You float across the shimmering waters of Exuma’s 365 cays and islands, and the view reminds you that things just can’t get any better. Like the ice in your crisp and cool tropical beverage, your heart begins to melt.
Your boat approaches an ivory-white beach, and 20-something adorable pigs and piglets hastily make their way to you for a playful encounter in the shallow waters.
Welcome to Pig Island… Where all pigs go to heaven.
What started out as five baby piglets (four females and one lucky male) in the early 90s, is now the enduring reason why millions of tourists flock to the Bahamas annually, for a bit of pig-cuddling therapy.
In this article on the Sandals Blog:
Where do the Beach Babes come from?
How they became famous.
Can you pet the pigs?
What snacks to bring?
What to do when being chased?
What else is there to do on the island?
When is the best time to visit the pigs?
From the cruise port to the pigs.
What to bring with you?
These lovable mammals happened upon Big Major Cay mysteriously, the truth of their arrival obscured, as if buried by pirates.
Some say they were deserted on the island by sailors, with the intention to return and feast on the pigs. Others are of the belief that the pigs are survivors of an old nearby shipwreck. The TODAY Show reports that a man named Wayde Nixon, along with his business partner and good friend Don Rolle, brought the pigs to the island to create a farm in preparation for Y2K in the 90s. Their fear of the impending technological breakdown consumed them so wholeheartedly that they birthed a pork-packed survival strategy.
Either way, these delightful inhabitants arrived and settled quite comfortably in their new digs, and have started a new life for themselves. Not a bad spot to find “refuge”.
Initially, the swimming pigs were far from an instant sensation. It was only in the 2000’s, with the rise of smartphones, that the pigs would blow up the world-wide-web, putting the Exuma’s on the map.
The pigs went from humble island dwellers to celebrity status in no time. They even attracted visits from Hollywood stars Amy Schumer, Jennifer Lawrence, and Johnny Depp (who owns an island nearby) in recent years. Not stopping there, the pigs have been featured in music videos, and were featured in a romantic setting on ABC’s “The Bachelor”.
While the pigs look right at home along Big Major Cay’s beach, the tropics are not really their natural habitat. Traditionally they roamed around the forest in the center of the island, foraging for food, but with the growing interest in tourism to the island, the pigs slowly started to make their way to the shore. Currently, they have moved completely away from the forests and spend their days beaching, awaiting the arrival of tourist, and ultimately a snack.
Also read: The 40 best beaches in the Bahamas.
To get a bit more insight about the day in the life of a pig on Pig Island, you can purchase "Pigs of Paradise: The Story of the World-Famous Swimming Pigs". A book detailing how Exuma would be unveiled to the world in the most unassuming way. Not by a world-famous explorer who completed yet another voyage, but rather by some rather cute unlikely pigs.
Exuma is the only place in the world which offers this unique experience, and Pig Beach is the go-to hot-spot for this unusual vacation activity - it’s definitely one you’ll remember for a long time to come.
While the swimming pigs are feral, they are incredibly friendly. They’ll let you swim right up to them if they don’t get to you first. Gently touching and petting the pigs is acceptable, but as a general rule treat the pigs with respect and they will do the same. Please avoid teasing the pigs, throwing rocks at them or trying to ride them. The pigs are wonderful, intelligent creatures and they’re used to human company, despite their island having no full-time human inhabitants.
Feeding of our porcine friends is permitted, but tourists are urged to think twice about what, how and where they feed them. In the past ingestion of too much sand due to being fed on the beach has been harmful to the pigs.
Pigs being pigs, they’ll eat anything. The Bahamian Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources has asked that tourists only feed the pigs pitted fruit and vegetables. The pigs are ONLY to be fed in the water where there is less chance of them ingesting sand. If on land, you can however feed them fresh water as there is a shortage on the island.
Insider tip: Recommended foods to feed the pigs are carrots, lettuce, watermelon and apples.
If you scare easily, it’s best not to keep food on your person as the pigs are likely to chase you, no matter their size. An open palm in front of the pigs will assure them that there is nothing in your hand and they will quickly move on to more fruitful prospects.
Don’t worry. Once you meet these cute little critters, we guarantee you’ll fall in love.
Don’t forget to really take the time to enjoy the natural surroundings of the untouched and completely uninhabited cay, apart from the pigs. After all, you’re still floating around the crystal-clear waters of the Exumas. Not a moment should be missed to take it all in. Take a walk through the forest or sunbathe on the white sandy beaches. You don’t know when next you’ll be in this neck of the woods.
As much as we love the pigs, it’s not only about the pigs. Apart from the sublime experience of swimming with the pigs, the day tours will also include opportunities to go snorkeling, meeting iguanas, play with stingrays, swimming with nurse sharks, spotting turtles and so much more. All the makings of an exotic sea adventure.
Below is a list of activities you can expect on your ‘swimming with the pigs’ tour:
Welcome to the top-secret exotic world of James Bond. You can snorkel into Thunderball Grotto, a cave, made famous as a filming location in the James Bond film Thunderball.
Learn about the exotic Bahamian Rock Iguanas who were previously hunted for food by early inhabitants of the Bahamas. Now protected by the Wild Animals (Protection) Act, they are thriving and will appear by the dozens from the vegetation at the top of the beach.
Swimming with sharks is a unique vacation experience that's possible at Compass Cay. The type of shark here is the nurse shark, which are for the most part harmless to humans. They even have names like Herman, Woody, Hook, Lefty, Squirt and Scar. Some are small but others are up to seven feet long.
