Beach and ocean lovers of the world, may I have your attention please. Travel vicariously for a minute with me to a small chain of islands South of the Bahamas, aka the Exuma Cay’s (pronounced keys) or the Exumas.
Prepared to be water WOWED!
The Exuma’s offer the most scenic ocean topography in the WORLD and that’s just the beginning.
(the following pictures are from my personal stash of vacation photos over the years)
At the risk of sounding old, the ocean water in these parts make the current Corona commercials look lame. Even on a cloudy day, the shallow crystal clear waters are magazine pool water worthy.
My admiration for these salty beachy remote Bahamian islands began way back in 1999. I had the distinct pleasure of making a “crossing” from Miami, Florida to Nassau and eventually to Highborne Cay...the first of a handful of islands in the vast Atlantic ocean. (see map of the Exuams below)
Just when you think the water is the perfect shade of turquoise, it changes and continues to get better and better the deeper South we traveled. For several hours there is no shore line in sight. Only crazy shades of green and blue water with an occasional yacht, plane or catamaran in peripheral view.
Some twenty plus years back, only naked sail boaters and sting rays darkened the Exumas crystal blue waters. However as time, news and social media have bloomed this neck of the woods is now a popular tourist beach lovers paradise.
The first time I experienced the Exumas was after four hours crusing the ocean, we docked on what looked like an abandoned island. At the time, Highborne Cay had only 13 residents/staff on shore and was functioning as a marina. Now, Highborne is luxury five star destination on a rock. Life on a Rock is true story about Kate who lived and worked on Highborne and it’s available on Amazon. It’s an eye opening and haunting read about life on a tropical exposed island.
This is also home of my infamous Abercrombie and FITness jump shot and logo. Birthed from the sandy beaches of Highbourne Cay. Don’t fret if you aren’t in mint bikini body condition because chances are you won’t see that many people, and none of who you know!
Highborne is a mainstay stop for the yacht-ers or family vacationers. This little piece of ocean front property holds a very special place in my heart for several reasons. This secluded island is where Mr. Chicken Fry and I were docked the morning America was attacked on 9/11/2001. While this was not a bad place to be, we felt isolated from the terror happening on our homeland. That morning, from the galley of the boat I watched the planes fly into the Twin Towers and from this beach I mourned for my fellow Americans.
Highborne has changed greatly since 9/11. It’s now a bustling marina and VRBO vacation complete with fine dining and tons of super amenities. I watched as ZUMA, the island open air restaurant was in the making. Now its delicious way to wine and dine.
The sands are white and the sun is warm. This beautiful beach is ONE of my favorites in the entire world and only second to SANDBAR island just East of Staniel Cay.
You can see the difference between 2001 to 2013. There is now an open air bar and restaurant and larger mariana area.
Many years later I was blessed to introduce the baby girl/ teen queen to the white sand wonderland of the Exumas. It was always a dream of mine, to bring her to this unique destination.
Second stop is Staniel Cay. If you are looking for a distant boondocks beach cottage, beach house vibe, this is the pick of the litter. I can’t say enough about this quaint place. It’s where Mr. Chicken Fry rang in his 40th birthday and where we celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary.
Time literally melts away in the Exumas. The days are nice and long and there is no hustle or hurry. Only crystal clear water, white sand and plenty of marine life. Staniel Cay Yacht Club has a novelty beach bar/ restaurant with a ton of history. In 2012 many improvements were made including the addition of a beautiful restaurant with upscale appeal. But make no mistake, this is a flip-flop friendly casual situation. Also more beach house cottage rentals are open for business. The Chamberlains are cottages for rent just street inland.
Thunderball Point is a new piece of rental property. Click here to see this gorgeous 5 bedroom spread.
The Seaglass water front cottages were an addition in 2015.
While WIFI is now an amenity, you will only want to bring your technology for taking pictures of the landscape and nurse sharks circling the dock. Pull up a bar stool and stay awhile. Strike up a game of pool or a chat with a bartender or sit outside and watch the sun slowly disappear over the horizon. This island unlike so many others, does have an airstrip. David Hocher who’s father founded Staniel Cay, also owns Makers Air which is the recommended airline out of Fort Lauderdale. There are also putter jumper flights from Nassau.
On Staniel, the grocery store can be found literally in the back of a locals house and everyone is welcome when the church bells ring without fail every Sunday.
Staniel Cay now has a dive team for snorkel or dive tours. You will not want to miss out on the famous Thunderball Grotto (where Thunderball was filmed in the 70’s). Don’t miss the chance to feed the ever so popular and hungry swimming pigs. This is a real thing and total must do riot of an experience that never gets old!
Sampson Cay use to be a public island which was a fun place to visit and stop for a cold frosty beverage or lunch with a view. However, with a small boat or jet ski you can ride over through the current at high tide and from the shore watch the water line disappear while sipping an umbrella drink. It’s magnificent. I would often take long walks on this island and absorb the vibrant flowers and colors. The locals are all so overly genuine and kind. Wheels and Waves is a reliable boat rental…ask for Coral who lives on Staniel with her husband and two darling toe headed children.
Coral and her Bahamian husband also own and rent several water front cottages on Staniel like Serenity. They name says it all! These are professional business owners and they will not dissappoint.
Just a hop skip and stones throw away is Iguana island. Hundreds and hundreds of hungry iguanas make their way toward you for a feeding.
If eating fresh fish is your groove, you can wave over or flag down a local fishing boat and purchase fresh lobster or fish right from the locals. They will cut it up and bag it. Fresh salt water fresh ready to toss on the barbe or eat it like sashimi. Also, it’s easy to ask around on the island and charter a full day or half day fishing trip. Fish for tuna, barracuda, red snapper and much more.
