How to Spend 7 Days Island Hopping Around the Bahamas

Big Major Cay is famed for its quirky swimming pigs
Big Major Cay is famed for its quirky swimming pigs | © ksmith0808 / Getty Images
Photo of Julia Zaltzman
2 December 2021

The shallow waters of the sun-baked Bahamas are lined with wreck dives and coral reefs, with up to 60m (197ft) visibility for an underwater window onto vibrant marine life. Comprising 365 islands and cays, with anchorages from one to seven hours apart, the archipelago offers a true castaway experience, especially when visited by boat. Here we reveal how to spend seven days island hopping around this paradisiacal archipelago, so you can soak up all of its beauty.

Tour the Bahamas at your own pace by chartering a boat through SamBoat. Alternatively, there are dozens of multi-day charter options available via Dream Yacht Charter.

Day 1 - Start at Palm Cay Marina, Nassau

Architectural Landmark
Two women explore the mangroves of Lucayan National Park in a yellow kayak.
© Sergi Reboredo / Alamy Stock Photo
Join the boat at Palm Cay Marina in Nassau, the Bahamas’ capital city. Settle in on board, before stepping nextdoor to Ocean Club, an 18-hole par 72 championship golf course located on Atlantis, Paradise Island’s ocean-side peninsula. Popular Cabbage Beach and Paradise Beach edge the fairways. In the afternoon, make the short hop across to Lucayan National Park on Grand Bahama, which has one of the largest underwater networks of caves in the world. The park carries a small entrance fee, and a permit is required to dive in the caves, but the nature trails and boardwalks that run through its six ecosystems are a must-see.

Day 2 – Set sail for Warderick Wells Cay

Natural Feature
Nine white yachts moor in the turquoise waters of Warderick Wells Cay, in front of its white-sand beach.
© Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo
Set sail today for Warderick Wells Cay, the headquarters of the famed Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park – a 35mi-long (56km) nature sanctuary made up of cays, islets and beaches. On entering the 40-acre (16ha) National Park, note the skeleton of a 15m (49ft) sperm whale, which died from plastic consumption, and is displayed to remind visitors to act responsibly at sea. Designated moorings are found on the north side of the island. Drop anchor and take the tender to visit the island’s stromatolites. Warderick Wells Cay is one of only a handful of islands where these living rock-like organisms can be found. Dating back hundreds of years, they’re one of the rarest life forms in existence.

Day 3 – Staniel Cay

Natural Feature
A hairy, ginger wild pig rests its head on the white sand at Big Major Cay.
© Dream Yacht Charter
Enjoy a hearty Bahamian breakfast of “fire engine” (corned beef) and grits while cruising across to Staniel Cay. Its deeper waters are favored by larger boats, and present great kayaking and fishing opportunities. Don a wetsuit and step into James Bond’s shoes for the morning by diving Thunderball Grotto, where the eponymous spy movie was filmed. This incredible underwater cave system is free for visitors to swim, dive and wade through. It’s alive with marine life, including yellow-tail snappers, angelfish and stingrays, though wait for low tide to experience the best snorkeling action. When back on board, head to nearby uninhabited Big Major Cay to swim with wild pigs on Pig Beach. These furry creatures have become accustomed to visitors, so expect them to swim up to the boat to greet you on arrival. Enjoy a dinner of steamed lobster with drawn butter at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. It’s the hub of the Exumas social scene, so reservations are essential.

Day 4 – Compass Cay

Natural Feature
Three nurse sharks and numerous large fish swim in the crystal-clear waters of Compass Cay.
© Giongi63 / Alamy Stock Photo
Rise early this morning for a quick 20-minute cruise to spend an hour on neighboring Bitter Guana Cay, known by locals as Iguana Island for its protected population of rock iguanas. Then head north to Little Bells Cay, also known as Cambridge Cay, which lies in the center of the Exumas Land & Sea Park. This secluded anchorage provides good access to beaches and hiking, as well as a safe harbor to avoid any bad weather. Then it’s just a short hop across Conch Cut to Compass Cay, whose marina is one of the few protected harbors in the Exumas. It carries an overnight dockage fee, plus a per-person landing fee. Here you can swim with 4m (13ft) nurse sharks that live in the shallow waters. Alternatively, head for a soak in Rachel’s Bubble Bath, a lagoon on the north side of the island fed by water from the sound that breaks over lava rocks and forms froth and bubbles on the surface.

Day 5 – Shroud Cay

Natural Feature
Scenic view of a turquoise palm-fringed lagoon on the coastline of Shroud Cay.
© Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo
Shroud Cay is a tiny island loved by the yachting fraternity for its natural beauty. It’s carpeted in mangrove and home to sea turtles, conch and native birds. Stop off en route for a swim in the gin-clear waters of Hawksbill Cay – you’ll no doubt be the only boat in the area – before mooring up at Shroud Cay. Water babies should swim in the Washing Machine, where zipping currents that run around a small beach peninsula carry you from one side to the other, or dive the notorious 1980s plane wreck. Landlubbers can hike to Camp Driftwood, a scenic lookout at the peak of the cay, or paddleboard through the mangroves. There are virtually no amenities on the island, so take provisions for a beach barbecue and enjoy the glowing sunset, which is extra golden on the west side of the cay.

Day 6 – Highbourne Cay

Natural Feature
Aerial view of the underwater wreckage of a cargo aircraft in the turquoise waters near Norman’s Cay.
© EyeEm / Alamy Stock Photo
For your second-to-last day, make for Highbourne Cay. You’ll Pass Norman’s Cay en route, a fishing highlight where mahi-mahi and yellowfin tuna live in abundance. This area of the Exumas is also excellent for diving. If time allows, seek out the underwater wreck of an old DC-3 airplane. But don’t miss Norman’s Cay Beach Club, which serves outrageously good curry conch chowder accompanied by an assortment of rum cocktails. Kick back and digest on Pipe Creek Sandbar, a long stretch of white sand with nothing else around, or make straight for Highbourne Cay. Directly off the cay is a drop-off that faces the Exuma Sound, a 22m (72ft) vertical wall of coral, and another diving hot spot. Dock for the night at Highbourne Cay Marina – berth space here is never an issue. Then head for sundowners at Xuma Beach Bar. Its waterfront position is a dreamy way to spend the night.

Day 7 - Return to Palm Cay Marina, Nassau

Architectural Landmark
Two motorboats are moored outside a palm-fringed wooden house in Nassau.
© JOHN KELLERMAN / Alamy Stock Photo
Before turning to Palm Cay Marina, sail further north to Harbour Island, adored for its laid-back charm, sailing community and yawning pink-sand beaches that stretch across the east side of the island. Take a tour around Dunmore Town’s pastel-colored houses, then jump back on board and make for Blue Lagoon for a final spectacular dive. If you have an evening flight, take the opportunity to explore Nassau. The Cloisters are an intriguing collection of stonework dating back to the 14th century, while the Bamboo Shack serves up a mouthwatering plate of cracked conch with a glass of champagne.

Dip into some of the most beautiful spots around the Bahamas by chartering a boat through SamBoat or embarking on a multi-day sailing adventure with Dream Yacht Charter.

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