Are you ready for a little winter escape because all this week we are heading back to the Bahamas on Happily Audrey! Sam and I recently spent a week on the island of Exuma and fell in love with absolutely everything about this piece of paradise. Surrounded by 365 out islands, Great Exuma is actually quite small in size at only 37 miles long. But what it lacks in land it makes up for in beautiful, crystal-clear Caribbean Sea! Below is a travel guide for visiting the area and tips for planning your own vacation to the Windex blue waters (what the locals call the lightest color blue water) and the famous swimming pigs. I’m also releasing a video every day this week at 5PM ET on my YouTube channel that will highlight each day spent adventuring around Exuma. Make sure to subscribe to my channel to receive an email once the videos are live!
Here’s a sneak peek at what to expect! I love making these guides and videos to share with you guys. They take a lot of work but I’m always so happy to hear your feedback and get to know more about what it is you like to do when you travel, so please let me know what you think in the comments here or on my channel!
Getting to Exuma was a pretty easy task, though there weren’t any direct flights to their main airport in Mosstown (GGT) from Orlando or Tampa, Florida. We ended up having a layover in Atlanta but the route was a breeze and unlike other trips we’ve taken to the Caribbean, we didn’t end up in a propellor plane on our second leg. In my experience, if you have a layover on an island in the Caribbean to hop over to another island you will be on a prop plane. Commercial flights in and out of GGT aren’t as frequent or affordable as they are to neighboring Nassau but if you setup price alerts on Kayak like me, you’re more than likely to strike a deal. We booked our flights about four months out and our tickets were just under $400 each.
One thing to keep in mind is you do need a passport to enter the Bahamas so make sure you’re up to date there.
The airport in Exuma is very small with a single runway. To exit the craft, you actually walk onto the landing strip before grabbing your carryon bag (if it’s a traditional roller, it will need to be stowed because of the smaller aircraft) and heading into customs. The process is simple but there were only two agents for our entire flight so it could take 20-30 minutes depending.
Renting A Car
We rented a vehicle through the concierge at our resort with Airport Car Rental which is located directly across a small street from the airport. We opted for a two-door Jeep Wrangler. This was definitely an upgrade in cost ($125/day) but not necessarily quality. Since you’re on a small island where simply owning a car is a luxury, your selection is going to be limited to what the agency has in their collection and these aren’t going to be top of line, brand new models. Renting an economy model vehicle will still run you around $75/day and chances are those are the vehicles that are rented out more often, so take what’s important to you as far as comfort goes into consideration. For us, we wanted something sturdier that we could put the top down and really feel like we were on an adventure.
That adventure also ended up including the powersteering going out on our Jeep midway through the trip. But a quick call from our concierge to the rental agency and all was fixed. They brought a new vehicle to the resort, switched out the Jeep and we were compensated the difference when we returned the vehicle on our travel day home.
Where To Stay
After doing a ton of research on hotels, resorts and vacation rentals throughout Great Exuma, we decided to go the resort route and stay at Grand Isle Resort & Spa. Why? We quickly realized that no matter where you stay in Exuma, once you reach a certain expectation of quality you’re going to pay a premium for it. I’d much rather stay at a place with amenities, concierge and an onsite restaurant for the same price a beachfront Airbnb without any of that would run me. We were also fortunate to book our stay during the last week of the off season (between Labor Day and Thanksgiving) and I discovered a Florida resident rate that gave us a discount and free breakfast at the restaurant each day. We booked a one-bedroom ocean view (not ocean front) villa. I only make note of the difference in ocean view versus ocean front because I was a little underwhelmed with our view. Sure you could see the ocean, but you could also see a chainlink fence, a dirt access road that was used often by resort staff, and straight into the gym. The ocean was there, but there were so many distractions from it I really wouldn’t consider it the kind of view you fork up extra for to have.
What To Do
Rent A Boat From Minn’s: We rented a 17′ Boston Whaler from Minn’s Watersports in Georgetown and set out on our own to boat around and explore around Stocking Island. The reservation was handled through the concierge at Grand Isle Resort ahead of our arrival and this was definitely one of our favorite days on the trip. It’s about a half hour drive from Grand Isle in Emerald Bay to the city of Georgetown. We packed waters, sunscreen, our cameras and snacks. The folks at Minn’s supplied us with a cooler and ice (additional fee) to keep our items cool. After a short tutorial we were on our way. Getting out of the harbor is an adventure all it’s own. There’s a small bridge you have to go under before you’re out at sea – that bridge is only about 10 feet tall and gives you a about a 15 feet gap to squeeze your boat through.
