Exuma is a chain of 365 islands, or cays, in the Bahamas. It’s located about thirty-four miles southeast of Nassau, the capital and the more popular Bahamian tourist destination.
Exuma’s beautiful white sand beaches, crystal clear water and laidback island vibe are what attract millions of visitors each year. Oh, and you can’t forget about its famous swimming pigs! It may have the reputation of being one of the more relaxed places in the Bahamas, but there is definitely no shortage of things to do.
1. Visit Stocking Island
Stocking Island is a great way to spend your first day in Exuma. It is just a short boat ride from the main dock in Georgetown. Elvis’ water taxi runs throughout the day and charges $15 per person (cash only). I recommend spending a full day here.
I suggest spending the morning swimming with the sting rays. They can be found directly off shore and are more active earlier in the day. I’m not sure if they are looking for food or they actually enjoy human interaction, but they will swim right up to you and allow you to pet them.
Spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the beach or enjoying some food and drinks at Stocking Island’s famous, Chat N’ Chill. They have a full bar and it’s a great place to meet people from all over the world.
2. Charter a Boat
This doesn’t have to be as expensive as it sounds. Exuma has lots of options when it comes to boats. If you are looking for a great and relatively inexpensive way to go out on the water, I would suggest contacting Elvis (yes, the water taxi guy) and book a boat through him. He arranged a captain/guide to take us out to some incredible spots around Elizabeth Harbor and Stocking Island.
Hooper’s Bay was our first stop and where you should go if you want to swim with sea turtles. The water here was amazingly clear, despite the sea grass in the area. There were a handful of turtles and a couple of them came and swam with us. I recommend visiting this area with a guide since the turtles are a protected species and make sure you give them their space.
Did you know Exuma has blue holes? Blue holes are large underwater caves or sinkholes that are open at the surface and can extend way below sea level. Our next stop was Mystery Cave, one of the entrances to the blue hole near Stocking Island. The cave is a great place to dive. As a snorkeler, I wasn’t able to go down into the cave itself but there are plenty of fish surrounding it.
Other must-stop places around Stocking Island include Hurricane Cove and Mani Wake Sandbar. Hurricane Cove is another great place to snorkel. There are tons of beautiful tropical fish in the area. We found a barracuda and couple of large sharks as well, which was somewhat terrifying. The Mani Wake sandbar is is a gorgeous strip of perfect white sand out in the ocean. We had it all to ourselves and found some starfish, sand dollars and conch.
3. Visit the Famous Pig Beach
The famous swimming pigs can be found on Big Major Cay. It’s about a two hour boat ride from Georgetown and should be done as a guided tour. I used Robert’s Island Adventures, which also includes a couple of other destinations mentioned in this post.
The pigs have populated the island for over a decade, but no one is certain to as how they got there. It’s rumored they swam ashore after a shipwreck or were left by sailors. Boat after boat of tourists pull up throughout the day to feed and swim with the pigs. The feral pigs, who once used to forge for their own food, now get the majority of the food from tourists.
Pigs are one of my favorite animals! I was really excited to visit pig beach, but left with mixed feelings. I carefully research any animal interaction I participate in, but it was really difficult to find information on the pigs before arriving. I assumed it was ok because the pigs aren’t in captivity and free to do as they please.
In recent years, some of the pigs have died due to ingesting sand with the food thrown on the beach by tourists. Changes have been though and now tour operators only allow people to feed them from the boat. There are still visitors, however, that boat there on their own and don’t follow these rules. Instead of feeding them crackers as many of the boats do, I suggest bringing some fresh veggies.
It looks like the pigs are somewhat taken care of. Fresh drinking water was available and shade has been built. However, they are still sunburned and a few of the smaller ones seemed malnourished. I couldn’t figure out why some of the pigs are tagged and others aren’t. It made me think they belonged to someone and the ones that died had been replaced. It could very well be just a way of keeping track of them though. Something just felt a little off, but the pigs seem relatively happy.
If you do decide to visit, please make sure you are visiting the original pigs at Big Major Cay. Swimming pigs have been popping up at other locations, being put there as a way to make money. Living on a beach is unnatural and isn’t an ideal situation for a pig.
4. Swim with Nurse Sharks
Like much of the animal life around Exuma, the nurse sharks of Compass Cay are used to being fed on a daily basis by humans. The nurse sharks are slow moving, bottom feeders and are a relatively harmless species of shark. Compass Cay is a private island, but is open to the public. You’ll have to arrange a tour or boat to get there and there is a docking fee of $8 cash per person.
It was an incredible experience being so close to and able to swim with these amazing creatures, but again I don’t know if this is an animal encounter I would participate in again. The sharks are wild and free to come and go as they please, but the water near the dock is chummed, so the sharks are attracted to and stay in the area. It was also quite sad to see a handful of people completely disrespect these animals by grabbing onto them.
5. See the Giant Rock Iguanas
A large, protected species of iguana, called Northern Bahamian Rock Iguanas, can be found on Allen’s Cay, Southern Allen’s Cay, and Leaf Cay. These are the only three locations in the world this species can be found. I visited them on Leaf Cay. To reach Leaf Cay, you will need to join a tour or hire a guide since they are a protected species.
The large iguanas can live up to 40 years and reach a weight of 24 pounds. They look rather intimidating, but they are actually quite friendly. They will come out of hiding in search of food from visitors (make sure its food approved by your guide), but easily scare and retreat to the bushes.
6. Hang Out with the Locals
The Fish Fry is where everyone goes to hang out in the evenings. The Fish Fry is a collection of small restaurants that make some of the best food in the area. The restaurants serve fresh, grilled and fried seafood, meats and authentic Bahamian dishes.
Some restaurants are open for lunch, but the Fish Fry doesn’t really get going until late evening. It’s a hang out for the locals on Friday and Saturday nights and on Sundays you can find them at Charlie’s for karaoke. I recommend trying some of the great seafood Shirley’s!
If you are looking for an affordable place to stay in Exuma, I suggest staying at Island Time Villas. The property is apartment-style lodging with options for bedrooms and a full kitchen. The beach and a pool is also just a short walk across the road!
To read more about another great place to snorkel, check out my post, “A Guide to Snorkeling in Cozumel.”