Shaka Kai's Cruising Guide to the Exumas
by Lizzie Perez on Feb 15, 2023
Whether you’re charting your own course or just going along for the ride, the Bahamas offers a staggering variety of experiences and islands. Made up of over 700 islands and cays, more than 300 are in the Exumas. Located just past the tongue of the ocean, the Exumas have everything from swimming pigs and Hollywood landmarks to fine dining and shark encounters.
Our journey truly began in Shipping Channel and Highbourne cays, where we looked for nurse shark breeding grounds and ate lunch at Xuma’s. While there were no nurse sharks to be found, the shallow saltwater creek is a great place to look for shells, shorebirds, and small stingrays; or to simply splash around.
After, we made the leap all the way south to Chat n Chill in time for their weekly pork roast and swam with the lemon sharks that occasionally investigate the beach, looking for conch scraps. With full bellies we headed to our next home base in Grand Isle. This secluded resort is very peaceful and offers a par-72 seaside golf course for those who like to get their strokes in. With its own pool and beach, there is something for everyone to enjoy; as well as two restaurants. The next day we caught a taxi ride with Queenie (the best on the island!) and went into George Town for lunch at Peace and Plenty. From there, Queen directed us to Hopper Bay to swim with turtles. Tourists often feed these turtles lettuce, so be prepared for a magical experience of multiple curious turtles swimming up to you! We also visited the Jacque Cousteau mystery cave (in the same basin as Chat N Chill); an underwater cave that connects the Atlantic and the bay on the other side of the island. It is an easy snorkel, and you can feel the cold currents coming in from the other side! There are all kinds of fish swimming near the mouth of the cave, just waiting to catch smaller prey that gets caught in the current. Enthusiastic snorkelers should also check out Rolle Reef for stunning coral specimens and high fish diversity.
After leaving Grand Isle, we found ourselves exploring the small cays in search of reefs, iguanas, and stromatolites on the way back to Staniel Cay. First, we headed to Leaf Cay to see one of the famous iguana beaches. These endangered rock iguanas really enjoy their grapes but be sure to respect their tails! After, we tracked down the ancient stromatolites (think of them as an evolutionary prototype of coral reefs) and collected shells from the nearby beach. Another great snorkeling spot was the Mermaid Playing a Piano underwater statue near David Copperfield’s private island. The current here can be challenging, so fins are necessary. There are also numerous plane wrecks in the area that provide quick, interesting snorkel sites or a great spearfishing stop. Once you’re ready for a break, stop at Little Farmer’s Cay and see JR for hand carved wooden artwork.
Finally, we headed up to Staniel Cay for the remainder of the trip. Staniel Cay and the surrounding adventures requires a few days to fully appreciate all it has to offer. Likely the most notable is Pig Beach, where you can get in the water and swim with the local pigs. Be sure to bring some veggies! These guys are very friendly and love it when you bring them some snacks. For the more adventurous, Compass Cay marina has a host of resident nurse sharks that hang around for the feedings and are with attention from humans. Coral Reef lovers will definitely want to check out the natural wonders of Exuma Land and Sea Park, where there are countless reefs to snorkel and even land trails for those that like to look at local wildlife. If you are a birdwatcher, this is a great place to watch for shorebirds and a few inland species.
This is only a precursory overview of things to do in the Exuma islands of the Bahamas, and is by no means a complete guide. If you are plotting your own course, consult experienced mariners and refer to official charts and professionally published cruising guides for specified information on navigation, ports, interesting stops, and more. We at Shaka Kai love the ocean, but the most important lesson to be learned is respect for the natural wonders of our world.