As my cruise ship sailed out of the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina—not only had I spent a few days exploring Charleston, ranked as one of the world’s top travel cities—but I discovered one of the shore excursions offered by the Carnival Fantasy was a visit to a Bahamas National Park!
Check out the short video below about my kayak visit to Peterson Cay National Park.
If you’re a cruiser and haven’t scoured the excursion list for the chance to visit a national park somewhere in the world—definitely start looking. It’s a best-kept-secret option as I found out with a kayak trip to Peterson Cay, the smallest of the twenty-seven parks in the 900-island nation.
Beyond Peterson Cay’s Borders
People visit the Bahamas on cruise ships, on their own sailboats and motor yachts, and by airplane, and practically anywhere you go there are national parks to visit. In the past, the major islands were the main destinations. Increasingly, the “Out Islands” or “Family Islands” beyond Freeport (on Grand Bahama) and Nassau (on New Providence) are the draw. More flights reach these idyllic, laid back vacation spots with restaurants full of fresh seafood—and national parks, too.
Not all the parks are like Peterson Cay, a reef-circled islet where the activities featured include snorkeling and bird watching. The justifiably proud Bahamas National Trust says, “one of the world's longest underwater cave systems and a critically important sea turtle research facility and one of the most successful marine fishery reserves in the Wider Caribbean.”
Even a list of a few Bahamas Parks reveals a remarkable diversity and appeal—
This 184,000-acre park Bahamas national park—which comprises a large part of Great Inagua Island, a far southern Bahamas island—protects 50,000 West Indian flamingos, the world's largest breeding colony.
The huge island of Andros “has the highest concentration of Blue Holes in the world,” says the Trust. “Exposed to the elements over thousands of years, the island’s limestone bedrock eroded creating this vast expanse of underwater cave systems.” It’s thought the Bahamas cave systems were once above ground. which explains the fossils and other evidence of life found in the pristine water features long popular with visitors. The park contains many “unique cave fish and invertebrates, some not found anywhere else in the world. “
Anyone flying to Staniel Cay or another quiet resort in the area of this park won’t be able to miss it—the pristine islands seem to string out endlessly below the plane amidst an unbelievable variety of ocean hues from powder blue to turquoise. The park is more than 100-square miles and includes 200 islands. The Bahamian government says this “the world's first land and sea park established under a single authority.”
The park’s history includes an interesting influence from the nearby United States. “In 1953, Superintendent of the Everglades National Park in Florida, USA, Daniel B. Beard, began urging explorers, naturalists and researchers of the importance of setting aside a section of the Exuma Cays as a buffer area, eventually to become a Land and Sea Park.” That suggestion got the ball rolling.
Primeval Forest National Park—Another Choice Near Nassau
In the southwest part of New Providence Island, as far as you can get from the bustle of Nassau, is Primeval Forest National Park. This tiny park, just 3 acres, nevertheless protects what you could think was unimaginable—a “remarkably undisturbed, old-growth forest.” This area is “representative of the early evergreen tropical hardwood forests of the Bahamas.” There’s a great diversity of plant life, and this small park also contains limestone “caverns” reminiscent of much larger features in other Bahamas parks.