|Bahamas: Tourism Pictures|
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To split a geographical hair, The Bahamas is not part of the Caribbean, as many people think. Rather, it is part of the North American plate and is bordered to the east by the Atlantic Ocean and to the west by the Gulf Stream. No matter - we'll fudge it and say vaguely that the islands are 'in the West Indies,' lumping them in with all the islands between North and South America. Politically, The Bahamas is considered part of the Caribbean - not least by its own government.
The Bahamas archipelago consists of some 700 islands and nearly 2500 small islets or cays sprawled across roughly 100,000 sq miles (259,000 sq km) of ocean. The islands stretch 750 miles (1200km) south from Walker's Cay, about 75 miles (120km) east of Palm Beach, Florida, to the Ragged Islands, which lie 50 miles (85km) northeast of Cuba. In all this vastness, the islands together add up to no more than 5385 sq miles (13,940 sq km) of land, about the size of the US state of Connecticut. Virtually all the islands are surrounded by coral reefs and sandbanks; nearly all are low lying, either pancake flat or gently undulating. Many islands are pockmarked by giant sinkholes called blue holes - water-filled, circular pits that open to underground and submarine caves and descend as much as 600ft (180m).
The islands become more arid and less vegetated as you move south, where hardy drought-resistant scrub and cacti predominate. There are over 1370 species of trees and plants found on the islands, including the Bahamian mahogany and 120 other natives. Pine forests rule the northern and western islands, characterized by a shrubby understory of palmetto, cabbage palm and fern. Many of the leeward (western) shores are fringed by mangroves - the only tree able to survive with its roots in saltwater. Flowers abound every month of the year. Many are associated with trees, such as the Pride of India, a large tree that when in flower becomes a cloud of lavender. Another beauty is the blue mahoe, an endemic form of hibiscus that blazes from yellow to red.
The archipelago has only 13 native land mammal species, all but one being bats, all being endangered. The most common is the leaf-nosed bat. The only native terrestrial mammal is the endangered hutia, a cat-sized brown rodent akin to a guinea pig. Wild boar roam the backcountry on some of the larger islands. Feral cattle, donkeys and horses, released after the demise of the salt industry, outnumber humans on the southern islands. The Bahamas have plenty of slithery and slimy things, including 44 species of reptiles. The islands' symbol could well be the curly-tailed lizard, a critter found throughout most of the islands and easily spotted sunning on rocks, its tail coiled like a spring over its back. Humpback and blue whales are often sighted in the waters east of the islands. Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphins frequent these waters, as do the less often seen spotted dolphins.
Upon visiting the Bahamian archipelago in the 1760s, George Washington referred to it as the 'Isles of Perpetual June.' Indeed, the sun shines an average of 320 days a year. In general, the islands are balmy year round, with cooling, near constant trade winds blowing by day from the east. Daily high temperatures rarely drop below 60°F (16°C) in winter (December to February) or rise above 90°F (32°) in summer (June to August). The northern islands receive much more rain than their southerly neighbors. The rainy season runs from May to November, usually bringing short, heavy showers, though occasionally manifesting in protracted rains over several days. Summertime sometimes brings squalls and hurricanes, though the latter are rare.
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