It’s highly probable that you’ve never heard of the Exumas and you’re thinking…what are they? Where are they? My thoughts exactly. The Exumas are an island chain in the Bahamas and until a few months before this trip, I’d never heard of them either!
The Exumas are made up of 365 cays that stretch just south of Nassau (the most famous Bahamian destination). The Exumas are famous for their dazzling blue water, sparkling white sand beaches, and ahem…interesting aquatic life. That’s right…the Exumas are home to those adorable swimming pigs that you’ve probably seen on Instagram. That’s what drew me to the Exumas but more on that later!
When researching this trip it was hard to find much info, so if you’re planning a trip, here are 15 things to do in the Exumas (on Great Exuma and the outer islands):
1.Be a beach bum. This is the whole point of going on a beach vacation, right? We spent the first couple of days just lounging around the pool and beach at the house we rented (with views like this it was hard to want to leave!). Plus, the Exumas aren’t super easy to get to so it’s likely that you’ll have spent an exhausting day trying to get there and you’ll want to rest up! None of the islands (even Great Exuma) are very crowded so it’s not unusual to have a beach completely to yourself!
2. Go to Stocking Island for the Chat ‘n’ Chill’s Sunday pig roast. Everybody who’s anybody (which is everybody in the Bahamas) goes to the Chat ‘n’ Chill on Sundays. It’s the place to be. Locals and tourists alike take the short ferry ride over from Great Exuma (there are water taxis that depart from the Government Docks in Georgetown every 20 minutes or so) and almost everyone with a boat anchors offshore to enjoy a day at the Exuma’s best beach bar. A local lunch is served up buffet style (there’s also a menu) and everyone just spends the day chilling under palm trees drinking Bahama Mamas. It’s rough.
3. Swim with Stingrays. The best place to do this is at the Chat ‘n’ Chill where they have several “pet” stingrays that are very social. Get in the water about waste deep and they glide from person to person begging for attention.
4. Hike across Stocking Island. Right near the Chat ‘n’ Chill is a super pretty hike across the island to a beach on the other side. From the boat dock, walk around the bay until you hit some rocks and see the first trail sign. The trail goes up and over a slight hill and then you’ll have to wade across a small inlet before picking the trail back up. This small hike (it only took about 20 minutes to get to the beach) ended up being one of the highlights of the trip! The views were great and we had the beach almost to ourselves!
5. Take a Boat Tour. Most people visiting the Exumas stay on Great Exuma and while the island has plenty to offer, you really do need to go out on a boat to see the best of the Exumas. There are many companies that offer tours (most involve seeing the Swimming Pigs among other attractions) but we went with Exuma Water Tours (as their full day tour price was the same as the most popular company’s half day tour price. I can’t stress this enough…if you go to the Exumas without going out on a boat (i.e. spending your entire vacation at Sandal’s) you are not truly seeing the Exumas!!! Our captain also pointed out “cays of the rich and famous” including David Copperfield, Nicholas Cage, and Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.
6. Snorkel at Thunderball Grotto. Near Staniel Cay is the famous Thunderball Grotto, where several James Bond movies have been filmed. You’ll need a boat (or wave runners) to get here but it’s included on most water tours leaving from Great Exuma. Be careful if you’re going here on your own: there’s a strong current pulling into the grotto, which makes it difficult to get back out.
7. Meet the famous Swimming Pigs. Near Staniel Cay on Big Major Cay are the famous swimming pigs. Eeeeeeeek!! These wild pigs have no natural predators on the island so they’re content swimming out to meet the tour boats as this keeps them well fed. The Exumas are the only place in the world with swimming pigs and they’re becoming quite the attraction. It’s impossible to come to these remote islands and not visit these little cuties. Read about my adventure swimming with the pigs here.
8. Beachcomb on the Mile Long Sandbar. While I expected the pigs to be the highlight of our boat tour, it actually ended up being our stop at the Mile Long Sandbar that was most memorable. This is truly the most amazing sight I’ve ever seen and we all agreed we could have stayed out on this sandbar all day. Not too far from Staniel Cay, this is the place that I wished I could’ve spent more time at!
9. Swim with nurse sharks at Compass Cay. Compass Cay is famous for their “pet” nurse sharks. For $10 you can get off at the dock and swim with these guys. Yikes! Nurse sharks are known for being the most “friendly” off all sharks and we were told that as long as you kept your hands out of the water you’d be fine (insert panicked emoji here). Three of us girls did it and lived to tell the tale!
10. Feed Iguanas on Leaf Cay. Leaf Cay (which used to be owned by Nicholas Cage) is inhabited by a rare breed of Bahamian iguana. These iguanas are VERY social and literally crawled out of the rocks to welcome us ashore. Our boat captain had lettuce and grapes to feed them, which made them even friendlier.
11. Try the lobster (and look for Johnny Depp) at Santana’s Grill Pit. On Little Exuma (connected to Great Exuma by a bridge) is the famed Santana’s Grill Pit (famed because of it’s insanely, out of this world, beautiful beach front setting, and also that this is the spot that Johnny Depp hung out when he was filming Pirates of the Caribbean). This is as good of a beach bar as they come. Right on the water, Santana’s serves up the best lobster on the island (fried, as is everything that comes out of their kitchen). We swam in the ocean while our food cooked and enjoyed our fresh caught lunch with local sides as we sipped Bahama Mamas. Next door to Santana’s is a little bakery where “mom” bakes rum cakes and other confections in her kitchen every morning.
12. Visit the Tropic of Cancer Beach. Not too far from Santana’s is one of the Exuma’s best beaches. Tropic of Cancer beach (named because of its location on the Tropic of Cancer) is hard to get to but soooo worth it. Although it’s lined with homes, there’s rarely anyone out on the beach and it’s so large that you’d likely not notice them anyways. If you’re leaving Santana’s and headed back to Great Exuma, turning right on any of the little side roads will lead you down a super rough road until you hit the houses that line the beach. You’ll know it when you find it.
13. Dive for starfish. There are several cays around Great Exuma that act as starfish reserves (protected waters) and most boat tours will stop here so you can get a closer look. It’s safe to remove them from the water for a limited time as long as you’re gentle and return them to the sea.
14. Explore the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. This nature preserve stretches over 22 miles and multiple cays and includes some of the best snorkeling and nature trails in the Bahamas. It’s quite a ways from Great Exuma (not feasible as a day trip) but if you’re using Staniel Cay as you’re base you should be able to find a charter that will include this as part of a day trip.
15. Charter a yacht. This is no doubt the best way to see the Exumas. If you can swing chartering a boat to cruise through the Exumas, it’s sure to be a once and a lifetime experience. Private charters allow you the freedom to see all the sights you want without worrying about getting back to your home base island each night. This is high on my bucket list!
For more info on the Exumas, read this post on things you should know before you go.
P.S. Don’t you think these pigs are the cutest? Hop on over to Facebook and let’s chat!
P.S. This post contains some affiliate links, but I partner with Trip Advisor because I believe they provide the most unbiased reviews for my readers.