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nassau bahamas jamaican food jerk chickenNod your head if you think there’s nothing more to Nassau than its proximity to the Atlantis Resort and Casino and a plethora of straw markets and high-end shops. I’d be willing to bet just about everyone reading this is nodding their head right now. I know that until recently, that’s what I thought. And because of that, Nassau was fairly low on my list of must-visit destinations.

But on a recent cruise visit to this port city, I learned there’s so much more than meets the eye.

I learned, for instance, that within just a few years of Christopher Columbus “discovering” the Bahamas, all the indigenous people had been wiped out and that technically everyone who today hails from there comes from immigrant ancestors.

I also learned that the Bahamas are a unique blend of British and American culture and influences. Though “founded” by the British in the early 1700’s and still a part of the Commonwealth, the Bahamian islands also played a role in the American Revolution and the Civil War, and were a hotbed of rum-running activity during Prohibition. In fact, some of Nassau’s architecture is classic American colonial, a vestige of its days as a home-in-exile for American loyalists after their side lost the Revolutionary War.

Nassau Hotels

And for seafood lovers, I learned that conch (pronounced conk) isn’t just used for fritters and chowder. Because the conch shell is incredibly hard and durable, it’s often ground into dust and added to construction materials. A good many of the buildings in downtown Nassau are partly made of conch shell.

All of these facts and more were imparted to me by Alanna Rodgers, a young Bahamian entrepreneur whose Tru Bahamian Food Tours launched just two months ago. At least once a day Rodgers leads tourists on the three-hour Bites of Nassau Food Tasting and Cultural Walking Tour, giving participants the chance to try a variety of local foods and learn a great deal about the Bahamas from culture to history, architecture to government, and religion to pirates.

12 International Foods to Try Before You Die

The tour was the high point of my seven-day Bahamas cruise and offered a truly fascinating look at a country and port that is too often dismissed for its three S’s (sun, sand and shopping).

Among the culinary highlights of the tour were:

Baked macaroni and cheese at Bahamian Cookin’, the first stop on our tasting tour. While everyone else got conch fritters (I don’t eat shellfish), I had a yummy macaroni and cheese dish at this small restaurant, which is owned and operated by three generations of Nassau women.

Jamaican jerk chicken that didn’t burn going down. Turns out there are some 10,000 Jamaicans in the Bahamas, making up a significant subset of the population. At the hole-in-the-wall Pepper Pot Grill, the menu is pretty much whatever the chef decides to cook, but there are usually a couple of choices, and the jerk chicken was delicious without being overly spicy.

An invitation to the Governor General’s house for tea. Okay, so the Governor General didn’t actually invite me personally, but as part of the country’s People to People project all tourists are invited to a special one-hour tea party (4 – 5 p.m.) on the last Friday of every month (except December). During the event visitors can chat with the Governor General’s wife, sample local bush teas, watch a Bahamian fashion show and enjoy live music.

Chocolate. There’s nothing particularly Bahamian about the Graycliff Chocolatier, though the Italian family that owns it has lived in the Bahamas for many years. But for this chocoholic, stopping by for a freshly made caramel salted dark chocolate was divine. Many local ingredients are used in the chocolates, like coconut and pineapple, and the company is hoping to develop a local cocoa plantation.

Greek salad. The Greek salad itself was less of a highlight than learning that Greeks make up a significant part of the Bahamian merchant class, that they own most of the jewelry stores on Bay Street (downtown’s main street), and that the son’s owner is married to a former Miss Bahamas. Oh, and many Bahamian politicians stop by there for lunch – the Secretary of Foreign Affairs was there when we were.

How to Save Money on Food When You Travel

— written by Dori Saltzman

freeport bahamasEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Vision Airlines is currently offering base fares to the Bahamas for the price of a song on iTunes. Flights from Fort Lauderdale to Grand Bahama Island are on sale for just $1 each way before taxes. Additionally, fares from other U.S. cities to the tropical destination are selling for as little as $29 each way before taxes. Travel is valid between November 3 and December 19.

Vision is a new airline that just started offering commercial flights to select U.S. cities and to the Bahamas this year. The carrier begins nonstop service from Fort Lauderdale, Louisville, Richmond, Raleigh and Baltimore to Grand Bahama Island in November.

The Catch: Taxes aren’t included in that $1 fare, so your final ticket won’t amount to a buck — nevertheless, we still think this is a great offer. We went through the booking process, and the lowest total fare we found was $122.58 roundtrip, with all taxes and fees (a $4.99-each-way booking fee is also included) for a November flight from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport.

Keep an eye on baggage fees, too. A $15 charge applies per checked bag on each leg of your flight. And if you don’t pay for your bag ahead of time, you’ll shell out $25 per piece of checked luggage at the airport.

The Competition: Right now, travelers can find discounted fall fares from select U.S. cities to the Bahamas from AirTran Airways. AirTran doesn’t fly to Freeport, but you can get to Nassau for as little as $129 each way plus taxes and fees.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Airfare Deals.

— written by Caroline Costello

compass point beach resort nassau elevated seafront hutHere’s the answer to last week’s “How Much Is This Hotel?” quiz. Play along with future hotel quizzes by subscribing to our blog.

We have a winner! The correct answer to last week’s How Much Is This Hotel? contest is $341. Reader jjb701, who guessed the rate right on the nose, has won an IndependentTraveler.com T-shirt.

The room pictured was an elevated seafront hut at the Compass Point Beach Resort in the Bahamas. The resort is located adjacent to Love Beach and offers 18 colorful huts just outside of bustling downtown Nassau. All of the huts are equipped with flat-screen TV’s, microwaves, refrigerators, and DVD and CD players — but the best amenities of all are the white sand beach and crystal-clear waters right outside your front door. Read more about the Compass Point Beach Resort in Nassau Essentials.

Check back this Friday for another shot at winning a prize.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Bahamas ocean Every Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: The Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board is running its ever-popular free companion airfare offer, which expires in a mere week. Here’s how it works: Book a package of four nights or longer with a participating travel provider (Liberty Travel, American Express Vacations and Sandals are a few examples) and stay at a participating hotel, and you’ll receive a free companion flight to the Bahamas. Travel is valid through June 30.

The Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board has fashioned an impressive list of participating properties. Your options include some of the most sought-after hotels and resorts in the Bahamas, including Atlantis, Paradise Island; the Reef Atlantis; and Paradise Island Harbour Resort. Choose from a total of 17 hotels and resorts.

The Catch: Your flights must depart from the continental U.S. In addition, only one free companion ticket may be booked per hotel room, which means families will have to pay for more than one room if they’re looking to save on multiple tickets.

The Competition: Through Sunday, February 6, CheapCaribbean.com is offering up to $300 off select air-inclusive packages to the Bahamas. Prices are competitive, with per-person rates starting at $279 for four-night packages with roundtrip airfare.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Vacation Package Deals.

— written by Caroline Costello