Exuma, Bahamas is an idyllic boating destination that promises a breathtaking experience like no other. Nestled in the heart of the Caribbean, this tropical paradise beckons with its pristine waters, stunning beaches, and an abundance of attractions and activities that cater to all boating enthusiasts.
Exuma offers secluded cays and beaches waiting to be explored. Embark on a journey to see the famous swimming pigs of Big Major Cay, where you can anchor your boat and swim alongside these adorable creatures. Explore the Thunderball Grotto, a natural cave system renowned for its snorkeling opportunities. Dive into crystal-clear waters and discover vibrant marine life including sharks, turtles, fish and stingrays. Fishing enthusiasts can test their skills with world-class bonefishing, deep-sea fishing, and reef fishing opportunities.
And let's not forget about the food scene! Exuma offers a delectable array of fresh seafood, from lobster to mouthwatering conch fritters. Indulge in the local cuisine at beachside shacks, charming restaurants, or even on your boat. Don't miss the chance to savor the flavors of Exuma and treat your taste buds to a culinary adventure.
Surrounded by enticing turquoise waters in the Exuma Cays, the 2-square-mile island of Staniel Cay sits roughly 75 miles south of Nassau and 250 miles from southeast Florida. It is also home to Staniel Cay Yacht Club, a premier resort marina in the heart of the Bahamas.
Rewinding back to the late 1950s, the property where the resort is located was originally a small refueling stop between Nassau and Georgetown and a popular spot for pigeon hunting, a local Bahamian pastime. Staniel Cay Yacht Club opened in 1956. In the early 1990s, the marina went through extensive renovations.
Today, Staniel Cay Yacht Club has expanded into a 18-slip facility accommodating vessels up to 185 feet with a 12-foot draft. New electric hook-ups and an upgraded fuel dock were recently added. More than half the docks have been replaced in the last year alone, and a breakwater wall is scheduled for construction.
Staniel Cay Yacht Club also has 14 bungalows for rent, including one currently being built with a full kitchen and dining room, perfect for vacationing families. The fun-loving property hosts many festive events where locals and property guests both join in. The Commodores Ball, on New Year's Eve, is a James Bond "Casino Royale"-themed masquerade bash that raises money for a popular wooden-boat regatta. "Staniel Cay Yacht Club is not just a resort existing separately," says owner David Hocher. "We always try to be involved with our local community. We have second and third generations of families working here."
The best way to explore the Exumas is by small boat or dinghy. "The Exumas are very diverse and there's a different beach around every corner," explains David. Staniel Cay offers numerous water activities -- exploring the sugar- white sands of Pirates Beach, snorkeling around pristine reefs and sunken airplanes, visiting the sandbars of Pipe Creek, swimming with the famous pigs on Big Major and petting the nurse sharks on Compass Cay -- the options are endless. Rent a kayak or stand-up paddle board to explore on your own, or book a chartered fishing adventure.
So how do you get to paradise? If you're not traveling by boat, Watermakers Air provides daily service from Fort Lauderdale to the out islands, including Staniel Cay, which has a 3,000-foot air strip. Watermakers Air was recently part of the Hurricane Matthew relief efforts, flying supplies to families on Andros Island.
The Exumas are known for their colorful flare and diversity. What are you waiting for? Staniel Cay Yacht Club is calling your name.
Beginning just 35 miles southeast of Nassau awaits an enchanting cluster of 365 cays and islands, called The Exuma Islands. They're divided into three major areas Great Exuma, Little Exuma and The Exuma Cays. Each section offers a unique Bahamian experience. Great Exuma and Little Exuma are known for their laid-back surroundings, while The Exuma Cays act as a playground for the rich and famous, boasting numerous private homes, luxury resorts and beachside condos. The Exumas are also rich in history, as they were settled by British Loyalists who fled the American Revolution with their slaves. They developed cotton plantations on the islands, but after many returned to England, the region's secret inlets and coves created a treasured hiding place for 17th century pirates, such as the nefarious Captain Kidd.
