NEW PROVIDENCE and PARADISE ISLAND are the undeniable heart of the Bahamian
archipelago. Despite its tiny size - 21 miles long and 7 miles wide - New
Providence has more than two-thirds of the country's population and is home to
the capital Nassau , a thriving city of around 100,000 residents. Initially
gaining renown for its sheltered harbour and strategic location on the shipping
route from the New World to Spain, the island has during its nearly 230-year
history been a refuge for pirates and privateers, site of illicit smuggling,
haven for fishermen, and formidable centre of tourism, with nearly two million
visitors now arriving annually.
Stretching east to west, New Providence offers a wealth of lovely, uncrowded beaches , while on its northeastern shore Nassau runs six blocks deep and features the shopping arcade Bay Street , located along Prince George Wharf . A lengthy toll bridge east of downtown Nassau connects to Paradise Island , a glitzy tourist enclave that includes the mega-resort Atlantis , as well as many other hotels, shops, restaurants and spas. The island's main highlight is Cabbage Beach , covering most of the north coast and featuring deep blue water and trade winds that cool even the hottest of afternoons.
Beyond the western point is exclusive Lyford Cay , where celebrities like Sean Connery live in hermetically sealed luxury. New Providence's south shore has few notable beaches, and even fewer hotels, though diving and snorkelling draw many enthusiasts to the shore's outer reef and reef walls.
Although the central interior of New Providence is marshy scrub, several local eco-tourism operators offer kayaking on Lake Killarney and combination biking-kayaking tours as well.
Nassau International Airport (tel 242/377-7281), the hub of Bahamian air transport, is located on the west-central part of New Providence, a fifteen-minute taxi ride from downtown Nassau and only ten minutes from Cable Beach. While there are no buses from the airport, there are plenty of taxis , with the average fare to Nassau around US$18 for two people, and many hotels provide limousines for arriving guests. Both taxis and limos congregate just outside the arrival area, adjacent to customs and immigration. In addition, the Ministry of Tourism operates a small information booth at the airport.
Getting around New Providence and Paradise island is rather easy, considering that both islands are fairly compact and centralized, and few destinations are ever more than fifteen or twenty minutes apart. Taxis are ubiquitous, with almost all hotels and resorts having taxi stands, and are typically owned by independent operators, most of whom are experienced and friendly (dispatchers reached at 242/322-5111 and 323-4555). If you're travelling early in the morning, make a taxi reservation the night before.