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The Bahamas. Seven hundred islands. Twenty-five hundred cays. Four days of vacation. What do you do? From Nassau to the Out Islands, here is our cheat sheet for the Bahamian best, in exploring, imbibing and just plain loafing.

Kayaking and kiteboarding, Exumas
Hundreds of cays swoosh over a 120-mile span of crystal blue water in the Exumas, a shimmering natural playground anchored by lonely coves and critter-filled reefs. Glide past palmettos and plovers near George Town or paddle to iguana-owned shores in Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. Adrenaline junkies may prefer swooping the gusty banks by kiteboard.

Visit Starfishexuma.com and Outislandexplorers.com for kayaking info, and Exumakitesurfing.com for catching air.

A goombay smash at Miss Emily’s, Abacos
Miss Emily’s Blue Bee (Victoria Street; 242-365-4181) shines like a bright blue gumdrop near the centre of New Plymouth, a gingerbread town clinging tight to windswept Green Turtle Cay on Abacos. For decades, yachties and day-trippers have drifted into the Blue Bee for jug-poured goombay smashes – the drink was created here – and the easygoing charm of Violet Smith, Miss Emily’s daughter. Tack your business card to the wall.

Diving with friends, Andros
Divers swap stories and lies at Small Hope Bay Lodge, Andros, where the only thing better than peering over the Tongue of the Ocean is talking up the adventure with friends. And everyone is a friend at this affable, family-owned retreat near Fresh Creek. With its home-cooked buffets, eco-friendly accommodations and laugh-filled happy hours, Small Hope serves up everything but the camp songs.

Junkanoo, Nassau
Christmas does not leave Nassau on lullabies and sugarplums. It parades out of town in a jostling blast of whistles, horns, drums and cowbells that whirls down Bay Street in the wee hours of Boxing Day. In this brightly costumed celebration, which traces its roots to West Africa and plantation-era religious rites, neighbourhood teams compete for prizes.

If you miss the parade on Boxing Day, there is a second one on New Year’s Day and a warm-up in the summer.

Stylish loafing, Harbour Island, Eleuthera
Roving roosters and sputtering golf carts are part of the charm in Dunmore Town, a chichi Harbour Island village where Wall Streeters, supermodels and kitesurfers come for the shimmering pink sand beach. Beyond loafing, requirements are few: lunch at Sip Sip, cocktails at Rock House and mingling at Vic Hum, where the basketball court doubles as a dance floor.

Aquaventure and aquariums, Paradise Island
Got the grownup blues? Hurtle back to your childhood with a 60ft plunge, a bobbing river ride and a shark-encircled waterslide at the 141-acre Aquaventure at Atlantis, on New Providence. More than 20,000 exotic fish and sea creatures – from orange Nemos to stately manta rays – float past in the resort’s vast-but-walkable network of tanks and lagoons.

Apres-snorkel at Nippers, Abacos
Mother Nature smiled when she created Great Guana Cay, a breezy isle floating just a few kicks away from the fish-and-coral treasures of the Great Abaco Barrier Reef. Nippers Beach Bar and Grill adds a wink to that smile with cold Kaliks, beach-shack conviviality and free use of its snorkel gear. The Sunday afternoon pig roast is a legend.

Pirate wanderings, Nassau
Governor Woodes Rogers may have expelled Nassau’s pirates in 1718, but that does not mean they actually left. Engaging displays about parrots, peg legs and Blackbeard keep swabby legends alive at the Pirates of Nassau Museum while the 260-year-old Graycliff Hotel charms guests with swashbuckling tales of its buccaneer founder. A statue of Rogers stays vigilant from his pedestal in the middle of town.

Smith’s Point Fish Fry, Grand Bahama
Every taxi driver on the island knows the way to the Fish Fry, a Wednesday night tradition at Smith’s Point, east of Lucaya on Grand Bahama. Locals queue early for grouper, lobster and snapper, fried up Bahamian-style under a wooden shack by the sea. Trust us, everyone is here or on the way. Stick around for after-dinner dancing.

Friday-night jam at Elvina’s, Eleuthera
First-timers always ask the same question: where did all these people come from? Elvina’s, a ramshackle roadside shack in lonely Gregory Town, lures ‘em in from far and wide for short sets by native musicians and travelling pros. Who is here? Low-key locals, gregarious old salts, sun-baked surfers and, occasionally, Lenny Kravitz.

© 2011 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘The 10 ultimate Bahamas experiences’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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