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Visiting the swimming pigs in The Bahamas – everything you need to know

We bagged prime position - the back seat of the brightly coloured speedboat. No one blocking our view, and the best place to benefit from the spray of the Caribbean waters on what was going to be a long, hot day at sea as we set off on a 200 mile round adventure to see the swimming pigs in the Exuma Islands in The Bahamas.

Lyndsey
May 19, 2022

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‘We’ being myself, my husband, and our two children - Ted, 11 and Ferne, 8. It’s was already well above 25 degrees with not a cloud in the pastel blue Caribbean skies. The perfect day for a boat trip.

But this wasn’t any old boat trip, this was the start of an experience that I’d wanted to tick off my bucket list for years - getting up close and personal with the swimming pigs in the Bahamas.

After a three-hour bumpy speedboat ride that took us one-hundred miles south of our departure point on Paradise Island carrying twelve piggy-loving passengers, plus the driver and a guide all very comfortably, we arrived at Big Mayor Cay - the humble home of the famous swimming pigs.

I’m not sure who squealed first - me, in uncontrollable excitement as the boat slowed down a few hundred yards from the small island’s sandy shores - my dream of coming face-to=face with the swimming pigs was about to become reality!

Or the swimming pigs themselves, who came bounding into the the breathtakingly beautiful warm Caribbean waters of the most exquisite shades of vivid turquoise and azure and frantically paddled in the direction of our boat. A sight for sore eyes it was for sure.

Swimming pigs of all sizes came to greet us and welcome us to their island. A tiny exotic island that runs along the Tropic of Cancer, with a swaying palm-tree-lined white sandy beach, where the swimming pigs can lay in the sand and cool off in the warm waters of the Caribbean sea, or shelter from the sun in the island’s lush vegetation.

If there is a paradise, it’s here

It became apparent quite quickly who was in charge. And with piggies as big as a whopping 400lbs, we were given some strict rules before we were allowed off the boat and into the waters to get up close and personal with the swimming pigs of The Exuma Islands - which felt like a million miles from anywhere. If there is a paradise, it’s here.

Just to add a bit of reality to this otherwise magical adventure, moments before me and the kids jumped off the boat into those warm crystal-clear waters, our nostrils were penetrated by a rather pungent and revolting small - one of those lovely and rather large swimming pigs had conveniently emptied their bowls right beside the ladder that were about to use to disembark the boat.

“Get in it won’t hurt you” said the our guide. We did, with some hesitance. We are still here to tell the tale today.

It was somewhat unsettling at first - carefully stepping into the water with a couple of huge hairy pigs snaffling and snorting and nudging us. These piggies do not understand the art of personal space. My eight year old refused to get off the boat, but then this was my day, the one day we left the hysteria of the Atlantis to fulfil mummy’s dream, so I left her on the boat and the rest of us acquainted ourselves with the 20 or so piggies on the beach.

There were giant piggies, medium piggies and baby piggies. Some bathed in the waters whilst others paid more attention to their daily visitors in hope of getting fed - quite evidently they rule this roost and they made that quite clear from the very outset.

I was handed a little piglet by our guide, who told me to put her down if the larger pigs showed any aggression. I spent a good five minutes rocking her in my arms. She seems very content for a good few minutes, then who I assume was her mother bounded over, and I put her down. I knew who was boss, and it certainly wasn’t me!

We spent about an hour on the island with the pigs, at one point one of the bigger piggies very nearly stud on my big toe, which could have quite easily ended up in a situation that required A&E, 100 miles from anywhere, so it’s not without risk. But it was a day that I’ll treasure always. And an experience that will be difficult to beat.

More to this trip than swimming pigs

To note, the swimming pigs was just one of several stops on the day-long excursion to The Exuma Islands, which also includes a stop off at another of the Exumas inhabited only by Iguanas - you get to feed them.

We also bobbed around in the speedboat quite literally over the plane wreck remains of Pablo Escobar's sunken plane - the highlight of the day for my husband.

We waded in water surrounded by nurse sharks in Compass Cay. For the most part, these up-to-five-foot-long sharks are harmless to humans - and this was the highlight for 11 year old Ted and eight year old Ferne.

Ted’s words “I can’t wait to go to school and tell my mates I swum with sharks mum - that was EPIC!”

The final stop was a sandbank in the middle of the ocean. We spent about 30 minutes drinking rum provided by our guide, wading around in the shallow crystal clear waters and running up and down a sandbank with Johnny Depp’s private island as the backdrop.

There was also a lunch stop-off - a delicious Caribbean buffet was laid on at an authentic Exumas fish restaurant on yet another stunningly beautiful island in the Exumas where it’s not uncommon to spot sea turtles, puffer fish, rays, and even reef sharks in the islands' surrounding waters.

All in all, this trip was nothing short of epic, and if you’re happy to part with $400 USD/ £320 GBP per person (not discounted for the kids) then I absolutely recommend it, especially, if like me, you’ve had a lifelong obsession with piggies.

Swimming with pigs in the Exumas - what to expect

With just one other speed boat alongside ours, and humans outnumbered by pigs, it certainly didn’t feel like a hellish commercial excursion. I expect that’s largely down to the fact that for a family of four, you’re parting with the best part of £1300 for this particular trip.