Many boaters leave from South Florida and stop at either Bimini or Nassau to break up the 150 nautical mile trip. Nassau/Paradise Island is a great jumping off point to Highbourne Cay, your first stop in the Exumas.
Albany Marina, a 600-acre luxury resort community on the southwestern end of New Providence, includes a 71-slip, mega-yacht marina for vessels up to 240 feet. This lovely planned community includes tons of amenities from a luxury boutique hotel to a championship 18-hole golf course designed by Ernie Els.
Estimated mileage: 42.5 NM
Once a refuge for escaped slaves during the Colonial Era, Highbourne Cay is now home to a stunning, scarcely visited beach along the east coast. The island sits at a slightly higher sea level than is found on most Bahamian islands, so it's easy for boaters to spot. Peer over the dock to see nurse sharks flocking together like birds seeking bread, while local dockhands throw unwanted conch into the water. Highbourne Cay Marina features 750 feet of face dock for yachts up to 180 feet and 16 back-in slips for boats up to 75 feet. Boaters can provision with fuel, water, ice, groceries and basic supplies from the Highbourne Store.
Estimated Mileage: 22 NM
Stretching 20 miles from Wax Cay Cut to Conch Cay Cut, Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park was a pioneering initiative established in 1958 to protect and preserve the marine environment. The park is pristine, and no one is permitted to remove anything, living or dead, from the area. The park includes hiking trails and perfect beaches with diverse wildlife, tropical foliage and many species of birds. The Warderick Wells park office offers a gift shop, ice, wireless Internet service and visitor information. Its moorings are first-come, first-served (Hail Channel #9).
Estimated Mileage: 13 NM
The marina at Compass Cay, located in one of the rare, totally protected harbors in the Exumas, is accessible from both the Exuma Banks and Exuma Sound through channels marked with buoys and range markers. Boats with up to 4.5-foot draft (6 feet at high tide) can enter the harbor from the Banks by following the channel marked with buoys and a range. Deeper draft vessels up to 6.5 feet enter the marina from the Exuma Sound through Joe Cay Cut by following a series of channel markers and a range.
Tucker, the owner, cheerfully guides first-time cruisers into the harbor where depths range from 10 to 16 feet. Visitors won't want to miss swimming with pet sharks at the marina and walking to the Bubble Bath, a lagoon fed by water from the sound that breaks over lava rocks. Close by are the Rocky Dundas with the most spectacular snorkeling caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites, fossilized beetles and other aquatic creatures. The cave walls are imprinted with shells and coral.
Estimated Mileage: 9.5 NM
Jimmy Buffett listed Staniel Cay Yacht Club as among his top 10 island bars, and most patrons agree that it's the Shangri-La of the Exumas. One of the main tourist attractions is diving into the cave where parts of the James Bond movie Thunderball was filmed. Do not miss a visit to a small local cay called Big Majors to swim with the pigs. Take your dinghy and motor to Big Majors, where wild swimming pigs love leftover conch fritters or any food you bring to them. The 18-slip marina has 14 charming bungalows and a well-known restaurant and bar (with live music and an eclectic crowd) as well as fuel, electricity, fresh water, ice, bait and Wi-Fi.
Little Farmer's Cay
Estimated Mileage: 18.5 NM
Little Farmer's Cay is a picture postcard settlement in the Exuma Cays famous for sloop racing and diving. The marina has moorings available in a well-sheltered anchorage and four slips for yachts up to 120 feet and 9-foot draft. The marina offers fuel, a restaurant/bar and lodging on-site, and a small airport is located nearby.
Estimated Mileage: 43.5 NM
The marina at February Point is a state-of-the-art marina spanning five acres with concrete floating docks for vessels up to 150 feet. The marina offers every amenity you can imagine shopping, spa services, several dining options, swimming pool, provisioning and fuel service. Also, February Point is only minutes from George Town and 20 minutes to the airport.
