How to get to Exuma Islands
Exuma is a vast collection of cays and islands…some of which are just 35 miles to the south east of Nassau. These islands are scattered widely in a long line that goes north in the direction of New Providence from Great Exuma. The great biodiversity of the land and sea in this area made the government name a huge chunk (176 sq. miles of it) as the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park.
Being a part of the out islands of Bahamas…travel options to Exuma are more difficult to find in comparison to travel to Nassau or Grand Bahama. The cays are numerous and some are homes to celebrities like Tim Mc Graw, Johnny Depp, and Faith Hill while others are dominated by individual luxury resorts. When travelling to Exuma there are usually some well-known areas where tourists travel to before departing to explore the islands and cays according to their own choice and it’s important to know these points.
The most well-known cay is Staniel Cay with its boating hub and Staniel Cay Yacht Club. Just a short boat ride away from Staniel Cay is Big Major Cay where the Pig Beach is located that offers the swimming with the pig experience. The Staniel Cay has an airstrip just 1.25 miles away from Fowl Cay which has some nice resorts. So a trip to Fowl Cay will involve flying to Staniel Cay airstrip first and then taking a boat ride to the island.
North West of Staniel Cay is Thunderball Grotto that’s another popular visiting point. The anchor point of the collection of islands in Exuma is Great Exuma which hosts George Town that’s the landing point in Exuma for most travelers. Another well-travelled to Cay is Stocking Island that’s a small boat ride away from Great Exuma. About 18 miles away from Great Exuma is Little Farmers Cay that’s another relatively popular spot for tourists. Right at the top of the cay Chain is the Allen’s cay anchorage that is also well travelled to because of its native endangered iguana population.
Exploring the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park will take you across many cays like Little Wax Cay, Hawkbill Cay, Little Pigeon Cay, Cistern Cay, Long Cay, Halls Pond Cay, Shroud Cay, Little White Cay, Bell Island Cay, Pasture Cay, Rocky Dundas etc… all these are approachable and discoverable only by boats. The origin of boat trips/ kayaks to Land and Sea Park is mostly Staniel Cay…you need to reach here first before exploring the park via various routes.
These islands of Exuma were once called Suma and Yumey but right now they are divided in three zones; Great Exuma, Little Exuma and Exuma Cays. While Great Exuma and Little Exuma are great for enjoying a slice of the lazy Bahamian life… the cays are occupied by the numerous villas and super luxury holiday homes of famous people. Like some areas of Abaco, Exuma were also full of British loyalists who entered these areas with their slaves after the American Revolution.
Much of the tourist traffic that visits Nassau also comes to Exuma as the islands are nearby… however Nassau and Exuma offer distinctly different kinds of Bahamian experiences.
Once you reach Exuma, depending on your location, you can avail taxi, boat, ferry or a water taxi, rent a car, scooter or a bi-cycle to get around. In some places like in the cays, there are no options but to walk although you can rent a golf cart at some of them. Go through Getting around Exuma
to know all transportation options in the island.
There are many ways of getting to the Exuma like via flights and by ferry. However you need to remember that Exuma is not that well connected as Nassau, so the number of flight operators serving the Exuma islands are limited. Below are all the options of getting to Exuma.
The connections of all Exuma air trips are mostly in Nassau. If you are coming from the USA then one of the most popular routes is to fly to Nassau from Fort Lauderdale or Miami, and then connect to Georgetown. From George Town you can explore other cays and islands via boat, ferry or flights (available only to specific areas). No matter what combination you choose for your route via Nassau you will be shelling out at least $300 per person for air travel only. However the experience of flying into the archipelago that appears like a string of pearls is a visually stunning experience.
The Exuma’s biggest airport is Exuma International Airport (GGT) located in Moss Town (Phone Number: 242 - 345 0607). The airport is 9 miles away from George Town, Great Exuma. Exuma International Airport offers nonstop flights to 7 different cities…. i.e. Atlanta, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Nassau, and Rock Sound (Bahamas) and Toronto.
Other US destinations from where air connectivity to GGT is good are Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Houston, New York, Atlanta and San Francisco. Other popular international destinations from where air connectivity to GGT is good are Beijing, London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Madrid, Singapore and Shanghai. Each week more than 20 domestic flights and 27 international flights land and depart at the airport. Many national and domestic airlines offer flights on a daily, weekly and bi-weekly basis.
