Photo by age fotostock
Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park
The Exumas are a stunning archipelago of remote islands and cays strung between Nassau and Long Island, and around a dozen of these tiny islands are protected within the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park. Established in 1958 as a preserve where no fishing is allowed, it was the first marine protected area in the Caribbean. It has been highly successful at maintaining the fragile beaches and marine life found in the area. Visitors can take boat tours to the park to go diving and snorkeling on the many healthy reefs and to explore the secluded tropical islands, where endangered Bahamian iguanas roam the beaches. On Big Major Cay, you can go swimming with the pigs at Pig Beach and give them fresh water, as their water supply is limited.
By Travis Marshall, AFAR Local Expert
Pigs, Sharks and Iguanas
There's only one destination where you can swim with pigs, sharks and see wild Iguanas. The Exuma Cays are a chain of 365 islands that holds the most beautiful white-sand beaches and it's impossible to see them all. Going on a day trip with the Four C's made this possible. Cruising along the sapphire-blue water, we saw private homes of the rich and famous such as Tim McGraw, David Copperfield, then on our next point and to our amusement, swimming pigs!!! It's hard to believe that pigs can swim until you actually see them with your own eyes. Floating and swimming around in the water, you hear a resounding "oink oink", they'll also freely and fearlessly approach you for food. Funniest, best and cutest encounter ever. The tour then docks at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, where you get the opportunity to swim with a group of nurse sharks. This is only for the brave and not for the fainthearted. Entering the water full of sharks isn't something everyone will be comfortable with. Though, you'd be surprised on how quickly you realize how harmless they are. They sure have thick skin! Concluding the tour was docking at an island with wild Iguanas- a chance to feed and interact with them. Rare wildlife encounters and venturing the dreamy, tropical Exuma islands are what this tour is all about. You may also see dolphins, stingrays and turtles around, but this is certainly top of the list and the best of The Bahamas.
By Denise Hoo, AFAR Contributor
One of the best kept secrets in The Bahamas is the fact that there are more than 700 islands. There's much more to see than Atlantis and the mega-resorts of Nassau. Take The Exumas, for example. The Exumas are an archipelago of 365 islands south of Nassau and they've got some of the world's clearest, most beautiful turquoise water. Cruising around Elizabeth Harbour, you'll find miles long stretches of sandbar where you and yours are the only folks around. Take a picnic and some sunscreen - there's nowhere closer to paradise!
By Angie Orth
Swimming with Pigs at Big Major Spot in the Exumas
At Big Major Spot in the Exuma Cays, you can have the unique opportunity of swimming with pigs. The pigs -- along with the chickens and goats that also inhabit the otherwise deserted island -- were brought over during the First Gulf War as a backup plan in case food rations got low. Today, the pigs have been accustomed to tourists coming to the cay to feed them, so as soon as they hear your boat approaching they'll come bounding into the water. Feel free to swim with them and take photos (although they'll be nicer to you if you bring some snacks!).
Swimming with Nurse Sharks at Compass Cay in Exumas, Bahamas
At Compass Cay in the Exumas, you'll have the unique opportunity to swim with Nurse Sharks as they feed on bloody pieces of fish. According to the owner of the cay, Tucker, there has never been an incident with anyone getting hurt, so no need to fear jumping in with them as they feed. Just make sure to keep your hands away from their mouths and don't pull their tails. This makes for a unique Caribbean adventure.
Having Lunch on a Private Cay
The Exuma Cays are comprised of 365 cays, 29 of which are inhabited. A great way to spend the day is finding a deserted cay and enjoy a picnic lunch and cold Kalik beer while relaxing on soft white sand and dipping your feet in the clearest water in the Caribbean.
Chillin' Out with Endangered Iguanas
On Bitter Guana Cay in the Bahamas' Exuma Cays, you'll find tons of endangered Northern Bahamian Rock Iguanas. They are said to have floated over to the cay on a wooden plank. I believe it, as it instantly becomes clear these little guy have big personalities and brains. Note that while many tourists feed the iguanas, local conservation societies urge you not to.
1,000 Words for Turquoise
One of the biggest challenges The Bahamas faces is overcoming the perception that the cruise ports are all the country has to offer. In a country with 700 islands – that seems a bit shortsighted, right? While bustling Nassau & Freeport have their own special characteristics, in my opinion, you haven’t been to The Bahamas until you’ve visited the Out Islands. In The Exumas, an archipelago of 365 islands and cays in the central Bahamas, you'll find the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park and the private hideaways of Johnny Depp, Oprah, Tyler Perry, Faith Hill & Tim McGraw, David Copperfield and many other celebs. The Exumas are coveted by many, but visited by relatively few in comparison to other spots in The Bahamas. The short flight from Nassau to the Staniel Cay airstrip is breathtaking on a clear day, and affords you the opportunity to figure out just how to describe the swirls of color you see below.
By Angie Orth