Imagine a little island of only 120 people, where everyone waves to you, the water is baby blue, and you’re a stone’s throw away from the original swimming pigs of Big Major Cay.
Staniel Cay is a little island in the Exumas of the Bahamas that’s full of character and a great jumping off point not just for the pigs, but for grottos, cuddling with nurse sharks, sea turtles, iguanas that live on the sand, and even an underwater piano. Here are my favorite things to do there, plus where to stay and what to eat when on Staniel Cay:
Things to do:
Rent a Golf Cart and Explore:
Staniel Cay is small, and though you could walk it, most people opt for a golf cart since it can get HOT during the day, and they’re fun to drive anyways.
I had actually never driven a golf cart before trying on Staniel Cay, but it was a good place to learn. It’s not like there’s any traffic to speak of on the roads, and if you manage to get lost, I’ll be impressed! The golf cart gives you the freedom to drive yourself to the beaches and to dinner, and it’s how most people choose to get around the island. Remember to drive on the left!
You can rent golf carts here (affiliate link).
This was my favorite beach on Staniel Cay, with white sand, baby blue water, and the perfect conditions for a floating session. It’s easy to get to, nestled on the north side of the island. Just follow G&B highway almost to the end, turning right down a dirt road just before you reach it. I used Maps.me (a free map smartphone app) to navigate while I was there and found it easily.
Keep in mind there will be a lot less beach at high tide, which is dependent on the moon phase.
Sunset at the Yacht Club
An institution on Staniel key, the Yacht Club is one of the only places to eat on the island, and is a favorite hangout spot of most visitors. Chances are good that while you’re staying on the island, you’re going to eat here at least once. My recommendation is catching the sunset there, as it is perfectly situated facing west.
There’s a nice beach just before you reach the Yacht Club as well, where I saw a ray fully breach out of the water! There are nurse sharks nearby as well.
The Swimming Pigs Tour
This is what you probably came to Staniel Cay to see – the swimming pigs! I found the experience to be delightful. We had such an awesome boat captain, Dave with 3N’s Exuma Vacations, who seemed to have a special relationship with them. He’s even trained one to stand up for treats!
The pigs really do swim right over to your boat, and you can get in the water with them and swim around, which I did! They were adorable, and much more open to pets and belly rubs than most other pigs I have met. There are also babies that your guide will likely bottlefeed and maybe even give you the opportunity to try as well.
There are touristy things that sometimes don’t live up to the hype, but this really did for me. Where else in the world can you see swimming pigs in perfectly blue, clear water? You can book it here.
Snuggle Nurse Sharks
The swimming pigs tours almost always include the nurse sharks, too. You’ve probably also seen famous photos of people floating with the nurse sharks in the Exumas. These sharks are habituated, and have been for decades. They are used to tourists swimming in the water with them, and are so docile you can even stroke them and hug them!
That said, they are still sharks, so please respect them and watch your fingers when you’re interacting with them. Your guide will most likely bring along fish treats to attract them over. Even if you’re not comfortable getting in the water, you can watch them from the dock above.
A word to the wise: While DSLR cameras are welcome elsewhere on the tour stops mentioned in this post, you’re only allowed to take photos and film with a phone at the sharks.
Visit the Sand Bar
Only visible at certain times of day, the Sandbar will be a logical stop between the nurse sharks and the pigs on a day tour. If you have a drone, this is the place to fly! You get nice layers of color as the sand fades to dark blue channels for the water to flow through. Since you can’t fly anywhere on Staniel Cay due to the proximity to the airport, I liked the opportunity of being able to fly on the sandbar.
But even if you don’t have a drone, the perfectly white sand set amongst a multicolored blue backdrop makes for beautiful photos!
This stop has a small area that has lots of little, colorful fish and nice corals for a quick snorkel.
I thought the corals were particularly nice, with lots of sea fans, parrotfish, and sometimes even turtles, if you’re lucky.
En route, ask your captain to stop by the plane wreck if you’re interested. It’s shallow enough to be viewed from the surface.
The Thunderball Grotto will probably be your first or last stop of any boat tour out of Staniel Cay, and entry and exit all depends on the tides. The current can sometimes be strong, but if you’re a strong swimmer and able to hold your breath and swim down into the cave, you’ll be just fine.
