Guest post from Lisa Martinez, who has been to Staniel Cay twice now and is sharing the best things to do in the Exuma Islands. You can find Lisa on Instagram @simplylisamichelle
Since the moment I heard about swimming pigs, I was hooked on the idea of a Pig Island Bahamas vacation. But I wanted to figure out if there were other fun things to do in the Exuma Cays to make a great trip. Our family has always loved vacationing in the Bahamas. The people are so friendly, the water is gorgeous, and the natural beauty is amazing. Plus, in South Florida, we’re less than an hour away by plane so it’s a no brainer for us.
The Bahamas has 700 islands spread over 100,000 square miles of ocean. This list focuses on the best things to do in the Exuma Cays, a group of small islands in the Bahamas where those famous pigs live. You’ll also find everything you need to know to plan your Bahamas vacation. including tips on weather, where to stay, how to get there and the best places to eat.
Top Things to Do in Exuma Bahamas
1. Pig Beach
You may hear different versions of how the pigs arrived on the Major Cay. Some say sailors brought them to cook later and others say it was by a shipwreck. Whichever version is true, they are definitely one of the biggest attractions and I’m not the only one who wanted to see those famous swimming pigs. Pig Island is less than a mile from the Yacht Club. We literally took our skiff there every day. Before you venture out, there are some things you’ll want to know before visiting.
The pigs live on a deserted island. There are caretakers that go by daily to ensure they have fresh water but you’ll be visiting them on your own. Said another way, you are responsible for your own safety. It’s really a unique experience, just always remember they’re wild animals.
The pigs associate humans with food. The minute they hear the boat engine approaching, they’ll swim out to your boat in the hopes of getting first dibs. They’ll do their best to get on the boat but don’t worry they can’t. It is pretty fun to see them try though and surprising how far they really do swim far to reach you.
Tips for Visiting Bucket List Pig Island
- Feed the pigs from the safety of your boat. You’ll notice some of the pigs are really big and will get aggressive with the others.
- If you leave any food on your boat, they will persistently follow you until you give it to them. Once your food is gone you’ll see them relax.
- When they go back to walking on the beach or laying in the shade, you can hang out with them. Some will even let you pet them but stick to the little ones. We have seen people get bitten trying to feed them, which it’s better from your boat.
- Bring your GoPro or a waterproof camera for some amazing shots.
2. Swim With Compass Cay Sharks
Where do I begin? I never dreamed I’d be brave enough to snorkel with sharks. So what if they’re nurse sharks, they are still sharks right! Well if this is something you’ve wanted to do you have to visit Compass Cay. It’s approximately 5 miles from Staniel Cay. You’ll soon see some impressive yachts as you turn into the marina, but make no mistake, the Compass Cay Nurse Sharks are the stars of this show.
The marina has no restaurant. There’s a rustic little store that sells souvenirs and cold beers. For $10 a person you can snorkel and swim with the nurse sharks as long as you want. The water is between 3 to 7 feet deep. It’s very clear when the weather is good, and you’ll feel closer to them than you could have imagined. You can also rent snorkeling supplies there. We brought our own from home because we knew we’d be using it a lot.
3. Snorkel in Thunderball Grotto
The grotto got it’s name from the 1965 James Bond movie “Thunderball” that was actually filmed there. The bar at Staniel Cay Yacht Club is full of pictures from the filming there. Plan your trip to the Grotto during low tide so you can safely snorkel inside the cave. You’ll just be amazed at all the fish you’ll see. There’s also an opening on the top of the cave so it’s not as dark as you may expect. On our 2nd visit we were fortunate enough to see a manta ray swim into the grotto and then quickly swim right back out.
4. Hang Out With Big Lizards on Iguana Island
If you’re fan of the endangered Rock Iguanas, this island is your dream come true. Iguana Island is about 2 miles from Staniel Cay. Just like Pig Island the sound of your boat will bring them to the shore. I chose to stay on the boat while my husband mingled with these locals. You can feed them like the pigs, just keep your palms flat so they can pick up the food without biting you. It’s definitely worth a stop, and if you prefer, you can stay on your boat the whole time. There are so many of them living here that you can’t miss them.
