Few film franchises have inspired imaginations like James Bond.
Sir Ian Fleming’s original books which triggered the movies were written at his Jamaican home. They were set all over the world at a time when flying was still the purview of the rich and exotic locations existed mostly in our dreams.
The Bahamas were the location for four epics. Those included the original Thunderball (1965, starring Sean Connery), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977, with Roger Moore) and Never Say Never Again (1983, Sean Connery’s seventh and last appearance as Bond). There was also License to Kill (1989, starring Timothy Dalton) and Casino Royale (2006), which introduced us to Daniel Craig in the iconic role.
In addition the Bahamas also provided the underwater sets for You Only Live Twice (1967, Connery), For Your Eyes Only (1981, Moore) and The World Is Not Enough (1999, starring Pierce Brosnan).
Personally, it was Thunderball which had a lasting impact on me when my babysitter took me to the local cinema and snuck me in. Aside from the spear gun fight, which I loved of course, and the scuba diving scenes, which would inspire me to learn to dive, it was the sharks that really caught my eye.
Ideal James Bond locations
When I did get to Nassau years later, I understood why the Bahamas were perfect Bond locations. Hundreds of islands scattered over the ocean, casinos, exotic locales, spectacular views and luxury hotels. Everything Bond is accustomed to. It’s almost as if they were made for each other.
There is nowhere in the Caribbean which is safer, more exotic, with a greater range of restaurants and food genres, luxury resorts and terrain and activities than the Bahamas.
They’re not just one island or just a couple of islands. They’re 700 islands spread over 470,000 square kilometers of ocean, located southeast of Miami and north of Cuba.
You might be familiar with Nassau. That’s the capital city where 70 per cent of Bahamians live. But the biggest of Bahamian islands is Andros to the east. That’s an island almost all given over to national parks and outdoor pursuits. And more importantly here, underwater pursuits.
The Bahamas are a scuba diving paradise. But if staying on top of the water is your thing, there’s lots of deep sea fishing, fly fishing, spectacular golf and just about everything in between.
But let’s talk diving. Aside from the shark encounters offered by a couple different dive operators, there are all kinds of wreck dives, reef dives and drift dives. There are probably more dive sites and operators than can be listed here. But the biggest issue is going to be deciding where to go diving in the Bahamas, since they span so much ocean.
One of the world’s scuba hotspots
Don’t be daunted, however. Getting around the Bahamas is as simple as jumping into a small plane since most islands have airports.
There’s also the option of live aboard diving. And there are some great boats servicing the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park where you can also access dives such as the Washing Machine, Cathedral, Jeep Reef or the Austin Smith Wreck. Tiger Beach is highly recommended for its shark encounters.
Back to the Bond theme. There is no shortage of above water sites to visit in the Bahamas, such as the Paradise Island Beach where Bond meets Domino (Thunderball, ’65). Or the Pink villa with the sharks in pools which was baddie Emilio Largo’s lair (Thunderball ’65 and Never Say Never as Maximillio in ’83) or other scenes in which failed henchmen were dispatched, it’s the dive locations which have a special lure.
It turns out Sir Ian Fleming was also a shark aficionado. That’s why he worked them into so many of his novels.
You can still go scuba diving on the downed Vulcan bomber from Thunderball. There’s not much left of it since it was blown up after filming wrapped. But the site is still full of critters like lionfish, with a few curious barracudas hanging out. There are probably a few reef sharks around.
Four Seasons Ocean Club a popular film location
Nearby there’s the ship wreck from the “Tears of Allah” used in the Thunderball remake, Never Say Never Again. That film featured an electronically directed shark hunting Bond through the hatches and doors. There are scuba diving operators who package special tours so don’t fret that you might miss out.
Humping crew and gear all over the Bahamas would have been cost prohibitive. So the Bond dive sites are just off the main island of New Providence.
While it’s a bit further away, Thunderball Grotto is also worth a trip.
It’s a cenote – underwater cave – 120 km south of the country’s capital, Nassau. And it was a backdrop in both Thunderball and Never Say Never. Of course there are many other dive sites around the Bahamas. With so many islands to explore you can never really visit them all, even in a lifetime.
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One of my favourite location visits was the Four Seasons’ Ocean Club, where James Bond’s Casino Royale (2006) with Daniel Craig was filmed. It’s also where the original Bond, Sean Connery, loved to lunch until his passing in 2020. Versailles-inspired, it is set on 35 fabulous oceanfront acres and the food, I can attest, is fantastic.
There are no shortages of five star resorts such as Atlantis Cove. Look up dive master Brendal. He’s a legend in the Bahamas and you’ll find him at Green Turtle Cay. That’s a short small plane skip over on the Abaco islands where there are all kinds of luxury accommodations and fine dining.
The key to Brendal’s dives is that he knows every inch of those reefs. You’ll see him hand feeding the local morays who anticipate his arrival. He’ll coax other fish to join the group, including the giant groupers.
At the surface interval between dives you might end up at his favourite sandbar with the baby stingrays come to play. They’ll chase each other over your feet and between your legs while hoping for a morsel or two. Perhaps that’s the fresh conch ceviche Brendal prepped while en route from the marina. It’s priceless, trust me.
Whatever you are looking for in addition to great scuba diving, you’ll find it in the Bahamas from casinos to quiet cays where peace and quiet reigns above and below the ocean surface.
IMAGES: BAHAMAS TOURISM BOARD AND FOUR SEASONS OCEAN CLUB