Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park
What To See & Do
About the park
The first land and sea park of its kind (formally established in 1958), the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is one of the 25 national parks that’s managed by Bahama National Trust (BNT). The park spans across 176 square miles of sea, coral and land and is only approachable by private boat and charters... you will definitely need a guided tour if you want to explore the park thoroughly.
As the name suggests, the park is located in Exuma Cays (i.e. the northern part of Exuma). There are numerous cays in Exuma Land and Sea Park and some are little known like Bush Hill Cay, Little Pigeon Cay, Little Hawksbill Cay, Cistern Cay, Long Cay, Little White Bay Cay, Little Halls Pond Cay (private), Halls Cay (private), Bell Island (private) and other cays with distinct characters which make them worth a visit. Though you cannot directly dock on Little Halls Pond Cay (it's privately owned by Johnny Depp), you can steal glimpses of it when you anchor your boat on the north end of Soldier Cay or O Brien Cay.
Photo: Alan Levine, flickr, PD
The underwater landscape in this protected area is easily the best in Bahamas and this is why tourists, naturalists, marine researchers, scientists, geologists, snorkelers and divers all have the Exuma Land and Sea Park on their must visit list.
How to visit
You can explore this park via a day trip from Great Exuma or you can experience it thoroughly via a multi-day trip aboard one of the large boats operated by a reputed tour operator. Below are the well known operators in Great Exuma that run regular trips to the park:
They operate daily dive, snorkel and chartered trips to many sites inside the park. They specialize in small groups of up to 8 and take the divers and snorkelers in their 36ft Twin Vee catamaran. They are located at the Government Dock, George Town.
Phone: 242-336-2893; 242-357-0313
Exuma Water Sports
This company is owned & operated since 2006 by the Lightbourns - a Bahamian family. They are a well known company offering Exuma excursions such as Swimming Pigs Tour, Feeding Iguanas, Watching wild Stingrays etc. They also offer chartered boat tours that can be customized.
Location: Little Town of Barraterre, Great Exuma
Island Boy Adventures 1-242-357-0459
Services and activities include swim with nurse sharks at Compass Cay, fishing charters, secluded beach tour, snorkeling in the cays, swimming with pigs, feeding Iguanas, private boat charters etc.
Location:1 Island Boy Drive, Georgetown.
Phone: (242) 422-2697 OR (242) 357-0459
Sugar Adventure Company
They offer snorkel tour at Thunderball Grotto near Staniel Cay, swimming with nurse sharks at Compass Cay, feeding the swimming pigs at Pig Beach etc.
What to see & do
Here’s an account of the most visited cays and focal points of the park. You will get registered snorkel guides and dinghies for exploring the waters around Warderwick Wells, Shroud Cay, Cambridge Cay and Hawksbill Cay.
Soldier’s Cay / O Brien Cay is basically the beginning of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. This is well known as a base for an amazing snorkeling spot…Submerged Plane and Sea Aquarium. The plane can be identified by the buoy that’s floating up…its tied to the plane. The sea aquarium is sort of a natural exotic gathering of colorful fish…it looks like a staged aquarium from the inside. Just carry a life vest and take along a guide if you aren’t an experienced snorkeler.
Little Wax Cay has a good collection of endangered Bahamian Hoodia (Bahamas native land mammal) and is a frequent haunt for naturalists and geologists. Incidentally the Bahamian Hoodia was introduced to Little Wax Cays in 1973. Near the cay coast is a lovely dive site which has rustic anchorages which are embedded in a reef called Fire Coral reef. There’s an ancient ships anchor enshrined in the center of Wax Cay Cut which makes it a good spot for exploration.
Hawksbill Cay has no human habitation but has incredibly soft sand beaches (Adler beach is especially worth exploring) at west and east shores of the cay. The loyalist ruins, amazing harbors, nice bays make this a good place to spend a couple of hours. There are 2 mooring fields here which can hold your boats while you go and explore around. There is also a walking trail that runs from Adler beach around the whole area before going off into the sound side of north and south beaches.
Do explore the north and south cove on a rising tide only. Both the southern and northern side have moorings…they can accommodate yachts. Incidentally the island of Hawksbill Cay was granted to the family of Russells in 1785 and since then majority of the land was used for farming.