While departing through Exuma International Airport, you can spend some time at Kermit's Airport Lounge located across the airport's terminal building (across the road). There is ample seating both inside and outside. They serve local Bahamian, Caribbean and American food. Have a cold Kalik beer to chill out, the bar tenders make nice cocktails too. In food, try out barbecue chicken with rice & peas... good portions and tastes nice. They have burgers, hot dogs as well. Service is quick and friendly. Good place to hang around before you leave Exuma. They are open 7:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m daily.
Chartered flight service is available to Staniel Cay Airport (MYES, phone: 1 242-236-2166), Farmer’s Cay Airport (MYEC) and Black Point Airport (MYEB).
Airport at Staniel Cay
Photo: Alan Levine, flickr, PD
You should know that air service to Bahamas especially to the out island airports vary seasonally… the maximum options are found between the windows of Christmas to Easter as this period commands maximum tourist traffic. Local Charters are plentiful but their service schedules aren’t fixed…you can directly contact their office for confirming your schedule before you make your plans. Another great way to arrange reliable air travel to Exuma is to ask your resort/ hotel for flight recommendations as they have updated information on schedules and carriers.
Bahamas Air runs daily flights from Nassau to GGT. The first flight departs at 6.20 a.m. and reaches GGT at 7.00 a.m. and the last flight departs at 9.00 p.m. and reaches GGT at 9.30 p.m. There are a total of 9 flights operated by Bahamas air to GGT but their schedule and timings change frequently depending on weather and other conditions. Bahamas Air also runs flights between GGT and North Eleuthera international airport.
Phone: (242) 702-2600
Sky Bahamas runs 3 flights daily from Nassau to GGT. The first flight departs at 8.30 a.m. and reaches at 9.10 a.m. to GGT. The other two flights depart at 1.30 p.m. and 5.45 p.m. respectively and reach GGT 40 minutes later.
Air Charter Bahamas
They run flights from south Florida and Nassau to Exuma
Air Canada operates several flights from multiple locations to Georgetown (GGT) airport. There are regular flights from Toronto (YYZ), Calgary (YYC), Quebec (YQB), Moncton (YQM), Montreal (YUL), Ottawa (YOW), St Johns (YYT), Fredericton (YFC), Vancouver (YVR), Edmonton (YEG), San Francisco and Saint John (YSJ) to GGT as well as return flights to the same destinations.
You can call their toll free number any time any day for knowing more about flight details.
American Airlines operates many flights from several locations in USA to George Town. You will easily find flights to GGT from Dallas (DFW), Charlotte (CLT), Phoenix (PHX), Boston (BOS), Philadelphia (PHL), Miami (MIA), New York (JFK), San Francisco (SFO), Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago.
Earlier US Airlines was operating weekend direct flights to Exuma GGT airport from multiple locations in the USA…after the recent US Airlines and American Airlines merger… flights run every day to the Exuma.
United airlines offers flights to Exuma George Town airport from the following locations; New York, Houston, Toronto, Cleveland, Chicago, Washington, Detroit, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Denver, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.
Daily flights to GGT are run from Miami.
On Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, there are flights from Atlanta to GGT.
With Charter flights you have a personalized experience and a convenient schedule (mapped by you) and don’t have to stick to the widely scattered timings of flights to the airstrips in Exuma. If you are a group of six or so and don’t have a budget issue then you can consider chartering a flight…it will take you to Exuma in greater comfort and convenience. There are several chartered airlines that service Exuma Islands like Aztec Air, Bahamas Hoppers, Flamingo Air, and other Region based Air Charters
Phone: (954) 601-3742; (954) 351-931
They have charter flight service to Great Exuma…the schedule is customizable…you have to let them know about your plans in advance.
Private air charters and shared air charters to all the Bahamian islands are provided by this private carrier
Water Maker’s Air
They offer scheduled as well as chartered flights to different exuma cay locations. You need to call and check flight details as they can schedule special flights on request.
Staniel Cay Airport (MYES) in Exuma Cays receives scheduled flights via Water Maker’s Air from a private hangar facility at Fort Lauderdale airport. There is an early morning flight and an afternoon flight on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The flight reaches in perfect time for passengers to enjoy a good repast at Staniel Cay Yacht Club though there is a brief stop at Bahamian Customs and Immigration as Staniel Cay isn’t an official port of entry. The aircraft can go anywhere within a radius of 500 miles of fort Lauderdale so the flight can be chartered to different exuma cay locations like compass cay marina, fowl cay resort, black point ocean villas.
9 seater Caravan airplane is available for carrying passenger to and fro from Nassau to Staniel Cay.
5 seater Aztec airplane is available for carrying passenger to and fro from Nassau to Staniel Cay.
