Exuma is an area of the Bahamas that has grown in popularity over the past few years. It is made up of over 365 islands. You could visit one island a day for an entire year and still not see it all; This said, many islands are tiny, so seeing a lot of Exuma in a short amount of time isn't difficult.
Here is our list for the top ten things you can't miss when visiting Exuma:
1. Swim with the Pigs
Pig beach is probably one of the most Instagrammed beaches in Exuma, and its no surprise why. The beach itself is gorgeous with crystal clear water that sparkles in the sun, showcasing incredible turquoise hues which make Exuma so famous. Throw in 50 or so wild pigs, and you have an Instagram story dreams are made of.
The pigs are taken care of by local Bahamians, who bring in daily fresh water and food. Pigs are smart and they know, approaching boats mean food. So the sound of the motors signals to the pigs to start swimming. They descend from the beach into the water and swim out to meet locals and tourists in hopes of the next great meal.
If you are coming to the beach on your own, bring some chopped up apples so you can hand feed the pigs. Watch out for the alpha males though, because they can get aggressive when there is food being handed out, and sometimes your hand will be an excellent substitute if you don't have any food to give. They are not aggressive, but they can bite by accident.
Locals have better knowledge of the animal's mannerisms and have even trained a few of the pigs to sit for the food. We got lucky on our 2nd trip arriving several weeks after the birth of a litter, and the babies were super cute! The pigs will let you pet them, and sometimes you can even take a selfie or two. When you are here, remember, these are wild animals, so take caution when getting too close, I've seen a few tourists get nipped on the hand and butt!
On a beach with so many animal residents, you would think that the beach would be smelly or dirty, but I was shocked to see how clean it was. The water is crystal clear; the entire place is just freaking beautiful. Pig beach is an incredibly unusual and fun experience, and I dare you to find something like it anywhere else, it is one of the coolest things you will see in the Caribbean.
2. Frolic on your very own private sand bar, or recreate Keisha's music video, Timber:
The water in the Exumas is breathtaking, white sand surrounds all the islands, and the water is unusually shallow. As the tide moves, the Exumas become littered with hundreds of Sand Bars. Islands like Compass Cay and Staniel Cay have channelled out areas for larger yachts to dock, but exploring the small islands and sand bars in skiffs and shallow hull boats can be amazing days. Bahamians are among the friendliest people in the world. Locals are more than happy to show you great spots on a marine chart or tell you how to get there. If you are like me and not so great at reading maps, the sand bars are easy enough to spot. Grab a cooler with some drinks and snacks, and park yourself in six inches of water or right on the sand. Its the perfect place for frolicking in the sun. You won't want to leave. Every day when the tides change you get another chance to do it all again. Sitting on the sand surrounded by water, it's hard to get over how beautiful the colours are. It's a sight that never gets old.
3. Check out the Iguanas on their own Island:
If you are looking at a chart/map, the island is called Allen Cay. Its also known as Iguana Island; home to the Bahamian Rock Iguanas. Its a protected National Park and the iguanas are an endangered species, so take care when interacting with them. The iguanas' range in size, and age. Generally, the bigger they are, the older they are. As in pig beach, when you approach the shore by boat, the iguanas start to appear.
Even though you are not supposed to feed them, tourists do. If you can't resist bringing food onto the island, make sure it is food that it's safe for iguanas to eat, and don't underestimate their power or aggression around food. Tossing things into the sand poses a threat to them because their bodies can't digest sand, so it's best to place food on a rock, or skewer fruit on the end of a stick. Be warned, that if you are sitting on the ground holding food, that they might mistake your fingers or toes for something delicious. Do enjoy this experience, while keeping in mind how fragile their ecosystem is.
4. Feed Turtles and Sting Rays
Farmers Cay is a larger island in Exuma, and here you might be lucky enough to find Deano (a local who often hangs out near the docks). He supplements his income by taking tourists into the shallow water to feed the turtles. The sheltered cove is home to dozens of turtles, and they hang around the docks waiting for fishermen to clean their catch and discard the delicious waste.
You can pay Deano ($20.00 to $40.00) to cut up some conch meat, and get into the water with you to feed the turtles. He has a particular way to signal the turtles and they rush over, knowing there is food. We held pieces of conch in our hands just above the surface of the water, and the turtles swam right up to take a bite. While we were there, we attracted the attention of a few curious rays too. I got a little freaked out when one of the rays started to bump into one of my legs. He was quite playful with me, hoping I would drop the conch meat for him. Deano told us not to worry however, the stingrays have learned that people moving their feet often stirs up food from the bottom too. Once I kept moving around, the ray did his thing and left my legs alone until he ran out of food. Albeit a little creepy, it was a fun experience. The turtles were amazing. They are so majestic and trusting of Deano. Having the chance to get so close to a wild turtle and pet it, was indeed a once in a lifetime experience.
