Swimming pigs, crystal clear turquoise waters, iguanas, and private beaches. A beautiful and tranquil place to visit.
We decided to ditch the cold for winter break this year and headed to Great Exuma island – one of the southern-most islands of the Bahamas, part of a chain or islands and cays called the Exumas – where Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed. Traveling with kids we didn’t want to complicate our travels too much in our attempt to navigate these tiny islands in the Caribbean, and opted to stay on Great Exuma where George Town airport is smack dab in the middle and has direct flights to the states – Miami, Charlotte or Atlanta.
On Great Exuma Island we stayed at the Grand Isle Resort and Spa – a beautifully landscaped villa resort perfect for families. Our villa had 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and full living, dining and kitchen area upstairs, with balconies and ocean views to boot. Lots of room to stretch out and the option of buying groceries and doing a few meals in the comfort of our own suite with a fully equipped kitchen. And a total bonus – was the golf cart and added garage area next to our suite to navigate around the resort and golf course. We all enjoyed driving around in the golf cart and may have had some err… younger drivers chauffeuring us around.
The hotel was on the same bay as the all-inclusive Sandals resort. The long inlet beach was great for walks – and exploring the other side we found lots of shells and cool rock formations. The hotel only had one restaurant on the premises, but take out was an option for en-suite dining. A second beach side restaurant was set to open in March on the property. A short taxi ride away we found La Fourchette and Big D’s Conch spot for friendly and well prepared meals, would recommend both. Expect to wait for your food – but we had good grilled fish and veggies in both places, and yummy pasta options for picky eaters with enough leftover to take home.
There is not a whole lot to do – which suited us fine for the laid back vacation we were looking for. The hotel staff was friendly, the drinks were good, the setting gorgeous and the kids made friends on the beach and the pool. The hotel had kayaks and paddle boards and snorkel equipment to borrow free of charge. We did two excursions – first asking for a rental car to be delivered to our hotel ($70 for 24hrs) so we could drive to George Town (driving on the left, but we had plenty of practice in Ireland!!! This was much easier) and take a water taxi to Stocking Island to the Chat n Chill Beach Bar. The beach has plenty of tourists, a bar that serves food, a beach side conch bar where they serve a seafood ceviche of conch with citrus, music playing, swings, picnic tables and benches and trees for plenty of shade – and very friendly stingrays that will scoop up food right from your hand swimming close to shore that don’t seem to mind the many finger strokes of kids wading about. It was a good spot for a change of scenery and entertainment for about 2-3 hours. We did have to call Elvis water taxi to come get us and the other passengers waiting for a ride back.
Our second excursion was to see the main attraction – the famous swimming pigs. We booked the trip through our hotel which included round trip taxi to the northern point of the island on Barraterre to Exuma Water Sports for a half day boat trip. We were on a large new comfortable boat with plenty of seating and about 30 people. The trip included several stops to jaw dropping uninhabited cays – stunning vistas, white sand beaches and the clearest water we’ve ever seen, incredible swimming spots and cool rock formations. The boat often stopped in very shallow waters so that jumping off would sometimes put you in waist deep water and you could wade to the beach.
Our first spot was the pigs – who come running when they see the boat which to them means food. The crew has carrots to give hand out – and while they were friendly – follow the guidelines about feeding (ie let go of the carrot when they snag it, push them away if they’re too close so you don’t get kicked, but otherwise they were plenty submissive). For extra fun plenty of giant stingrays also approached the boat when we were in the water with the pigs – resulting in two kids climbing on top of me. But the stingrays were plenty used to people, posed no threat and were also happy to take food from your hand. We were able to go up to the beach to see all the piglets and by then the big pigs had all calmed down from the feeding frenzy and mingled amongst the tourists on the beach where they were fed and watered by the boat crew. Quite a scene. But it was a lot of fun.
Other stops included a beach full of iguanas that also came out of hiding from the bushes when the boat approached to eat grapes, a small hike up a cliff for a gorgeous view, snorkeling at two deep blue holes with plenty of coral and lots of fish (they lent us snorkeling equipment and pool noodles and flippers) some swimming and just being on the boat and taking in the sites of all the rock formations and amazing water. Going up to the boat deck where the captain was gave another viewpoint to take in all the ethereal surroundings. Make sure you have breakfast before you go and bring some snacks – but they had a cooler with water, sodas and beers. The crew was great and very accommodating and eager to share more about their islands.
If we had more time to explore, we likely would have opted for additional boat tours to other nearby islands. It really is the best way to get around and see the natural beauty. We also would have kept the rental car for a few days to go out to other dinner spots and supermarkets for meals in, but they were sold out when we tried to rent again. Things are closed on Sundays so factor that into your planning. It’s a trip we will likely repeat – perhaps to another Exuma cay to satisfy our wandering hearts, but Great Exuma did not disappoint. Leave the fancy clothes at home, things are very casual but don’t forget your passports, beach hats/caps for everyone and lots and lots of high SPF sunscreen.