What to see, where to stay, when to go to Exuma, Bahamas! Clear waters, swimming pigs, hidden grottos, come live like a mermaid!
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Without a doubt one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited in the world, it is time to introduce everyone to the Bahamas! Now using the blanket term of the Bahamas helps you understand where in the world you are going, but it would be nearly impossible to describe the Bahamas in just one travel guide. Every different district of the Bahamas has it's own vibe and distinct characteristics. For example, you may have taken a cruise and stopped at the port city of Nassau. Nassau is very fun and lively but also a very touristy area because of all the cruise ships. You may have also taking a weekend trip to Bimini which is a short boat ride from the East coast of Florida. Bimini is the place to go for gambling and aquamarine waters! You could have also stop at one of the many private islands owned by some of the major cruise lines like Disney's private island, Castaway Cay. Like I said, there is A LOT going on in the Bahamas! So for this Travel Guide, I want to focus on just one very special part of the Bahamas, Exuma.
The Bahamas are located right off the Eastern coast of Florida. It is an island nation made up of over 700 islands. Sitting on a sand shelf, most of the islands boast gorgeous white beaches. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the East, the Caribbean Sea in the South and the straight of Florida on the West bringing in water from the Gulf of Mexico. This mixture of warm waters and currents brings an abundance of sea life to the area. Many coral reefs, dolphins and sea turtles call this area home. The Bahamas have a very lively culture and very friendly people. Most locals live off the water or work in the tourism industry.
The islands are broken up into many districts and include Andros, Abaco, Freeport City, Eleuthrea, Cat Island, and Bimini to name a few. But today's travel guide is going to focus on the district of Exuma.
Exuma has over 300 islands called cays (pronounced keys) that stretch through turquoise waters. The largest island is Great Exuma where you can find an international airport that has flights from many major cities. The rest of the cays are tiny little spots that are either privately owned or home to some quaint bright colored beach cottages. A popular spot for yacht owners to anchor is Staniel Cay Yacht Club. I have to admit, I have been BLESSED to have some amazing tour guides each time I have visited this area. Some of the best crew I have gotten to hang out with have been coming to the Bahamas for years and they showed me incredible secret spots.. some of which I am about to share with you!
Where to Stay:
The Exuma cays have many different accommodation options from luxury resorts to beachfront cottages.
Beach Side Cottages:
I think the best way to experience this destination is with your own oceanfront beach cottage. Dotting through the Cays, you can find cottages on the main Great Exuma island or some of the lesser populated islands like Staniel Cay or Compass Cay. Some homes are perfect for budget travelers while others can be complete mansions large enough for big groups. You can book one of these cute cottages here.
Luxury in the Islands:
If you prefer top of the line luxury or need all of the amenities of a resort, have no fear. There are some amazing first-class resorts in this part of the world, too! One of the best of the best is Sandals Emerald Bay located on Great Exuma. From beachfront suites with a butler to full villas, this is the place for you if your idea of paradise includes chilled champagne and the ultimate indulgence. With world class golf steps away, this would also be a great place to stay if you want to practice that golf swing!
Another option for a luxury experience is to charter a yacht or catamaran. This area is home to multiple deep water harbors where the boats can dock; Staniel Cay Yacht Club, Compass Cay and Great Exuma. Some charters begin in Nassau or Abaco but will sail you into the Exuma Cays for as long as you'd like!
Regardless of which type of accommodation you choose to stay in, you will get the same amazing views of turquoise waters and white sand so you really can't go wrong!
What to Eat:
When you are surrounded by water on every side, seafood is the most logical choice! Bahamian food includes dishes like fresh conch salad, a mixture of conch, onion, peppers and citrus. Lobster is amazing when in season, as is all kinds of fresh fish. Jerk and rice and peas are also common as most of the food scene is highly influenced by Caribbean and English cultures. Do keep in mind, just like any island nation, most things have to imported, so food can be one of the more expensive parts of your trip. One of the best things we did on one of my trips was catch lobster and fish all day then take it to a local restaurant that had a "You hook 'em, we cook 'em" policy. As fresh as it gets!
There are a few markets and grocery stores on the islands but make sure to check the opening times. We are on island time after all and while you might be used to being able to run and grab a loaf of bread at home, you won't have that same luxury here! Granted, if you are staying at a resort, you will have cuisine from all over the world at your fingertips. BUT I highly recommend getting out of the resort and trying some of the local flavors! Also, don't forget to stay hydrated! Drink plenty of water out on the water to avoid dehydration!
What to Do:
Adventures in Exuma almost always begin on a boat! Get up early, get the boat packed and plan to spend the whole day out on the water exploring this ocean paradise! I highly recommend booking a knowledgeable captain that can take you around to these spots. If you are a seasoned boater, you could also rent your own private boat! A few memorable sites to explore:
Swimming with the pigs
Anyone that has been anywhere near The Bahamas in the last five years have heard of the swimming pigs! I absolutely see why! They are so cute and friendly and just love swimming around in the salt water! Such a peculiar experience but so fun! Not to mention, this beach has STUNNING views and crystal clear water. So even if the pigs aren't your thing, make a stop here anyway. You will be won over by their cuteness, especially if there are piglets! Let me just say, I wish I had these pig's lives!
