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10 Essential Tips Packing for The Bahamas | What to wear and bring to Eleuthera for your #1 best vacation

LifeStyle, tips, Travel - Bret S. - April 1, 2021

packing for the bahamas

The most important advice I give to anyone who is packing for the Bahamas is to pack half as much as you think you’ll need. You’re going to spend the majority of your time on the beach or in the water. You don’t need much more than a swimsuit and what accompanies it for the majority of your island time, so pack a few items you can mix and match with swimwear.

When it comes to packing for Eleuthera, Harbour Island and Spanish Wells there are a few things to consider.  Here are some  things to know that form the basis of my packing-for-the-Bahamas recommendations.

    1. This is a tropical vacation. It’s likely going to be hot and you will be out in the sun most of the day.
    2. While it’s likely to be warm or hot you have to consider that it could also be windy or rainy depending on the time of year.
    3. The Family Islands are unfortunately home to biting insects including no-see-ums (sand flies) and mosquitoes (wings with teeth).
    4. The islands are very, very casual and you’ll be out of place dressing up too much, but dressing down is never a problem.
    5. ATMs are few and far between, and credit cards are not widely accepted.

Packing for the Bahamas – General packing tips

There are three basic recommendations that every traveler can and should follow when going to Eleuthera: pack light, pack casual, and pack for maximum protection from the sun and bugs.

packing for the bahamas

If you’re going to be mostly living in your bathing suit, and casual attire is all that is needed when eating out, shopping or doing any other non-beachy island activity, then you really don’t need very many changes of clothing. Shorts and t-shirts for guys, a summer dress and coverall for gals, plus a pair of sandals is all you really need to go anywhere on the island. Give yourself a break and pack two or three of everything. That will be all that you need for a week or two. In a pinch, there are laundromats with drop off service available if your vacation rental doesn’t have a washer and dryer.

When it comes to the sun and insects I strongly recommend packing what you are going to need. Suntan lotion with a high SPF, moisturizing skin cream, bug repellant with deet (I personally use Ben’s with 100% deet), and an afterbite cream or gel are all essential. The bites can be bad especially if you have an allergic reaction, which I’ve seen many people have. Avoiding bites is the key and to that end I recommend bringing one change of clothing that can cover you entirely – long pants or sweats, a long sleeve shirt like a rash guard and a pair of socks. Cover up completely in the evenings when sitting outdoors. The only natural thing that is going to protect you is a steady breeze. Sand flies can’t land effectively in even a light breeze and they also go dormant in air conditioning. Also, be sure to pack a hat or some type of head covering plus a good set of polarized sunglasses.

What should women pack?

These recommendations on what ladies should pack come from my wife as well as several other female friends who vacation frequently on Eleuthera. Your essentials are going to be –packing for eleuthera

  1. 2 bathing suits
  2. 2 summer dresses
  3. 1 coverall
  4. 1 set of bug stopping clothes – long pants, long sleeved shirt, long socks
  5. 1 evening bag
  6. 2 pairs of earrings
  7. 1 light jacket
  8. 2 pairs of sandals
  9. 1 pair of water shoes

That’s really all that you need and it will all fit nicely in a small suitcase that will go in the overhead!

What should men pack?

I’ve been traveling to Eleuthera at least two times a year since 1998. Most of my trips are in the two week variety, but I’ve also stayed for months at a time. In the beginning I overpacked like everybody else, but I quickly learned that I could get by with just a few changes of clothing. There isn’t an upscale restaurant or business on Eleuthera, Harbour Island or Spanish Wells that I feel out of place with shorts and a t-shirt.bahamas what to pack

      1. 2 bathing suits
      2. 2 pairs of shorts
      3. 2 t-shirts
      4. 1 casual collared shirt
      5. 1 set of bug stopping clothes – long pants, long sleeved shirt, long socks
      6. 1 light jacket
      7. 2 pairs of sandals
      8. 1 pair of water shoes

My wife and I often take one suitcase that will hold both sets of our clothing and it rarely exceeds 40 pounds. If traveling solo then I pack a small carry-on.

Should I bring anything more formal if I’m attending a church service?

Yes, if you plan on attending a church service then I would recommend slacks, a collared shirt and shoes for men and a long dress with formal low heeled shoes for women. The Bahamians definitely dress well for Sunday church service!

What about packing food or alcohol?

