5 Islands in 48 hours: Island-Hopping in the Exumas

There are only a few places in the world where you can visit five islands in 48 hours without getting whiplash. The Islands of the Bahamas, the Exumas in particular, represent one of those island-hopping treasures. Like a strand of alternating pearl and turquoise beads, the Exuma Cays stretch across the shallow banks of the central Bahamas; the most northern end of the chain is only 30 minutes from the capital, Nassau. There you will find Norman’s Cay, which gained its notoriety for drug-smuggling in the late 1970s. Now, however, the airstrip on the private island is an access point for carefree travelers to island-hop in the northern Exuma Cays. If you only have 48 hours to indulge, head straight to Staniel Cay and the cluster of islands that neighbor it: Compass Cay, Saddle Back Cay, Allan’s Cay and Big Major Cay.

Hanging with Sharks

The main attraction to Compass Cay is the resident nurse sharks that have been domesticated by a regular supply of food (not of the human variety). Many pet the sharks, but some feed and even swim with them. A portion of the dock is submerged shin-deep in the water (depending on the tide). When you bang against the dock with a handy wooden plank, it summons the sharks. Dozens of them gather, mainly to peacefully sunbathe. They appear docile, but the attraction is a thrill, because they are still, after all, sharks. I admit it is disputable, but my senses tell me the nurse shark knew we were having a staring contest. I positioned myself prostrate on the dock, fully submerged, and squared off in front of its face. While peering through my goggles I could see its sandpaper skin was specked in shades of brown and blue. I stared. It stared. I blinked. It stared. And then it yawned in my face, and my heart skipped a beat. The nurse shark couldn’t care less that it won the staring contest, so I took my leave, having been fully washed with adrenalin.

Relaxing and Adventuring

A relaxing companion activity is visiting the Saddle Back Cay sandbar, where you picnic in the middle of the ocean on an island of sand. Best enjoyed at low tide, this sandy plateau suspended in a sea of shallow water is a chill spot for boaters. Allan’s Cay and Big Major Cay are home to Exuma’s two other famous animal attractions: Prehistoric-looking iguanas and swimming pigs. Exuma’s swimming pigs are no mud-rolling farm animals; they are beer drinking, cabbage eating celebrities that spend most of their days slothfully on a pristine white sand beach. No wonder they became a viral sensation. The activities jam-packed around Staniel Cay provide more than enough action for island-hoppers on a weekend getaway, a long vacation, or just a 48-hour stopover, especially if you have an appetite for relaxation and adventure in the outdoors.

Originally posted on the Expedia.com Travel Blog