This past November, I went on a boat trip with two of my close friends through the beautiful Exuma islands (otherwise known as “Cays”) in the Bahamas! My friend who runs the @itsbetterinthebahamas travel Instagram account, who has been going to Bahamas for many years now, was making a trip from Florida to George Town, via Nassau, so I decided to tag along (and bring another friend) for a portion of it to explore new spots in the Exumas I haven’t been to yet!
To get a better idea what the Exuma Cays actually looks like, it’s best to look at a map:
As you can see, the largest and most famous city in Bahamas, Nassau, is on an island called New Providence. However, Bahamas is much larger than just Nassau (Bahamas is actually comprised of over 700 islands). When you look South of Nassau, you see a chain of islands – those are the Exumas! The first island (“Cay”) you hit on the way down is Ship Channel Cay and it is 35 miles away from Nassau. Going on a boat that is 47″ at 22mph takes about 2 hours to get there.
During our trip, the weather was very windy and not ideal boating conditions. We were planning on going to Ship Channel Cay, since there are awesome reef sharks you can swim with, but we wanted to go into a safe harbour quickly so we headed directly to the closest marina, Highbourne Cay.
Highbourne Cay is privately owned by some investors out of New Providence island, so it is very well maintained and all the structures on the island are brand new. When you dock at the marina you can rent a golf cart to go explore around the island and use their beautiful beaches, which come with lounge chairs (seating with and without roofs), hammocks, bonfires ready to light, BBQs, paddleboards, kayaks, and so on. When we were there the island was empty so it felt like we had the entire place to ourselves! Being a paddleboard lover I hopped on and paddled to the sharks they have at the marina 🙂 I would love to go back to this marina eventually and spend at least few more days there!
Near Highbourne Cay is Allen’s Cay which has endangered rock iguanas living on it! Great place to stop by to visit 🙂
Up next is a historically famous Cay. Norman’s Cay used to be the number one drug hub between Colombia and the US between 1978-1982. It was owned and run by Carlos Lehder (as known from the hit Netflix series “Narcos” and as the character named “Diego” in the movie “Blow”). This island would have several planes landing on it per day with around 300kg of cocaine in each plane from Colombia, ready to be split up and flown to the US. Back then, apparently, if you got anywhere near this island and they did not know you, you would have been shot and killed! Now, it is much safer to approach and there is an awesome sunken drug plane to snorkel there! (*Note that we did not spend overnight here, this was a stop on our way from Highbourne Cay to Compass Cay)
The next cay has become well known for friendly sharks that you can swim with! The marina itself is not very big but has an awesome laidback island vibe. There’s not much developed there but it adds to the charm. There are, however, fishermen that come in daily to the marina, and cut up and filet their fish. The remnants are given to the nurse sharks that have become their “pets” that stick around waiting for their next meal. You can ask the marina manager for some fish to feed the sharks if you come when the fishermen aren’t there. The nurse sharks are very friendly and will not intentionally hurt you, as they do not eat humans (Just don’t stick your fingers in their mouth ;)!). You can also time your visit with high tide where they will come onto the dock and lay around with you!
Not too far from Compass Cay is Staniel Cay. Staniel Cay is the most developed island in the Exuma chain other than Great Exuma. It has an airstrip so you can fly into it, but it is only for small planes. You can get a flight to there by Pineapple Air or Flamingo Air. The marina is medium size, but the highlight is the “Staniel Cay Yacht Club” which is a bar/restaurant which the marina is part of. It’s always lively and you never know who you might bump into there! Everyone is usually friendly and if you stay for a few drinks you will probably end up making a few friends!
Also right next to Staniel Cay is Big Major’s Cay (better now known as “Pig Beach”) which is the island with the original swimming pigs! If you head to that area you must visit them and bring some treats 🙂 And another must-do is the Thunderball Grotto, right next to Staniel Cay. This is where the Thunderball James Bond movie was filmed. From the outside, it looks like a regular rocky island with nothing to see, but once you get in there you will be amazed at how beautiful this grotto is. Another great tip is to bring a waterbottle full of bread/breadcrumbs and open it in the water inside the grotto. All the fish will come right up to you!
Musha is the main island in a set of islands owned by world renowned magician David Copperfield. There are several listings online you can go see what it has to offer, but you and your friends can rent it for around $39,000 USD a night, 4 night minimum stay (for up to 12 people, cost goes up for number of people up to 24 max)! It sounds steep but if you have a big group and require a full staff, multiple villas, security, chef, etc, it might be worthwhile! If you are just boating by and don’t want to fork over $39k a night to stay there, you can search for the sunken treasures David has hidden for his guests. They are supposed to be in top secret locations but people find out and one of them, the sunken piano with mermaid, apparently is pinpointed on the newest garmin GPS! It is near Rudder Cut Cay next to Musha. It is stunning to see it in real life! Makes me want to find all the rest 🙂
Great Exuma – George Town
Last but not least is our final destination, George Town, Great Exuma! Georgetown is the last “big” city when you go that far south down Bahamas before you head onto Turks and Caicos. It has an international airport, telecom stores, grocery stores, fuel/gas, restaurants, hotels, etc. On the way to George Town, you can stop at the second swimming pigs island (close to the north point of Great Exuma), the Iguana island, Blowhole Cay (both Iguana and Blowhole are near second Pig Beach), Stocking Island (which has the famous beach bar Chat’n’Chill and sting rays you can play with), and so on. The infamous Sandy Cay sandbar is all the way at the end of Great Exuma island! (As located on map!) More info on just this part of Exuma you can click here!
Thanks guys, hope you enjoyed the info! My next post will be a summary cheat sheet on why to go to Exuma, where to stay, how to get there, etc., stay tuned!