WELCOME TO PIG ISLAND,
We take you for a visit to the home of the swimming pigs at the Bahamas. Visit a destination uninhabited by humans where pigs swim in the shallows, sea turtles and sharks rule the depths while iguanas roam the coastline
Words: Aleksandra Georgieva
Photography: James Zwadlo, Jared Rice, Jakob Owens
?? March 2020
An archipelago of 365 islands remained unknown to the world for decades. It was a true gem of nature hidden away from sight until a bucket-list sensation unveiled the island of Exuma in the Bahamas. The most unlikely inhabitants of Exuma are the swimming pigs that took travellers’ social media by storm.
Arrive on the island you are struck by the feeling that you are among the very first humans to explore the surrounding nature. As you visit the coastlines, instead of footsteps you will witness trails of iguana tails leaving traces on the sand. The waters are azul as if they have never been swim in before.
Vividly coloured shells the size of coconuts are a common find along the seaside. Nothing spoils the idyllic vibe, at least not until you approach Big Major Cay. You are greeted with loud sounds coming from the most unlikely yet jolly island inhabitants. An array of snorting pigs welcomes you to spoil them with your undivided attention.
Pig Beach is an uninhabited island, taking its name from the colony of feral pigs that have created a home in the surrounding shallows of the island of Exuma. Today Bahamians ant tourists alike visit the beaches near Big Major Cay where about 20 pigs and piglets are living the easy life.
The pigs are well accustomed to human presence. In fact, they enjoy the attention of so many local and tourist visitors, they have abandoned foraging in the forest in search of food. Visitors feed them at the shore or from the boats in the shallows. Some of the friendly sunbathers have fallen ill due to swallowing sand and lack of fresh water in the dry month of January, but locals have taken care to replace them with healthy pigs that continue to bring joy to animal-loving travellers.
The solemn deaths are a reminder to think before you feed the pigs. If possible bring them fresh water, as they have limited supply on the island. Focus on giving them fresh fruits and vegetables as opposed to snacks and feed them in the water to avoid sand ingestion. Note that some of the pigs are quite large and they tend to chase you, if you are carrying food. However, you can roam the beach food-free, if you scare easily.
No one knows where the pigs came from, but one story has it that they were dropped off on the island by sailors, who intended to go back and cook them. Another story suggests they swam over from a nearby shipwreck and survived on excess food dumped by passing ship. Whether you believe any of that or you are convinced that the pigs are a business scheme to attract tourists, they are here to stay, bringing joy to all visitors of Pig Island.
The island, known as Pig Beach remains uninhabited by humans and you can only get there by boat. Big Major Clay is one of 365 islands in the Exuma district of the Bahamas, about 50 miles northwest of George Town and 82 miles southeast of Nassau. You can visit the pigs at any time, but we advise you aim to rent a boat early in the morning. By afternoon the pigs have their bellies full and are likely to be less interactive, yet they will likely swim with you in the shallows. Note that hurricane season occurs June through November. At the approach of a dangerous storm, a local water sports company usually takes the pigs to shelter.
Renting a boat can be done on your own or through your accommodation since some hotels offer daily boat rentals included in the price of your stay. A full-day tour is offered by the local 4C's Adventures company. For $160 per person you are offered a visit to the pigs, meeting iguanas, swimming with nurse sharks, sandbar picnic and snorkelling in Thunderball Grotto – known for its beauty shown in two James Bond movies. You can also include a boat on your own, which will cost you only $250 for a full day and a bit extra if you wish to hire a tour guide.
Apart from pigs, on Big Major Cay you can encounter various animals, including endangered species, some stray cats and even goats. If you are daring enough, you can visit Compass Cay and swim with nurse sharks. Snorkelling amid the island seawater welcomes you to dive alongside arrays of fish. The lovers of sea turtles can not only witness them roaming free in their natural habitat, but at Little Farmer’s Cay you can also feed the sea turtles. Another popular spot for the animal-loving travellers is Bitter Guana Cay where the sandy beaches are home to the endangered Exuma Island iguanas.
Pig Island is a place like no other. Uninhabited by humans, this gem of nature meets you with jolly swimming pigs, welcomes you to snorkel among sea turtles, swim with sharks and feed rock iguanas. The unconventional spot is only reachable by boat so make sure to pack your spirit of adventure and prepare for a day of friendly encounters. This is Exuma – the one place in the Bahamas where travellers experience a purely animal-loving experience of the vacationer’s lifetime.