Exhale, you are in Exuma. The dreamy cays that go on forever (100 miles no less) are the poster child of the Bahamas, blurring the lines between a laid-back life and one of pure unadulterated luxury. With 365 islands that make up the Exuma Cays, there is one for each day of the year, but only 20 are inhabited, leaving lots of gauzy blue and white gems to explore.
Treasures can be found at every turn, and not just the pirate kind – we are talking swimming pigs, otherworldly grottos, pearly sandbars that stretch across the horizon, dragon-like iguanas wandering the beaches, and gorgeously grand resorts for romantic sunset drinks and fine dining. From the yacht clubs of Staniel Cay to the rainbow of blue swirling around the Tropic of Cancer, Exuma offers a great escape.
The tantalizing little tucked away island of Staniel Cay is a vision in blue, with waters so clear you can look right down at your toes touching the seabed. Staniel Cay is also home to the Yacht Club, where you can step off your yacht and into a golf cart to tour the sweet and stunning grounds. With only a handful of bungalows and a restaurant that serves up the catch of the day, it’s a great little lunch spot before taking your skiff out to explore the sandbars close by.
As part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park, the uninhabited little island of Shroud Cay is a collection of rocks, mangrove Salina, and warm shallow waters. This set up provides a perfect nursery for turtles, birds, fish, and other sea creatures to raise their young. The island is stark but stunning, and home to the white-tailed tropic birds who can be seen soaring above the waters or nesting in nooks of the limestone rocks.
The highlight of the Exuma Land and Sea Park can be found by taking a dinghy and drifting down the endless maze of creeks. Motorized tenders aren’t allowed in the parks so the plethora of wildlife doesn’t need to be disturbed. Take the creek that leads to Camp Driftwood and floats down the salty natural waterslide. Shroud Cay is the place to spread out on the sands with a picnic, feeling the soft pink grains beneath your feet as you split your time between splashing in the opalescent waters.
On the journey towards the famed Warderwick Well, you will pass by Hawksbill Cay, another of those virginal islands plopped in the blue waters of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. These shores are sure to be deserted, making it a romantic place to drop anchor, and ferry the dinghy around to explore the western side of the cay. If you can bear to tear yourself away from the beach then you will find an old loyalist trail, perfect for pushing through the dense green jungle and keeping watch for brilliantly feathered birds overhead. At the tip of Hawksbills Cay, you can gaze out across the never-ending turquoise hues and try to spot a whale breaching the surface.
After exploring the remains of the historic settlement, charter guests can search for sunken treasure with a crystal-clear dive down beneath the waters of Smugglers Cave and Pirate Cut. Be mesmerized by rays and groupers drift past in the underwater world and stroll along the boardwalk to count stars at midnight.
After exploring blissful waters without another soul in sight, the buzzing vibrancy of Warderwick Well is a welcome sight. Warderwick Park is the epicenter of activity for around the park and a gateway of decadent discovery. Rather than just sugar white sands and soft water, you will find shimmering green bluffs, rocky outcrops, soaring dunes, sand flats and dense mangrove creeks.
A must see on the island of Warderwick Well is the mighty skeleton of a sperm whale washed up on Powerful Beach. The sight of the stripped ivory bones arching like a mountain against the flaming colors of sunset is certainly an arresting view.
Walkers will be eager to stretch their legs on Warderwick Well, with over 7 miles of walking routes, you can hike from one end of the island to the other. Boo Boo Hill boasts one of the best trails, leading you right past blow holes that scatter the eastern shore.
Take a silver service supper back on your yacht and ask the captain to regale you with ghostly tales about the missionaries who were swallowed by the deep blue sea.
The totally protected marina at Compass Cay lends an open invitation to superyachts. One of the main reasons the jet set elite are eager to drop anchor here is the opportunity to swim with the islands pet sharks. Those who don’t dream of swimming alongside the toothy inhabitants will find their personal state of utopia on one of the thirteen beaches or with a dip in the islands own frothy naturally formed bubble bath.
Anyone interested in fishing can go with the locals just ten minutes away, where the waters are deep and dark navy blue and filled with shoals of groupers, snapper, and wahoo. There is no better way to spend an afternoon than catching a fine fish and having your personal chef serve it alongside a beautifully muddled rum cocktail.
A first-class marina, world-class restaurant and handful of pretty cottages make Highbourne Cay another worthwhile stop on the trail of the exclusive Exuma Cays. Highbourne Cay may be privately owned, but that doesn’t stop the vibe from being truly welcoming to worldly seafarers seeking a place to swim, wine and dine, and kick back on the sands.
The beauty of Highbourne Cay is the resort that enables you to be as active or inactive as you like. Charter guests feeling a flush of energy can rent a bike and cycle the trails, head out on a kayak to watch grouper pass beneath their craft, and take a full tour of the island. Those who want to do nothing but read a book and have cocktails carried to them will be in their element on Highbourne.
Dinner at Xuma’s Restaurant and Bar delivers seafood fresh delights against a magnificent backdrop. Let the seared Chilean seabass flake on the fork, spread a little homemade mango chutney on your blackened mahi-mahi and finish with steamed guava cake doused in rum cream.
Nature lovers should flock to Allen Cay in the hope of seeing the famed rock iguanas – an endangered species named after the island they inhabit. Although they may look fearsome, as though they have hatched from a prehistoric dinosaur egg, the iguanas are gentle souls and are always happy to take a piece of fruit straight from your hand.
A stone’s throw from the munching iguanas of Allen Cay will take you to Norman’s Cay. On the surface Norman’s Cay is a beauty queen; all sparkling sands edged by tropical waters. Now, it is calm and quiet but once upon a time, this spot was a trans-shipment spot for running drugs in and out of Colombia via small aircraft. One of the aircraft missed the spot and plummeted into the warm embrace of the waters, only to be turned into a blooming garden for rainbow coral and drifting marine life.
After diving the sunken airplane, you can grab a table at Macduff’s Restaurant for tenderized conch burgers, freshly caught snapper served with a spiced pineapple chutney and a temptingly tropical mango daiquiri to wash it all down.
One of the most famous places in the whole of the gauzy blue Bahamas, this low-key island sits in the crook of Eleuthera. The sight of pastel bright cottages with sparkling flats and blushing sands makes you want to unpack your bags for good. Pink Sands beach is one of the best stretches in the world, with its rosy seashell coloring, an inviting contrast with the radiant Ceylon waters.
On dry land, you can visit the oldest dwelling on the island at the Landing Hotel along with swinging by the charming fishing dock and straw market. We suggest breakfast at The Landing Hotel for their ricotta hotcakes smeared with honey butter. Bohemian boutique goodies can be found at the Sugar Mill Trading Company and the new and highly revered Dake’s Shoppe.
Pick your fancy when the sun sinks, a fresh conch salad with sour orange and goat peppers from Queen Conch, or stone crab and junkanoo pasta with fresh shrimp at The Rock House.