The Exuma Islands is a chain of 365 islands. It would take an entire year to explore the Exumas if 1 island is explored each day. When exploring the Exuma Islands, it is best to rent your own boat and or hire private tour guide. If you’re renting your own boat, please understand the dangers and safety of boating. Knowing how to read the water is key. For those with no experience in boating, I highly recommend that you hire a professional guide who would be willing to accommodate to your schedule.
From personal experience, here are a list of the Top Ten Things to Do and See in Exuma, Bahamas.
10.) Bitter Guana Cay. As soon as you land on Bitter Guana Cay, you will notice that this island is filled with iguanas. Due to their isolation, the iguanas are indigenous to this island, and are found nowhere else in the world. Scientists come from all over the world to study these iguanas. If you take a closer look and examine these iguanas, you’ll notice their prehistoric resemblance to dinosaurs. In fact, this was actually a location where Jurassic Park III: The Lost World was filmed. In the opening scene of Jurassic Park III, a wealthy family lands on an island where a little girl was attacked by a dozen Compsognathus. Many believe that Bitter Guana Cay was the inspiration for Steven Spielberg’s opening scene in The Lost World.
9.) The Sea Aquarium and Submerged Plane. Situated near the northern part of O’Brien Cay is The Sea Aquarium and a sunken plane. This area is considered as the beginning of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. The sunken plane is only a couple hundred yards from The Sea Aquarium, and is worth the quick stop. You can identify the sunken plane by the single buoy that is tied onto the plane itself. The Sea Aquarium, on the other hand, is a snorkeler’s paradise. If you’re looking for marine life, this is the place to be. There are 2 buoys that you can tie your boat down to, just be careful of the sharp walls filled with coral. The current can get pretty strong here when other boats pass by. Just be on high alert once you’re entered the water. I recommend a life vest if you’re not a strong swimmer. The current here can push you towards the sharp wall.
8.) Johnny Depp’s Island. Not too far from O’Brien Cay is Johnny Depp’s island, also known as Little Hall Ponds Cay. When we were there, April of 2015, there were about 20 white tents set up on his island. This definitely made it easy to spot. Someone mentioned that the tents were set up for the guests of his wedding, but I can not confirm this. Because Johnny Depp’s island is off-limits, due to private property, you won’t be able to dock on the island. Instead, take your boat to the northern end of O’Brien Cay or Soldier Cay. There are a few isolated sand bars around there. You can grab some binoculars to see if you can spot any activity going on in Little Hall Ponds Cay.
7.) Waderick’s Well. Also a part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park, Waderick’s Well is where the visitor center is located. The first thing you will see when you circle around onto the northern part of the island is the giant sperm whale skeleton that is right along the beach. According to the signs posted, the sperm whale died after swallowing a plastic bag. The carcass was left there, and through time, the 53′ sperm whale skeleton was all that was left behind. In additional to the sperm whale, the infamous Boo Boo Hill located here. A short hike up the trail will take you to a hilltop filled with signage left behind by sailors. Legend has it that the hilltop was once a pirates’ lair. The driftwood and signs have been left behind as an offering for the gods for a safe sail home.
6.) Great Exuma: Of the 365 islands in Exuma, the largest of the cays is Great Exuma. When landing in Georgetown, visiting Stocking Island is a must. You may think that renting a boat from Minn’s Watersport is the best way to see Elizabeth Harbor. This is wrong! Instead of trying to navigate a boat that does not include a GPS, drive down to Government Dock. From there, you can take a quick boat ride across to get to Stocking Island. When you get to the dock, ask for Elvis. Ask him if he has a guide that can take you out for the day. You can get a boat and a guide for the same amount as renting a boat at Minn’s. The guides all know the harbor inside and out. Ryan was our guide, and had given us the most amazing tour of our lives.
First, he took us to the store and bought some squid to feed the sea turtles. We ended up feeding and swimming with 5 sea turtles. He then took us to a few snorkeling hot spots, where fish was abundant. We grabbed a quick bathroom break and snack at Chat N Chill. The Conch Salad is amazing here. Because Ryan was friends with our server at Chat N Chill, he gave us the scraps to feed the stingrays. We ended up swimming, petting, and feeding 4 sting rays. After our break, Ryan took us to find starfish at starfish beach! We were able to only find 1 at the time, but it was a big one! He then took us across the island and we took a little hike across to the Atlantic side. The Atlantic Ocean was the most spectacular ocean I’ve ever seen. The colors were vibrant and the layers of corals made the entire beach look like a painting. The Atlantic Ocean was unreal. It felt as though I was in a dream. After our hike back, we ended back at Chat N Chill for lunch. The food was not amazing and the food took a really time, but the atmosphere was well worth it. After lunch we headed back out for some more snorkeling. Ryan stopped the boat in the middle of the ocean, and told us to jump in. We were bewildered as to what we would see here, instead we saw a few rocks with the most colorful corals I had ever seen. Because these small rocks were in the middle of no where, they were kept in pristine conditions with little to no human contact. He then took us to Sand Dollar Beach. We only found 1 sand dollar, but it was still pretty darn cool! All and all, hire a local. The locals know the best spots, and had we rented our own boat, we wouldn’t have had seen half the things we saw with Ryan.
