An Insider's Guide for Sailors & Beach Buffs
If you want a beach to yourself, one of the uninhabited islands surrounding Staniel Cay could indeed become yours for the day. In the unlikely event that another yachting party arrives, just sail on to another nearby island -- chances are, it'll be deserted.
The local map given out by the Staniel Cay Yacht Club pinpoints the location of Thunderball Grotto, where part of the James Bond film Thunderball was filmed. This is one of the best places for snorkeling in the Exumas. To the north of Thunderball Grotto lies the curiously named Big Major Cay, where hungry pigs will chase you down the beach for a handout. There are also stray cats on the island who appreciate a snack (they're especially fond of canned sardines), as well as some fresh water.
Believe it or not, swimming pigs will even surround your boat here. They are harmless, but do expect them to beg for food. At another point on your nautical map, about 6.4km (4 miles) beyond Major Spot, a tiny, uninhabited island directly northwest of Staniel Cay, you'll come across shallow waters where tame (at least, we hope so) nurse sharks like to have their pictures taken. Food makes them even less camera-shy.
Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park
In the northern Exumas, the best waters for private boating are found in the government-protected Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, which stretches south from Wax Cay to Conch Cay -- a distance of 35km (22 miles) -- with magnificent sea gardens and coral reefs. The park is 13km (8 miles) wide and was inaugurated in 1958. The exact location is 35km (22 miles) northeast of Staniel Cay.
The park is often called the "Garden of Eden," with its unspoiled beaches, safe anchorages, numerous islets, and endless cays. Wherever you go, expect to see tropical birds flying overhead. As you wander the islands, you may even catch a glimpse of the endangered Bahamian iguana. The environment below is also fascinating, a water world of coral reefs, mysterious caves, and scores of marine animals (take along your snorkeling gear). Fishing, incidentally, is prohibited, as is handling the coral -- touching it will kill it.
The best place for hiking is Hawksbill Cay or Warderick Wells, which is the site of ruins of Loyalist settlements from the 18th century. Pioneers during that era tried to make a living out of farming these islands.
It's best to visit the archipelago between dawn and dusk. Note that there are no facilities and that you must bring your own water.