5. Exumas Island Hopping
The Exumas have 365 islands. Many of them are completely deserted around Staniel Cay. We spent part of each day exploring different cays and beaches. Some were perfect for snorkeling, others were ideal for getting sun and some we just visited for lunch. The best part – we almost always had the beach to ourselves! My top 2 favorite Exumas islands are definitely Sandy Cay and Twin Cay. Both are beautiful and definitely worthy of stopping for a visit.
6. Relaxing at the Beach
My top 2 favorite beaches are Town Beach, adjacent to Staniel Cay and a great place to spot nurse sharks and Pirate Beach, which is beautiful but a longer rocky walk.
7. Catch a Bonefish on a Fishing Charter
Of all the things to do in the Exumas, catching a bonefish was at the top of my husband’s list. So we splurged on a half-day fly fishing trip. We both caught quite a few with the help of our guide showing us the best spots to find them. The cost was $275 per person. You will have to book the trip at your resort in person. I tried to book this on my own prior to arriving but the tour companies in Georgetown won’t travel the long distance to Staniel Cay. Talk to the locals or your concierge for recommendations. My husband loved it.
8. Snorkeling at the Plane Wreck
We didn’t learn about this wreck until we got to the island, but what a little treasure. The plane wreck is almost intact and in only about 6 feet of water very easy to snorkel and see all the sea life that now calls this plane home.
9. Island Style Eating and Drinking
We loved the relaxed meals we had on Staniel Cay. Here are the choices of Staniel Cay Restaurants:
- Staniel Cay Yacht Club – Since we chose the all-inclusive option, this is where we ate all our meals. If you are not staying here, it’s the most popular spot for a special, fine dining evening. Reservations are required.
- Taste & Sea Cafe – A homestyle, Bahamian cafe that serves food on island time. Plan to do some relaxing while you wait.
- Big Dogs Bar – a good hang out spot with the locals by the marina.
- Grocery Stores – The island does not have a traditional grocery store. There are a few small shops – The Blue Store at the back of a local’s house and General Isles. The selection is extremely limited and the hours are when they want to be open, which is usually never on the weekends. We also shopped at Pink Pearl, which was part grocery, part hardware, part beauty supply. She definitely had the best selection on the island and her prices were good. If you get there and the door is locked, just ring and they’ll always let you in to shop.
10. Water Sports
It’s probably no surprise that one of the best things to do while you are in the Exuma cays is take advantage of any and all types of water sports. There are amazing coral reefs with tons of colorful marine life that you can see either snorkeling or scuba diving. For life above the water, have fun on a stand-up paddle board or kayak.
Best Time for an Exuma Bahamas Vacation
The first thing you’ll want to think about is when to visit. There’s never a bad time to have a Pig Island Bahamas vacation, but prices vary by season.
- High-season is March through early September and most expensive.
- In-season for the Exumas December holidays through February.
- Off-season is Mid-September until December holiday starts.
You will definitely save money by booking off-season. We’ve visited during high season and off season and it never felt too touristy or crowded. If you choose to go later in the summer/early fall, just remember Hurricane season. Most come in September/October so keep an eye on the weather if you book during those months. The first trip we took to Staniel Cay was in September. A storm was projected to pass through but luckily it changed course and we were able to keep our reservation. Since many people cancelled, we ended up sharing the resort with three other couples. Such a nice surprise. Hurricane Dorian also skipped Staniel Cay and the Exumas.
Weather & Humidity
The average summer temperature ranges between 75-90 degrees. Winter temperatures are between 65-77 degrees. Sun is always strong so sunscreen and hats are a must. No matter when you visit, plan on some rain. Afternoon storms are common and usually appear without too much warning. They’ll pass within 20-30 minutes. The humidity on the other hand won’t, so ladies plan on dealing with a little frizz (or in my case a lot).