There’s a variety of fish inside, with several entry and exit points that emit light underwater. There are little bats inside too, though they’ll likely be sleeping when you visit.
Around noon, you can even get sun beams shooting into the cave, which would be amazing to see!
See the Sea Turtles
While the pigs, sharks, grotto, and sand bar are all part of the usual tour out of Staniel Cay, you can opt for something a little different heading in the other direction. If you’ve always wanted to swim with sea turtles, you can get the chance on Farmer’s Cay.
Like most of the animal attractions in the Exumas, a local guide takes their favorite food — conch — out into the water to attract them.
I’m not sure how I feel about feeding wildlife, but I also appreciate that this is how many animal interactions around the world are done, from shark swimming, whether in a cage or the deep ocean, to attracting fish when snorkeling. The same is true of feeding birds when out hiking, or, honestly, putting out a bird feeder in the backyard. Everyone has to decide for themselves how they feel about it, but I at least want you to go into the experience with open eyes. Like the nurse sharks, these guys seem habituated.
The Underwater Piano
About 15 minutes beyond where you swim with the sea turtles, there’s an underwater piano with a mermaid hanging out next to it. This is also not part of the typical tour, but if you get a group of friends together and get your own private boat, this is a pretty cool one to stop by and is only about 15 or so feet down in the water.
This work of art, called the Musician, was commissioned by David Copperfield who owns an island nearby. It was created by Jason DeCaires Taylor and intended it to be a surprise for the few private guests of the island, as well as day visitors like me. Bonus – since it’s not on the usual tour, nobody else was around.
Iguanas on the Beach
On your way back to Staniel Cay, why not another animal interaction? We did everything mentioned here from the pigs onwards in one day, and it felt so full of wonderful animal experiences, I found myself appreciating how much variety and abundance there is in the Exumas.
These iguanas mostly survive off of berries and greens found on the island, and have no natural predators. Like the pigs, they’re cared for and looked after by official staff, living out most of their days happily on the sand.
Where to Stay:
I stayed at EMBRACE Resort while I was on Staniel Cay, and it’s great for many reasons – it’s local, Bahamanian woman founded, owned, and operated, the central location is great, and it’s affordable.
While there are vacation rentals and a few other options on Staniel Cay, I loved the vibe of EMBRACE. My bungalow was adorable, with my own fridge, a big jetted tub, and a big bed all for me. They would also bring by little treats every now and then, and really made me feel welcomed and at home.
There’s also a pool, easy golf cart rental and parking, and discounts on the tours mentioned above when you stay with them. They also offer COVID antigen testing onsite, which makes getting back home easy!
They have several different room types, including options with multiple rooms and full kitchens. You can check out the options here.
Where to Eat:
There’s only one major restaurant on Staniel Cay – the Staniel Cay yacht club. They are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. During the days, it can get quite busy with tour groups coming in to eat lunch, and for dinner you’ll want to book ahead of time for the multi course meals, which were delicious.
That said, Carole at Big Dogs restaurant makes fantastic local food. Each day there are several options like chicken, cornish hen, or my choice while I was there – oxtail. It comes with sides like rice, cole slaw, potato salad, and veggies. Ask at your accommodation if they can call her to place an order. Orders must be placed by 10:30am to eat at noon each day. This is true, home-cooked eating and I LOVED it.
Staniel Cay is about a 30-minute flight from Nassau. I flew Flamingo Air on a little plane and enjoyed the view.
You’ll still fly out of the international airport, heading to the domestic side where you’ll see Flamingo Air on the far left. Keep in mind the schedule seems to be flexible, so try not to leave check-in to the last minute. For help booking, you can ask your accommodation. EMBRACE handled my booking for me and even called me to let me know when my flight time moved up.
Staniel Cay was a little slice of paradise to me. I loved the friendliness, the small-island vibe, the beautiful beaches, and especially the boat tours. There’s really so much to see out there, and if you love animals and super clear water, you’ll love the Exumas.
* This post was created in collaboration with Staniel Cay Vacations. All thoughts on the amazing tours and accommodation are my own.