Often, when we think of beach destinations to visit, our eyes quickly dart towards Southern Europe and South East Asia. However, as overlooked as they may sometimes be, the islands in The Caribbean are also well worth the visit—they are magical. One of the top contenders among them are the Bahamas, specifically speaking their Exuma Islands.
They’re a great destination for a traveler who will want to consume themselves with crystal clear turquoise blue waters, find themselves surrounded by paradise, get acquainted with local wildlife, and most of all get to do that in a location that everyone’s Instagram feeds aren’t filled with…yet.
About the Exuma Islands
The Exuma Islands are known for their translucent aquamarine waters. Bordering the endless shades of blue were the powder-white sand beachfronts of the crescent-shaped shallow islands. There are 365 of these cays along this section of the Bahamas, covering 130 brilliantly turquoise miles.
Some are privately owned by famous stars like John Depp who fell in love with this area of the Bahamas while filming Pirates of the Caribbean and illusionist David Copperfield who was so enamored he purchased Musha Cay, a 150-acre piece of paradise that has been transformed into a luxury resort costing just under $40,000 per night.
It was a laid back archipelago where the time seemed to move slower. Much different than our starting island of Nassau, where the cruise ships dock and Senor Frogs is packed to the rim with tipsy twenty-somethings toting around two-foot tall cocktails.
A quick half hour flight from the busy duty free shops, tour buses dropping off dozens of people in front of the Atlantis casino and blaring music from the second floor of the downtown bars, is a pint sized version of it’s capital counterpart.
And here are the best Things to Do on Bahama’s Exuma Islands that you just cannot miss out on.
Exuma Bucket List: Great Things to Do
on the Prettiest Bahamas Islands
1. ✦ Take in the View at Haulover Bay Bar and Grill
What drew me in with Haulover Bay Bar & Grill in particular was its proximity to the sea. It’s practically right on top of the turquoise waters! There are indoor seats as well, but the outdoor patio is where it’s at if you want to indulge in a Bahama Mama cocktail while taking in one of the best views in the world. The shallow waters mixed in with sand bars and blue upon blue upon blue. We sat here, alone for hours watching the kite surfers glide over the shallow waters. Come by while it’s light out to breathe in the best atmosphere.
2. ✧ Eat at Shirley’s Fish Fry Shack
While there are plenty of fine dining opportunities all over the Exuma Islands, if you want to have one of the most authentic fish fry experiences then you should really make a stop at Shirley’s Fish Fry Shack on Great Exuma.
Tucked away on the waters edge, here you will find some of the best traditional Bahamian fish fry. Don’t miss out on the coconut shrimp!
3. ✦ Feed the Swimming Pigs
Somewhere out there in the Outer Exuma Islands is Big Major Cay, a small island ruled by pigs—that’s right, actual pigs! It is in fact one of the biggest attractions on this island. The pigs will swim out to your boat as you approach the island and depending on how friendly they are on the day they will hang around, swim with you guys and have some of your lunch as well.
If you are pressed for time, there is a closer piggy island called White Bay. I booked the half-day tour there with Exuma Water Sports and it was GREAT! For the full day tour that includes a nurse shark swim check out this tour (FYI it starts from Nassau): Famous Swimming Pigs Tour Bahamas
The swimming pigs tend to come out to play when the midday sun cools down a bit. There are myths and stories of how the swimming pigs of the Bahamas got there. Some people believe that they survived a shipwreck while others think that they were left there by pirates who intended them to be a future meal but never came back. Whatever the case, they are interesting swimming companions and one of the most unique ideas on this list.
4. ✧ Snorkel Thunderball Grotto
Having received its name from a James Bond movie, and having been the filming location to a selection of Hollywood movies, Thunderball Grotto is a gorgeous spot in the waters of Exuma Islands. It may not be a looker from the outside, but you really shouldn’t judge the whole thing by its covers. Once you reach the inside area of the quirky island, you’ll see for yourself just how special it is. There are caves, holes, and underwater areas to swim through, and not only will there be spots where you’ll be greeted by beaming sun rays, you’ll also find yourself surrounded by hundreds of colorful fishes.
