During my visit to Nassau, the vibrant capital of the Bahamas, I was presented with a remarkable chance to set sail on a day trip to the Exumas. This was a dream come true, as I had only ever glimpsed the blue-green waters of the Bahamas from above, whether during a flight or in photographs. Unlike Nassau, which serves as the political, economic, and cultural epicenter of the Bahamas, the Exumas promised a more tranquil and laid-back escape.
The Exumas lie near Nassau, nestled within the Exuma Cays. This chain of islands and cays is a part of the broader Bahamian archipelago, which comprises more than 700 islands and 2,400 cays.
My husband Jim and I had the privilege of being guests aboard Captain Peter Maury’s boat. Peter is the General Manager of Bay Street Marina and a past president of the Association of Bahamas Marinas (ABM). With his childhood spent boating in and around the Exumas, Peter was an ideal host and guide to unveil the splendor of these islands. Joining us on this adventure was Erika Feszt, Assistant Manager of Bay Street.
Our day commenced bright and early as we boarded Peter’s boat at Bay Street Marina, conveniently situated within walking distance of Paradise Island to the east and downtown to the west. The marina boasts state-of-the-art amenities, including a fitness center, stunning pool and the on-site restaurant, The Green Parrot, where fried snapper and lobster are a must-try!
It was a picturesque morning, and the waterway was already bustling as we departed from the marina, headed toward the open sea. Despite our repeated inquiries about the day’s itinerary, Captain Maury kindly advised us to cease questioning and simply savor the unfolding day.
After navigating around a brief squall, we reached our first destination about an hour later — the untouched, remote Cabbage Cay, also known as Iguana Island or Leaf Cay. What set it apart was the presence of a rare and protected population of Northern Bahamian rock iguanas. Stepping off the boat to explore the island’s white sandy beaches and lush vegetation, we observed these remarkable iguanas in their natural habitat.
Our next stop was Highbourne Cay, steeped in a rich history interwoven with stories of shipwrecks and pirate legends. The island’s history traces back to the early 18th century when it became a haven for buccaneers who used its natural harbors and concealed coves as bases for their operations. Highbourne Cay, like many other islands in the region, was a favorite haunt of notorious pirates such as Blackbeard and Calico Jack.
Its historical significance was accentuated by the discovery of the oldest-known shipwreck in the Americas, a Spanish galleon dating back to the early 16th century. This shipwreck bore witness to the extensive maritime history of The Bahamas and Exumas, where sailors, pirates and explorers had left their mark for centuries. Today, Highbourne Cay Marina offers a serene haven for boaters, thanks to its naturally sheltered harbor.
By this point in our journey, we were ready for lunch! Every mention of the Exumas had included a mandate: “You must go to MacDuff ’s for the best burger you will ever have!” So, off we went to MacDuff ’s Cottages & Restaurant on Norman’s Cay. We anchored in the ocean, waded onto the beach, and immediately spotted the quaint wooden path leading to the restaurant.
As we ascended the stairs to be seated and absorbed the inviting ambiance, friendly staff, and lush surroundings, we knew this would be a meal to remember. After devouring mouth-watering burgers chased down with frozen margaritas, I can wholeheartedly endorse MacDuff ’s. While the burger was undeniably spectacular, it was the warm hospitality, the salty margaritas, and sea tales shared by Captain Maury that rendered it an unforgettable experience.
Our next stop, aptly named “The Washing Machine,” required precise timing based on the tides. Before taking the plunge into its clear waters, we climbed to the top of a nearby hill to soak in breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding islands.
From there, we immersed ourselves in the swirling waters, where the significance of tides became evident. A unique tidal whirlpool effect, engendered by the dynamic interplay of ocean currents and submerged caves, made this a must-see natural phenomenon. As we swam and floated around, it felt as though we were effortlessly drifting through the water, akin to being inside a washing machine. It was an exhilarating and somewhat nerve- wracking adventure that showcased the awe-inspiring forces of nature.
Before we headed back to Nassau, our last stop was Ship Channel Cay, the home of Powerboat Adventures. It’s typically lively with cruise ship excursions and tourists seeking to swim with pigs, feed stingrays, and swim with sharks, but we arrived after the day’s guests had departed and had the island to ourselves.
After relaxing and engaging in a conversation with the island’s owner and manager, we swam in the ocean to cool off. Soon, we realized we were not alone. Several uninvited nurse sharks came over to join us!
Regrettably, the day was ending, and it was time to bid farewell to our newfound friends and leave the unexplored beauty of the Exumas. No words can sufficiently describe the jaw-dropping turquoise hues of the waters against the pristine white sands that graced our journey. As we made our way back to Nassau, the sun began to set in the sky. It was a peaceful, contemplative ride as we reflected on an extraordinary, authentic and inspiring day on the water.
Upon returning to port, we made one final stop at the renowned Margaritaville on Paradise Island. To our delight, we arrived just in time for the weekly Junkanoo Rush Out — a dazzling spectacle, featuring elaborate costumes, rhythmic music and electrifying dance performances. Each group, or “rush,” dedicates months to crafting intricate costumes and choreographing their routines, blending historical narratives with modern artistry. It was a sight to behold, a vibrant and captivating display.
Jim and I remain eternally grateful for the opportunity to explore the Exumas like a local, thanks to Captain Maury. This experience has solidified our love for the Bahamas, its people, and its culture, and it will remain a favorite destination for years to come.