There are two daily flights from Nassau to Staniel Cay (departs at 8.00 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. and arrives at 8.45 a.m. and 4.35 p.m. daily). These flights also stop at Farmers Cay airstrip en-route on request
There are also two daily flights to Black Point airstrip in Great Exuma from Nassau (departs at 8.00 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. and arrives at 8.45 a.m. and 4.35 p.m. daily)
Mostly you will be given a choice of aircraft like a standard air taxi, mid-size air taxi, premium air taxi, executive air taxi, personal jet, light jet. The number of passengers range from 3 to 10 and the price per trip depends upon the distance, kind of aircraft chosen and the season (peak season rates are higher). Choosing an air taxi to fly into Exuma is a good idea because you can get a personalized experience and slip the queues…you can choose your own schedule and build your own experience.
Toll Free: 1-877-2- (1-877-254-6327)
They offer direct flights to Staniel Cay Airstrip from Naples (APF), Avon Park (AVO), Boca Raton (BCT), Merritt Island (COI) and Keyest (EYW).
TIA Trans Island Airways
This air taxi service providers (headquartered in Barbados) schedule private charter planes to all out islands including Exuma…it’s one of the most popular choices for island hopping.
Apart from jets…Cessna 402, Learjet 60 and Citation Ultra aircraft is available for carrying passengers from Nassau to Staniel Cay and then back. Air taxis to Big Majors Cay (of Swimming Pigs fame), High borne Cay and Allen’s Cay and Compass Cay is also provided.
When travelling by boat or ferry to Exuma, it’s important to remember that they don’t always operate on specified schedule. This means that you cannot have rigid time expectations from your tours but your operator is likely to be a friendly Bahamian who will stay back to accommodate you or go out of their way to help you so in a way the experience will be interesting.
Overall ferries in the Exuma are not very common as they are in the rest of Bahamian islands and ferry service is mostly used to quickly transfer tourists between islands in the Exuma group. There are three major ferry docks on the Exuma; Augusta Bay Dock in Augusta Bay George Town, Government Dock (1.2 km) south east of George Town and Stocking Island Ferry Dock.
Stocking Island Ferry
Stocking island ferry is run by several private operators such as Elvis Water Taxi, A1 Water Taxi etc as well the resort Peace and Plenty. They sail from Georgetown to Stocking Island 2 times in a day. The ferries go at 10.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. and tourists can get some quality time on the beaches and the bars around. The Peace and Plenty hotel's ferry service was originally meant only for resort guests but right now other tourists can also use it at a charge.
They operate a motorized catamaran that traverses the 8 hour distance between Nassau and George Town. The Bahamas ferry leaves Nassau and arrives on Monday and Wednesday at George Town and a round trip costs 110 $ approximately. Though the catamaran is originally designed as a freight vessel…passengers are also allowed. You need to use the sleeping bags on the deck as there are no sleeping compartments on the boat.
Bahamas Ferries also runs a fast ferry two days in a week between Long Island Ferry dock to Government Docks George Town and between Potters Cay Dock Nassau to Government Docks (this journey will take 8 hours)
Mail boat service is also similar to the fast ferry system and their origin is the same i.e. Potters cay in New Providence but the mail boat is considerably slower (though cheaper too).
There are some mail boats which leave Nassau and stop at some points in Exuma. Two of the major ones are MV Grand Master and MV Captain C… both of which sail from Nassau many days in a week and their stops are Big Farmers Cay, Staniel Cay, Barraterre, Black point and George Town.
Limited number of passengers as well as freight are allowed on the mail boats and it takes 21 hours from Nassau to the last stop Barraterre including the stopovers which are usually a couple of hours long. In case of Exuma, sailing schedules change frequently so the best place to confirm the schedule will be the Dock Masters Office at Nassau’s Potters Cay Dock (you need to call 242/ 393 1064).
There is mail boat service to Staniel Cay and it takes 12 hours to reach the Staniel cay dock from Nassau. The mail boat departs from Nassau at 1 p.m. every Tuesday and reaches staniel cay at around 1 a.m. the timing is inconvenient and besides the mail boat is known to carry livestock too.
Note: Mail boat schedules are subject to change… the details about changes can be known from all major relevant docks. A good place to get information is Nassau’s Potters Cay Dock
Many tourists like to charter a boat for half a day or a full day to explore their preferred parts of Exuma or to just indulge in the swim with pig’s experience. This is indeed the preferred choice of most tourists who are visiting Nassau or have some extra time on their hand. For these trips chartering a private boat for half a day or a full day can be a great idea. There are lots of such enterprises which offer private boat charters and private boat guided trips but the most reliable ones are listed below.
