Guide to Visiting the Exumas – Bahamas
Where and what are the Exumas you ask? They are a remote island chain in the Bahamas. The Bahamas are made up of over 600 islands and the Exumas make up around 360 of the islands, so it is a significant region and definitely worth a visit. You can get there via a short fight from Miami to Georgetown, the capital of the largest island, Great Exuma. You can also fly from Ft. Lauderdale to Staniel Cay, which is on the north end of the chain and closer to many smaller islands. Make sure you have a window seat on the plane because the views upon arrival are stunning.
Nature Lover’s Paradise
If you are a nature and animal lover, the Exumas are a dream come true. You can see many kinds of wildlife in their natural habitats including lizards, sharks, pigs, stingrays, turtles and many others! Here are some of my highlights from the animal kingdom.
There is an island with huge iguanas, just waiting for that yummy lettuce you will feed them. Be careful, some are less friendly than others. Be sure to research what is ok to feed them and use proper etiquette around them. The guided boat tour I was with told us lettuce, and they seemed to like it! Some even allowed me to pet them.
If you’ve had an irrational fear of sharks since childhood like I have, nothing will help that more than jumping into the water with fifty nurse sharks at Compass Cay! This looks intimidating, but these sharks are as gentle and not scary. These sharks are used to being hand fed by tourists and I think they actually like us. I actually pet one and it seemed quite cuddly….as cuddly as a shark can get, of course! I wouldn’t provoke them and always, as with any wild animal, use caution and respect. These sharks ate conch right out of my hand and gave me such a thrill. After a few minutes I was completely comfortable swimming with them!
Yes, this is where those famous swimming pigs are. The island known as “Pig Beach” is Big Major Cay. It is close to the large island of Staniel Cay, which has it’s own small airport. Nobody can verify the exact story of how these pigs arrived at this island but the most common stories are that the pigs were dropped off by sailors planning on coming back to eat them, but never returned. Another story is that the pigs survived a shipwreck and managed to swim to the island. Whatever happened, these pigs are a domestic breed, that have since become feral. There are some freshwater springs on the island and locals and tourists feed the pigs. Unfortunately, this has become a bigger tourist attraction than it should have been, thanks to being featured on the Bachelor. People pick up the pigs, feed them beer and behave irresponsibly. My group was told only to feed the pigs bread and to not let the bread fall in the sand first. Sand is not digestible and can cause death if too much eaten. Sand is being blamed for the recent death of 15 pigs a few months ago. Tourists feeding the pigs alcohol was also blamed. They are adorable and a joy to see them swim up to your boat, but make sure to treat them with respect. They can get quite large and are very food motivated. I actually was bit by accident while holding a piece of bread. I was fine, but it did hurt and I realized it could have been much worse had the pig intended to bite me! I still love them.
On Stockton Island, just a short ferry ride from Georgetown, is a place called the Chill N Chat. The beach here has a few resident stingrays that know exactly where the conch shack is and they hang out waiting for scraps. Be careful to avoid the tail and you can feed them in the shallow water. You should hold the food in your hand while keeping your hand flat, palm raised. The stingrays glide over your hand and suck up the food. Or you can just look at them!
Come for the Fresh Delicious Seafood
I enjoyed fresh grouper and lobster, both as a tail and in burger form. Conch, better known as the creature that lives in the beautiful shell, is plentiful in the Caribbean and is used to make some Bahemian specialties such as conch chowder, conch fritters and conch salad, which our boat crew made for us on this beautiful sandbar after a few members of the boat dove and caught some.
The beaches are some of the best I’ve ever seen. This part of the Bahamas is remote and there isn’t much development. Some of my favorite spots are the Tropic of Cancer Beach (yes the Tropic of Cancer runs through this spot) and the Chat N Chill, which is a beautiful beach on Stockton Island where there is little beach shack with a restaurant and bar. The sandbar we went to during the boat trip was also incredibly gorgeous. The beaches on Staniel Cay are stunning as well. There are no shortage of perfect beaches in the Exumas!
The Bahamas is one of the best places for scuba diving in the region. The clear water, abundance of fish and sharks makes for a great dive every time. I was lucky enough to see a black tip reef shark during my dive. I actually wasn’t too scared! I dove from the Sandals Resort, which was across the street from my hotel.
The Friendly People
The Bahemians people are charming, fun, and laid back. I can’t say enough good things about everyone I came in contact with including the hotel staff, the boat crew to the cab drivers.
How to Get Around
Taxis are expensive so use sparingly. Many people rent a car for this reason. You definitely will see the most by boat since there are so many tiny islands (cays) to explore. Luckily there are many boat tours available. I used Coastline Adventure for a day tour that took us to swim with the sharks, the pigs, the iguanas and to the sandbar for fresh conch salad. I couldn’t have been happier with this trip and would do it again in a heartbeat!
Where to Stay
Great Exuma has a couple hotels. I stayed at the Grand Isle Villas and adored it. The food was great, the villas luxurious and they had their own stretch of beach. The staff were amazing. There is also a Sandals Resort which is all-inclusive and there are packages one can purchase including flights and excursions. On Staniel Cay, the Staniel Cay Yacht Club as little over water bungalows and I have heard good things about it. Airbnb and VRBO have plenty of options on Great Exuma and some of the cays such as beautiful Staniel Cay.