For many sailing enthusiasts, a cruise in the Exuma islands in the Bahamas is akin to sailing in Paradise – the 130-mile archipelago provides interesting and beautiful anchorages ideal for fishing, snorkeling, and sailing.
The 360 islets, islands, and sandbars that make up the Exumas have many bays and beaches you can explore that offer everything from a national park to solitude to popular yacht charter destinations.
Whether you are interested in sailing the calm, shallow waters to the west or the deep open ocean in the east, the following are the best anchorages in the Exumas you have to visit.
The headquarters of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, Warderick Wells, offers some of the most scenic spots for relaxation, recreation, and congregation.
The island has several mooring fields, the best of which is the Emerald Rock Mooring Field, just south of the Park Visitor Center.
Here you can find excellent swimming and snorkeling spots at Beryl’s Beach. For the history buffs, follow the Wall Trail that leads to the ruins of the Loyalist plantation from the 1700s, which has stunning panoramic views of the sound and banks.
To the north of the island is Shroud Cay that features a long mangrove river splitting the island in half. Opening out onto a long white sandy beach on the ocean side is an old campsite set up in the 1980s by drug enforcement agents to spy on the drug activities of Lehder in Norman’s Cay.
Take the opportunity to explore the old villas, bar, and restaurant, while imagining the insane Dionysian orgies that must have taken place there, when Carlos Lehder used the island as a base to smuggle cocaine into the United States.
If you are up to some snorkeling, one of the planes that Lehder used for flying his cocaine into the US provides for some spectacular underwater views. While the plane wreck is still intact, it is now home to tropical fish and coral, rather than hauls of cocaine.
Just north of Staniel Cay in Exumas Cays Land and Sea Park, is Compass Cay one of the best places to sit back and relax. Here you can swim and snorkel with nurse sharks that can grow up to 14 feet.
Kick back in “Rachel’s Bubble Bath”, a fabulous pool that gets its water from the ocean surf that crashes over a ragged barrier reef that makes it feel and looks like a seawater Jacuzzi.
Just to the West of Compass Cay is the Rocky Dundas sea cave that has walls painted with colorful yellows, blues, greens, and purples, from minerals leaching out of the rocks.
One of the favorite destinations if you have a large yacht, Staniel Cay provides fantastic kayaking, fishing, scuba diving, and snorkeling in the Bahamas.
Swim with Sergeant Majors, Angelfish, Yellowtail snappers, and purple parrotfish at the Thunderball Grotto – a natural limestone cave with a vaulted ceiling that illuminates the cavern.
With shallow and clear waters, snorkeling is easy even for experienced and first-time scuba divers.
Big Major Cay
A few miles from Grotto is Big Major Cay also known as Pig Island or Pig Beach. Here you can swim in the swirling and shimmering waters with the about two dozen pigs and piglets.
Legend has it that the pigs were left on the island by merchants who intended to return to slaughter them but never did.
Another theory is that they were the survivors of a shipwreck. However, instead of being a nuisance, the pigs have become quite a tourist attraction – swimming out to tourist boats hoping to share your lunch or just sunning themselves on the beach.
If you are a wildlife aficionado, then you must visit Leaf Cay for a chance to see the very rare Exuma Island Iguanas, of which only 1300 remain.
These beautiful animals roam the island and scramble onto the beach seeking food from tourists, clad in their chunky armor. Leaf Cay has it all, from the decent elevations, protected deep water suitable for mooring large yachts, and three pristine beaches.
The nearby Exuma Sound offers excellent fishing while the island’s proximity to Exuma makes amenities and conveniences readily available.
Just across Elizabeth Harbor is the Rusty Anchor Restaurant that has some fine delicacies for some nice evening meal.
The newly opened Beach Club on February Point offering live music and entertainment, and tropical dining in the perfect tropical waterfront setting that is the ultimate experience of a sailing cruise.
In addition to the restaurant, the new floating dock marina through the February Point concierge staff makes it easy and convenient to restock supplies and provision services.
Here you can also take a break from the Sea by visiting The Beach Club’s Hollis Day Spa for some rejuvenating and soul-soothing treatments.
If you have cruised and anchored in dozens of places around the world in different conditions, you know how important it is to be prepared. So what should you do to ensure that an anchorage is suitable for your needs:
1. Clarify your needs – why do you want to anchor in a place
Are you seeking a swim or just want to grab some lunch or see some attractions. The criteria for you and your crew may change throughout the voyage.
2. Check your cruising guides and charts
Anchorages are typically marked with the anchoring symbol and sailing guides will provide recommendations on the best anchorages for your vessel type.
3. Determine if it offers protection from the elements and is sufficient depth
A safe anchorage provides protection from weather, waves, and wind; and has a bottom with sufficient depth, swinging room, and good holding.
4. Have a plan B
Always have a Plan B just in case something unexpected happens. For instance, if you find a protected anchorage only for the wind to shift, you need to have a plan of either moving your boat to another spot, marina or head out to sea.
5. Arrive early
While it is tempting to sail as much as possible during the day, arriving at an anchorage in the dark or at sunset is not advisable. You will have no time to make alternative plans if you find that the anchorage is too crowded.
The 130-mile archipelago of the Exumas offers some of the world’s most enchanting anchorages. The beauty of the islands is in the iridescent shimmer of the sapphire-blue waters and breathtaking islands. The ultra-exclusive resorts and footprint-free beaches make these islands an absolute gem in a tropical paradise. Here is where you find the ultimate escape in flawless coastlines where nature outnumbers man.
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Do you know more places to add to this list of beautiful islands? If so, feel free to share them in the comment below, I’ll be glad to hear your feedback!