Unless you book a private charter, most tours to Thunderball Grotto include many other stops too (bonus!). Exuma Water Sports offers a full-day day tour that includes the sunken plane wreck, swimming pigs, a sand bar and nurse sharks.
5. ✦ Go to the Chat n’ Chill’s Sunday Pig Roast
If you are missing the party atmosphere of Nassau, you could take a five-minute ferry ride from the big island to the nearby Stocking island for the Sunday afternoon pig roast at Chat ‘N’ Chill. Here boats line the waterfront, and there’s always a large group of people indulging in Goombay Smash cocktails, playing sand volleyball or sunbathing on the beach.
The Sunday Pig Roast at Chat n’ Chill is offered on every Sunday of the year. The seasoned and smoked pig, which is served Bahamian style, comes together with a couple of side dishes. To get here, you can take a 5-minute water taxi from the government dock in George Town. Mind you, I’d also advice for you to get there about as soon as the place opens up at noon, as this dish is served on a first come basis, and it usually doesn’t take them more than a few hours to sell out!
6. ✧ Swim with Nurse Sharks at Compass Bay
Much like the swimming pigs, this will be another unique and interesting wildlife activity to add to your list of life experiences. Nurse sharks aren’t quite as big, or dangerous, as their white shark cousins, and so you get to actually swim in the water with them with no cages or anything separating the two of you! It might sound scary but, I assure you, it’s more thrilling in a positive way than anything!
This is another activity that unless you book a private charter, most tours include many other stops too. Exuma Water Sports offers a full-day day tour that includes the sunken plane wreck, Thunderball grotto and the swimming pigs.
7. ✦ Walk with the Iguanas at Allen’s Cay
Did you know that these Northern Bahamian Rock Iguanas can only be found on Exuma? They may not be as fluffy and cute and friendly as our domesticated pet friends, but they’re still endearing to see out and about. Especially as they’re endangered, you may want to put some caution into what you’ll feed them.
The iguana island was a stop on my tour with Exuma Water Sports. Armed with a handful of purple grapes, I popped one to the ground and a group of these animals swarmed me. When my grapes were done, I sat on a rock and one little guy came towards me mistaking my painted toenails for a tiny round grape. He licked it a couple times until he realized it didn’t taste good.
8. ✧ Explore the Exuma Islands by Seaplane
For a real bucket list highlight, charter a seaplane to explore the Exuma Islands. Seabird Air or TIA can take you high above the crystal blue waters for the greatest aerial view, then land at your choice of the cays.
9. ✦ Walk the Tropic of Cancer Beach
Are you looking to get introduced to the most gorgeous beach on the Exuma Islands? In my opinion, this is it! The lush and soft fine white powder sand of the beach feels like straight out of fantasies, and dipping into the bright blue waters is filled with amazingness as well. And though it is a popular beach, it’s also a secret kept well enough that it likely won’t get overly crowded while you’re there (no one was there buy me on my visit!).
10. ✧ Try Bonefishing
Try your hand at fly-fishing for the elusive bonefish in the place that is world-renowned for bonefishing. When found, the challenging fish can put up a fight which makes it on every anglers bucket list. You can try your hand at it on a half-day tour with Island Routes or give Bonefish Stevie a call.
11. ✦ Eat Bahamian Rock Lobster (Spiny Lobster)
Santana’s is the second most popular eatery on the Exuma Islands, after Chat ‘N Chill. You will need to go to drive to the southernmost point of Great Exuma (to Little Exuma) to reach here, but the Bahamian rock lobster will be worth it. They have other items on the menu as well, but the cracker spiny lobster is their specialty. It’s served with an ample amount of sides, and you won’t be leaving the restaurant at the end of your meal hungry or unsatisfied. On the contrary!
12. ✧ Plunge into Dean’s Blue Hole
What is a Blue Hole? A “Blue Hole” is a sinkhole that is not only filled with water but has a submerged entrance found beneath the surface. While there many blue holes in the world, Dean’s Blue Hole stands out because it is the deepest known to man. At 663 feet (202 meters), Dean’s Blue Hole is just west of Clarence Town on Long Island and on good days, the water is so clear that you can see up to 115 feet! It is a wonderful site for divers willing to test their mettle.
