Over my two week trip island hopping around The Bahamas, I managed to visit 13 islands and cays. Some locals even told me that I’d seen more of The Bahamas than they had. So I feel confident in declaring that the Exuma Cays were my favorite place in The Bahamas. Nassau is easy to reach in as little as an hour from Florida and three hours from NYC, Philadelphia or even Toronto on a number of daily direct flights. Getting to the Exuma Cays are a bit more of a challenge. Though daily flights operate on airlines like SkyBahamas, it’s a tad more expensive once you get there with far fewer hotel options than bustling Nassau. I did spend several days staying on Great Exuma, but you can also get a taste of the beauty of the Exuma Cays on the Exuma Powerboat Adventure day tour I went on from Nassau.
The Exuma Cays begin southwest of Nassau and stretch in almost a straight line like stepping stones for some 90 miles to the south toward Turks and Caicos. With 365 islands and cays making up the Exuma chain and a population of just around 4000 distributed amongst a few populated islands like Great Exuma, Little Exuma and Staniel Cay, it’s no wonder that these islands have long been a haven for celebrities seeking a little anonymity. Princess Margaret, Jackie Onassis and Jessica Tandy have all been frequent visitors and other celebrities like Johnny Depp, David Copperfield, Nicholas Cage and Faith Hill and Tim McGraw all own private islands in the Exumas.
The powerboat offers a shaded inside for those that want to escape the sun and spray. The more adventurous, or maybe a more accurate description would be just asking for it, can take a seat up front. I opted for inside since I would be getting plenty of sunshine while on our private island for the day.
The tour included two stops and the first was at Allan’s Cay, home to about 30 or so critically endangered Exuma Rock Iguanas. There are estimated to be only around 1300 left and any islands where they live are protected from development for conservation efforts.
I’d gotten to visit with the Exuma Rock Iguanas on Leaf Cay, once owned by Nicholas Cage, while staying in the Exumas. These guys on Allan’s Cay were a lot more skittish, running up to grab the grapes we’d brought from them and then scurrying back inside the bush. I think maybe because this was a much larger group tour than the one I’d gone on to see them on Leaf Cay. I fed the iguanas my handful of grapes and used the rest of the 20 minutes we stopped to enjoy a swim in the crystal clear waters instead.
From Allan’s Cay, it wasn’t long to reach our destination for the day: Ship Channel Cay. Ship Channel Cay is the northernmost island of the Exuma Cays, but the private island gives you a taste of the white sugar sand beaches and no less than a dozen shades of jade, teal, turquoise, and neon blue that seem to swirl in to one another.
You can’t help but pause on the dock to take it all in. But the lure of snacks like sandwiches, chips and salsa and veggies with dip gets the better of you before too long. Also included in the tour is the open bar, so Bahama Mamas were calling my name. (Not sure what kind of tropical drink to order? Savored Sips has 10 tropical drink suggestions for you.)
Sufficiently filled up on snacks and with drinks in hand, the stingrays now commanded our group’s attention. Many of these uninhabited islands were once stopping points for fisherman to clean their catch and the stingrays got used to the sound of the boat engines meaning an easy meal. Not long after we arrived, we could see the dark silhouettes of the stingrays coming to see if we’d brought them anything.
We did, of course. We all lined up in a single line down the beach and our guides for the day gave us each fish to feed the stingrays. The stingrays, though wild, aren’t dangerous unless you get anxious and step on them. If they feel threatened, they could use the barb on their tails to defend themselves. But in general, they are gentle giants that like to suck the fish out of your hand and enjoy a good rub. They’re sort of like the dogs of the ocean.
The other thing all that fish attracts are sharks and before too long, a dozen or so lemon, nurse and black tip reef sharks also came to see if there was an easy meal for them. And I don’t mean us.
To get a good look at the sharks, especially the biggest lemon shark of the bunch, one of our guides put on a shark wrangling show. Shark wrangling is essentially putting a fish on a line and reeling the shark in as close to the beach as you can. And these big boys did not want to let go of the fish. We made sure that all of the sharks had their fill of fish because we were about to get in the water and snorkel with them.
Ship Channel Cay is in a unique location that a strong current comes in from the open water and creates a strong current right across the coral reef that is in the swimming pool like bay created from the surrounding islands. It creates the perfect conditions for drift snorkeling.
Usually snorkeling is a great activity that just about anyone can do. You put on your mask and snorkel and mosey about at your own pace. Drift snorkeling is an entirely different experience though. With the strong current, it’s kind of like getting taken along on a car ride as the current quickly carries you along. You need to be a confident swimmer in order to control yourself and get out out of the water.
We drift snorkeled over the reef a couple of times and then it was time for lunch. In my hungry state from snorkeling, swimming and frolicking about on the beach, I was a bad blogger and didn’t get any photos of the lunch. So you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that it was an awesome buffet that had something for even the pickiest of eaters. There were grilled steaks, fish, pasta, steamed veggies, salads, fresh fruit, cheese and even hot dogs for the kids.
Though Ship Channel Cay is beautiful enough to be entertaining all on its own, our guides weren’t done with their shows just yet. After lunch was cleaned up, we were treated to a conch salad show. During our snorkeling, our guides had picked up conch and now we learned how to remove them from their beautiful shells and clean them.
Conch are sort of like a sea snail and are popularly eaten raw in conch salad or fried in conch fritters. To crack a conch, you crack it with a little hammer on what is called the third crown. Then you use the knife to loosen it and pull it out by its horn.
I’ve consumed plenty of conch in fritters, salad and chowders but I’ve never actually seen one pulled right out of its’ shell. They were quite a bit larger than I expected and I had no idea that they have a penis. Honestly, while I was fascinated and still totally dug right in to that conch salad once it was prepared, I’m one that would just rather be naive about how my food goes from ocean to plate.
With all the activities and entertainment, the day at Ship Channel Cay flew by and all too soon the bell was ringing signaling it was time to pack up beach blankets and be back on board or be left deserted on the island. It had been an awesome day and one of my favorites of my two week Bahamas trip.
Know Before You Go
- The Exuma Powerboat Adventure leaves from the Paradise Island Ferry Terminal, just a few minutes from Downtown Nassau and Paradise Island resorts and hotel pick-up and drop-off is included in this tour.
- Bring a towel and sunscreen.
- Snorkel gear and life jackets are provided.
Our Exuma Powerboat Adventure was provided by Viator in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own.