Are you entertaining the idea of sailing a luxury catamaran through the pristine Exuma Cays in the Bahamas? Read on for our detailed 5 day itinerary, covering everything you need to know to make this the bucketlist trip of a lifetime!
The Bahamas consists of 16 major islands and thousands of cays, with the capital city of Nassau only a one-hour flight from Miami. I’m sure you’ve seen picture perfect images of sheltered turquoise bays, immaculate sandbanks & remote laid back islands of the Bahamas – & I can almost guarantee you those photos were all taken in the Exumas!
For the perfect mix of adventure, unique experiences, natural beauty and escape from the crowds, we decided to hop our way through the Exuma Cays by luxury catamaran & were not disappointed!
If you have a little more time, we also suggest visiting The Exuma Islands, a perfect add-on for the ultimate Bahamas itinerary.
SAILING THE EXUMAS
There’s so many islands and cays (many unpopulated) and it was the remote cays that we were especially interested in. The best way to see these parts of The Exumas is by sailing. The freedom to have your own itinerary, beat the crowds, and be in empty bays at sunset can only be done this way.
We chose to charter a sailing catamaran from Dream Yacht Charters. They provided us a beautiful boat for 5 days that we could comfortably sail, even just the two of us. They are based on the main island in the city of Nassau (where international flights arrive to the Bahamas) and the marina there has great facilities, which made it easy to stock up on supplies and prepare for the sailing ahead.
- To charter a catamaran yourself, you will need to provide evidence of experience. Chesh has his boat licence and experience operating power boats, and had skippered a catamaran once before in Australia. This was enough history to give confidence to the charter company and to ourselves to handle a luxury catamaran.
- Ideally it’s better to have a group onboard when chartering to help with mooring and anchoring, but we managed fine just the two of us! The boats on offer are generally easy to handle and are very modern.
- We’d suggest stocking up with food, drinks and water before leaving Nassau. There’s one or two cays where you are able to restock, but we didn’t want to be limited in our itinerary by making these stops.
- Before you set sail you will undergo a thorough briefing. Make sure to take good notes throughout the technical boat briefing and the sailing briefing (which includes upcoming weather, need to know info on all the cays & safety) as once you are at sea there’s basically no reception.
- ‘Navionics’ was a very helpful app to help with navigation and didn’t need wifi/reception. We would have been quite literally lost without this.
- Do some research about where you want to visit so you can plan with the sailing times and weather so you can relax and enjoy the time aboard. Some of our stops are below!
- Consider adding a few extra days to your itinerary to account for weather & crossings. Everything takes longer than expected & it’s great not to be rushed. You can do it all in 5 nights, but we wish we had longer!
There’s so much to see across the 200km (130mi) string of cays! Here’s the itinerary we had:
DAY 1 – Highbourne Cay
We left the world behind and sailed from Nassau towards Highbourne Cay. As you see the mainland disappear from view so too does your phone reception. And with this comes excitement about the freedom of adventure ahead.
This is quite a long crossing and one of the bigger days sailing but it was so protected and peaceful dropping anchoring in Highbourne Cay at the end of the day. There were hardly any boats around (basically for the entire week!) and we could see straight to the sandy bottom as we made cocktails, swam and watched the sun set. Vibes!
DAY 2 – Staniel Cay
Dictated slightly the weather forecast, we decided to sail right down the Exuma Cays to Staniel Cay on this first full day. This is the most popular spot on any sailing itinerary and was as far South as we planned to go. We were particularly interested in seeing Pig Beach and the Thunderball Grotto (the underwater cave).
Staniel Cay is a great spot to get protection from the weather, stock up on supplies or to enjoy a restaurant meal at the marina. If we had more time we would have headed slightly further down to reach Black Point, which is quietly known for an amazing bakery and quiet beach. However we were content to drop anchor just North of Staniel Cay ready to beat the crowds early the next morning at Pig Beach.
DAY 3 – Pig Beach
It was so cute seeing the pigs wake and head down to the beach as we ate breakfast on our boat in the morning. We headed over from our catamaran around 9/10am and were the first ones to arrive on Pig Beach. Heading ashore we were met by the little locals, interested in the new guests to their beach and no doubt looking for their own breakfast. From piglets that would nuzzle up to your legs to massive pigs that would give you a little bite for food (don’t take any food ashore!), there’s a lot going on.
Besides seeing the pigs, we were curious to see how everything worked here. There are caretakers for the pigs that do feed them and you aren’t supposed to bring food ashore, however as the morning progressed tour boats arrived and the pigs do become more of an attraction. They swim out to be fed from tourists on the boats, all the while snapping photos. An interesting experience but expect a lot of action!
DAY 4 – Compass Cay and Hawksbill Cay
Today we wanted to see the nurse sharks of Compass Cay. Once again we arrived early (9/10am) to beat the crowds and see the sharks. Honestly we were disappointed with this stop. As we arrived to the marina in our tender we were thinking it would be a hit-and-miss type encounter whereby the sharks are sometimes there. It was very much the opposite and the sharks are only at the marina in the mornings to be fed. And unfortunately they are also touched by the staff and tourists, posing for photos.
Instead we headed off on our slower return leg back to Nassau and had magical weather! No winds and glassy water made for insane views off the boat and even a dolphin playing with us as we putted along. Weaving between cays and soaking in the sun was a memorable moment of this trip for sure.
We arrived at Hawksbill Cay just in time for sunset and had a perfect swim and then sat outside to have dinner under the stars.
DAY 5 – Normans Cay and Highbourne Cay
Normans Cay was our hero agenda item for this day. Here at Norman’s lies the underwater wreck of Pablo Escobar’s plane and it was a massive highlight for us. Again, I’d suggest to go early to beat the crowds – we were first to arrive there at 10am and could fly our drone and snorkel the wreck by ourselves before the tour boats started arriving. The clear waters, white sands, vibrant fish and shallow depths make this an amazing snorkel spot.
Having a lunch on the go, we headed back to Highbourne Cay for our last night at sea.
We had the best time exploring the cays of The Exumas. Sailing on it’s own was magical, but with all the bucket list locations and clear blue waters that the region has to offer, it was a soul-filling 5 days spent in the Bahamas.
Also to note that if we had more time we would have loved to visit O’Briens Cay (the underwater aquarium) and just generally enjoy the sailing life!
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Also, keep an eye out for our upcoming blog with more things to do in the Bahamas (coming soon).
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