5.) Little Exuma: Great Exuma is joined to Little Exuma via a small one lane bridge. In Little Exuma, you must visit the Tropic of Cancer Beach! This beach is insanely blue! The Tropic of Cancer Beach may be hard to find, since the sign is removed for beach access. Getting there can be a bit tricky, just keep your eyes peeled. When you’re on the main highway, crossing the bridge from Great Exuma to Little Exuma, drive for about 5 miles. You’ll get to a section of the road where it is a straight shot. You’ll notice an abandon car on the right, and a light pole that extends from the left side of the road to the right side of the road. Look for this light pole. You’ll know it’s the right light pole when you see the blue reflectors on it. Take a left here. Go all the way down and there is the Tropic of Cancer Beach! Don’t forget to Stop at Santana’s! The lobster there is amazing! Make sure to ask for their special sauce. I personally do not like fried foods, due to the heavy breading. If you’re like me, ask them if they can prepare the lobster without the breading! The lobster here are the best lobsters I’ve ever had. Get there early, this place is always packed!
4.) Rocky Dundas. Located just outside of Fowl Cay are the Rocky Dundas. There are 2 caves located underneath Fowl Cay. In order to get there, you must swim underwater to get inside the cave. There are 2 buoys where you can tie your boat down. The ocean bottom is quite deep, so make sure to wear a life vest if you’re not a strong swimmer. The cave on the right, during low tide, requires no diving. You can simply swim through into the cave. As you enter the large opening, you will see a magnificent cave full of stalactites and stalagmites. The colors of the caves are vibrant, full of purples, greens, and yellows. You”ll also notice some fossilized beetles along the cave walls. There aren’t too many marine life inside the caves, but just outside of the caves are full of life. Most of the fish in this area are smaller. This is a prime area for sea urchins. Be on the lookout for cactus-like urchins on the ocean floor.
The cave on the left requires a bit of diving in order to get through. Although this cave is not as colorful as the first one, a beam of light shines through the cave illuminating the entire cave. What’s captivating about the cave on the left is not the cave itself, but what lies just in front of the cave. As you enter the cave, you will encounter a 18′ Elk Horn Coral. This is the most magnificent piece of coral I’d ever seen in my life. This Elk Horn Coral was bright orange filled with marine life. In my personal experiences, I’d never witness anything like it. This is the kind of coral you see in man-made aquariums that are hand painted, but never in real life.
3.) Compass Cay. If you’d ever wanted to swim with sharks, than I highly recommend making a stop at Compass Cay. Although you can swim with nurse sharks in the open ocean, it’s probably not very likely that you would find a group of them all together as you would here. This group of nurse sharks hang out at Compass Cay, and are basically pets to the owners of the dock. Although there is a docking fee of $10/person (whether you swim with the sharks or not) it’s worth the stop. They have a sign that names all the sharks that hang out in the area. This is great spot to stop of lunch. They have burgers and hotdogs available. While your food is cooking, jump in! The nurse sharks are extremely friendly, but make sure not to touch their mouths. They can bite. If you’re lucky like we were, the owners will throw some food in the water causing a feeding frenzy. These 18′ sharks are intimidating when they are swimming near the surface of the water, but they aren’t too bad if they are only dwelling at the bottom of the ocean floor (which is what they normally do).
2.) Thunderball Grotto and Serenity Reef: Right along the northern part of Staniel Cay is the Thunderball Grotto and Serenity Reef. When you see the pink house with a dock, that is The Serenity House. You will see 3 giant rocks right in front of The Serenity House. The first rock is where Serenity Reef is. There isn’t a place to tie your boat onto, so just let the anchor go, swim to the bottom and grab a rock to hold the boat in place. Below the surface of this entire rock are thousands of colorful coral. The entire wall is filled with color and fish. It’s worth spending half an hour here to explore since it’s much less congested than the Thunderball Grotto. The Thunderball Grotto is located on the third rock, furthest from Serenity House. This popular cave is very similar to the Rocky Dundas. Although it’s not quite as impressive, this cave was made famous due to the fact that it was a filming location for the James Bond movie 007. There are multiple entrances into the Thunderball Grotto. Do not attempt this during high tide. Make sure to only swim through during low tide. There are multiple buoys near the entrance, but be aware that it’s a long swim to get to. It’s best to have the boat anchored to the bottom of the sandy ocean floor. What is impressive is the coral reef and marine life just outside of the giant rock. As we swam through, this is by far the most impressive, as far as marine life goes. There were schools of giant fish swimming beneath us. As I first approached the grotto, I was startled by the size of the fish here. Not only were the size of the fish intimidating, but the amount of fish surrounding made me feel claustrophobic. I had never swam with schools of fish that were as big as me. The concentration of fish in this area was definitely the highlight of Thunderball Grotto for us.
1.) The Swimming Pigs. Make sure to read: The Ultimate Guide to The Swimming Pigs in Bahamas. There is a beach called Pigs Beach, where adorable little piglets will swim out to greet you as you they hear the motorboats passing by. In hopes that there will be food available, offered by the generous tourists, these piggies are willing to swim out 15 yards into the open ocean to be able to snag some snacks. If you didn’t think that pigs could swim, well think again.
The Exumas offer so much more than I could’ve imagined. It’s one of the very few places where I got more than I expected. I can not think of a better place to visit for isolated sand bars and beaches, and unique outdoor adventures. From swimming pigs to underwater caves, the Exumas offers it all.