Most people visit the tiny island of Great Exuma in the Bahamas for turquoise water, tranquil beaches, a getaway from the stress of life and sunshine.
We booked primarily to see the swimming pigs. It seems ridiculous looking back on it, but once these unusual creatures crossed my radar, I had to book a Bahamas vacation sooner rather than later. Instinct told me that word was about to get out and I didn’t want to fight too many tourists for a spot on pig beach.
Weeks later ABC’s “The Bachelor” followed in our footsteps in an episode featuring the exact tour we enjoyed and Grand Isle Resort, where we stayed. I was right!
Needless to say, I’m so glad we did it but it wasn’t without a few challenges.
In the days leading up to our departure, it wasn’t entirely clear whether we’d land in the Bahamas and be unable to swim. There was rain in the forecast, but more importantly, the trade winds were blowing at speeds well over 22 mph. Tours will not go out if it’s too windy or too rainy.
My daughter and I were on severe wind watch as speeds vacillated between 20 and 30 mph throughout most of our stay. It’s not windy enough to prevent planes from landing or people going about their daily business. But it was too windy to use the beach and the ocean looked pretty choppy. Kitesurfers, however, were in heaven.
The worst thing that could have happened is that we’d just have to book another trip. I was already mentally calculating when that could possibly happen.
But, after having the tour postponed on our first day in Great Exuma, we were good to go on the second. The view from our room below (as well as the local weather forecast) indicated that it was still windy outside, however.
A taxi picked up Grand Isle Resort guests from the lobby. While this sounds like a minor benefit it’s actually quite a major one. The lack of signage on the roads would make the 20-minute or so drive to Exuma Water Sports in Barreterre extraordinarily difficult to find, in my opinion.
We pulled over to a quiet dock that almost looked like it was a part of a residential home. Maybe it was. At any rate, we all piled into the boat. No names were checked off of a list and no itineraries were shown. Trust plays a huge role in Bahamian life, I learned.
Our captain, Justin Lightbourn, is part of the Bahamian family who owns Exuma Water Sports and his wealth of information proved that he probably knows the islands better than most.
The boat—fancy as it was—sped through the initially choppy water. So focused on the swimming pigs portion of the tour, I’d forgotten that we were also headed to other islands. The tour is really to showcase the immense beauty of the Exuma archipelago of 365 named islands.
The adventure felt more like a thrill ride at first. Indeed, you would not want to take this tour in extreme wind. Eventually, the waters calmed as we entered areas where the wind was blocked by other islands.
We zoomed along the edge of several islands. The average depth of Bahamian water is just 1-3′ making it easy to see rays, starfish and walk on sandbars. But there are a few very deep spots mixed in.
Our first stop was the swimming pigs. Exuma Water Sports is the first to visit their little island of Big Major Cay (also called Pig Island) in the morning.
As soon as the pigs saw the boat, they started swimming out toward us. Regrettably, I did not have my GoPro ready. I’m not a great GoPro user in the best of times (working on it) but I will tell you that it’s tough to focus when pigs weighing several hundred pounds are swimming at you full speed ahead for chicken hot dogs.
Yes, like a dog who does tricks for a bone, these pigs swim for chicken hot dogs.
No pork for these social pigs who get right up in your face. They’re constantly swimming and can’t touch the ground so you will certainly experience an occasional kick in the shins.
I could not believe that these gigantic pigs hoisted themselves on the side of the boat. They really love those chicken hot dogs. A few babies even swam out to see us. So, so cute.
Eventually, mother nature stepped in. And once we noticed little chunks reminiscent of orange chicken floating around us, we hightailed it out of the water. Pig poop was everywhere. My daughter and I could not stop laughing.
It is up to the locals to keep the swimming pigs hydrated and fed. Our boat brought fresh water and what looked like restaurant scraps for the pigs to chomp on. We watched them eat for a while as the sun started to shine. It was also the first time many of us had seen calm water since landing in the Exumas.
Keep in mind that other boats stop here with food and water throughout the day. Word on the street is that the pigs eventually get full. And when they’re full, less swimming happens. As our captain said, “They don’t swim for free.”
I would say we were here for maybe 20-30 minutes of a 4-hour tour. It’s much less than I expected, but there is a lot to see in this part of the world. It is hard to believe that water this beautiful actually exists.
A variety of famous people own islands in the Exuma chain, including Nicolas Cage. On his sand, hundreds of endangered Bahamian rock iguanas happily sun themselves.
Quite used to tourists, we fed them red grapes and it was a hoot to watch them scurry around. Behind the foliage, they have a fresh water source to keep them happy but apparently they never go in the ocean.
We snorkeled around one island a little bit and saw some tropical fish. Conditions prohibited snorkeling in their preferred spot, but that is O.K.
We swam with pigs, and that’s all that matters.
What Are the Swimming Pigs?
To be honest, I am not completely sure how the pigs wound up on the uninhabited tiny island of Big Major Cay (also known as Pig Island) in the Exuma island chain.
Some people say they may have been left by sailors who intended to return for them. For some reason, they never did. Others say they swam to shore in a shipwreck. The final theory is that they were placed there for tourism purposes.
Whatever the reason, pigs swim in the Bahamas.
How to See the Swimming Pigs
I liaised with the concierge at Grand Isle Resort who gave me a list of the several tour operators who stop at Big Major Cay to see the swimming pigs. Exuma Water Sports seemed like the best choice because they had by far the best reviews and nicest boat.
Water, soda and beer and cookies are on board for guests to enjoy at any time. We paid $150 per person for a half-day tour and I would highly recommend you do the same, if visiting Great Exuma.
Now, there are ferries from Nassau to Great Exuma but they take 8 hours. You’ll want to fly into George Town airport.
See the swimming pigs in action here along with snippets from the rest of our tour.
The Bottom Line
Go to Great Exuma and swim with the pigs, but don’t make it your only reason for booking a Bahamian vacation here. There is quite a bit to enjoy about this part of the world and I initially lost sight of that.
Swimming with the pigs here got much more popular after we left. And, with popularity often comes irresponsibility. Pigs have died from tourists allegedly feeding them beer and other things. If you visit them, please take care.
Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).
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