I hope you like conch because you can literally customize and have conch your way! Fried conch, conch fritters, conch salad, conch shell or sautéed conch.
While on this extra special vacation, I spend most of my time treasure troving the sandbars for sea shells, sand dollars and starfish bigger than a human head.
Another quick boat or jet ski ride away is Compass Cay. This is a very chill laid back marina with greasy burgers and swarming nurse sharks. No shoes or shirt required.
Fowl Cay is a close neighbor to Staniel Cay. This island has private homes for rent by the week. Amenities include chef services, fishing and water sport toys and much more.
Norman’s Cay is a private island and depending on the year sometimes it’s open to public. The hidden beach bar is sometimes open and sometimes closed. This famous island was once owned by Pablo Escabar, the leader of the Mexican drug cartel. There is a small airstrip on the island. Approximately 50 feet off shore is a plane crash that is a must see/ snorkel excursion. I swam right through the center of this giant plane buried beneath the ocean water. Take a boat ride over at low or high tide and jump in for an amazing underwater experience.
I’m told that Musha Cay is a private island owned by Oprah Winfrey.
Over the last decade these secret island getaways have been discovered by many celebrities. They islands offer sooo much privacy. It’s rumored that Tyler Perry, David Copperfield, Richard Branson, Johnny Depp and Tim McGraw and Faith Hill have residences in these parts.
My God father just so happened to own three motor yachts and often invited us to tag along. Yachting is like being on a floating hotel. There is no way to describe it except it is the ultimate experience. The crew/ staff weather big or small is not only at your beckon call. They will set up and arrange beach tents, chairs, towels and toys to enjoy on SandBar Island.
On this spectacular Sandbar island you can paddle board, sleep, snorkel, kyak, dive, tan, read or dance like nobody’s watching.
If you are in the market to charter a boat look no further.
Mark Osterhaven is the guy for all things chater in the Exumas or in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida area. He is owner of Worth Avenue Yachts! Tell him Angi Abercrombie sent you and insisted he give you a great deal on an unforgettable vacation experience. MArk also happens to be the Commodore at the ever so fun Staniel Cay Yacht Club. He is one of many hosts to infamous pirate parties.
If private island life isn’t your style, you can always opt for the notorious Atlantis Resort in Nassau. It’s a very clean and safe family friendly vacation spot. There is plenty to do for every person in your family.
The water park is not just for kids and the lazy river isn’t lazy in the least. The death-defying water slides and shark experiences are second to none.
For many years our vacation would begin at Atlantis. We would check in, stay a night or two before boarding a yacht and cruising South.
There is so much to see and do like swimming with the dolphins in the private lagoon or take a jet ski ride in the ocean. There is night life including casinos, dancing, fine dining, live music and or shopping. Walking the boardwalk looking at hundreds of mega yachts never gets boring.
The One and Only Ocean Club is a more isolated adult hotel near the Atlantis. This boutique lush beach club has spectacular ocean sunsets. The One and Only does offer day passes and free shuttle service for hotel guests who want to visit and experience the crowds and water slides at Atlantis.
The memories I have made over the years at the Atlantis water park are plentiful. We have watched this place grow from two single shark water slides to a full-blown water sport adventure Disneyland. There is an underground water aquarium called THE DIG! I recommend going at night when it’s less crowded and you can see more fish. Don’t sign up for an official tour, go at your your own pace. There is a small concert hall where famous singers hold concerts. It’s awesome because its an intimate venue which puts you up close and personal with the talent.
All ages welcome on a tube in the lazy river where you will…
giggle, possibly flip over, scream and you never know where a super slide may take you.
Inside Atlantis is the ever familiar Chachuli glass art and NoBu sushi restaurant that I highly recommend. However most nights when we aren’t to sunburn and exhausted from the salt water we like to be amongst the locals and eat off property. The best restaurant in Nassau is located just over the bridge from Atlantis. It’s called the Poop Deck but don’t judge the name. This unassuming restaurant overlooking a marina has a killer seafood menu and full bar/ wine list. Fresh grilled fish and white table clothes but no dress code enforced. This laid back atmosphere is absolutely flip-flop friendly.
From Nassau there are multiple options for traveling to the Exumas. You can charter a sail boat, motor yacht or catamaran. Other transport ideas are to charter a private plane, sea plane or high-powered speed boat. There are direct flights to Nassau from most major carriers like American Airlines.
This one of kind vacation experience is fun with friends, family and or make it a couples trip.
Eventually, if you continued to move South you would land on Black Point where most of the locals live or further into Georgetown. Many vacationers fly directly into Georgetown and stay in Great Exuma or Emerald Bay which was recently spotlighted after the disasterous Frye Festival. Great Exuma is home to the Chat and Chill bar and their ever so cool sand/ocean swings. Check out Cassie at HI Sugarplum who was just on Great Exuma with her family for Spring Break.
I sure hope that I have inspired you to get gone and plan a trip to the EXUMAS!
On these islands I have made some of the most incredible life long memories with my friends and family. I have met some of the coolest people and I have collected sea gems and Christmas ornaments. I have truly left a little piece of heart on these balmy beaches and I cry every time I have to leave. I often dream about swimming in the water and crossing little pipe cay. What once was a best kept secret is now on display and every bit of Abercrombie and FITness approved.
Love, lay in the sand and get a tan!
Again, this blog post is made up of over 23 years of experience in the Exumas. I have made friends with the locals and stayed up on the changes via social media.
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