Discover the underwater plane wreck near Staniel Cay, in Rokers Point Settlement, one of the most accessible underwater plane wrecks in the Bahamas, and the world. Interesting fact: The plane was used in drug trafficking and ditched here in the 1970’s.
Widely known as the "Mile-long Sandbar", the Exuma Cay’s Sand Bars are Located just south of Big Farmer’s Cay, and are great for shelling, sunbathing, and picnicking. Perfect for a quiet beach day.
Little Farmer's Cay is also home to abundant wildlife, but swimming with the tranquil turtles makes the top of the list of things to do, while on this beautiful island. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, sample the locally caught and freshly prepared conch dishes.
It’s never a dull moment when exploring the Exumas.
Insider tip: Islands Routes Caribbean Adventures tour have a number of fun-filled, action packed excursions at your disposal. Please note that the swimming pigs tour is only available from Sandals Emerald Bay and not from Sandals Royal Bahamian.
The pigs are happy to welcome visitors to their humble abode all year round.
The months of November to mid-December are the best times to visit the luxury islands of the Bahamas. The weather is fantastic, and the islands are relatively quieter.
Peak season is during the months of December to Mid-April. During this time the islands are swarming with tourists and your time with the pigs could be somewhat diluted.
The summer months from June to August (also known as the rainy season) and hurricane season from June to November will likely guarantee you a more personable interaction with the pigs, due to fewer crowds. That said, when a dangerous storm is brewing, the pigs are usually taken to shelter by a local water sports company.
Most tours will start in the mornings between 8 am and 9 am, and again at sunset. It’s best to avoid visiting the pigs at lunchtime or late afternoon as they will be lazing on the beach after just having a feed and will unlikely give you the warm welcome you’re expecting.
There’s only one way to reach the swimming pigs of Big Major Cay and that is by boat. As the pigs are world famous, nearby all-inclusive resorts arrange trips to see the delightful swimming piggies. Tourists can get up close and personal to the popular Bahamian residents. If you happen to be staying at Great Exuma’s Sandals Emerald Bay, arranging your day with the swimming pigs is a breeze. When booking Sandals Emerald Bay, there's an option to include return flights from your departure airport.
You’ll be pleased to know that the pigs aren’t shy. In fact, they’re relatively easy to find. The island’s location is 82 miles from Nassau and 50 miles from neighboring George Town.
The are two main ways to get to Exuma, by air or by boat. Bear in mind, unlike Nassau, the number of flight operators serving the Exuma islands are limited.
Exuma By Air
The connections of all Exuma air trips are mostly in Nassau. If travelling from the US, then consider making your way down to Fort Lauderdale or Miami. Fly to Nassau and then connect to Georgetown. This is the most popular route. Once you reach Georgetown you can travel to the other cays via boat, ferry, or flights.
Connecting flights fly daily from Nassau to George Town with Bahamasair or SkyBahamas, depending on your preference or availability.
If visiting Pig Beach is the sole purpose for your travels, then your best bet would be flying into the tiny airports of Staniel Cay or Farmer's Cay, the two closest islands to Pig Island. Flamingo Air departs daily from Nassau to both Staniel Cay and Farmer’s Cay leaving at 8 am and returning at 4 pm.
All of the above-mentioned connecting flights are between 40 to 45 minutes in duration, leaving you ample time to enjoy your day. The spectacular views as you sore through blue skies will promptly set the mood for the day.
You’re not going to get much closer than this and traveling from here will help you maximize every extra minute you get to spend in paradise with the piggies.
Exuma by boat
Does tearing through the glassy Bahamian waters from one exotic island to the next on a powerboat sound like your kind of fun? Then a single ticket will have you zooming through the stunning Exuma Cays, with stops to explore the beauty up close.
How about sipping on a cold one to the sounds of lapping waves as you set sail atop the calm seas on a 57 ft Catamaran? A Charter boat might be more your style. Chartering private boats is undoubtedly the preferred choice of most tourists who are visiting Nassau. Many tourists like to charter a boat for half a day or a full day to explore their preferred parts of Exumas or to just indulge in the swim with pig’s experience.
Whichever floats your boat, day trips of this variety are in abundance. They run daily from morning to late afternoon and shouldn’t be missed. All YOU need to do is immerse yourself in all the action.
A note of safety for powerboat tours:
Planning a cruise adventure? Cruisers can get a taste of all the pig swimming action on a ship-sponsored shore excursion. If your cruise liner, for some strange reason, does not have “Swimming with the Pigs” on their itinerary, then you can easily book the excursion through third-party operators.
Bear in mind you’ll need to budget four to five hours for this fun filled day of pigs, turtles, and so much more.
Before you zip your suitcase closed for the adventure of a lifetime, here’s a list of packing essentials for your day out and about while floating around one of the most gorgeous places on Earth:
It's recommended to not bring any jewelry or other loose valuables.
Tour operators will provide food to feed the swimming pigs. Should you charter a boat we recommend to bring carrots, lettuce, watermelon and apples.
The Bahamas are known for their heartwarmingly beautiful surroundings. The crystal blue waters, white pearly beaches and endless sun-filled days. Yet, who knew that the number one tourist attraction would be a unique encounter with the paddling pigs? One of the biggest reason tourists continue to flock to the Bahamas annually.
Have a look at Sandals' all-inclusive resort in Exuma and your vacation will be taken care of from arrival to departure.