The Exumas are some of the prettiest islands in The Bahamas. Shades of jade, aquamarine, and amethyst in deeper waters turn to translucent opal near sandy shores; the water and land appear almost inseparable. Sailors and their crews like to stake out their own private beaches and tropical hideaways, and several vacation retreats have been built by wealthy Europeans, Canadians, and Americans.

A spiny, sandy chain of islands, the Exumas begin just 56km (35 miles) southeast of Nassau and stretch more than 161km (100 miles) from Beacon Cay in the north to Hog Cay and Sandy Cay in the south. These islands have not been developed like the Abacos and Eleuthera have, so they are relatively inexpensive to visit. But they still have much to offer, with crystal-clear waters on the west around the Great Bahama Bank, the 1,500m-deep (4,921-ft.) Exuma Sound on the east, rolling hills, ruins of once-great plantations, coral formations of much beauty, and uninhabited cays ideal for picnics. Although they're crossed by the Tropic of Cancer, the islands have average temperatures ranging from the mid-70s to the mid-80s (mid- to upper 20s Celsius).

Most of our resort recommendations are in and around George Town, the pretty pink capital of the Exumas, on Great Exuma Island. It was once considered a possible site for the capital of The Bahamas because of its excellent Elizabeth Harbour.

Nearly all the other cays are uninhabited or sparsely populated. Over the years, remote accommodations have come and gone on these islands. Today, the only lodgings, which attract mostly the yachting set, are at Staniel Cay and Sampson Cay.

The cruising grounds around the Exumas, which are scattered over an ocean area of 233 sq. km (90 sq. miles), are among the finest in the Western Hemisphere—if not the world—for boating. The sailing rivals that of the Grenadines and the Abacos. If you don't come in your own craft, you can rent one here, from a simple little Daysailer to a fishing runabout, with or without a guide. Elizabeth Harbour's annual regatta in April has attracted such notables as Prince Philip and Constantine, Greece's former king. Yachters often say that the Exumas are "where you go when you die if you've been good."

Snorkeling and scuba-diving opportunities draw aficionados from around the world to the vast underwater preserve of Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park and to the island group's other exotic limestone and coral reefs, blue holes, drop-offs, and caves. Dive centers in George Town and Staniel Cay provide air fills and equipment.

The fishing, too, is superb here, and the "flats" on Great Exuma's west side are famous for bonefishing. You can find (if you're lucky) blue marlin on both sides of Exuma Sound, as well as sailfish, wahoo, and white marlin, plus others.

The Exumas are among the friendliest islands in The Bahamas; the people are warmhearted and not (yet) spoiled by tourism, seeming genuinely delighted to receive and welcome visitors. They grow a lot of their own food, including cassava, onions, cabbages, and pigeon peas, on the acres their ancestors worked as slaves. Many fruits grow on the cays, including guavas, mangoes, and avocados. At Government Dock in George Town, you can watch these fruits being loaded for shipment to Nassau. The sponge industry is being revived locally, too; this product of the sea is found in shallow waters and creeks to the south side of the Exumas.