My daughter and I just returned from a fabulous Bahamas vacation (though not without hiccups) on Great Exuma, the largest island in the Exuma Cays, spurred by our desire to see the swimming pigs. My lack of research prior to departure resulted in some unexpected hiccups—none that were insurmountable—but I would do things a bit differently if we were to visit again. With that in mind, here are some things to know before visiting this beautiful part of the world for the first time.
Plan Enough Time
We visited for only three nights and frankly it really wasn’t enough time. There are a few reasons for this. One is that poor weather—even in dry season—can crater your planned activities. There is actually quite a bit to experience that a long weekend won’t be enough time for.
But if all you have is a few days to spend, especially if it’s a short flight, then definitely go for it anyway. You’ll still find it a great place to unwind.
Weather Can Make or Break a Great Exuma Holiday
Based on my research, there really isn’t a terrible time of year to visit the Bahamas. The crystal clear, turquoise blue waters await 365 days per year. However, it’s the Caribbean where rain happens and trade winds blow. About a week before our arrival, weather predicted the trade winds to blow over the 22mph, the max wind speed our tour group would go out in. We specifically flew out out to the Bahamas to swim with pigs (you should do this) and were at risk of it not happening due to weather, even though we were visiting during the dry season.
Fortunately, things worked out but it isn’t uncommon to read TripAdvisor reviews about Bahamian vacations where tours were cancelled due to weather. Fortunately, should this happen to you, there are plenty of other things to do on Great Exuma. Wind is a blessing for kite surfing.
George Town Airport Expectations
The George Town airport might win for smallest airport I’ve ever been in. Took a very easy direct flight from Miami on American Airlines. Customs is easy to navigate and so is check-in. Baggage claim is simply your bags chucked through a rolling door.
The airport lounge actually requires leaving the airport and walking across the street to Kermit’s airport lounge.
Now, while I wasn’t expecting much here (I’m pretty sure I was poured the day prior’s wine from 1.5 L bottle and they’d run out of all advertised ice cream) the baked chicken dish my daughter and I shared was among the best food we’d had on the island. I should have taken the hint as I saw a number of airport workers rotate in and out with to-go bags. High speed WiFi was fantastic and despite the very tired interior we enjoyed our wait here. Apparently, Kermit is a real guy who knows a ton of people on the island and known to tour tourists around on occasion.
Getting Around Great Exuma
Most people rent cars (starting at $75 per day). The major carriers like Avis are absent. It’s a local company. We had a car delivered to us at Grand Isle Resort. Heavy rain limited our island exploring which is lucky because when I went to drive the car back to reception, the parking brake was stuck and the car wouldn’t move which made me grateful that I didn’t drive it out to a remote beach.
If you skip the car, I found taxi drivers to be quite reasonably-priced and paid flat fees for a few journeys. These aren’t yellow cabs nor are black cars an option. I get the feeling that they are individual people driving their own cars. The ones I used were all quite chatty with resort staff and I take comfort in the fact that much of the island is relationship-driven. Again, everyone seems to know each other.
That being said, if you want to craft an itinerary that involves multiple stops… have your resort find a taxi driver they know who is willing to do it.
U.S. Dollars Are a Legal Currency
There is no need to convert U.S. Dollars into Bahamian Dollars as both are considered legal currency in Great Exuma. There are a handful of banks and ATMs around the island should you need additional cash, but it’s probably easier to bring enough with you. Most merchants accept major credit cards. Expect to pay taxis in cash.
Sometimes it feels like nothing is urgent. And, this can actually be a good thing because the “no worries” vibe becomes relaxing over time. But, it’s a little disconcerting when you’re trying to nail down an itinerary or find out when on earth the internet is expected to come back online.
To give you an idea, we wanted to take a water taxi to Chat N Chill on Stocking Island. I called Elvis’ Taxi (highly recommend) to check departure times and his answer was, “Whenever you want.” Of course, our taxi driver who took us there knew Elvis and his crew among other people at the docks. And, we left for the island as soon as we arrived.
Groceries Are Expensive
It only makes sense that groceries are at a premium because so much needs to be imported to the small island. It’s not uncommon for stock to run low or out. And if you’re looking for organics… forget it. We stopped at a popular convenience store on the way to Grand Isle Resort and they were sold out of bread and a handful of other necessities. It’s not the end of the world as we were able to pick up fruit, peanut butter and jelly, milk, juice and some other things, but you do need to be flexible and ready for a bit of sticker shock (like $9 half-gallons of apple juice).
Look forward to friendly, casual beachside dining and takeaway like the tasty Fish Fry beach shacks. Conch fritters, seafood sandwiches and other Bahamian favorites are a must. Note that menus can be limited because the availability of groceries varies. Leave your fancy clothes at home.
Infrastructure is not fantastic on Great Exuma. In fact, cell phone service, regular telephone service and WiFi had been out for several days. I had no way of letting my husband know we’d arrived and had some pretty important emails to send. I waited 36 hours for things to return to normal, which isn’t much but things had been down with no explanation for 4 days.
Street signage is not plentiful and I don’t recall seeing a single stop light. There is one main road, which is helpful because you’ll know when you’re on it… figuring out where to get off might be a different story. Getting to Tropic of Cancer beach, however, is an off-road experience with some people reporting traveling at speeds of 5mph down muddy terrain to get there.
The Locals Are Incredibly Nice
From the moment we stepped off of the plane to the time we stepped back on it, the people we came into contact with were so, so genuinely nice. I felt immediately at ease with our two taxi drivers who were constantly going out of their way to make sure everything we needed happened according to plan.
It is possible to be the only person on the beach here. That’s a pretty special experience.
The Bottom Line
It’s a small island with pristine water and really nice people. I quite enjoyed our stay but the isolation and lack of infrastructure is not for everyone.
Do you have tips for visiting Great Exuma?