On nearby Stocking Island, don't miss a visit to the Chat N' Chill, a popular spot to hang out and play beach volleyball, feed stingrays on the beach and visit nearby Angelfish Blue Hole & Mystery Cave, where you can snorkel among eagle rays, turtles and other beautiful fish.
From my point of view, there are two ways to cruise the 1,000 mile-long Inter Coastal Waterway (ICW) that spans five states (seven if you include the Chesapeake Bay region) along the Atlantic seaboard and innumerable ports of call. One is to travel as if the ICW is merely a water highway to move a boat from the north to the south, and visa versa. Normally this journey can be accomplished, if moving quickly, in 10 days to two weeks. The more pleasant option is to enjoy the waterway and the many sites along the way. To take time, appreciate the variety, the history, the people. This would be my preferred mode of travel.
Sadly, I have yet to experience a leisurely cruise on the ICW. My trips have always been a means to an endto get as quickly as possible to either our preferred destination of the Exumas in the Bahamas on a southbound journey, or to Annapolis, where we live, heading north.
My husband Peter and I feel very fortunate that, even though we both still work, we are able to get away for four to six weeks at a time for cruising adventures. Because of this time constraint, we don't stop to smell the roses until we reach our final destination.
We have taken our 36-foot Downeast Zimmerman powerboat Bee Weems to the Bahamas twice in the past eight years. Each time, we split the trip into stages or have asked others to take her from point A to point B for us. The key is to find marinas that are convenient to airports and, more importantly, to have qualified friends who we trust handling our boat. Two marinas in Florida that fit the bill are Palm Harbor Marina in West Palm Beach and Harbortown Marina in Fort Pierce.
On our most recent trip, friends from Seattle took Bee Weems from Annapolis to Stuart, Florida in the fall. We stowed our vessel at River Forest Yachting Center in Stuart for the winter. In early May, our boat builder, Steve Zimmerman, and his wife took Bee Weems from Florida to the Bahamas. Peter and I flew into Georgetown on Great Exuma Cay a few weeks later and met up with Bee Weems at the beautiful Marina at Emerald Bay, located at the northern end of the cay. We traveled north through the Exuma chain on this three-week adventure and then all the way back up to Annapolis on the ICW in 10 days.
The Exumas are a group of cays midway along the Bahamian chain. Geologically speaking, the islands that make up the Bahamas are part of the remains of a giant 650 mile-long underwater mountain range of limestone. The valleys extend two miles deep into the Atlantic, while the highest peak is approximately 220 feet high. It spans a distance equivalent to that of Cuba to northern Florida.
There is some frequently used cruising terminology that describes these peaks and valleys. We traveled north on the ocean side of the cays in Exuma Sound until we came to a cut that we entered to proceed to the bank. The bank area is more than 60 miles wide in many places and is the portion of the mountain range that is barely under water. Deeper draft boats must travel on the ocean side of the cays and then cut in between cays to the more protected bays. Smaller draft boats such as Bee Weems (3'8 draft) can travel a good distance inside the bank, as long as we are alert to the varying water colors.
The varying hues of water color are a critical navigation aid in the Bahamas. What's wonderful is that on most days you can see the ocean bottom. As first mate, learning to recognize the differences between sand, grass, coral and rock was essential for me. Dark blue water can mean deep water. It can also mean sea grass or coral reef. Normally, the lighter the water color, the shallower the water.
Our favorite way to cruise in the Bahamas is to slowly meander north traveling between five and ten miles per day, stopping to explore any place that suits our fancy based on recommendations from other cruisers and our reading materials, while of course always taking the weather into consideration.
The first cay we visit as we head north is Staniel Cay, popular for its quintessential Bahamian charm. Staniel Cay Yacht Club has water, a restaurant/bar with WiFi and a convenience store. It is very close to Thunderball Grotto, world-renowned because it was featured in the 1965 James Bond movie Thunderball. It's one of the best places to snorkel in the Bahamas. The fish are prolific and the opportunity to observe them in an underwater cave without having to wear full diving gear is unique.