Where to Stay in Exuma Bahamas – Close to the Best Things to Do
The Exuma Cays are a group of 365 islands in the Bahamas. They’re located 75 miles south of Nassau and 250 miles southeast from Florida. Many people head straight to George Town on Great Exuma and find out later that they are too far from the fun things to do. You can book a half day Exuma Cay tour to pig beach, lizard island and Thunderball Grotto. If you stay in Nassau, you’ll need a full day tour to the Exuma Cays, which will cost $350+ per person.
A better option is Staniel Cay, a quaint small island that is 1 mile away from those famous swimming pigs. There are vacation rentals and a few hotels, Staniel Cay Yacht Club and Embrace Resort. The whole island is 2 square miles so it’s easy to get around. If a private island piques your interest, Fowl Cay is resort that will also provide you with your own boat.
Staniel Cay Yacht Club
Our favorite Staniel Cay hotel is Staniel Cay Yacht Club which has been on the island since 1956. It’s family owned and operated, and even has a bit of a cult following. It’s not unusual to see some very impressive yachts pull up to the Club for lunch, dinner or drinks.
There are 14 waterfront bungalows – 10 updated, original bungalows and 4 modern bungalows on the other side. The original bungalows come with a 13ft skiff to explore the islands. The new bungalows come with a larger 17ft skiff with a bimini top . My husband was disappointed with the smaller skiff. Unfortunately, the larger ones are only available to those staying in the newer rooms. If that’s important to you, make sure you choose the right room. The skiffs are filled up with gas every morning by 8am so you can head out early.
We chose the Lavender Suite (original Bungalows) with the all-inclusive package. It includes the room, 3 meals a day (no alcohol) and gratuities. It also includes use of your own boat (fuel too) and any snorkeling, kayaks, bicycles, etc…. Our room had a queen bed, small living room, waterfront deck and refrigerator. TV and WiFi is at the clubhouse.
They have a newly updated restaurant, which is where you’ll have your breakfast and dinner. Lunch is provided as a box lunch in your own assigned cooler. You pick it up each morning in the bar area, where it’s ready and packed with ice by 8am. If you plan to visit the pigs, your waitress will give you a bag of goodies to feed them.
If you decide to stay at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, book EARLY, up to a year in advance. The bungalows go ASAP. We loved it so much that we went back the next year. If it was up to my husband it would be a recurring vacation every year. And not to forget those landlubbers, you can check out the Embrace Resort as well.
How to Get to Staniel Cay Bahamas
You can only get to Staniel Cay by boat or small plane. There are no commercial airline flights into Staniel Cay Airport. We chose to go by air with Watermakers Air (or Makers Air). Watermakers Air offers a discounted flight if you have a reservation at Staniel Cay Yacht Club. They also run specials throughout the year advertised through their social media pages.
We paid about $550 per person. which is higher than some competitors but the service is definitely 5 Stars. They limit your luggage to 35 pounds per person, definitely manageable for a bag full of bathing suits and cover-ups. They’ll also let you bring extra food/drinks for a small fee. If you’ve ever traveled to the Bahamas, you know the most expensive thing on the island is the food. So on our second trip we bought an extra case of water and snacks.
Watermakers Air has 2 flights daily. They fly out of Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport. On both trips they allowed us to leave our car parked at the hanger for no additional charge. The resort picks you up by golf cart when you land and takes you to the Yacht Club. You can also fly Flamingo Air, but may have to stop in Nassau or George town before getting to Staniel Cay.
Meet Guest Author Lisa Martinez
I’m a Florida native that calls Ft. Lauderdale home. My background is both, Hispanic and Southern (English is actually my second language). I love all things bright and colorful, have a passion for art and photography and according to my husband enjoy traveling way too much. Married for 26 years with 2 daughters and 2 dogs, life is busy. I’m still new to this blogging journey that started when I struggled to find inspiration for the “over forty” crowd. I hope to continue to fill that void though future stories, ideas and hopefully some dream vacations sprinkled in. Thanks so much for reading!!
Hope you get to visit soon and do all the exciting things that are part of an Exuma Cays Vacation. We’ve enjoyed both our visits to Staniel Cay. It really is a little piece of paradise. I just can’t say enough great things about the island and Exuma Bahamas overall.
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