They are just a short boat trip from Staniel Cay on Big Major Cay. If you are staying in Great Exuma, there are many day tours you can book to see this guys!
Swimming with sharks
If you want more of a thrill than pigs, make your way to Compass Cay where you can swim with friendly Nurse Sharks. Don't get me wrong, they are still sharks and people get bit here all the time by putting their fingers near the mouth... of a shark.. BUT if you are smart, they are very docile and so beautiful! This is one of the most amazing animal experiences I've had! I believe there is a small fee for getting in the water so check with the dock master before you jump in! I am a huge animal lover so I love being able to see wild animals in their natural habitat. The Nurse sharks swim throughout the Exuma cays but I would not recommend just jumping in unless you know your sharks! It could end up being a Tiger Shark and they are NOT as docile!
Although I don't think I have any actual pictures WITH the iguanas, this little island was such a vibe! Stark white limestone cliffs jetting out of aquamarine waters were an incredible backdrop! I don't actually know which cay this is but the locals know it as Lizard Island so that should be enough to get you there. You can feed the iguanas lettuce or come check out the rest of the island for views like this!
My final favorite spot is just a rock throw from Staniel Cay as well! Yes, named after the James Bond film (I believe they filmed part of the movie here?!) This grotto is one of many in the area but is pretty easily accessible and safe to jump in from the top (always check water levels before you jump!) The best advice I have ever received in the Bahamas was, "Take a look around, do you see any ambulances, hospitals?! Don't do something dumb where you could get hurt in the middle of no where because the life saving services are a loong way away!" SO just follow that advice for all these activities! 😅
Besides thrill seeking jumps, you can also snorkel the grotto (really the only way to get in) but the current can get really strong at the entrance so make sure you are a strong swimmer before jumping off the boat! I felt like a real life Ariel in here and would highly recommend it!
OF COURSE in this water wonderland boating is the ideal activity! You could easily just get lost among the sand bars for the day but almost everything is only accessible by boat. It is highly recommended to hire an experienced captain to take you around the area. There are many unexpected rocks and shoals where you could get in serious trouble without help. With that being said, this is literally the most amazing place to explore by boat and there are so many locations I don't even know the name of because we just found them exploring each day on the boat!
Anywhere you can find a beach or sandbar is the perfect location to catch some rays. Whether you spend the entire day there soaking up the sun or just spend a lazy afternoon, there are never ending options to sun bake here. Make sure to wear your SPF and you will have the Bahamian glow in no time.
Finding fun on the islands:
As much as this is an ocean lover's paradise, there are still some happening spots on land! Staniel Cay Yacht Club has a lively bar scene during season and you can almost always find a local bar that has live music. Dinner is definitely the time to go out and enjoy the social scene and watch the sun set over the island. Pink Sands are my absolute favorite drink in the islands!
Exploring the underwater world:
There are so many magical places that I cannot even explain to you because, for the most part, I don't even know their names! Every single little cay in the Exumas is unique and there are amazing coral formations everywhere, from HUGE elk horn to brain coral. There are many tropical fish species and the sharks as mentioned before! You could see dolphins, sea stars, stingrays, and an assortment of other marine life in waters that max 30 ft. in most places! This is truly your place to visit if you love exploring underwater. We visited many sea caves that were only accessible by swimming in at just the right time! I mean there are so many unique treasures that are only best experienced when you go.
You can get flights into Great Exuma from Miami and many other major airports but if you don't see flights directly into Exuma, try finding one into Nassau and get a connecting flight from there.
There is definitely a season for the Bahamas which include pre- and post- hurricane season (April - May and Nov. - Jan.) While prices will be higher in these times, it really is a good time to visit. Hurricanes are nothing to mess with and you would hate to have to cancel your trip because of a storm.
If you wanted to go in an off-season time, just avoid June - October as those are the busiest times of hurricane season. Weather is beautiful year round here!
Don't feel overwhelmed by the options when visiting, find an experienced captain or tour guide to help you see all the right places. Plus, there really is no "wrong" place to visit in the Exumas! Every location is as beautiful as the last!
I would say the Exuma cays are for people that really love the water and aren't scared to jump in! If that's not really you, this might not be the destination for you. So many amazing places here are only accessible by boat and/or swimming off the boat. Make sure you are comfortable swimming before coming here to really explore all there is to offer.
Many of the Exuma cays are privately owned AND there is a National Land and Sea Park. Before you lay anchor and jump off the boat, make sure you are legally allowed to do so. There is a "no-take" policy in the park and fishing is not allowed.
I have loved going to Exuma over and over again. I am always thinking of a time in my schedule I can fit in the next trip. There is so much to see here and each trip is unique in it's own way. Have I enticed you to explore this part of the world for your next adventure?
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