Visit Tropic Of Cancer Beach: Located on Little Exuma (an hour’s drive and a one-way bridge away), Tropic of Cancer Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been to. The water turns every shade of blue depending on how the sun’s light touches it. The water is warm and the sand is soft. Getting there is a little off the beaten path but so worth it. You’ll hop over a small bridge (that’s how you know you’re own Little Exuma), then about seven miles further you’ll see a small sign on the left for Tropic of Cancer, make that turn and follow the dirt road until you see a small hut on the left marking the entrance to the beach.
Grocery Shop In Georgetown: Visiting local grocery stores when traveling to a new country is always an experience. I’m fascinated to get a glimpse of what day-to-day life is like and often imagine what it could be like to live in the places we vacation to. Grocery shopping in Georgetown was interesting and… expensive! Anytime you visit a Caribbean island, items you’re used to having in the states (chips, cereal, frozen pizza) are going to have a mark up price not only because it’s what tourists typically go for but there’s also the import fee to take into consideration. When grocery shopping in another country, always look for locally produced items to avoid those markup costs. I was shocked to see that a carton of Goldfish (my go-to vacation snack) was $17.50! Needless to say, those stayed on the shelf.
Take A Boat Tour And Visit The Swimming Pigs: Of course, how is a trip to Exuma complete without a visit to the famous swimming pigs? A definite trip highlight, we booked our excursion through the concierge at Grand Isle (again, another resort perk) with Exuma Water Sports. This was a half day tour that would include visiting the swimming pigs among other sights around Exuma’s out islands. The pigs were an adventure all their own and looking back, I wish we had either booked the full day tour or a dedicated excursion to just the pigs so we had more time with them. Beyond the pigs, we also visited a beach with hundreds of iguanas, an osprey’s nest, discovered some starfish and checked out the island Ben left Olivia on during the famous 2-on-1 date on The Bachelor.
Where To Eat
Palapa Grill: Located on the grounds of our resort, we ate about 90% of our meals here and they did not disappoint. My husband and I are pescatarians so we’re limited to fish and vegetarian options but never felt like we were low on options or had to eat the same thing every time. There were so many dishes to choose from for each course and I love that a few nights a week, Palapa hosts themed dinners with special menus in addition to their traditional meals. Some of my favorite meals were the Portobella Cheese & Mushroom Ravioli and Island Spiced Grouper. The staff at the restaurant were also a highlight and we ended up making friends with a few of the servers and bartenders there. And they definitely passed my piña colada test – top notch!
Santanna’s Bar And Grill: Spoiler alert – this was my favorite meal in Exuma. Located in William’s Town on Little Exuma about five minutes south of Tropic of Cancer Beach is a roadside grill called Santanna’s. There are four items on the dry-erase board menu (lobster, shrimp, grouper and chicken) that all come with the same sides (macaroni and cheese, coleslaw and rice and peas). You find a seat at the bar, place your order and take in the beautiful Caribbean Sea while you wait. When we visited, I ordered the lobster and Sam the grouper. Neither of us were disappointed and neither of us did much talking once our plates were in front of us. We later found out that the lobster had been caught fresh ealier that day (talk about fresh). It was breaded and lightly fried and had a sweetness to it I never tasted before. We filled our bellies with our local catches and didn’t leave a bite behind. This restaurant is cash only and 15% gratuity is included.
Catch A Fire Grill: We heard from a fellow traveler that Catch A Fire was the “place to be” on a Saturday night so we decided to give it a try. The food was pretty good, there was live music, it was nice to get off property and I was happy to hear that the restaurant had just reopened after suffering some damage from Hurricane Matthew. The real highlight of visiting Catch A Fire was meeting Bahama Obama, a local treasure who frequents the hot spots to dance with tourists for tips. We ended up giving him a ride back to the main road when we left and enjoyed a rather funny conversation. This restaurant is cash only and 15% gratuity is included.
Chat N’ Chill: Probably the most famous restaurant in all of Exuma, Chat N’ Chill is located on Stocking Island and is reachable by boat. In fact, we went there for lunch when we rented our Whaler from Minn’s. I ordered the grilled fish and Sam a conch burger. Both were delicious and perfect for a midday meal. While we were there, we were able to get up close and personal with some local stingrays that frequent the area because tourists are encouraged to feed them. Even without a snack to share, they’ll charge straight for your toes if they see you in the water. It was amazing to get so close and it made our visit to Chat N’ Chill even more memorable. This restaurant is cash only.
I’m sure you can tell by my guide that we fell in love with Exuma! Editing all of our videos just makes me want to go back even sooner.
Have you ever wanted to visit Exuma? Let me know what you think and I’m always happy to answer your questions. Don’t forget to subscribe on YouTube for daily videos all week of all our excursions and get to see these places up close and personal.