We went with a local tour company called Exuma Escapes and they were absolutely brilliant (see the link below in Handy Links). The boat was in brilliant condition and both the guide and the driver where incredibly knowledgeable and friendly, with some excellent commentary where needed, without it becoming annoying. There was plenty of water, rum, lager, pop and crisps onboard, all free of charge for us all. A some seriously cool 90s house music was playing throughout the journey, which added to the fun and holiday feeling.

Since returning from the trip, I’ve had a couple of Vegans berate me for ‘helping to exploit the pigs by visiting them’. One angry Vegan contacted me her opinions and compared the experience to visiting SeaWorld in Florida.

The pigs are very well looked after by a committee of caretakers who maintain the pig enclosures, ensure they have plenty of drinking water, and keep a close eye on their health and wellbeing.

There’s a dedicated piglet nursery that protects the little ones from the wind and rain in stormy season and I was informed that a vet checks on the pigs regularly.

The piggies are tagged and registered, they're treated respectfully by the tour guides who bring visitors to the island' those pigs very much call the shots.

The experience didn’t feel unethical in anyway. And believe me, I’m very against the exploitation of animals.

This experience cannot be compared to seeing killer whales in a tank at SeaWorld, or elephant trekking on mass in Thailand.
As I’ve said throughout this article, these piggies call the shots, they take no shit, although expect to see some floating in the waters if you want swim with them.

Respect the piggies, put your hands in the air to show them you’ve not got any food, don’t turn your back on them, and certainly don’t chase them around for a photo opportunity and you’ll be fine.

This isn’t the only swimming with pigs excursion - there are other 'pig beaches' that have popped up in the Bahamas, but the original Pig Beach is in the Exumas. Cheaper excursions take holiday-makers to islands much closer to the main island of Nassau, where locals ship pigs onto the island to cash in on this tourist attraction.

How did the swimming pigs get to Big Mayor Cay in the Exumas?

There are a few legends and stories. One involves a shipwreck - a group of sailors had to leave the pigs behind when they got into trouble in stormy waters - the pigs swam to the safety of the nearest island - Big Mayor Cay.

Another story is that of two farmers from a neighbouring island brought the pigs to uninhabited Big Mayor Cay to reer them because of their intolerable smell. They couldn't live with the pigs on the same island as them.

And another story explains how sailors brought them to the island with the intention of eating them but an unplanned emergency forced them off the island and they left the pigs to fend for themselves, never returning.

THE DETAILS

The best time to visit the swimming pigs on the Exumas

Peak season in The Bahamas is December and January. I expect this is when this excursion gets busy.
Low season is from June to September. This is hurricane season, so you’re at risk of a tropical storm resulting in excursions being cancelled.
We travelled in early April - the weather was perfect - hovering around 25 degrees. With just one hour-long rain shower in the week we were in The Bahamas. You can visit Pig Beach year-round, but take into consideration that there are more visitors during high season, and that the weather may not be perfect during hurricane season.

Is the trip suitable for kids?

As mentioned above, I have an eight year old and an 11 year old and I was warned about the length of time spent bouncing around in the sea on a speedboat. It was a nine hour day, of which I reckon a good six hours were spent onboard. We seemed to be the only people with kids below teenage years.

The novelty wore off for our little people after about an hour into our 100 mile speedboat ride to the Exumas. The first stop off - Bitter Guana Cay - where endangered species of Bahamian Rock Iguanas roam the land - took about two hours to reach.

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend this excursion for children under the age of 10. There’s no shade on the boat, and the sun was very strong all day. Even with tons of sunscreen slapped on, we all returned a little burnt.

We all fell asleep on the return journey, which helped relieve the boredom.

Swimming with sharks and feeding the iguanas was a huge hit for Ted and Ferne, but the swimming pigs terrified poor Ferne. Ted, aged 10, was quite happy to frolic with the little piggies though.

The Bahamas - the geography

The Bahamas are made up of 700 islands and 2,400 cays - only 30 of the islands are inhabited.

The city of Nassau on the island of New Providence is the capital of The Bahamas and home to Lynden Pindling International Airport.

Paradise Island sits just offshore from the island of New Providence in the Bahamas. Two bridges connect to the city of Nassau, over Nassau Harbour. Dominating the island is the sprawling Atlantis resort.

Where we stayed

We stayed right next door to The Atlantis at The Comfort Suites - just a five minute walk down to Paradise Island Ferry Terminal where Exuma Escapes is located - this is where the trip with Exuma Escapes departs from so it's super handy if you're staying at The Atlantis as you can easily walk down to the departure point. The trip returned us back to this point at around 6pm.

Getting to The Bahamas - who flies there?

British Airways and+ Virgin Atlantic both fly diectly into Lynden Pindling International Airport - the flight time is 9 hours.

Nassau is just an hour’s flight from Orlando International Airport, and three hours from New York City - both would make an incredible two-centre holiday combined with a stay in The Bahamas.

Here’s another article of mine that I know you’ll love...
Click here to read it

Lyndsey
May 19, 2022

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