When you want to hang out with some swimming pigs, you have to come to the Bahamas! How exactly did this destination get on our Bucket List?
A few years ago, in preparation for our world travels, we were watching videos of other traveling families. One of them was the Bucket List family‘s episode of their trip to Bahamas to see the swimming pigs. Emma was amazed and she couldn’t stop talking about it. Initially we didn’t do anything about it. However we kept on thinking about it, so in the end we found a way of adding it to our trip.
Initially we booked a flight to Nassau as our first stop. We thought that that we could easily do some island hopping by boat. As our trip was approaching we realized that it wasn’t that easy and decided to split our time between only two islands: New Providence and Exuma. Exuma, in fact, is much closer to Big Major Cay, where the Pigs live.
There are lots of companies that offer tours to Big Major Cay (also known as Pig island). They all have very similar prices and offer for the most part the same itinerary, with just a few variations.
From Exuma you can hire a private boat for about $2500/2800 a day. An alternative is go on a tour with 20 to 45 people per boat for a coast of about $224 each. It is also possible to get a tour from Nassau but considering the distance the prices go up.
We contacted a few companies and then went with the one that didn’t sound too insisting and that had the most reasonable reviews. We picked Coastline Adventures and were very pleased with our choice.
Their tour offered a variety of activities throughout the day:
- Swimming with the pigs
- Turtle Feeding
- Diving for conch to make a salad
- Swimming with nurse sharks
- Snorkling in Thunderball Grotto
- Feeding the Iguanas
Keep in mind that the number of activities may vary based on the weather conditions. In our case we had to skip a few stops due to the wind that suddenly became very strong. It was still an amazing day, full of unforgettable moments. This simply confirmed that our safety was at first place for the crew.
Once we booked our tour, we were a bit concerned about going with a large group. You never know how friendly people will be, specially with kids. Considering it is a full day you hope for the best!
We were 20 people on our boat and I can confirm that we were very lucky with all our travel mates! Everyone was in a good mood and happy to connect. They were all adults but were very friendly with our kids. Honestly I think up to now, this was our best tour yet with a large group of people!
What about the crew? They were attentive and very patient with us! Once we started getting to know each other I’m pretty sure we all got a bit loud (plus the free drinks didn’t help). They were always making sure that we were safe throughout the trip, but still having a good time.
Our first stop was at a small cay along the way to see some turtles.
One of the locals opened a conch and gave us the chance to feed the turtle that was swimming in the little harbor. We didn’t all have a chance to do it however we all had the opportunity to swim around the turtle. This was just as thrilling for us!
Every activity has a limited amount of time of course, considering the many activities planned. This stop in particular gave us a chance to cool down and swim for a while.
Meet the pigs
Finally we arrived to Big Major Cay, also known as Pig Island. This was the one stop we were all waiting for!
One of the biggest question we all had was how did the pigs get here?
There are different theories in circulation. One says that a ship full of sailors stopped off at the island, dropped the pigs off. This would give them the chance to get some pulled pork later and just never came back. Another story goes that there was a shipwreck on the island and the pigs managed to feed themselves on what was left from the shipwreck. However the one we were told during our tour is that some locals set up a pig farm on the island. Once they realized that the pigs started swimming and this attracted tourists it became Pig Island!
Where do the pigs live?
Initially, the pigs lived in the forest in the center of the island. However due to the large amount of tourists that stop here daily they started spending more time around the beach. Unfortunately the pigs aren’t used to the sun and heat of the tropics, so overheating and sunburn are becoming possible issues for the future of these animals.
Are the pigs dangerous?
Before approaching the island you are briefed on how to behave around them:
- Do not take any bags with food to the beach.
- Feed pigs from the vessel so that they swim out.
- Give pigs the whole slice of bread.
- When you are in the water with pigs if they are swimming towards you move to the side to avoid being kicked by a swimming pig.
- Once at the beach keep pigs in front of you at all times and be mindful of any pig near you to avoid being bitten (this does not usually happen).
- If you don’t have anymore food to give them just walk with your hands up and they will swim away.
