Wanna have some fun with us? Let's take you away for the day to paradise. You may know about a little place off the coast of Florida known as the Bahamas? I always thought of the Bahamas as being touristy and crowded. You know, the Bahamas of Nassau where cruise ships dock and tourists flock to duty free shops and Senor Frogs? Well, if you take a short flight to the Exuma Cays, You'll be taken away from all that.
The Exumas in the Bahamas
We knew we were in for something special when we looked out the window of our small commuter plane to witness the most beautiful view of islands I have ever seen in real life. I've seen similar photos from places like the Maldives or the Azores, but I had no idea that the Bahamas rivalled these exotic destinations. I couldn't wait to touch down and get into that crystal clear sapphire blue water.
We landed at a tiny airport on Staniel Cay and were greeted with smiles by Embrace Resort owner, Nikki. Nikki has been running a concierge service on the island to welcome people to Staniel Cay and to help them book their day trips around the 365 islands in the Exumas. She is now expanding her business and opening the only full service resort on the island in March 2014. Since she is born and raised in the Exumas, she understands the importance of conservation and sustainability and has hired a conservation specialists, the amazing Denaye Hinds OBMI.com. They are making sure that everything at the resort is sustainable and has little impact on the environment. More people should follow Nikki's lead and plan for the future like this. If there is something we can get behind, this is it!
We were invited to take a sneak peek at the new resort and all the activities to do in the area.
Staniel Cay is a small cay in the Exuma Island chain that is popular with Yachters. They dock their boat at the yacht club or in a nearby bay and take advantage of all the deserted beaches, outstanding snorkelling and diving and swimming in the inviting waters. About 100 people live on the island and the only accommodation besides apartment rentals is the Yacht Club that has been around since the 60's. Nikki is going to have an upmarket resort of eight villas including a spa, fitness centre with swimming pool and dining room that includes all-inclusive options or your choice of half board.
If you love luxury travel, you'll enjoy visiting the Maldives.
We had the luxury of staying in the Honeymoon Suite and although this was a media trip, I don't recall relaxing so much during our travels in years. The minute we hit the Exumas, we fell into the island vibe of chillin' out. How could we not with a king size bed, jacuzzi tub and cool air conditioner making us feel oh so comfortable.
We were given golf carts to drive at our leisure to explore the small island. There are no cars on the island and the carts are a perfect way to get around. We hopped in our cart the first evening to head out to the yacht club for dinner. The yacht club definitely has an island feel with rich guys from the yachts sitting around in their Hawaiian shirts drinking a beer and having a good time.
For us, it was cracked conch and a cool Kalik. (Bahamas most popular beer) on the menu while we got to know our fellow travellers. We already spent a few days in Italy with Angie of Angie Away who we absolutely adore and thank her for inviting us along on this fantastic trip to paradise.
So what is there to do in Paradise?
Well, if you haven't read our article about Thunderball Grotto, get over there man! It's amazing and reason enough alone to go to the Bahamas. It was one of the best snorkelling spots we've ever seen. You swim into the centre of a small island and once inside, you emerge into a giant cavern. No matter what, it's always cool to swim in a cave, but this is also special because of the adventure. You can dip down and swim through your choice of tunnels, (about a 3 second breath hold) and pop in and out of the grotto.
It's also magnificent for the view. When you look back towards the opening of the Grotto, it's like a giant fish bowl before your eyes. It's even shaped like a fish bowl and the colours are so vivid due to the sun streaming through the holes in the ceiling, it literally takes your breath away. Which isn't the best thing when you are treading water.
Speaking of Snorkelling,
The Exumas are an incredible destination for diving and snorkelling. I didn't understand why until we saw the water. I thought Cozumel was clear, but this water in the Bahamas is like no other. It is the most incredible shade of aquamarine I have ever seen and it was crystal clear.
We've let our PADI certification lapse but after snorkelling here, I think that we are going to have to take a refresher course, I was itching to put the tanks back on, which is amazing since the last time I dove, I was taking my Dive Masters in Honduras and unbeknownst to me, had Graves Disease and an overactive thyroid. I couldn't understand why the more I dove, the worse I felt and more panicked I got. We cut that trip short and went home to where I was diagnosed and treated. It's taken nearly a decade, but I have finally gotten over my fear of the water and I'm ready to get back in the saddle err… regulator. Dave will be happy with that, he's a water baby! That man will stay in all day!
Sharks are a popular attraction in the Bahamas because they are just so darn friendly here. They are fed by the dock every night as the fishermen clean their fish so when it comes to needing food, they've got it covered. Sadly we didn't make it to the popular shark swimming spot, but we've swam with so many sharks lately, that it was a refreshing change to see something different. It has been a while since we've spotted barracudas though and we were treated to two of beauties during our trip. They were large, shiny and oh so curious. They stuck around quite awhile at the end of our excursion, so we all stayed in the water for a longer look.
When we made our way over to the Grotto by boat later in the trip, I could have swore that the same two followed us. I think they liked us, they really liked us.
Okay, this is where the blond in me really shines through. When I heard about the swimming pigs of the Exumas. I thought that they were some sort of aqua pig. Dave laughs at this every time I say it. I had visions of little pygmee pigs swimming in the water with webbed feet. It wouldn't have helped if I did my research before leaving, but I didn't and to my great shock and horror, the pigs of the Exumas are actual pigs that you find on a farm.
They are big and they swim in the water to cool off. Basically they come around because tourists feed them cabbage. They looked sunburnt to me, but nobody seemed to agree with me that they weren't comfortable. It wasn't until I came home and told my mom about it that someone finally felt the same way. “Pigs get sunburnt you know.” My mom said, and I breathed a sigh of relief knowing I wasn't the only one feeling bad for the guys.
We just so happened to be in the Exumas for their annual regatta. Don't worry though, if you aren't there for it, I'm sure you'll find another one somewhere. There's festivals, regattas and fishing derbies going on all the time in the Exumas. The Bahamians know how to have a good time.
We were so content on the boat. We didn't do much that day except boat around the islands, but that is exactly all we needed. We love boating. Everyone was content and relaxed sitting on the boat, listening to the island music playlist of Patrick of Uncommon Caribbean's iPod. He was prepared for everything! Nikki even stopped at the dock at Black Point Cay to pick up a case of Kalik for us. It was a festive occasion indeed, but luckily we stopped at Lorraine's Café for some more cracked conch to give us some energy.
I could get used to living like this.
I think one of the best moments of the trip though was when all of us got in the water for the first time on a deserted beach on Staniel Cay. Our first morning together, we took our golf carts for a spin around the island and found a pristine beach that was absolutely gorgeous and completely clear of people. There wasn't a footstep in the sand and within minutes everyone decided to go for a swim. We stood in the bath warm water getting to know each other and talking literally about nothing as we relaxed and effortlessly shifted from that North American frenzied attitude to Island Time. After that first bonding moment in the Caribbean Sea, we knew that the next four days was going to be awesome!
Which it was!