photo of Grand Bahama Island

A tropical beach on Grand Bahama Island. (ThinkStock)

What to do in Grand Bahama Island

Grand Bahama Island, 60 miles off the coast of Florida, is the second most popular tourist destination in the Bahamas, with the Nassau/Paradise Island area receiving the most visitors. Many of the island's casinos and hotels are clustered in Freeport and on Lucaya's waterfront. Unlike the Nassau/Paradise Island area, Grand Bahama Island has undeveloped stretches, including the Lucayan National Park. Families looking for laid back vacations geared toward scuba or snorkeling should also consider the Out Islands of the Bahamas, also known as the "Family Islands." Top destinations include Exuma and Andros.

Along with soft sands, both Lucaya Beach and Xanadu Beach draw crowds with their jet-skiing, para-sailing, and other water sport activities. For a more secluded spot, head to Gold Rock Beach in Lucayan National Park, about 25 miles east of Freeport. One of the island's most beautiful beaches, Gold Rock's wide stretch of dune-bordered coral sands attracts locals on weekends, but few visitors on weekdays. On a Grand Bahama Nature Tours' (www.grandbahamanaturetours.com) outing, kayak through mangrove canopied creeks, picnic on the beach, and swim in the turquoise water. Afterwards, walk a nature trail and explore a cave in search of stalactites and stalagmites.

Another top Grand Bahama attraction involves interacting with dolphins at UNEXSO. Participants of all ages are invited to sit on the dock, dangling their toes in the water, while learning about and getting the chance to touch bottlenose dolphins. To swim with them, participants must be at least 55 inches tall. UNEXSO also offers the unusual option of frolicking with the dolphins in open water.

Andros Island and the Exumas pull divers and snorkelers with their bountiful reefs. Off the Andros shore, the third largest barrier reef in the world sparkles with more than 90 miles of coral formations abundant with fish. Central Park lures snorkelers and divers with its large stands of elkhorn coral growing in 15 feet of water. Divers explore blue holes further out, where the water plunges to a depth of 100 feet. Small Hope Bay Lodge, a family-friendly property, arranges snorkeling trips as well as dive expeditions.

Wrecks and reefs rich with marine life abound in the waters of the Exumas, a chain of 365 mostly uninhabited cays that stretch for 120 miles. The Exuma National Land and Sea Park gains fame for its sunken ships and blue holes swirling with fish. The shallow waters off Great Exuma and Little Exuma attract snorkelers with their sea fans and abundant coral. Dive Exuma, one of several outfitters, is located in George Town, Exuma, and the family-friendly Four Seasons Resort Great Exuma at Emerald Bay also arranges snorkel and dive outings.

Tip: Rake n' scrape, a musical genre Bahamians claim to have created, has as its base the goat skin drum and the African rhythms. Over the years, islanders added utilitarian instruments, creating beats by striking a stick against a washboard, scraping a saw with a knife, and eventually added a guitar. This music can still be heard on the laid-back, sparsely populated Out Islands. Ask your hotel for locations and times of local band performances.

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