Exuma is a district of the Bahamas, consisting of over 360 islands (or cays). The largest of the cays, and the only one with any significant population, is Great Exuma, which is 37 mi (60 km) in length. The islands of the chain are also collectively referred to as the Exumas.
Many of the islands in the Exumas are privately owned. Only inhabited islands open to the public (or at least paying guests) are listed here.
- Great Exuma
- Staniel Cay
- Little Exuma
- Fowl Cay
- Great Guana Cay (Black Point)
- Farmer's Cays
- Norman's Cay
- Musha Cay — super-exclusive resort that hosts only one group of up to 20 guests at a time
- 1 George Town on Great Exuma
- Staniel Cay - small town that forms the transportation and tourism hub for the northern Exumas
- Black Point - probably the largest local settlement in the northern Exumas, located on Great Guana Cay
The Exuma island chain is 130 mi (209 km) long. The northernmost islands are under an hour away from Nassau by speedboat and many tour operators offer day trips. Great Exuma has the only airport in the islands, which receives flights from Atlanta, Charlotte, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Nassau. This airport is approximately 10 mi (16 km) north of the main settlement of George Town. The other islands may be reached by charter or your own boat.
Great Exuma and the connected Little Exuma can be seen via car. The other islands are accessible only by tour charter, boat, or private aircraft. The best way to explore the Exuma chain is on your own (or a friend's) sailboat or yacht. It's a major recreational cruising route.
Note that Exuma - like all the Bahamas - drives on the left side of the road. Rental cars can typically be specified as left/right wheel configurations subject to availability.
Water taxi to Stocking Island
Leaves twice daily from Peace and Plenty Restaurant in Georgetown Harbour to the neighboring Cay of Stocking Island.
- Thunderball Grotto, where the James Bond film Thunderball was filmed. A natural cave inside a small rocky islet, half filed with seawater and tropical fish, and lit by natural openings in the roof of the cave. The islet is only accessible by boat, and the cave is only accessible by swimming through an opening in the rocks (by snorkel at low tide, or by diving at high tide. Located next to Staniel Cay, and probably accessible by tour from there if you don't have your own boat.
- Exuma National Land and Sea Park, a beautiful stretch of protected natural islands near the northern end of the Exuma chain. Major destinations within the park include Shroud Cay, with its crystal-clear channels through mangrove forest, where you can find sea turtles, stingrays, and baby sharks, and Hawksbill Cay, with its beautiful beaches and hiking trails. The park headquarters is at Warderick Wells Cay.
- Pig Beach, a popular Bahamas tourist destination near Staniel Cay that consists of nothing but a sandy beach occupied by hungry and sometimes aggressive pigs. Only worthwhile if you're amused by farm animals on a beach. Maybe a fun stop if you're coming through on your own boat, but we wouldn't pay for a tour to go there.
- Iguana Beaches, where you can see the native Northern Bahamian Rock Iguana up close and personal. There's a good one on the western shore of Bitter Guana Cay, a small island near Black Point in the northern Exumas.
- Nurse sharks - These mostly-harmless bottom-dwelling sharks cluster around marinas to feed on scraps thrown in by people cleaning fish. Compass Cay Marina (north of Staniel Cay, near the Exuma Land and Sea Park) offers the chance to swim with the nurse sharks in a relatively controlled environment form $10 per person. There is also a spot at Staniel Cay Marina where you are allowed to swim with them at your own risk. Nurse sharks can bite, but usually only if you put your hands near their mouths. The bite isn't deadly, but can cause bleeding. The bigger threat to be aware of is bull sharks, which are much more dangerous and also attracted to marinas.