There’s a common misconception that because Eleuthera and the other Family Islands are remote that they don’t have populations that eat food. I know our grocery and liquor stores don’t resemble what most Americans, Canadians and Europeans enjoy back home, but here’s another way to think about it. You may not find exactly what you want, but you’ll always be able to find what you need! Sometimes that means visiting more than one store or asking around to find out where you can buy certain items, but there are very few things that you just won’t be able to find other than specific brands. I personally think one of the interesting things to do is to sample foods and products that you can’t get in your own country. Eleuthera and Harbour Island have a lot of products imported from Europe, which are very good. Give ’em a try!

For those who do want to bring their own food there’s nothing wrong with doing so. Be aware that there is a value added tax (VAT) added onto any products that are imported into the country and that includes food. Each person gets a $100 allowance VAT free, but you may be asked to pay VAT on anything over that although many items are excluded. This article isn’t intended to break down the import tariffs on every food item so I won’t attempt to do so. I do want to mention that you CANNOT bring in fresh fruit, vegetables or dairy products. All meats must be frozen or canned and in their original USDA packaging. You aren’t permitted to bring in items that are homemade such as sauce. You can’t pack with ice, dry ice or even those frozen blue ice packs. What most folks do is prepare a soft sided cooler that can be easily opened and checked. Freeze everything thoroughly at least a week before and insulate the cooler with newspaper. Bring receipts for everything so that the customs agent doesn’t have to research each item, which could be time consuming. Be aware that you are only allowed one quart of spirits or wine per person, too, without paying VAT. All beer is subject to customs duty.

Will the seasons and weather affect what I pack?

Yes, mostly definitely the seasons and weather will slightly alter your packing. In the winter months, from December to February, the temperatures can drop into the low 60’s and the winds can be quite chilly and strong. Since most houses don’t have heat you will probably want to bring one or two changes of long clothes, a slightly warmer jacket and a wind breaker. The summer months, especially July, can be very wet with a lot of hard soaking rain. Pack an umbrella if you will be traveling during rainy season. It’s also a good idea to pack a small flashlight since there is not a lot of ambient light in the evenings.

harbour island what to pack

Should I pack my drone?

Absolutely! I’ve brought my drone on several trips and the pictures and videos that you can get from an aerial perspective really enrich the memories of your vacation when you get back home. The water, sky, sand, beaches and natural attractions all look great when shot from the air so I definitely recommend bringing your drone. Be aware that you need to register your drone with the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority or it might be confiscated at the airport and not returned until the end of your trip. Here is a link to the online registration form.

spanish wells what to pack

Can I bring my pet?

Yes, pets are allowed entry to the Bahamas. There is a registration process and a small fee. Additionally, you should check with your country of origin because there may be special requirements to bring the pet back home including obtaining a health certificate along with proof of a rabies vaccine. The dog and cat importation forms can be found at the bottom of this linked page.

What about money?

I mentioned at the beginning of this article that we have very few ATMs. There are only two on Eleuthera, two in Spanish Wells and one in Harbour Island. Many businesses do not accept credit cards at all and the ones that do will add a 4 – 5% uplift. Pack enough cash to avoid having to run all over the island trying to get more.

Now that RBC has announced that they are closing their Governor’s Harbour branch, Eleuthera is left with one ATM in Governor’s Harbour and one in Rock Sound. Those two settlements are nearly 30 miles apart. If one is out of cash or there is an electrical outage, you’ve got a long ride to get some more. Plan accordingly.

What else?

The last thing I want to mention is whether it is wise to pack accessories like snorkel gear, a beach security bag or beach chairs. Renting snorkel gear can be expensive especially if you are in a group. The house you rented may have inferior equipment that doesn’t fit properly. If you plan to do a fair amount of snorkeling then I’d definitely recommend bringing a good fitting mask, snorkel and fins.

While security on the island is hardly ever a concern there have been intermittent reports of petty theft at some of the remote beaches. It makes sense to have a beach security bag and/or a waterproof phone bag that can also be used to store cash and keys if you are going to be in the water.

Finally, while your rental likely comes with plenty of beach gear including blankets, towels, umbrellas and chairs, I recently happened upon a company that makes very small portable chairs that will fit easily in a suitcase. If your house doesn’t have chairs maybe think about picking up a few of these.

Conclusion

Now that you know what to pack it’s important to know what to do so check out this blog about the 15 BEST Things to do on Eleuthera. Just remember the essentials of packing – you aren’t going to need a lot of clothing and prepare for the bugs and sun. Now that you know a little about some of the island’s quirks you are all set for what is sure to be your #1 BEST VACATION!! Happy traveling!

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