Unfortunately not all visitors listen to these simple instructions. Often they bring extra food for the pigs to eat. The leading theory is that the pigs have been eating food on the beach and consuming high amounts of sand because of that. It’s generally advisable not to feed the pigs anymore because of this. They have lived for years without relying on tourists to feed them so they don’t really need the extra snacks.
Swimming with nurse sharks
Once we said goodbye to the friendly pigs, we headed to Compass Caye to swim with the nurse sharks!
When the owner of Compass Cay Marina first opened the marina, he brought in a few Nurse Sharks. They have since had a number of offspring, and the owner has nurtured and fed these sharks since birth.
Nurse sharks are known as ‘bottom feeders’ since they stick to the ocean floor and suck small creatures and sediment from the sand. They look more like an oversized catfish than the man-eating sharks. In fact, they behave a whole lot like catfish.
When you are around in the water, you can touch them, swim around them. However never put your hand in their mouth or on their “antenna” at the point of their face in front of their mouth. They might confuse you with food and give you a little bite!
It was pretty amazing to swim with them. Luca waited for everyone to leave and then jumped in the water all by himself!
Conch salad on a sand bar
After all these adventures we were hungry and ready for a snack! The crew prepared an amazing Conch Salad!
Conch is a large marine snail. It is the second best known edible snail. Conch has been a popular food source throughout the Caribbean since the time of the Arawak Indians, before Christopher Columbus.
For our salad, the captain and the second mate dived in and caught 5 conch shells. They prepared the salad on a lovely sand bar in the middle of the sea!
Snorkle the Thunderball Grotto
For all the snorkeling lovers there was also a stop at a fascinating grotto! It was named after the 1965 Bond film “Thunderball”. The site was actually used for one of the action-packed scenes in two of the Bond films, “Thunderball” and 1983’s “Never Say Never Again”.
Today you can still swim through it, although it can be a bit adventurous. The current can be strong, so you need to be a good swimmer to go in it.
The reason for this is that the entrance to the grotto is actually submerged. You have to snorkel through the short tunnel and you will find yourself in an amazing cavern. With a small hole in the roof of the cave, you will find your surroundings illuminated by the reflection of the turquoise water. Fish dart between vibrant coral in the lively reef below you.
Feeding the Iguanas
Our final stop was to meet the Iguanas!
Their official name is Northern Bahamian Rock Iguanas and they aren’t found anywhere else in the world other than on 3 cays here in the Bahamas. This is why they are considered an endangered species.
Are they dangerous?
Not at all and they love if you feed them fruit or veggies! They are quite large, reaching up to 24 pounds. They are also the largest land vertebrate in The Bahamas and frequently live up to around 40 years old. Many are apparently friendly enough to climb on visitors and they are certainly able to jump pretty high as well.
A personal reflection
We loved the tour and all the beauty we witnessed throughout the day. We were specially mesmerized by the ever-changing different tones of turquoise of the water. However our short encounters with different types of wildlife did make us think and wonder about the wellbeing of these animals.
Depending on the time of the year you go on these tours, every spot will be much more crowded. Each boat usually brings up to 45 people, plus the private boats can carry about 10/12. If there are over 15 tour companies moving around all these areas everyday. Imagine how many people surround these animals daily in peek season! How stressful can it get for them? They do get much more food but at what cost?
Due to the low season and the hurricane disaster, our visit was very different. Initially it was hard to imagine every place being so busy because it felt like no one was here. We didn’t think we were disrupting the natural environment we were visiting, because it was only us. However when you start making some calculations of the amount of tourism that goes through these beautiful islands, it does bring up some questions. By feeding all these animals, simply to attract them for the tourist, are we making them loose their ability to provide for themselves? How negatively is the high presence of tourism modifying their normal way of life? For example, the pigs have moved from the safer and cooler forests in the middle of the island to the hotter, more dangerous beach because of the high presence of “easy food”.
Although I’m sure that they high presence of tourism in this area has improved the way of life of the people here in Bahamas. At what cost? We are part of that group of people that set out on this adventure due to our curiosity to see the swimming pigs. We spent the money to be on a tour. However we have witnessed the reality of things. We have left with a better understanding and a wave of sadness to see how nature is again used for human profit.
If you want to see more of Bahamas, check out our photo gallery!