After planning a completely DIY wedding, I just wanted to sit my married ass on a beach without a care in the world. I didn't want to worry about where my next meal was coming from or worry about catching planes or trains to sightsee. While I am very much an "immerse yourself in local culture" type of traveler, I knew this just wasn't the time in our lives to plan a backpacking trip around Europe. For a few years, swimming with the pigs in the Bahamas has been on our Bucket List (thank you Pinterest) and no joke, that is how we landed on The Exumas, Bahamas.
Where we stayed
Because we basically planned this entire trip around the swimming pigs, we needed to stay in The Exumas Islands of the Bahamas; our excursion destinations were too far from Nassau, which is the most popular island of the Bahamas. We chose to stay at the All-Inclusive Resort: Sandals Emerald Bay.
The resort had several options for accommodations, we chose to stay in a standard room (king bed) and happened to end up on the bottom floor where we could walk out onto the grass for a quicker route to the bars... I mean the beach. The saying goes "It's better in the Bahamas," and it was just about that way with everything, beginning with our resort: the staff was polite, responsive and fun; the food was better than we thought it would be, especially for an all-inclusive and even our drinks were delicious.
Included in our stay was a round of free golf, which Jon loved. I begrudgingly accepted because I'm an amazing wife (and needed a tan). It ended up being one of the most scenic places on our trip because the Sandals Emerald Bay back 9 holes are basically on a private cliff overlooking the ocean.
SOME THINGS YOU SHOUD KNOW
WHAT IS EXUMA? Exuma is a district of the Bahamas, consisting of 350+ islands, also referred to as "cays." The largest island is Great Exuma, where the George Town airport is located. From the East Coast, there are 2 flights per day to get to the island of Exumas, from Georgia (there may be others, but we flew from ATL). We took our initial flight from BWI to ATL & then a smaller plane to GGT. The GGT airport is ttiinnnyyyyyy, keep that in mind when you arrive and go through customs and wait for your bags. It's island time, so be polite an don't rush these people. AKA don't be an asshole, you're on vacation and these people are at work, you're gonna be O.K.
YOU CAN HAGGLE. We were suckers and paid $100 for a two-way cab trip on the island. We thought that because the taxi was called by our resort that the fares were honest and we were very wrong.
LEAVE THE ISLAND. There was so much more to see and do on other islands surrounding Great Exuma. Make sure that you get out and explore!
CURRENCY. $1 Bahamian Dollar = $1 US Dollar and they use USD frequently.
ACTIVITIES & EXCURSIONS
I would like to start out by saying that I have never fished before. On this day, I caught over 20 fish! Beginners luck? Not entirely sure, but I am sure that we had such an amazing time with Robert's Island Adventures. Our Captain, Alvin, was a world-traveled fisherman and seaman and showed us a great time. He taught me the ropes and I caught a fish within the first 15 seconds after casting my line. We caught so many fish that we had to start putting them back into the water.
Towards the end of the day the water became very rough so we turned back ahead of schedule. However, on our return trip, Alvin took us to a private island that was so quaint and cool, I wish we had learned more about it; the photos don't do it justice.
CHAT 'N' CHILL - stocking island
Chat 'N' Chill is about the only thing located on Stocking Island. It's a quick [water] taxi ride from the George Town "government dock" to this tiny bar and restaurant. Chat 'N' Chill is most known for it's beach volleyball, restaurant/bar, conch salad bar and Stocking Island [also] has an amazing hiking trail.
To get to the hiking trail, its easiest to go out the back entrance (the gift shop) or walk past the volleyball area to Gaviota Bay. It took us a little bit to find the hiking trails because it was high tide and the signs are right along side of the beach, almost tucked away if you're right on top of them. During low tide, you can wade across a channel at about knee height to get to the nature trails, sand dunes and stromalites on the Atlantic ocean side of Stocking Island. During our trip it was high tide, so we had to wade through some pretty chilly chest-high waters (it was January). However, once we climbed up the trail and reached the peak of the dunes, the view was absolutely worth the hike and "frigid" waters. After our hike we enjoyed a nice lunch at The Chat 'N' Chill. They have "American" food there- burgers, hot dogs, cole slaw, French fries, etc.
There are a number of excursion companies and options for the swimming pigs. However, there were a few more things we wanted to cross off of our list. We used Coastline Adventures Exuma. I can't remember the exact cost, but I think it was $180 per person for an 8 hour tour which included:
- Big Major Cay- Swimming Pigs
- Iguana Island
- Compass Cay- Swimming with Sharks
- Local lunch, drinks & freshly caught conch salad
- Thunderball Grotto
- Fresh Conch Salad
- Starfish Bay
- Trip to a Sand Bar
Our first stop during our excursion was to Thunderball Grotto. In order to get inside, you must either swim under (wouldn't recommend, though I did swim underneath to exit), or follow your guide through the opening in the rock. Enternig the grotto actually made me feel like a special agent, avoiding dangerous rocks, fighting the tide all for the gorgeous reward that awaited us on the inside.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN THIS IS THE MOMENT YOU HAVE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR..........
I almost passed out from excitement when I first saw the pigs, I was actually crying. These two (above) swam all the way from the shore to our boat as we pulled in. Who knew that pigs are great swimmers?! Our guides gave us hot dog buns to give to the piggies, so I stuffed them into my bathing suit and made my way to shore. The pigs will swim right up to you, so be careful of their hooves. They aren't very "aggressive," once they realize you don't have food they don't really want anything to do with you, so I did my best to keep my food hidden at all times. There are pigs of all sizes, some are piglets and you can hold them (with guidance from locals, don't just randomly pick them up) and some are hogs of almost 300 pounds.
Compass Cay is a privately owned island and because of that there is a $10 fee to get off of your boat and onto the docks of the marina. Compass Cay is most widely known for their "pet" nurse sharks you can swim with. Everyone assured me that nurse sharks are just "large catfish," so I was a little more confident to get into the water. However, as soon as I dipped my toe OFF OF THE DOCK AND INTO THE DANGER ZONE, a girl getting out was bit on the butt. It was more of a human bite than a shark bite from the movie, but it was enough to scare the sh*t out of me. I made the fastest lap humanly possible around the dock just to say, "I swam with sharks." All of the locals and tour guides were surprised and insisted that this "never happened before." Just in case, I sat my happy ass on the dock thank-you-very-much - Jon was super brave and swam with them for the entire time.
THE SAND BAR
While en route to Thunderball Grotto, our first mate was busy diving off of the boat numerous times to try to catch us fresh conch for a salad. He even hung onto the back of the boat (while we were driving) to scope out the shells. After our first few stops we reached the sand bar and they prepared the conch for all of the guests. I do not eat seafood and I have to admit it was delectably fresh. Once we finished our mid-day snack, we got to walk along the sand bar, the glass-like water made it seem to go on for miles.
Our last stop of the day was Iguana Island. The story goes: Nicholas Cage purchased the island and before he built anything he realized there was a serious infestation of iguanas. He couldn't do anything about them because they are an endangered species so he was forced to resell for a fraction of the price he paid. It was insane how many they were and they run right up to you!
All in all I would say that our vacation was absolutely amazing. I would go back to the Bahamas in a heartbeat. I don't think I would ever spend this much to stay anywhere ever again, but it was a nice once-in-a-lifetime treat to ourselves.