The Bahamas, officially the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, is an archipelago of nearly 3000 islands, cays, and islets stretching some 500 miles (800± km) in a gentle arc paralleling the northern coast of Cuba. Despite being located in the Atlantic Ocean, The Bahamas partake of many aspects of Caribbean culture.
Columbus' first landfall in the New World in 1492 was on one of the Bahamian islands—exactly which one is still disputed. He found the islands inhabited by Amerindian Taino people; the Spaniards who followed him depopulated the islands through imported diseases and by carrying off the natives for use as slaves in other Spanish settlements. The islands remained largely uninhabited until the late 17th century when British settlers began arriving and pirates discovered safe havens on secluded islands. The Bahamas were made a British crown colony in 1718 and the pirates were suppressed. After America's independence, some 7,300 British Loyalists and their slaves moved to the Bahamas from New York, Florida and the Carolinas. These Americans established plantations on several islands and became a political force in the capital, Nassau. The small population became mostly African from this point on. In 1973, The Bahamas became fully independent, but retained membership in the Commonwealth of Nations with Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State.
The Bahamian economy has prospered since the 1950s, built upon tourism and offshore finance. Tourism alone accounts for over 60% of the nation's GDP, and its proximity to the United States makes it a popular destination for Americans who are afraid to travel very far from home shores. They speak English there and US dollars are still welcomed. I've stopped in one or another of the islands on several cruises—Princess and Holland America both have 'private' islands there and each does a nice job of providing a safe, sheltered, low-occupancy escape from the rigors of ship life.
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