The Exumas are one of those places where you see a picture, and you immediately know you have to go there. I don’t remember exactly when this moment was for me — but I’ll place it somewhere during high school, more than 10 years ago. I’m thrilled that after so many failed attempts (Rob and I were actually supposed to honeymoon here), I finally made the trip with my family for a 3 day adventure.
As our airplane approaches the Exumas, still several thousands of feet above the ground, the beauty of the islands are beginning to unfold. The Exumas unleash their charm, revealing a delicate and charming presence scattered along a chain of more than 360 islands and cays — most of it pure and unspoiled.
The water surrounding these islands and cays is completely clear, save for the patches of a darker blue formed by the shadowing of the clouds. From the air, the land reveals a lush green landscape with spaces cleared for roadways, and several homes scattered along its edges.
By the time we touch down outside the quaint yellow airport, I am already in love with the Exumas. We are ushered onto the tarmac, and to the side of the airport, to an outdoor canopy, to await our luggage that will eventually be brought along on a trolley.
Welcome to island life.
Where we stayed
Housing on Great Exuma is fairly costly, and for good reason, the place is magic. We opted to stay in a vacation rental home because we were travelling with such a large group (5 adults, 3 kids). It took us a few days, but thankfully we found a home through VRBO/Homeaway that could accommodate all of us comfortably at about $170/night. Other prices for groups of our size were upwards of $400/night.
Our home for these three days was Palmetto Place, a three bedroom, two bath home, about a 25 minute drive from the airport, in the capital city of Georgetown. Built on a high rise, the home offered amazing views of the island’s landscape.
Something to note if you stay in a vacation rental: If your housing does not have a generator, or some alternative form of energy (ie solar), you will experience frequent power outages. We had as many as three to four a day. It didn’t bother us as much in the day because we were on the go so much, but at night, it got uncomfortably hot.
What we did
Our trip began with a visit to Stocking Island — although there are beautiful beaches all over the island, we were told by my aunt, who has lived in Exuma her entire life, that this beach was a perfect Sunday activity. She was right.
Stocking Island is about a 7 minute boat ride (or ferry, as it’s called) from the mainland, and it’s a pretty affordable way to get a boat ride in, if you don’t have the bucks for a charter tour. The ferries come every hour, and the cost is $15 for adults, and $10 for kids round-trip. The ferry in itself was an adventure – it was quite magical seeing so many shades of blue and green in one body of water.
On the island, there is the Chat and Chill restaurant and bar, and several activities both in and out the water. For those who want to have fun on land, there are volleyball nets and beach-side hammocks, and for those who prefer to venture into the sea, there are stingrays that you can feed and pet, as well as kayaks and other items available for use.
I chose to have my fun in the sea, and feeding the stingrays was one of the top three moments of my trip. The stingrays swam back and forth over this shallow area of water close to the conch salad vendor, because apparently they are crazy about conch (who knew?). You can purchase bits of conch from the vendor to feed them.
We spent the better part of the day here, and then went on a driving tour through the northern part of Great Exuma through Rolletown, and all the way to Barratarre at the top of the island.
The next day, we went on a short boat ride from a dock in the Barratarre area to see the swimming pigs. This has also been on my bucket list for several years. After hearing about other people going, and seeing so many pictures, I was stoked that it was finally my turn.
We were told to pack bread to feed the pigs, and as soon as we threw the first piece of bread out, they started swimming to us. These were an aggressive bunch though. The pigs, about seven of them, stayed near our boat as we approached, docked, and didn’t leave our boat until we left the island. We were told by our guide to stay away from the ones with the husks.
We had planned to go to the Staniel Cay area to see the iguanas but due to some issues with the boat, we weren’t able to go. Our boat tour was heavily discounted because a family member took us out on the trip. But, you can charter similar tours in the range of $300 – 500, including the trip to see the iguanas.
On our final day, we drove all the way to the southern end of the island, crossing the one-lane bridge to Little Exuma, all the way to the Williamstown settlement. On our route, we came across the Tropic of Cancer Beach (also known as the Pelican Beach), the most beautiful, pure beach I have ever laid my eyes on. The problem is, if we hadn’t already heard about it, I’m certain we would have drove right by it. If anything could be described as “off the beaten path”, this would certainly be it.
Roadside, there is a small, obscure sign that reads “Tropic of Cancer.” When you turn through, you meet a rocky limestone road with slight hills, and after driving for about five minutes there was no beach in sight. We got out when we saw a food vendor, only to be told we were already here! It was well worth the choppy drive.
We walked through the wooden cabana, down the stairs and one of the most breathtaking beaches in the world was revealed. When I first saw it, I was speechless. I literally had no words. All I could do was look – it was so beautiful. This was my top moment of the trip, and an absolute must see.
The best part about the Tropic of Cancer beach, which got its name because the tropic of cancer literally runs right through it, was that it was empty. Aside from our group, there were only a handful of other people bathing in the translucent blue waters.
My future beaching adventures will be forever spoiled, thanks to this beach.
Planning your own trip to the Exumas? I compiled an abridged guide for you below!
Flight: Least expensive flight to the island from Nassau was through Bahamasair, offering round-trip flights in the range of $200 USD. Flights are also offered through Sky Bahamas. It is about a 30 minute flight.
Hotel: We stayed in the Palmetto Place vacation rental (booked through Homeaway) – a 3 bedroom, 2 bath home located in Georgetown, in the range of $170 USD/night
Restaurants: Big D’s Conch Spot had some of the most delicious food – I recommend their cracked conch and fries.
Tours/Things to Do: Tropic of Cancer Beach // Stocking Island // Pig Island // Feed the Iguanas at Iguana Island, Staniel Cay // Swim with the nurse sharks on Compass Cay (I didn’t get to feed the iguanas or swim with the sharks this trip, but they are both on my bucket list for my next trip!)