The Exumas are the place most people think about and see on Instagram when they want to visit the Bahamas. With so many bucket list experiences in the Exumas like the famous swimming pigs, swimming with sharks, hiking historic monuments, and so much more, it is easy to see why The Exumas are such a popular travel destination!
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Visit the Wild Iguanas on the Beach
One of the lesser-known popular bucket list experiences in the Exumas is visiting the wild iguanas. These iguanas are a subspecies of Bahamian Rock Iguanas, and only live on three islands in the world. The iguanas are scattered throughout the Exumas, but there are a significant number of them on Allen Cay. Three small islands make up the Cay, and these are where you’ll find the iguanas!
There are many tours offered that can bring you to the iguanas, but the best way to visit is on your own boat, either by private tour, chartering a boat for the day, or chartering a boat for your whole stay! When you arrive to the island, the iguanas will likely run right up to you, since they are accustomed to being fed by daily visitors.
If you choose to feed the iguanas, make sure to only feed fruits or vegetables (make sure they are SAFE for iguanas to eat, we brought a couple pieces of leftover squash and romaine). Use a stick, and let the animal approach you, some are very shy while others will legitimately jump in your lap.
While there, walk around the little islands if you can! We had a great time walking around the horseshoe shaped island following iguana prints and seeing other views from the islands! Bring a camera and keep your eyes peeled for basking iguanas all over in the sun!
Hike the Beacon at Monument Beach
On Stocking Island, just off George Town, Exuma you may see a tall monument atop one of the highest points of the island. This beacon was originally used for navigation by seafarers, but has since become a popular hiking spot for sailors and travelers visiting the Exumas.
At the base of the monument on the southwest side of Stocking island, there is a big, shallow pond surrounded by tons of boat names written in the sand with rocks. From there, you can head to the trailhead. It’s a very easy hike, unless you don’t find the trailhead. I believe there are a few, but there is one just to the north of the little pond between the trees, but the trails wind throughout the island for miles. It’s a good idea to bring water and wear sunscreen, the Bahamian sun is hot!
Up on the monument, you’ll have stunning views of the ocean and the bay, and some of the trails back down lead to beautiful remote beaches! This was definitely one of my favorite hikes while we were in the Bahamas, and is definitely one to add to your Exumas bucket list!
Snorkel Pablo Escobar’s Sunken Plane Wreck
The easiest snorkel spot on the Exumas bucket list is just under the water of Norman’s Cay. The infamous sunken Pablo Escobar drug smuggling plane is easily one of the most unique snorkel experiences I’ve had! During the 1970s and 80s, the Bahamas was often used as a stopping point between South America and the US. Norman’s Cay was the base for the smuggling, and planes would take off and land filled with drugs to smuggle into the US.
Now the plane has a forever home under the water between a few sandbars in the Exumas. It’s a perfect snorkel spot since it’s in relatively shallow water, there are tons of corals and fish that have made the plane a little more colorful, and the current isn’t super strong! You can book private tours to snorkel the plane, but if you’re going on your own boat, make sure to bring a snorkel buddy!
Float Through The Exuma Land and Sea Park
The Exuma Land and Sea park was established in 1956 to conserve the reefs and islands throughout the Bahamian island chain. Over 156 miles, this park is protected and pristine with wildlife, beautiful secluded beaches, and unique landforms.
On Shroud Cay, there are two unique experiences that you can experience, one on a natural “lazy river” called Sanctuary Creek. Lined on both sides with mangrove trees, the creek is an amazing estuary for the native wildlife. Motorized dinghies are allowed at an idle speed, but if I could go back, I’d love to kayak or paddle the drift! Keep your eyes peeled for sea turtles, fish, and other wildlife!
After your float through Sanctuary Creek, hike to the top of Shroud Cay by hiking Camp Driftwood. It’s an easy, short hike, but has stunning views. View the shifting sandbars, the Bahamian sea, and walk down a remote beach. Make sure to leave no trace, and pick up any trash you may find along the beach or path!
With the park being over 150 miles long, there are a ton of different islands, islets, and cays to visit. Shroud cay is only one of many to experience, and the water has some absolutely incredible snorkeling to experience!
If possible, try to experience more than just Shroud Cay throughout the park. If you’re sailing through the Exumas on your own boat, they do have a nightly park fee, and moorings in sensitive areas, but some of the most incredible anchorages and water that I’ve ever seen!