- Norman's Cay plane wreck - A crashed cargo plane sitting in shallow water in the lagoon of Norman's Cay, near the northern end of the Exumas. The plane crashed during the time that the island was controlled by drug runner Carlos Lehder, an associate of Pablo Escobar, and popular urban legends repeated by tourist literature claim it went down while smuggling drugs. However, sources familiar with the island's history dispute this, with alleged eyewitness saying it instead was crashed by a drunk pilot who was trying to sell the plane to Lehder. The plane is a popular snorkeling destination, since its location in shallow water makes it easily accessible (the top sticks out above the surface at low tide). If you don't have your own boat, it can be reached by a tour from Staniel Cay or Nassau.
- Saddleback Cay. A private island owned by Island World Adventures, which runs one-day trips from Nassau daily ($190/pp). The island has seven beaches, including the gorgeous Half Moon Beach, shallow reefs in the vicinity and a spot where giant nurse sharks gather daily to be fed.
The Four Season's Hotel closed and is in process of conversion to a Sandal's Resort scheduled to open in late January 2010. It has an 18 hole golf course that may or may not be open to non-Sandal's guests in the future. The course was closed as of December 2009.
Stocking Island off George Town, Great Exuma has many trails including a nature walk setup by Peace & Plenty and Dive Exuma in 2000/1 with descriptions of many of the plants. Can climb Monument hill for a great panoramic view, or walk along the long beach on the ocean side. Over 10km of trails are marked and run all over the island. A map of the trails can be picked up at the tourist office in George Town.
There are also some short hiking trails on Great Guana Cay, including to the blowhole near Black Point and an impressive cave near Oven Rock (latter accessible only by boat).
Most marinas have a yacht club restaurant open to the public. Other than that, the only places where you're likely to find restaurants are in the few towns, like George Town and Black Point.
- Chat and Chill, The Point, Stocking Island, Exuma (A water taxi is available from Great Exuma), ☏ . Wonderful local restaurant famous for its Garlic Coleslaw is an excellent place to have a beer and relax or have a nice beach side dinner.
- Farmer's Cay Yacht Club - pleasant locally-owned and run restaurant/bar on a small island in the northern Exumas. Recommended stop for cruisers with their own boats.
- Splash! Beach Bar & Grill, Hideaways at Palm Bay (Great Exuma, Bahamas), ☏ . Famous Conch Chowder
- Exuma Vacation Rentals (exuma vacation rentals). Luxury vacation rentals in Great Exuma Island, Bahamas
- Fowl Cay - Private Island Resort, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. $7,945-14,588/week.
- Hideaways At Palm Bay, Jolly Hall Bay at Queens Highway, Georgetown (Just 7 miles from Georgetown Airport), ☏ , email@example.com. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. The resort has over 70 beachside cottages and hillside villas. There is a choice of studio, one bedroom, two bedroom and three bedroom villas all with either a full or partial kitchen. Located on Great Exuma island, the largest island of the 350 Exuma island chain, Palm Bay Beach Club hotel and resort is just seven miles from Exuma International Airport, one mile from the capital, George Town.
- Staniel Cay Yacht Club, ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. $145-255.
The crossing from Nassau to the northern end of the Exumas is only 40 miles, but it's across open water and can get choppy if it's windy. Bring along a warm, ideally waterproof coat, and try to get a seat near the middle of the boat to minimize both bumpiness and sea spray.
There are nurse sharks and lemon sharks in the waters around the islands. They don't usually bother humans, but it's best to ask for local advice on where to swim — shallow water is usually fine. Beware of the more dangerous bull sharks, which are sometimes attracted to marinas because of fish cleaning (rarely encountered elsewhere).
The bigger danger to swimmers are currents, which can be very strong, especially at cuts between islands, because of water flowing fast back and forth over the shallow water of the Exuma Bank as the tides change. Always be aware of the current if swimming off a boat (it's usually not as bad right on the beach), and make sure someone outside the water is watching.
A Bahamian SIM card or WiFi box is recommended for connecting to the outside world while in the Exumas. If you don't have a SIM card yet, you can get one at the BTC store in George Town. Most of Exuma has 3G or 4G cell phone coverage, except for the Land and Sea Park and a few of the most remote areas.