Next up, Compass Cay Marina, which is operated by local islanders and is essentially a dock set in a living aquarium. Enormous nurse sharks live under the dock, and sea turtles and beautiful angel fish can be seen right next to the docked boats. There's also a beautiful white-sand crescent beach.
Warderick Wells Cay is the seat of the Bahamian Land and Sea Park, established in 1958. The Bahamian National Trust manages and protects the wildlife and natural habitats on the 17 cays and their adjacent waters. Expansive views can be seen from the top of Boohoo Hill and there are several nature trails to explore. There is no marina, but there are mooring balls for tying up.
Highbourne is the most northern cay in the Exuma chain with a marina. It is a hurricane hole, protected on all sides. Highbourne Cay Marina has a restaurant, convenience store, rental cabins and loaner bikes for land exploration.
From Highbourne Cay, we jump off to Nassau and then begin our trip toward Florida. We love our time in the Exumas, but one day I do hope we get to return home along the ICW at puttering pace.
Exuma Land and Sea Park is the Bahamas' hidden jewel, and it belongs on top of every boater's must-see list. At this water park, you won't find wave pools or water slides, but you will experience gorgeous beaches, easy anchorage and a dazzling marine environment unblemished by humans.
Its colorful coral reefs and vibrant aquatic life create a playland of unparalleled beauty. The park's 176 square miles of crystal-clear water and unique tropical islands are so exceptional that Exuma was declared the Caribbean's first aquatic nature preserve in 1958 to protect its delicate ecosystem.
What makes Exuma so special? Centrally located in the Bahamas on a limestone plateau, it's a diver's and boater's paradise with caves, canyons and coves carved out by ocean currents over millions of years. The soft sand is made of tiny fragments of coral and seashells, and the islands' dramatic landscape is teeming with tropical plants, birds and wildlife.
When Columbus arrived in the late 15th century, the region was inhabited by the peaceful Lucayan people, whose population was eventually decimated by slavery and disease. By the early 1700s, it became a popular trade route for Spanish ships returning from the New World laden with gold and riches. They became easy targets for pirates who looted the vessels and took advantage of Exuma's hidden inlets to escape after raids and stash stolen treasure.
In 1783, a wave of immigrants came to these islands from America. Loyalists to the British Crown, hoping to flee the new nation's animosity toward English sympathizers, made Exuma their home. Most were Southern slave owners, who tried and failed to grow cotton on the thin limestone soil. In time, many packed up and moved to England but left their slaves behind to build free lives as fishermen and tradesmen. Ruins of Loyalist dwellings are currently on display in Exuma Park.
With swashbucklers and revolutionaries in the distant past, today's visitors in Exuma Park come to enjoy nature's splendor with adventures on land and sea.
Warderick Wells Cay is the hub of activity and a good starting point to get the lay of the land. It's wise to call the park office in advance to reserve mooring for your boat and take a dinghy to the visitor center dock. The massive skeleton of a 53-foot sperm whale is waiting there to greet you. The visitor center provides charts and guides for seven miles of trails that cover rocky bluffs, sand dunes and mangrove creeks as well as beaches to cool you down after a hearty hike. You can also visit remains of a Loyalist plantation, see a pirate den, snorkel in magnificent coves and climb to the top of Boo Boo Hill to savor a panoramic view of the harbor.
Several other islands showcase the magic of Exuma Park. Shroud Cay is an uninhabited string of rocky islands that encircle a shallow tidal basin. Its mangroves create a lovely sanctuary for a menagerie of fish, conch, lobsters, birds, sea turtles and other aquatic creatures. Hawksbill Cay is known for its Loyalist ruins and magnificent beaches. Two mooring areas are available for guests that want to investigate its beautiful harbors. You can snorkel through two limestone caves at Rocky Dundas Cay to see stalactite and stalagmite formations unique to this area.
Stewards of Exuma welcome guests who want to help keep this spectacular ecological preserve uncluttered and in pristine condition, so they request that you follow a few easy rules while exploring the cays: