When I first saw the pictures of adorable pigs swimming blissfully in turquoise waters pop up in my Instagram and Pinterest feeds, two thoughts came into my head…
- Pigs on a beach?? What the heck??
- …I’VE GOT TO GO THERE.
And that, my friends, is how I discovered the Exumas, Bahamas.
My family and I spent one week vacationing on Great Exuma during mid-July, and it was truly paradise. If you’ve never heard of the Exumas, it is a collection of 365 cays in the Bahamas, the largest cay being Great Exuma. The white sand beaches, neon-blue waters and unique animal encounters are what makes this destination so memorable.
I’ve compiled a list of things to do, restaurants to eat at, and where to stay while in the Exumas so that you can make the most out of your time there!
WHAT TO DO
TAKE A BOAT TOUR:
I’m typically not one for guided tours and excursions; I prefer to explore on my own and try to avoid feeling too “tourist-y”. However, taking a boat tour in the Exumas is an absolute must! A full-day excursion by boat is the best way to see several of the Exuma Cays and check off tons of activities while you’re there.
There are many companies to choose from when scheduling a boat tour, but my family went with Turtle Divers. We knew we wanted to be in a smaller group for our tour (30+ people fighting over selfies with the pigs didn’t sound too appealing). Keeping this in mind, we spoke to our hotel’s concierge and she set us up with another family to do our excursion with, totaling at 8 people. Although he specializes in diving trips, Garvin Turtle from Turtle Divers was able to take us all on a 9 a.m.-6 p.m. boat tour that covered everything we wanted to do!
This was by far my favorite day of our whole trip. It was a long and tiring one, but every minute was tons of fun. One of the best parts was that Garvin strategically stopped at each location after other tour groups had left, so we got most places all to ourselves!
Here are the things we did on our tour, and the things you should do, too:
Chill with the Iguanas on Allen’s Cay
One thing you’ll learn quickly in the Exumas is that nearly all of the animals you encounter are very social. The iguanas are no exception! Allen’s Cay has heaps of iguanas, and while you can definitely bring lettuce or grapes to feed them, food is not necessary to get up close and personal. They have no problem with being pet!
See a Sandbar
There are several sandbars scattered throughout the Exumas. Make sure you see one of them! The wide stretch of ivory sand surrounded by crystal-clear water is a sight that you wouldn’t want to miss.
Snorkel at Thunderball Grotto
Known for its appearance in two James Bond movies, Thunderball Grotto was one of the best snorkeling locations I’ve been to. It was probably my favorite stop of the tour! This underwater cave is abundant with colorful fish and coral, all lit up by sunlight seeping through holes in the ceiling and walls. You’ll definitely want to bring an underwater camera to capture all of the beauty, along with some fins (these were provided on our tour) as the current is pretty strong.
Feed the Swimming Pigs
Now for the famous swimming pigs! Not gonna lie, feeding the pigs looks a bit more glamorous on social media than it is in reality. Let’s just say these pigs can get pretty aggressive…they won’t hesitate to knock you over for some bread, and one nipped my knee! Nevertheless, it was a fun and unique experience that I was happy to check off my bucket list!
Swim with Sea Turtles at Little Farmer’s Cay
Our final stop of the tour was Little Farmer’s Cay, where we were snorkeled with sea turtles, but it didn’t end there! The cutest pufferfish came to greet me multiple times, stingrays were gliding along, a nurse shark was spotted…once again, we were not disappointed by how social the animals were!
BESIDES THE BOAT TOUR:
Hunt for Sand Dollars on Coco Plum Beach
Coco Plum Beach was one of the most gorgeous beaches I’ve ever seen. The water is warm, shallow and clear…it’s like relaxing in a bathtub! Dotted along the water are wooden swings (ahem…the perfect picture-taking opportunity!) and enormous sandbars that emerge at low tide. Speaking of low tide, this is the best time to scavenge for sand dollars. We collected over 30!
Visit Tropic of Cancer Beach
The peaceful, turquoise water and white-powder sand trend continues at Tropic of Cancer Beach. Located on Little Exuma, this beach is uncrowded and a beautiful location for a few hours of sunbathing.
Swim With Stingrays on Stocking Island
If you’re in Georgetown, Stocking Island is a 10-minute water taxi ride away. This island is best known for their Chat ‘N’ Chill restaurant and bar (which we’ll get into shortly) and of course, the stingrays! Lounge in the water and you’ll immediately be greeted by plenty of these guys. They coast from person to person and are not shy at all!
WHERE TO EAT
To be honest, I wasn’t particularly wowed by the food in the Exumas. The choices of restaurants were relatively limited, and most of the dishes I ordered were nothing special. Some may disagree, but this is just my personal opinion.
However, out of the places we tried, here is where I recommend grabbing a bite:
Chat ‘N’ Chill’s Sunday Pig Roast
Every Sunday, the Chat ‘N’ Chill on Stocking Island has their weekly pig roast. To avoid any confusion, there’s no actual whole pig being roasted. Bahamian-style roasted pulled pork with all the fix-ins (including peas ‘n’ rice, mac ‘n’ cheese, cole slaw, glazed carrots and pig skin) are served in generous portions. It was a super flavorful lunch and a fun place to meet locals and other tourists!
Chat ‘N’ Chill’s Conch Bar
Conch is a big thing in the Bahamas, and the best way I tried it was in a conch salad from the Chat ‘N’ Chill’s conch bar. The salad is made right in front of you and served pico-de-gallo-style with chopped tomatoes, onion, green pepper and lime juice. It’s so fresh and tasty!
Shoreline Beach Club
After trying a few restaurants and being unimpressed, we were very happy to come across Shoreline Beach Club! The fish tacos and fried plantains were delicious, and my brother thoroughly enjoyed his cracked conch. Violet, the manager, was extremely warm and welcoming.
Shirley’s at the Fish Fry
If you’re craving something fried, Shirley’s is the place to go. Although I wouldn’t say the food was extraordinary, it’s a good local option to share some fried appetizers. This restaurant has a great view of the water featuring a cool shipwreck!
The Palapa Grill
We ate at our resort’s restaurant, The Palapa Grill, at least once a day during our stay at the Grand Isle (more on this resort in a bit). Whether we wanted breakfast with a view, lunch served pool-side, or an upscale dinner, The Palapa Grill became our go-to choice. All of the meals I ordered were excellent; I don’t think you could go wrong with anything on the menu! Along with the items from the fixed menu, there were different dinner specials offered most nights so we always had new dishes to choose from. My only complaint about this restaurant is that the service was sloooowww…but at the same time, the leisurely pace of the Bahamas as a whole is something you learn to appreciate.
WHERE TO STAY
Grand Isle Resort and Spa
My family stayed at the Grand Isle Resort and Spa, which is located on the beach of Emerald Bay on Great Exuma. Our two bedroom villa was clean and spacious with two stories that included two bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, a living room, a dining room, a kitchen and an oceanfront view!
Golfing at the Emerald Reef Golf Club is a popular activity for those staying at the resort. If you feel like treatin’ yo-self, the Seastar Spa will fulfill all your pampering desires. A spa treatment wasn’t necessary for me, though…lounging by the pool with a good read satisfied my relaxation needs!
This resort is family-friendly and for the most part, the staff are very kind and attentive. Overall, I would definitely recommend the Grand Isle if you are planning a trip to Great Exuma!
Some other options include:
And there you have it! I hope you found this travel guide helpful if you’re planning a trip to the Exumas, or simply enjoyed reading about my own experiences there! If you’ve visited the Exumas before, what was your favorite part? If not, would you want to go after reading this guide?