Explore Thunderball Grotto, the Most Unique Snorkel Spot for Your Exumas Bucket List
Roughly halfway between Allen Cay and George Town is Staniel Cay. This little area of the Exumas is popular for a couple reasons, one of which being the famous Thunderball Grotto! A popular snorkel and swimming spot made famous by James Bond, this snorkel spot is pretty hidden if you don’t know where it is and is a great snorkel spot to add to your Exumas bucket list.
I would not consider this a novice or beginner-friendly snorkel spot. The entrance to the grotto is typically underwater, so you either have to swim underwater through the little tunnel, or jump from the opening at the top of the grotto. Snorkeling through the underwater entrance, you have to swim close to rocks with a pretty strong current around the formation. If you’re feeling brave, you can climb the sharp rock up to the top of the grotto and jump through the opening. It’s roughly a 40 foot jump, and there could be other swimmers around, so make sure to be safe.
While we didn’t get the chance to snorkel while in the Staniel Cay area because the conditions were too rough, Thunderball grotto is definitely one that I want to visit next time I’m in the Exumas!
Swim with Nurse Sharks
By far my FAVORITE thing that I ticked off not only my Exumas bucket list, but my travel bucket list was swimming with the nurse sharks at Compass Cay. These sharks are harmless to humans, as their diet consists primarily of small fish, conch, crabs, and sometimes even coral!
Sharks are definitely one of my favorite animals, but it was amazing seeing so many people enjoying swimming in and around the animals that get such a bad reputation from Hollywood productions like Jaws and The Shallows.
Compass Cay is a resort and marina with these famous sharks that hang out in the area. For a small fee, you can land your dinghy at their dock and hop in with the sharks. The water is around waist height in most of the area, so is accessible for most! When you swim, be sure to keep your hands away from their mouths (they can bite fingers that look like a snack!), and let the animal approach you. If you choose to touch them, the best way is with a flat hand on their back. Make sure not to chase or grab them, they swim in the area by choice. You may be surprised at what they feel like, they’re not slimy at all, and don’t be surprised if you have one follow you around (I did, even when I was in the shallows he sat right behind me!)
Befriend Stingrays at Chat n’ Chill
On the same Stocking island, just outside of Georgetown is a popular barefoot bar called Chat n’ Chill. Frequented by the sailing community, the bar hosts tons of community events from beach volleyball to ukulele lessons, and everything in between, as well as a popular Sunday evening pig roast! The bar is a super fun spot to get a cold beer in the middle of the day to cool down, or a colorful rum cocktail for the sunset.
If you’re looking for a place to stay near Georgetown, check out the beautiful Kahari Resort! It’s on Stocking island, the same island as the Monument and Chat n’ Chill!
If you walk just past some of the picnic tables towards the little pink conch shack, you’ll find not only the best conch salad in all of the Bahamas, but also some fun flat friends in the water! These southern stingrays like to hang out around the area with the hopes of getting some fresh, leftover conch from the locals that make the conch salad.
These stingrays are pretty curious and friendly, but it is important to note that they do have barbs on their tails, so make sure to do the stingray shuffle when you enter the water! You’ll see the pile of discarded conch shells, and they usually hangout around there! If you see these little clumps of conch in the water, that’s what the locals will use to make your conch salad, so you know it’ll be fresh!
Complete Your Exumas Bucket List with the Famous Swimming Pigs
Probably the most popular and sought after experience when people visit the Bahamas is seeing the famous swimming pigs. While there are MANY places throughout the islands offering a swimming pig experience, the original location is just outside of Staniel Cay on an uninhabited island called Big Major Cay. There are tours that leave from Staniel Cay as well as other more populated areas like Nassau that take speedboats to the island.
These famous pigs will in fact, swim out to meet you in your boat or dinghy (and will try to get in it when it’s on shore). If you bring food, they WILL follow you around, especially the big ones, so it’s best to feed them from the boat once you’re in an area that’s shallow enough for them to stand. If you do choose to feed them, make sure that they are getting fruits and veggies, and nothing covered in sand. They do have a water trough under the little gazebo that can be filled with fresh water (since there is none on the island otherwise).
The piglets were the best part about visiting, they loved getting scratches! Make sure that you do not pick up the piglets, and let them approach you!