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It's parasailing over the bluest waters and whitest sand beaches you've ever seen. Realizing your dream of swimming with the dolphins. Or stretched out on a lounge chair on a quiet beach. A book in one hand, a frozen cocktail in the other. And your reading is bookmarked with naps and ocean dips on private shores.
The Bahamas is graced with extensive beaches bleached white by the year-round sun and surrounded by sparkling turquoise waters filled with varied and colourful sea life, the islands of Bahamas are a major destination for divers, sailors and sun-worshippers alike. Although often thought to be part of the Caribbean, the Bahamas is actually an archipelago of 700 islands with thousands of small 'cays' strung out in the ocean starting 55 miles (89km) from Miami in the Atlantic Ocean.
The islands' first inhabitants were the Lucayan Indians who lived there from the 9th century until after Columbus discovered the islands in 1492, his first step into the New World. The resulting exploitation led to the native population being virtually wiped out. For two hundred years until independence in 1987 the Bahamas was a British Crown Colony and a strong British influence can still be seen in the architecture and culture.
The population of the Bahamas now consists mostly of Bahamians of African descent, who are mainly descended from freed slaves. The strong African cultural influence is evident in everyday life, and in events like Junkanoo, a traditional street festival held every year on Boxing Day. There is also a strong American cultural influence, particularly in the capital, Nassau.
Due to its proximity to the US, the Bahamas has become an offshore banking and financial centre. Tourism however remains its most important industry. The long stretches of empty beaches, clear waters and excellent facilities have made the Bahamas a popular destination throughout the year and the varied attractions of each of the islands ensure that there is something for everyone.
Taino people moved into the uninhabited southern Bahamas from Hispaniola and Cuba around the 11th century AD. These people came to be known as the Lucayans. There were an estimated 30,000+ Lucayans at the time of Columbus's arrival in 1492. Christopher Columbus's first landfall in the New World was on an island named San Salvador (known to the Lucayans as Guanahani), which some researchers believe to be present-day San Salvador Island, (also known as Watling's Island) in the southeastern Bahamas.
An alternative theory holds that Columbus landed to the southeast on Samana Cay, according to calculations made in 1986 by National Geographic writer and editor Joseph Judge based on Columbus's log. Evidence in support of this remains inconclusive. On the landfall island, Columbus made first contact with the Lucayans and exchanged goods with them.
The Lucayans throughout The Bahamas were wiped out as a result of Spanish forced migration of the population to Hispaniola for use as forced labour there, and exposure to diseases to which they had no immunity.The smallpox that ravaged the Taino Indians after Columbus's arrival wiped out half of the population in what is now The Bahamas.
It is generally assumed that the islands were uninhabited by Europeans until the mid-17th century. However, recent research suggests that there may have been attempts to settle the islands by groups from Spain, France, and Britain, as well as by other Amerindians. In 1648, the Eleutherian Adventurers migrated from Bermuda. These English Puritans established the first permanent European settlement on an island which they named Eleuthera—the name derives from the Greek word for freedom. They later settled New Providence, naming it Sayle's Island after one of their leaders. To survive, the settlers resorted to salvaged goods from wrecks.
In 1670 King Charles II granted the islands to the Lords Proprietors of the Carolinas, who rented the islands from the king with rights of trading, tax, appointing governors, and administering the country.In 1684 Spain's corsair Juan de Alcon raided the capital Charles Town, and in 1703 a joint Franco-Spanish expedition briefly occupied the Bahamian capital during the War of the Spanish Succession.