When you think of the Bahamas, you probably picture a white sand beach, turquoise waters, and all-inclusive resorts. If I’m completely honest, I was originally quite skeptical that the Bahamas could be anything more than a tourist mecca. I didn’t want to waste precious vacation time going somewhere where all I could do was lounge on a beach and sip cocktails! Once I arrived in Exuma, that stereotype flew right out the window. There was so much more natural beauty there than what first meets the eye.
One of my main reasons for coming to the Bahamas was to learn to scuba dive. Anything in or around the sea fascinates me. Sadly, in researching places to dive, I was shocked to find how few coral reefs are still healthy—and that number is continuing to grow smaller! So trust me, you will want to see what lives under the surface before it’s gone, and diving is just the way to do that.
The most memorable dive I did while in the Bahamas was at a reef somewhere in between Exuma and Long Island. The people at the dive shop called it shark reef. As my instructor said encouragingly before the dive, “They’re only small sharks. If they bite you, you won’t die!” We descended about 30-40 feet, and were instantly surrounded by reef sharks and barracuda. Contrary to most people’s idea of swimming with sharks, it wasn’t scary at all! In fact, it was one of the most amazing experiences I had! The utter beauty of the sharks circling around me in the gorgeously blue water, combined with taking some of my first breaths underwater made for an unforgettable experience.
Besides sharks, there were also turtles! We saw a few of them while diving, but the best spot was at Hooper’s Beach. When we got there, about 5 or 6 green sea turtles swam right up to the boat. We splashed in wearing our snorkel gear, and swam with them for a while. They were so friendly, and very interested in humans. They even let us pet them!
The Bahamas are also known for their underwater caves. Exuma is home to a number of blue holes, as well as the famous Thunderball Grotto, where a scene from a James Bond movie was shot. Blue holes are pretty much what they sound like—holes! The blue holes that we visited were simply circular openings in the sea floor. The holes range in depth, but the deeper of the two we visited went down about 90 feet in an otherwise 20-25 ft. deep area! They are a little creepy, since not much light is able to get in making them quite dark, but at the same time they were incredibly beautiful! At one hole, there were big fish circling around the entrance. The coral growth stops just below the lip of the entrance, and when you dive down—even just a couple feet—it suddenly gets much colder.
(I don’t have any good photos of the blue holes)
The grotto was located on Staniel Cay, a two-hour boat ride up the Exuma Cays from the main island. When we got there, it was high tide, so to get into the cave you had to dive down a couple feet to get under the rock entrance. There was a strong current, and it was a bit chaotic trying to get in! But once my head popped up on the other side, I knew it was worth it. The grotto was beautiful—the cave was probably 20 feet tall, and the sun was filtering through the hole in the top. There was coral growing on the bottom, and pretty, tropical fish swimming around. It was definitely a one of a kind snorkeling trip!
Now, I can’t end this article without at least mentioning Exuma’s famous swimming pigs. Yes, I said pigs! There is an island in the Cays that is solely inhabited by pigs. It has become quite the tourist destination over the years, as the pigs will walk right into the water and swim with you!
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