I’m just back from Exuma in the Out Islands of the Bahamas, where I had the adventure of a lifetime. Vacationers in the beautiful Exuma islands have the chance to swim with stingrays and sharks, AND with wild pigs!
Exuma, which is located a bit south of Nassau in the Bahamas, is an archipelago comprised of 365 magnificent islands and cays. Imagine having a different palm-lined oasis for every day of the year. Sailing among these pristine islands has become a favored pastime for wealthy vacationers, attracting luxury yachts and Hollywood elite for decades. A-Listers like Johnny Depp, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, David Copperfield, Eddie Murphy, and Nicholas Cage are just a few of the many who have snapped up private islands to hide from prying eyes and paparazzi while taking an indulgent beach vacation. But don’t be put off by the uber-wealthy; the pigs don’t care how much money you have, they just care how much green lettuce you’ve brought along!
Our one-day aquatic adventure to meet the marine wildlife of Exuma begins early in the morning as we climb aboard an excursion boat guided by Captain Pat of Four C’s Adventures. Despite gray skies and blustery winds, Captain Pat assures us that we’ll skip between islands to find sunny sheltered coves and calm waters. True to his word, we glide past a private isle once owned by actress Jessica Tandy and make for an inviting scenic grotto on the far shore. Exuma is the location of the Thunderball Grotto of James Bond fame, and the setting for two Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I can easily see why; the five shades of aquamarine water rippling between sandy cays is completely mesmerizing.
After a morning of island gawking and snorkeling with tire-sized rays, we stop for an early lunch at Staniel Cay Yacht Club and collect the kitchen scraps to feed hungry pigs. We’re off to Big Major Cay, and even before the boat slows down to skim the shoreline, here come the pigs! Hearing our boat motor, they come charging out of the bushes heading straight for us at full speed, leaping into the water, squealing, snorting, and doing the piggie-paddle all the way. Who knew pigs could float? We are hysterical, laughing at their upturned snouts and eager grunts of anticipation. After taking several minutes to make friends and share food scraps, it’s everyone into the water – time to swim with pigs.
We heard several explanations of how pigs came to inhabit this particular island, but the Tourism Bureau’s version sounded most plausible. It seems years ago marauding pigs were pestering local homeowners’ properties, so they were rounded up and dropped on this uninhabited island. Since the island has a lovely beach on one side, unsuspecting boaters would pull up to go for a picnic and swim. Out the pigs would charge and off the visitors would run leaving their picnic snacks behind for the pigs. Before long, the pigs were so excited at the sound of an approaching motor boat that they swam right out to the boats before they even stopped. Their technique has certainly paid off. Tourist boats now visit with regularity, bringing tasty treats to feed the pigs and tourists to go for a communal swim.
Amazingly enough, our day of adventure was only half over. It was time to find some sharks! Off we zipped, bouncing over crystal-clear waves to Compass Cay. With the first thump, thump, thump of footsteps on the dock, long sleek shadows came darting beneath the waves. Enormous (well that’s how they appeared to me!) nurse sharks were gathering in anticipation of a snack.
You can imagine that it took lots of words of encouragement and assurances by the proprietor of Compass Cay to get the first person from our boat to climb down the ladder and enter the waist-deep water with the sharks. “Don’t put your hands in the water and curl your toes into the sand” were the instructions. No sense in providing fingers and toes to be nibbled on by the sharks.
After much nervous laughter and many watchful appraisals, everyone bolsters up their courage and enters the water with the sharks. Eeeyaaaahhh…this is creepy – but exhilarating at the same time. The toast-brown sharks’ skin feels like teflon to me, tough and very smooth. Okay that’s enough, back to the safety of the boat for me!
What an incredible day exploring the beauty and wonders of the Exumas. It’s hard to imagine that this undisturbed paradise is just a one-and-a-half-hour flight from Florida. I don’t know how it has escaped over-development by mainstream resorts, but I’m certainly glad it has. As exceptional as the scenery here is, the people we met in Exuma were just as remarkable – warm, friendly, smiling, and helpful. All told, this is one amazing destination.
If you’d like more information on how to plan a visit to the Exumas, visit MyOutIslands.com for lots of recommendations for flights, hotels, and more activities. You can also read my full trip report with lots of tips for a great time in the Exuma islands.