Did you know that over 300 islands and cays are dispersed across the central Bahamas? These are known as the Exumas, and they feature blissfully isolated beaches, breathtaking sandbars, and a string of ocean outposts surrounded by majestic reefs and world-class diving spots.
If you plan to visit these islands, you might wonder where to start. How do you decide with so much to see and so many islands to discover? If you are cruising full-time, you could visit the Bahamas every year and have a different experience with new islands to discover every season. There must be an ideal itinerary, providing a way for you to show your boat guests all of the beauty of the Exumas in a week.
Leopard Catamarans just wrapped up an exciting, week-long flotilla event in the Exumas. The consensus from the participants was that the itinerary was perfect for those visiting for the first time.
The suggested itinerary that we have put together has been cruiser tested and friends and family approved.
Staniel Cay Yacht Club
Enter a perfect location to kick off an exciting week in the Islands. Your visiting guests can find daily flights from Nassau and Fort Lauderdale directly into Staniel Cay at a reasonable priced. Makers Air, Staniel Air and Flamingo Air will be your best options.
Upon your guests' arrival, make sure you grab some lunch at the Yacht Club before heading to the boat. There are 21 mooring balls off of Staniel Cay in a breathtaking anchorage and mooring field. Be wary of the change in tides if you plan to anchor, so you don't end up on the sand. Discover plenty of Eagle Rays and Sea Turtles surrounding your vessel.
While in this anchorage, make sure you check out Thunderball Grotto. The cave's exotic marine life, complex geology, and dancing light make it a paradise for divers and snorkelers. Floating on your back will give you a stunning view of the shimmering cave, and floating face down will grant you a window into the beautiful underwater world.
Next stop, Big Majors Cay
It wouldn't be a trip to the Exumas without a swim with the delightful swimming pigs. There’s a lot of discussion on how the porkers got to Big Majors, but their love of the surf helped put this beautiful place on the map. Bring snacks for an adorable photo op. Nurse Sharks are aplenty in this particular anchorage, with three of them swimming freely around our boat for a good 15 minutes. They were kind enough to let us swim with them.
There are a few lovely beaches in the northern part of Big Majors Cay to enjoy sundowners at the end of your day. The beach that is second from the north is called "Cruisers Beach" and is usually an end-of-the-day hangout spot for, you guessed it, cruisers.
The sandbar to end all sandbars on Sampson Cay
Stunning sand bars are a hallmark of the Exumas, and nearly everyone agrees the most beautiful bar lies off Pipe Creek on Sampson Cay. Explore Pipe Creek's soft sandy shallows and turquoise water by dinghy or SUP. As you paddle, keep an eye out for marine life, including sea turtles. In the creek, you will uncover a Turtle Sanctuary. While spending time here, you will discover more sea turtles than you can count. Stick around for low tide to reveal the true magic of Pipe's Creek.
Bubble baths and swimming with sharks at Compass Cay
Kick-off the day with a short hike to Rachel's Bubble Bath. The bubble bath is a small lagoon separated from the ocean by a thin rock bar. When the tide comes in, or the sea gets rough, waves crash over the rock bar into the lagoon, creating a bubbly effect in the warm lagoon water. Bring champagne to enjoy bubbles in the bubble bath!
Once you have had your fill here, dinghy over to Compass Cay Marina, it is a $10 fee per person, but you will be able to swim with the sharks, so we would say that it was worth it to check that item off of your bucket list. These friendly little monsters grow up to 14 ft.! If you stay at the marina, you won't need to pay a fee. Enjoy a burger lunch while you are onshore.
If you are feeling adventurous, take a hike to the bat cave, it might take you a while to find, but it makes for an exciting adventure nonetheless.
Top-notch diving at O’Brien’s Cay
If snorkeling and diving are something you seek, O'Brien's Cay is the place to be. "The Aquarium" is jam-packed with tropical fish, turtles, rays and octopi. When you've seen your fill of marine wonders, another underwater adventure awaits nearby: the submerged wreck of an old, small airplane. About 20ft or so down, you can see the plane clearly, even if you float over the ocean.
Another epic sandbar appears inside the cay at low tide, so stick around. Bring your swimsuits and a cocktail and enjoy another epic swim and sunset.
The unrivaled beauty of Waderick Wells Cay
The allure of the Exumas takes center stage immediately upon arrival at the Exumas Land and Sea Park at Waderick Cay.
Immediately you are greeted with 360 degrees of billion-dollar views. The waters reveal nearly every shade of blue, most notably electric blue. Shore-side adventures take center stage at Waderick Cay. This lightly visited island offers hiking trails dotted with dramatic blowholes, numerous sandy beaches, and the 53-foot skeleton
of a sperm whale.
You will experience sandbars surrounding the mooring field, making for a great place to SUP, snorkel and swim. Keep a look out for wildlife in the Exumas Land and Sea Park. Most notably, you'll see massive sea turtles, nurse sharks and the occasional reef shark.
Insider tip: you need to secure a mooring ball if you plan to visit here. You can call the day before arrival to get on a list for requested reservations; they announce who will receive a ball at 9 am on VHF channel 9 each morning. And plan to spend two days here!
Back to civilization (kind of) on Highbourne Cay
Alas, an outpost and watering hole. Highbourne Cay offers dockage, fuel, water and dining. You can secure a slip in the marina or anchor on the island's west side. Go snorkeling at Horseshoe Bay's uninhabited beach, harboring an "Octopus Garden" reef below the surface. Or spend the day zipping around on your dinghy north up to South Allan's Island and Iguana Beach. Enjoy the beach packed full of lizards and a stunning anchorage.
Once you've had your fill, treat yourself to a delicious dinner at the hilltop restaurant with stunning 360-degree views at Xuma.
On your way to Highbourne Cay, we should point out that two places could be of interest, Shroud Cay (the northern part of Exumas Land and Sea Park) and Norman's Cay. Norman's Cay has housed everyone from pirates, drug lords, filmmakers, explorers, and writers throughout history. You will find a marina here, too, if needed.
Off to Nassau
Depending on plans, your guests have a few choices for returning home. You could make the 30nm sail to Nassau, where they could catch an inexpensive flight to the US. Another option would be to wait for a weather window to sail back to Staniel Cay. Or alternatively, you could charter a sea plan out of Highbourne Cay.
While these are just a few recommendations based on feedback and experience, when visiting the Exuma chain of the Bahamas, it would be nearly impossible not to enjoy the water, the sand, the beaches and the sea life everywhere you go.
Did you enjoy the pictures seen in this blog? Head on over to the talented photographers Instagram account and give them a follow.