Island Boy Adventures
Phone: (242) 357-0459; (242) 422-2697
They have a fleet of 35 foot center console design boats with attached bathrooms, cabins and modern amenities. They also have specialized fishing charters complete with fishing guides whose job is to train and supervise fishing trips for guests. They offer boat tours to different cays, cruises around the islands, specialized fishing experiences and schedule as well as departure schedules and points can be considerably customized.
Exuma Water Sports
This company is in operation since 2006 and owned by a Bahamian family. They are a well known company offering Exuma excursions such as Swimming Pigs Tour, Feeding Iguanas, Watching wild Stingrays etc. They offer chartered boat tours that can be customized.
Location: Little Town of Barraterre, Great Exuma
Barretarre, Great Exuma
Phone: +1 242-524-8773
They arrange hotel pickups and have day trips (private as well as scheduled) for guests. Their trips mostly cover the well-known activities of Exuma i.e. the swimming pigs, iguanas, famous cays, sharks etc. and have an overall good service reputation. Their scheduled trips have a stopover lunch at Staniel Cay Yacht Club.
Exuma Sunrise Tours
Phone: + 1 (242) 448 2654 (local); + 1 (310) 279 9826 (U.S number)
They will take you around all the cays and hotspots of Exuma on captained boat trips. Sunrise tours have half a day packages too which you can use for just breezing through your preferred spots in Exuma without worrying about making your own schedule. The pickup point is at Great Exuma Dock
If budget isn’t a major issue then chartering a sailboat if the best option of exploring Exuma cays in great comfort. Sailboats and yachts are provided for a customized/ pre organized sea holiday by these well known sailing companies.
Phone: 954-734-711; 800-327-9600
They have catamarans that are used for crewed charter trips all around Exuma. The catamaran has 6 cabins and can accommodate a maximum of 12 passengers. Their vessel is docked at Nassau Harbour Club (East Bay Street) right across the shopping Centre. You need to call their toll free number for knowing more about their packages…they have a range of trips that begin and end in Nassau after touring much of Exuma’s popular spots.
Dream Yacht Charters
Phone: +1 242 367 0102
By the Cabin (your own cabin and own bathroom with catered meals and luxuries and a full-fledged crew) all inclusive charters are offered by Dream Yacht charters long with 6 monohull and 15 catamaran bare boat charters (basically you are on your own with minimal supervision from captain). The starting point is usually Nassau and their base is at Palm Cay Marina which is just 26 nautical miles far from Exuma. Their experiences in Exuma as well as schedule can be completely customized.
(Call between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday)
If you truly want to explore the Exuma in style then planning your holiday with the Moorings…a globally recognized sailing and yachting firm that offers luxury yacht experiences since 1961…is a good idea. You can choose to sail yourself (provided you have the credentials) or you can hire a captain and a chef. Their charter trip durations are from 5 nights to 14 nights.
They have an enviable fleet of catamarans, monohulls and yachts (exclusive and club class) that can provide you an ultimate luxurious experience. You can also avail the power charter option where you can hire a captain of your choice. The schedule for visiting Exuma can be planned with their vacation planners who are available on the toll free number.
Note: If you are visiting Exuma from Nassau via charter then stock up on groceries and eatables from Nassau…it’s likely that the starting point or your Marina will have plenty of stores (these close by 7 p.m.). The variety, quality and availability of such items in many areas of Exuma become questionable. Though only some miles apart Nassau and Exuma have very different amenities and experiences.
Like Abaco the lifeline for cruising around Exuma is the Cruisers Net that broadcasts weather forecasts and tide information on 93.5 FM.
If you are opting for scheduled boat tours then know that sudden cancellation might happen if total number of guests are not sufficient or if the weather is unsuitable.
The longish archipelago of Exuma islands can be explored by amateur sailors too …the sea isn’t as treacherous as it is around Abaco. To the east is a deep extended sea and to the west are shallow and placid waters. Anchorages that you should target while sailing are Lee stocking island (east of great exuma), February point (across Elizabeth harbor), Leaf Cay (of the wild Iguana fame), Rudder Cut Cay (one of David copper fields private island), Staniel Cay, Big Major Cay, Compass Cay (home to mangroves and Rachels Bubble bath), Wardericks well (capital of land and sea park), shroud cay (home to cargo plane ruins and abandoned camps.
If you want to explore all major cays and islands of Exuma thoroughly then at least a week long charter is recommended.
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