The Exuma Islands, Bahamas
A string of islands stretching 120 nautical miles south of Nassau, the Exumas, considered Bahamian Out Islands, are a popular area for Bahamas Yacht Charter, given the proximity to Nassau, the beauty of the islands, the miles of deserted powder sand beaches, the extraordinary shades of blue and green of the water, and the fun to be had exploring the cays and anchorages in this island chain. There is an international airport in Nassau and Georgetown on Great Exuma, at the southern end of the Exuma Islands, and a very small international airport in Staniel Cay.
There are 365 islands or cays that comprise the Exuma Islands, many of which are small uninhabited bits of land with deserted beaches. The largest island is Great Exuma Island at the southern end of the island chain where Georgetown, the Capital of the Exuma Islands is located at the head of the very deep water Elizabeth Harbour.
Many of the unnamed beaches and coves in the Exumas, including large offshore reef areas, are part of the protected Exuma National Land and Sea Park of the Bahamas National Trust. Hawksbill Cay and Warderick Wells, within the Land and Sea Park, both with remains of 18th-century Loyalist settlements, have marked hiking trails, as does Hall’s Pond. The park appeals in particular to scuba divers, given the underwater world of limestone, reefs, drop-offs, blue holes of freshwater springs, caves, tropical marine life, and stands of rare pillar coral. On land are a variety of tropical birds including osprey, banana quits, and terns and wildlife such as a rare iguana species. Underwater are tropical fish, hawksbill turtles, huge groupers, lemon and nurse sharks. Established in 1958, this park was the first land and sea park in the world and is now an example of how successful a park of this kind can be in preserving the natural marine and land ecosystems.
Also, within the land and sea park is Shroud Cay, home to the “Washing Machine”, which is a natural river in which you can be “washed” from one side of Shroud Cay to the other. Shroud Cay also has an extensive mangrove area that is fun to explore by ship’s tender.
Outside of the Exuma National Land and Sea Park, where fishing is prohibited, fishing is a popular sport. There are various bone fishing locations to try to catch bonefish, known as the “Grey Ghost”, which are found swimming above just submerged flat cays that can be covered by as little as one foot of water. In Exuma Sound, anglers can fish for other types of fish such as mahi-mahi, barracuda and sailfish and deep sea fishing is also available.
North of the land and sea park is Norman’s Cay, an island featuring 10 miles of white sand beaches. Remnants of the years in the 1970’s when this cay was the location of massive drug smuggling still remain, particularly in the sunken drug running plane that came in short of the cay runway when landing and is now submerged not far offshore. Today, snorkeling around the sunken plane is a unique underwater experience.
With 365 islands and islets, owning your own cay is easy in the Exumas. A number of well-known Hollywood and other wealthy people do own their own Exuma Cay on which have been created extensive retreats and compounds in the area south of Staniel Cay and north of Great Exuma Island, such as the Aga Khan, Nicolas Cage, David Copperfield, Johnny Depp, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, Eddie Murphy, and Tyler Perry.
Also, south of Staniel Cay and north of Great Exuma Island are several outstanding sand bar formations, that offer fabulous photo opportunities of white sand against beautifully colored water. Just south of Big Farmer’s Cay, a long stretch of pure white sand emerges from the blue-green hued water only at low tide which is called the “Mile-long Sandbar”. During low tide, this sandbar is perfect for shelling, sunbathing, and picnicking and given the remoteness of this sandbar, on most days you will have it all to yourself. Musha Cay Sandbar is a remote secluded 2-mile saddleback sandbar which again, as reachable only by private yacht, generally it will be only you enjoying this sandbar, the beautiful colors of the water, and the soft sand.
On Staniel Cay, a very small cay in land mass, but a center of activity in the northern Exuma Islands, is the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, founded in the 1950’s. Serving meals and cocktails including the Goombay Smash, outsiders are welcome with advance reservations. Nearby Staniel Cay in the harbor on Compass Cay are a placid group of wild nurse sharks, to enjoy watching, feed, or swim with at your own risk. On other cays nearby Staniel Cay, such as Great Major Cay and Allen’s Cay are the homes, respectively, of the swimming pigs and the rare Northern Bahamian Rock Iguana both of which are fun to feed. Also, nearby and featured in the James Bond film “Thunderball”, from whence the grotto received its name, is Thunderball Grotto, within which are tropical fish and beautiful water colors.
What to do and See in the Exuma Islands, Bahamas
Norman Island Sunken Airplane: In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Norman Island was commandeered by Pablo Escobar as a refueling stop for his drug running planes from South America to the U.S. In 1980, a WWII era plane being used for drug running landed short of the runway, flipped, and was left submerged in the shallow waters, which when the tides are right is a very unique snorkeling location.
Exuma National Land and Sea Park: Established in 1959, this 179 mile square mile land and sea park includes Little Wax Cay, Shroud Cay, Little Pigeon Cay (private), Hawksbill Cay, Little Hawksbill Cay, Cistern Cay (private), Long Cay, Warderick Wells, Halls Pond Cay, Little White Bay Cay, South Halls Pond Cay (private), Soldier Cay (private) O’Brien’s Pasture Cays, Bell Island (private) and Rocky Dundas. The protected waters offer excellent snorkeling and scuba diving, fun exploring through mangrove canals, Shroud Cay “washing machine”, extensive hiking trails, and miles of beautiful beaches. The visitor center is located on Warderick Wells.
Compass Cay Nurse Sharks: Brought to the harbor by the Owners of the Compass Cay Marina, these gentle sharks are fed by the marina owners and make their home in the harbor. Feed and/or swim with the sharks, remembering that these are wild sharks, so all at your own risk.
Staniel Cay Yacht Club: Established in 1956, the yacht club helped make Staniel Cay a popular stopping point for yachtsmen. Cocktails and dining are available for nonmembers. Dining requires advance reservations.
Swimming Pigs on Great Major Cay: Feral pigs make their home on this cay and have learned to swim to the tenders of visiting yachtsmen for food handouts. These pigs are feral so walking on their beach, swimming with the pigs, or having them eat out of your hand is at your own risk.
Allen’s Cay North Bahamian Rock Iguanas: These very rare iguanas will come running to the beach when they hear an outboard engine for food handouts. Best to feed leafy greens and fruit offered on a long stick so that the food does not touch the sand, which iguanas have difficulty digesting.
Thunderball Grotto: Swim and snorkel in this grotto in which are tropical fish swimming in beautiful shades of blue colored water created by the sun piercing through crevices in the grotto rock walls.
One Mile Cay: Only emerging at low tide, this remote beautiful one mile long sand bar is usually deserted, filled with shells, and is an excellent location for sunning and having a beach picnic.
Musha Cay Sandbar: A two mile long flat sand bar, usually deserted that is a lovely location for walking, sunning and having a beach picnic.
Little Exuma Island Hermitage Plantation Ruins: Cotton plantation ruins, now overgrown, built by Loyalists fleeing the U.S. after the American Revolutionary war, that are fun to explore.
Georgetown: Capital of the Exuma Islands, and located on Great Exuma Island, this town, with a natural deep water harbor, is home to less than 3000 people and has shops, such as the Straw Market, restaurants and bars.
Stocking Island Chill and Chat Pig Roast: Located on the Elizabeth Harbour side of Stocking Island, this restaurant and bar complex provides a pig roast every Sunday from 12:00noon to 7:00pm including volleyball.
Enjoy the Exuma islands on a Bahamas yacht charter from Nassau to Georgetown, on Great Exuma Island, a charter that begins and ends in Nassau, or a charter that might begin or end in Staniel Cay.