Paradise Island is an awesome place. It’s also an expensive place. Somebody I met on the beach joked about charging us to pick up seashells. Atlantis wouldn’t do that, but almost anything else is free game. And the Atlantis resort owns the majority of the island.
However, there are some great activities you can do for free whether you’re just stopping over for the day or want to experience the island without paying the exorbitant prices. Here are the top six free things to do:
1. Go Beaching
It may sound cliché, but take advantage of all the white sand and turquoise water. Thanks to the low industrialization of the Bahamas, it features some of the clearest water in the world.
Cabbage Beach is the one beach on Paradise Island that’s public and free to use. It’s not all roses and soft sand, though. Before packing up your beach toys and blankets, you should know that if you want to lounge in a chair, you have to pay to rent one. Also, no public restrooms. On the plus side? Plenty of eateries to go with beach fun.
2. Look for Shells
I’m really racking up the clichés today, but if you love seashells, they are everywhere here. I picked them up as I went running or swimming and didn’t have hands enough for all the opalescent beauty I was trying to take home (I probably looked like such a tourist with my stash of shells).
I never saw a conch shell, but the mollusks live in the archipelago, so it’s reasonable to find one. As long as it’s not on a reef, you can grab it. You can also buy one at one of the tourist shops, but I wouldn’t — overpriced.
3. Try Snorkeling
I talked about snorkeling in one of my blog posts, but the basics bear repeating. The Bahamas is located on living rock or coral, which means there’s coral everywhere. You can distinguish it as the darker blue in the light blue water. You don’t need to charter a boat to get to a good snorkeling location (though you certainly can); you don’t need to swim miles out. You literally only need to travel about 10 feet away from the beach (or more or less depending on your location), to reach the coral. The coral doesn’t seem overly impressive from above the water; I certainly didn’t know the wonder that surrounded me until I donned mask and realized that schools of blue tangs were darting through the rock.
If you can, bring your own snorkeling gear. All you need is a mask and a snorkel. Fins are unnecessary. You can pick up gear there, but it ain’t cheap.
4. Head to The Dig and Open-Air Aquarium
Atlantis offers very little in the way of free entertainment, but The Dig is one of those things. In fact, it almost makes up for all the other overcharging (almost). It’s a giant aquarium based around the mythical Lost City of Atlantis theme. The kids love it. The adults love. It’s pretty much a good time for everybody. All you have to do is get through the gift shop without caving to the pressure of picking up a souvenir.
While you access The Dig from inside the Atlantis Casino, you can get to the rest of the open-air aquarium — the largest in the world — from the outside. Here they rehabilitate manta rays and sea turtles before releasing them into the wild. You can also see sharks and a massive variety of fish.
5. Visit the Marina Village
Let’s be honest here, the Marina Village is all about high-end shops. I’m talking about diamonds and emeralds and expensive jewelry. Which actually makes sense, because huge yachts that cost more money than I’m likely ever to see dock there and the patrons probably have teddy bears stuffed with 100 dollar bills. On the other hand, I personally attest that there are some little shops with locally made goods. Like soap. It’s still probably over-priced, but it’s not a diamond. So where does the free come in?
It’s the stroll, naturally. The Marina Village is brightly colored and beautiful. The moment when the sun goes down and twilight envelopes the world…that’s real beauty. Just water and trees and a seaside village all wrapped in the same shade of silver. Plus, locals play music in the main square and people actually get up and dance. That’s free, too.
6. See the Cloisters
While Atlantis owns most of the island, it doesn’t own it all. The One&Only Ocean Club has exclusive rights to the Cloisters. The Cloisters isn’t just another folly built a handful of years ago to mimic something great. It was actually a 12th-century relic from France originally built by Augustinian monks and transferred to Paradise Island in the 1920s.
It’s located just off Paradise Island Drive in the (aptly named) Versailles Gardens. You can get to the Cloisters on the public sidewalk and walk the extent of the gardens, which run north to south through nearly the entire island.