Martin/St. Maarten. In its place, you’ll find an island that’s well
connected to the outside world, with lots of luxury hotels, glitzy casinos
and excellent restaurants.
divided status of St. Martin/St. Maarten is a result of the colonial
tug-of-war between European powers in the Caribbean. The island was
inhabited well before Europeans arrived, however: An archaeological dig in
St. Martin has unearthed tools and pottery from Amerindian settlers that
have been dated to 550 BC. When Columbus landed on the island in 1493, St.
Martin/St. Maarten had been taken over by the fierce and cannibalistic
Caribs, which is why the Spanish never developed the island after claiming
settlers arrived in the early 1600s, and every colonial power active in
the Americas thereafter owned a piece of the island at one point or
another. Legend has it that a Frenchman and a Dutchman finally settled an
argument over territorial rights by pacing off their shares. Of the 37 sq
mi/96 sq km, the French got the bigger slice, but the Dutch got the most
valuable real estate—the Salt Pond and the harbor (the international
airport is also on the Dutch side). The 1648 Treaty of Concordia marked
the formal division. The Dutch part of the island is administered, along
with the rest of the Netherlands Antilles, from Curacao, while the French
part is administered from Guadeloupe.
MARTIN (French side)
less developed than the Dutch part of the island, St. Martin (pop. 35,000)
has seen a great deal of building (and rebuilding, after hurricanes) in
the past several years. The best resorts on the island are found
there. There’s a strong Mediterranean ambience, with open
markets and outdoor cafes. French is the language, though service people
usually know some English.
the main town, was a tiny fishing village not long ago. Now it has a
large number of excellent restaurants (most of which specialize in
classic French cuisine) and duty-free shops and boutiques
that sell the latest Italian and French fashions. The Port
la Royale Marina, at the town’s southern end, is a favorite
gathering place, especially at sunset, when people come to sip cocktails
and listen to live music. The marinaside bistros and cafes are ideal for
both people and boat watching. A nice change from the chi-chi shops and
cafes is the market area in front of the pier. On most days, locals sell
souvenirs and T-shirts but on Wednesdays and Saturdays fishermen and
farmers set up fish and food stands there (don’t forget to bargain).
Mediterranean atmosphere of St. Martin extends to the beach where topless
sunning is fairly common and full nudity is also seen. For those who want
to play it by the book, the only “official” clothing-optional beach is
Baie Orientale, but you’ll likely encounter naturalists in other places
as well. Two other beaches worth seeking out on the French side are Baie
Longue for swimming and Baie de Prunes for snorkeling and bird watching.
snorkeling and diving are possible from the beaches, there isn’t much to
see except sand. For this reason, most is done from boats. An area off the
northeast coast around Pinel Isle and Green Island has been designated an
underwater nature preserve—it’s the preferred area for scuba and
snorkeling excursions. Boats leave from French Cul-de-Sac and from Baie
Orientale. Pinel Isle is also popular for sunning and snorkeling from the
MAARTEN (Dutch side)
Dutch side of the island (pop. 34,000) is much more developed for tourism
than the French side, with big hotels and time-share developments.
Philipsburg (pop. 6,000), the capital of St. Maarten, is a favorite
destination of cruise ships, and it’s wall-to-wall with tourists when
ships are in port. Traffic and pedestrian congestion in the city is a
problem. You might want to change your plans and opt for the beach if you
see several cruise ships anchored offshore.
shopping in Philipsburg is excellent, with duty-free shops that rival
those of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Bahamas. Front Street is the place to
go for electronics, jewelry, trendy and expensive clothing and Dutch
souvenirs. On Back Street, there are ready-to-wear goods in shops and
souvenirs available in an open marketplace. Make sure to bargain
everywhere in Philipsburg.
St. Maarten Museum relates the island’s history and also displays
changing exhibits. There’s more history surrounding the town: Both Fort
Amsterdam, on the western point of Great Bay, and Fort Willem, closer to
Philipsburg, can be visited. The remnants of the forts are less impressive
than the great views you get of the sea and shore from the high vantage
are about three dozen beaches on the Dutch side. Two of the closest to
Philipsburg are Great Bay and Little Bay Beaches, both of which are
popular and crowded. Simpson Bay, west of town, is much quieter, making it
one of the better choices. Other spots of note include Mullet Bay, Cupecoy
Beach and Maho Bay (all northwest of Juliana Airport) and Dawn Beach (on
the east coast), which has great reef snorkeling. Aside from Dawn Beach,
the best locations for snorkeling and scuba are in the underwater nature
preserve on the French side of the island.