Shroud Cay is an isolated cay that has a unique archipelago of rocks and cays that surrounds a mangrove salina. This water zone holds an unusual nursery of lobster, birds, exotic fish, crawfish etc….it’s a good place for watching nature. There’s a tidal creek to the north of shroud cay which is a good exploration point (take your boat at idle speed only)….this is flanked by a snake like river that cuts the island. At the oceanic end there is a long pretty beach and a campsite which was used by drug smugglers who wanted to spy on Normans Cay that is nearby.
A beautiful beach at Shroud Cay
There are plenty of moorings here and they are available on a first come first served basis…some will even accommodate yachts. The southeast coast of shrouds cay has the intact remnants of a cargo plane that Lehder (famous smuggler) used for smuggling drugs to USA. It’s amusing to see the wreck of the airplane now stuffed with coral and fish instead of cocaine!!!
Warderick Wells is the most visited point in the park and also the chosen headquarters of the park. There are multiple kinds of naturally occurring ecosystems here and it has a geographically central position. You will find sand dunes to rocky bluffs to mangrove filled creeks to sand flats along with numerous mooring fields.
Warderick Wells, Park Headquarters
There are 3 major mooring areas here…the natural J shaped harbor in the north (can accommodate yachts) and the Emerald Rock Mooring Field to the south of Park Visitor Centre. The Hog Cay Mooring Feld is also called the Pirates Hangout and it’s at the southwest end of the island.
Another spot where you have to compulsorily stop by if you are visiting the Land and Sea Park is Warderick Wells’s Visitor Center. The Visitor center as well as the Park Office are the epicentre of all activities. If you are coming by boat you need to register here and pay moorings fees as well as collect local information. Many displays around the center will tell you about the history of Exuma as well as the salient features of the park. The gift shop sells guide books on snorkeling and walking trails, ice, sunblock, wireless internet devices, t shirts, and post cards.
The beach near Warderick has a skeleton of a 53 feet long sperm whale….locals say that the spirit of the whale looks over the beach. Another interesting aspect here are the rock formations that look like the blowhole of a whale…they cut through the shore and spray the eastern side of the islands with tides. There is a hill here called Boo Hill where you can soak in excellent views.
There’s a quaint tradition here of leaving behind a piece of driftwood that’s engraved with the vessel’s name. There is a Tiki Hut here that’s quite popular with island visitors. The Wardericks has some of the easiest snorkeling spots …these are well marked and you will get maps from the Park office. Huge spiny arthropods particularly lobsters can be seen moving around freely on the coral beds here.
Compass Cay is at the southern end of the Land and Sea Park... it has an interesting attraction…Rachel’s Bubble Bath. This bath is fuelled by loads of ocean surf that crashes over jagged reefs creating a virtual Jacuzzi. Besides this the beach here called Crescent Beach is very pretty.
Rachel's Bubble Bath
Photo: cdorobek, flickr, cc by 2.0
Compass cay is famous for another incredible experience... Swimming with Nurse Sharks. Now nurse sharks are a relatively safer variety of sharks that are about 9.8 feet long in average and they mostly prefer using sucking as opposed to biting their prey which are usually mollusks and algae.
Compass Cay, tourist pier to swim with nurse sharks
Photo: Giongi63, Shutterstock
The nurse shark swim experience happens at the Compass Cay marina…tourists and staff throw around fish and the shark happily eat them up. There is a landing fee of about 10$ per person in Compass Cay and then there is a separate fee to get into the water. However the experience is great and the sharks are friendly and non-threatening though you are not supposed to put your hands on their mouth or get extra close to them (the sharks just enjoy a gentle back and belly rub).
Nurse Sharks at Compass Cay
There are restrooms, bar and restaurant facility at the marina though it’s an expensive place. If you want to get a better view of the sharks swimming underwater then bring your snorkel gears along.
Staniel Cay is one of the main tourist hubs in the Exuma Cays. Other than the popular Staniel Cay Yacht Club, it has number of other tourist accommodations. One of the key attractions around Staniel Cay is the famous Thunderball Grotto which was named after the James Bond movie 'Thunderball' because the site was used in filming the movie.