5. Visit Thunder Ball Grotto:
When you see Thunderball grotto from the outside, you wonder why everyone thinks it's so unique. It just looks like a hunk of rock. Trust me here, jump in the water with your snorkel and fins for an unbelievably beautiful experience. Made famous in the James Bond movie Thunderball, the grotto is a must see if you are in the area. Depending on the tide, you have to swim five or so feet underneath the rock edge. It is not scary in the least, because as soon as you go underneath the water, you can see the light beams from the sun shining through the entrance. The deep blue hue of the water is softened with rays of light as the sun shines through a hole in the top of the cave. The water inside the cave is naturally sheltered from the surrounding sea so marine life is abundant here. You can see large schools of tiny fish all around you. My phone was in a waterproof case, and I tried to snap a few pictures, but Thunder Ball grotto is something you have to experience with your own eyes, as photos don't do justice for how truly beautiful of an experience this is.
6. Go swimming with Nurse Sharks at Compass Cay:
Compass Cay is another one of the more popular "Instagram photo" destinations in the Bahamas. That is for those brave enough to climb into the water and float, while surrounded by a school of sharks. Before you freak out, these are nurse sharks, so they don't behave like great whites. They are bottom feeders and use suction to eat more than their limited teeth. They hang around Compass Cay waiting for local and visiting fishermen to clean up they catch so they can grab the leftovers. Because of its growing popularity, tourists now flock to Compass Cay to take part in the shark swim. Local guides will encourage you to get in the water as they toss chum (pieces of fish) around you to excite the sharks and bring them to the water's surface. It is not as scary as it sounds, as the sharks are very docile. You can even pet them if you are brave enough. I'm not sure about taking a shark selfie, but I suppose you could try if you have a waterproof camera! I'm not even sure I can describe how crystal clear the waters are in this marina, it's best you see for yourself.
7. Park yourself at a deserted beach for the afternoon:
With over 365 islands, its easy to find a deserted beach for the day. Even though many of the islands belong to wealthy celebrities, such as David Copperfield and Faith Hill, there are still plenty of public spaces that you can find, and more often than not, you will be the only people there for the entire day. Pack a picnic, load up your cooler with refreshing drinks, and head out to find your private piece of paradise for the day. If you need recommendations, just ask a local. Then, all that's left to do is lay back, and enjoy that perfect Bahamian Afternoon! I'm not sure it could get any better.
8. Snorkel with thousands of fish:
If you know where to look, you can find some of the best snorkelling in the Caribbean right in Exuma. The water here is home to thousands of species of marine life including coral and many varieties of fish. The crystal clear water in the Bahamas makes snorkelling here extra enjoyable for even the most novice snorkeler. Thunder Ball grotto is one great spot for marine life, but if you want to experience more great places, hire a local guide to take you. You will be amazed at how little it will cost. You won't regret spending a little money on this experience.
9. Have lunch at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club:
Staniel Cay is a good base for exploring all the sights mentioned above. It's tiny, you can golf cart around it in 15 minutes, and its an excellent place to stay. Depending on your budget Staniel Cay offers various lodging options for overnight visitors. Regardless of whether you choose to spend the night on Staniel Cay or just visit for the afternoon, make the Staniel Cay Yacht Club one of your stops.
Its a fabulous place for lunch, or sunset drinks. The food here is casual but delicious. I highly recommend one of their sandwiches for lunch. I've had the fish sandwich and the club. Both were fabulous and came served on Bahamian Bread, freshly baked each morning. It is on the sweeter side for bread, making it extra tasty.
10. Chow down on Bahamian Conch Salad:
You may have had conch salad before, perhaps on vacation on another Caribbean island. But let me tell you, as a certified conch salad expert, you have not tried conch salad till you've had Bahamian Conch Salad. Don't ask me what makes it so unique, maybe its the Bahamian Conch, maybe its the recipe passed down through generations, or perhaps its that they use the orange meat of the conch, claiming to be a bit sweeter, but Bahamian conch salad is so good I want to eat it all day every day.
Fun fact, conch salad is healthy for you. Conch is full of protein, and the mixture itself is made up of chopped onion, peppers, tomato, and citrus (hot sauce is optional) so it's fat-free and delicious! A little tip, conch is also pronounced "konk", so don't look like a tourist and call it "Konch".