Today some travelers are motivated by bucket lists and "30 countries before 30" challenges, and while there's nothing necessarily wrong with that, in 2023 I wanted to start the year off by returning to one of my most visited countries - The Bahamas.
The Bahamas has special meaning to me. It’s the place where my husband and I traveled as newlyweds, where my sister and I spent a weekend girls' trip, and it was one of the first places I took my kids when we started traveling as a family. The Bahamas has always been a place I return to, partly because it’s so close to my home in South Florida and because the beautiful beaches are an ideal setting for a peaceful break.
A New Year in a Familiar Destination
Last year was full of highs and lows, and I wanted to spend my first days of the new year in a good place. I set out to usher in the new year in The Bahamas by spending a week in Nassau with my two preteen-aged kids, exploring more than we had on our previous trips.
On December 29th, after a quick hour-long flight, we touched down in Nassau, and the pink Victorian homes and bright turquoise waters were a welcome sight. We checked into the newly opened Margaritaville Beach Resort, which offered easy access to all of Nassau’s attractions. On our first night, I sat out on the balcony watching the sun disappear on the horizon, and I knew I had made the right choice.
A Week Well Spent
We had always spent just a few days in The Bahamas, in Nassau and Grand Bahama, but on this week-long trip, we were able to take in a lot more. On one of our first nights, we made our way to Fish Fry, a nearby strip of local restaurants and food vendors, and ate freshly fried conch fritters and red snapper on the rooftop patio of Twin Brothers. On previous visits, we had only walked past Graycliff Manor, the historic 18th-century mansion in downtown Nassau. But on this trip, we ate an elegant seafood lunch and toured the iconic wine cellar, which is home to over 250,000 bottles of wine.
Though we loved spending our time in downtown Nassau, some of our best meals were outside of Nassau’s tourist areas. We followed the advice of locals and lunched at Traveler’s Rest, where we devoured battered crawfish bites while enjoying the tropical breezes coming off the water. Another gem was Studio Cafe, a former recording studio for stars like Bob Marley and James Brown that serves traditional Bahamian dishes like crispy cracked conch paired with sweet mango chutney.
We also spent a blissful day at Atlantis Paradise Island, and my kids made a beeline to the high-speed water slides at Aquaventure. Afterward, we lazed in the beachside hammocks and made plans to come back and explore the onsite marine habitat filled with sharks and stingrays. Atlantis was followed up by visiting some of the more uncrowded beaches around Nassau. And while there aren’t any private beaches in The Bahamas, the beaches outside of the hotel zone felt more secluded. Our favorites were Jaw’s Beach, Goodman’s Bay, and Cabbage Beach, and we often felt like we had the beaches to ourselves.
Beachfront of Atlantis Paradise Island
Celebrating Junkanoo Festival
With Quentin "Barrabas" Woodside at Junkanoo World Museum
The highlight of our trip was attending the all-night Junkanoo parade, where we were exposed to the rich culture in The Bahamas. At the Educulture Junkanoo Museum, director Arlene Nash Ferguson explained how Junkanoo existed in The Bahamas for over 200 years, originating when enslaved Africans dressed in costumes made of leaves, straw, and shells and celebrated with dancing and parades. Today that tradition lives on with two Junkanoo parades on December 27th and January 2nd that feature bands parading through the streets of Nassau with elaborate floats and vibrant, feathered costumes.
Pasting Junkanoo masks
Before the parade, we also visited the Junkanoo World Museum & Arts Center where we had a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into putting the festival costumes together. We spent a morning with the owner, Quentin “Barrabas” Woodside, who explained how each costume and float was pasted with strips of colorful crepe paper by hand. He also showed us how to paste a mask, which gave us an appreciation of how much work went into preparing for Junkanoo.
And at 12:01 a.m. on January 2nd, the Junkanoo parade finally kicked off. The parade was back after a two-year hiatus, and it was hard not to get swept up in the energy from the crowd. Thousands lined Bay Street to see the return of their favorite bands as drums, cowbells, and trumpets rang out the triumphant return to the parade, which lasted until the sun came up. The night was an unforgettable display of Bahamian culture - and the best way to start the new year.
Why Return Travel?
While there’s also a sense of awe in visiting a new country, there’s a certain magic in revisiting the same places. My week in The Bahamas helped me slow down and have a deeper travel experience. I visited several off-the-beaten-path beaches, ate at local restaurants, and learned the history behind the one-of-a-kind Junkanoo parade.
When we return to the same countries, it’s nearly impossible to have the same travel experience because the places we visit also change. Since our last visit, new restaurants and hotels had cropped up around Nassau, and on this return trip, I was reminded that we had changed too. I had come back to The Bahamas with my kids, now preteens, and we sought out different experiences from when they were toddlers - ones that helped them learn more about the local culture.
Return travel also helps us go beyond our initial impressions, allowing us to see more and forge new memories. As we boarded the plane to go back home, my daughter asked me when we would be coming back. The week had made an indelible impression on both me and my kids, and we’re all looking forward to returning to The Bahamas to discover more about one of our favorite destinations.
Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
Featured image by Glowimages/Getty Images