Staniel Cay Yacht Club
Photo: sailn1, flickr, cc by 2.0
Thunderball Grotto is a wonderful underwater cave system which is ideal for diving, snorkeling or just wading. Unlike other caverns, Thunderball Grotto is illuminated by sunlight from all sides and inside it looks like an aquarium... other than plethora of colorful corals, you get to see numerous fish such as angelfish, sergeant majors, yellow snappers and lot more. For more information on Thunderball Grotto and how to snorkel or dive there, go through Top things to do in Exuma
Halls Pond Cay is open to exploration by invite only but many people try to visit it because of its well-known Jeep Reef. This is an unusually shaped gigantic coral reef that stands up to 28 feet and it’s flanked by the wrecked sea thrown remnants of a jeep on the west side of the island. Any private cay in the Land and Sea Park can be visited after permission from the Park Warden.
Osprey Cay is a favorite haunt of bird lovers…it’s to the south west of Halls Pond Cay. The place looks almost unbearably beautiful on full moon nights…the silver sands here along with the huge flocks of night birds makes this an unusual experience. As indicated by the name this is a nesting zone for the Ospreys.
Pasture Cay was once used as a pasture ground for cattle….it’s the site for major geological research. This cay is flanked by a coral reef that is set deep in 25 feet of water. Also, the wrecks of a plane nearby along with a floating buoy makes for an easy snorkeling spot. This former cattle pasture has a triangle shaped reef in the nearby waters.
Cambridge Cay is alternatively known as Little Bell Cay. It has a rocky wall full of interesting geological formations and a gigantic coral pillar over 4 feet in height (this is actually one of the highest coral pillars in Exuma). There is an area in its waters that’s locally referred to as the Aquarium….lots of colored fish swarm all around as soon as you dive inside the water here. Sometimes they are even seen from the top. Johnny Depp loved Cambridge Cay while he was shooting for Pirates of the Caribbean….so much that he purchased an island here….you can ask your boat operator to take you around the island though you can’t moor here.
Rocky Dundas are two fantastic looking caves that are to the south of Conch Cut just outside Fowl Cay. These amazing snorkeling spot…underwater caves which are filled with stalactites and stalagmites are a great place for exploration. The walls of the cave have rainbow colors…green, blue, purple, red and yellow and these are made by minerals that have leaked out of the rocks.
The leeward side is filled with conch shells…it’s a good spot for picking conch. The ocean bottom has a lot of depth so you need to carry life vests. You will notice lots of sea urchins around. One of the caves has a unique orange 18’ Elk Horn coral that’s teeming with marine life.
Snorkeling and hiking along the various trails in the park are two of the most notable activities here. The entire park is a No Take zone i.e. nothing inside the park can be taken outside. While hiking one has to follow several guidelines that includes not feeding animals (though one can feed iguanas in specialized supervised encounters in certain areas), picking up objects inside the park or trying to disturb its delicate ecological system in any way.
You will encounter many variations of terrain inside the park and may meet the Bahamian Hoodia (only native terrestrial mammal of Bahamas) and the Iguana (large herbivorous lizards that are now endangered) as well as a vast variety of birds including 6 strains of terns and brown node, Audobon’s Shearwater and white tailed tropic bird. While snorkeling too, one cannot indulge in fishing, picking up corals and shells (there are specific shell picking zones) and feeding marine life…boats and yachts must be secured at specific moorings after prior approval.
Iguana at the park
Photo: Greg Grimes, flickr, cc by-sa 2.0
The native Osprey is the only creature that one can legally fish inside the park! There is a stunning range of marine invertebrate, coral reef and rare fish in the waters of the park and it’s due to the sincere efforts of Bahamian National Trust that operates this park and several to-be endangered marine species now have a healthy breeding population.
Walking, exploring nature trails, kayaking, diving are also the major activities that happen inside the park. Detailed information about these activities, guides as well as rates can be enquired about from the visitor center at Warderick Wells or on the contacts given below.
The park can be accessed only via boat and the mooring use is chargeable. While water vessels up to 40 feet are charged about 15$ per night…the rate is higher for bigger vessels. For example a 90 feet yacht would be charged 100$ per night for moorings. No anchorage is permitted.
For knowing about details concerning Boat moorings you can contact Exuma Park Office on VHF 9 during park office hours (9:00 AM - Noon and 1:00 PM–4:00 PM Monday thru Saturday, Sunday 9:00 AM till noon).
For enquiring about park aspects, rules, regulations, guidelines etc. you can mail the park authorities
Phone: (242) 225-6402
Alternatively you can also get necessary information at the following office
Exuma Tourist Office
Address: Turnquest Star Plaza, P.O. Box EX-29041,
George Town Phone: (242) 336-2430
Visitors' Reviews and Comments