You can book a tour to Dean’s Blue Hole through Robert’s Island Adventures.
13. ✦ Get Rum Cake at Mom’s Bakery
Who doesn’t love a good cake every now and then? At Mom’s Bakery the cake is not just good, it’s spectacular! And while they have a couple of options to choose from, why not go Caribbean style and get the to-die-for rum cake that crumbles to the touch and melts in your mouth? I can promise that you won’t be disappointed by its incredible flavors. For added memories, if mama herself is there, get a selfie together (I did!). FYI: Mom’s Bakery is right next door to Santana’s.
14. ✧ Walk the Sandbar on Musha Cay
Musha Cay is actually a privately owned island at the chain of Exuma Islands, with the owner being none other than David Copperfield. The resort itself on the island is restricted in who can visit or stay overnight, but there are half-day trips arranged to the area. These trips are worth it; the sandbar is both gorgeous and a surreal experience. If you want to explore more, some private tours may also be arranged.
15. ✦ Eat Conch
Pronounced “conk”, this savory sea snail might seem bizarre to many tourists but it’s actually a local delicacy in the the Bahamas (and you can easily get some at Bid D’s Conch Spot on Great Exuma!). The traditional way to eat it is in a “conch salad” where it is served raw with onions, sweet peppers and citrus juices. If, however, you are not too sure about eating raw snail then you can try the “cracked” version that is fried and buttered or the curried version.
16. ✦ Drink a Goombay Smash (with a Rum Floater!)
Almost every restaurant in Exuma will feature something called a Goombay Smash, it is a rum-rich cocktail of the Bahamas. Though you can get it other places around the world, why not get it from the source! One of my favorites was at Chat n’ Chill, so when you’re there for the Sunday Pig Roast make sure to order one—or two, or three.
17. ✦ See the Sunset from Catch a Fire Restaurant
There are some beautiful sunsets on The Bahamas, and one of the best can be found at Catch a Fire Restaurant. Make sure to get there early for a prime seat on the patio.
And those are just the beginning to the amazing trip to the Exuma Islands that you’ll have! On one last note: the best time to visit Exuma Islands is from October to May, with the weather being especially ideal in March and April. So, tell me – what’s going into your luggage, and onto your bucket list, for this trip?
Essential Tips for Visiting the Exuma Islands
Getting There: The main airport is Exuma International (GGT) and many airlines will fly into it—you can easily check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner. You can also choose to travel by ferry with Bahamas Ferries from Nassau.
Where to Stay in Exuma: For a luxury experience, book a room at the AAA four-diamond Grand Isle Resort where you can walk the mile-long private white sand beach and dine at their romantic Palapa Grill overlooking the pool. Peace & Plenty is a charming hotel centrally located in the middle of the “big city” of Georgetown. Coral Gardens is a simple B&B near Hopper’s Bay with charming innkeepers. Regatta Point is an all suites hotel where sitting on your porch gives you exquisite views of Elizabeth Harbor, the marina or Crab Cay. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to Airbnb that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
Getting Around: If you plan on exploring the Great Exuma Island it is smart to rent a car, because the cost of taxis will add up quickly and are not plentiful (though hotels can call you one if you need to go somewhere). You won’t find any of the popular American name brand car rental companies, we rented ours online with no issues through Exuma Car Rental for roughly $75 per day and picked it up right outside the airport. You can also try Don’s Rent A Car (242-345-0112) which is right next door, but it doesn’t have a website. Be warned that they drive on the other side of the road than the United States! If you don’t want to rent a car, some tour companies will do pickups/drop-offs from the larger resorts.
Top Tours Leaving from Nassau:
- Exuma Powerboat Adventure
- Exumas Dream Cruise – 8 days 7 nights
- Famous Swimming Pigs Tour Bahamas – Full Day Powerboat to Exuma from Nassau
Top Tour Companies in Exuma: