I really did not know anything about Staniel Cay, Exumas, when Natajia, co-owner of 3Ns Exuma Vacations and Embrace Resort invited us to experience this spectacular region of the Bahamas.
I purposefully avoided researching too much. In this modern day of social media sharing, surprises have been destroyed by viral trends.
I miss the joy of reading a few paragraphs in a travel guide, seeing some photo prints, or hearing traveler’s tales, and deciding to go and experience the surprise for myself. I wanted to return to that mystery. And I got it. It’s possibly why this trip to the Bahamas – our first time – felt like it had a certain kind of magic.
I was able to really feel the true energy of Staniel Cay – and I liked it.
Our days were spent swimming with pigs and nurse sharks, sunning with iguanas, and seeing some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
For our four days in Staniel Cay Bahamas, the rest of the world did not exist. It was a refreshing change and disappointing having to return.
But return we did, and to make sure you have a visit as amazing as ours, we’ve prepared a guide to the Staniel Cay Exumas so you can experience the mystery like we did.
Disclaimer: Our sponsored partner for our trip was Embrace Resort, along with their sister company, 3 N’s Exuma Vacations, which was the first travel agency on Staniel Cay, and is rated #1 on TripAdvisor, and holds a Badge of Excellence.
- Why Visit Staniel Cay?
- Where is Staniel Cay and the Exuma Islands?
- How to get to Staniel Cay?
- When is the best time to visit Staniel Cay?
- Things to Do on Staniel Cay
- 1. Swimming Pigs Tour
- 2. Get Around by golf cart
- 3. Explore the beaches on Staniel Cay
- 4. Get a Massage from the Therapist to the Stars!
- 5. Watch The Sunset on Public Beach
- 6. Enjoy Sunset Drinks at Staniel Cay Yacht Club
- 7. See the Feeding of Nurse Sharks at Staniel Yacht Club
- 8. Tour the nearby islands and beaches by boat
- 9. Go snorkelling (or scuba diving) at Thunderball Grotto
- Where to Eat on Staniel Cay
- Where to Stay on Staniel Cay
- Amenities on Staniel Cay
- How much does it cost to visit Staniel Cay?
- FAQs About Visiting Staniel Cay Bahamas
- Final Thoughts on a Staniel Cay Vacation
Why Visit Staniel Cay?
Since the world loves following the lives of celebrities, follow their lead. Many stars have not just homes in the Exuma Cays, but their own private islands.
If they don’t own a piece of this paradise, they are cruising around in super yachts, undisturbed as they snorkel, zip around on jet skis, and quietly sip on rum cocktails at laid-back bars.
If it’s good enough for Johnny Depp, it’s good enough for me!
Some of their movies have been filmed in the turquoise waters and snow-white sands of this island chain: James Bond’s Thunderball, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash, Into the Blue, and more.
As the Exuma Islands are a little harder to get to – and the huge cruise ships don’t come here – you’ll find a more exotic and luxurious experience with little to no crowds.
In fact, we had one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve seen in the world, Pirate Beach, all to ourselves. And that was on Staniel Cay, one of the most populated cays in the Exumas.
Spanning 176 miles and made up of 356 islands and cays, the Exumas offer nothing but pristine beaches and outdoor activities. Be prepared for endless white sand, swirling sapphire blue and turquoise waters, wildlife encounters, and stunning pink and orange skies at sunset.
It’s an open invitation to escape from the hustle and chaos of life to relearn how to relax and enjoy days being with nature.
Where is Staniel Cay and the Exuma Islands?
The Exuma Cays are an archipelago of 365 remote islands stretching across the Tropic of Cancer in the southern half of The Bahamas.
They are found about 250-miles southeast of Florida and 75-miles south of Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas. The Bahama Islands are actually in the Atlantic Ocean, not the Caribbean Sea, but the country is part of CARICOM, the Caribbean Community.
Staniel Cay is one of the larger islands and is located at the heart of the Exuma Cays. As it has one of the only landing airport strips it has become the gateway to the Exuma archipelago.
Many tourists come in and out each day for the swimming with pigs’ tour from Nassau, and this small island community is home to around 100 residents.
I was disappointed leaving after four days, I couldn’t imagine flying in for just the day, seeing the beauty of the Exumas, and then leaving. I suggest staying for two nights at least.
How to get to Staniel Cay?
Unless you’re sailing in, the only way to get to Staniel Cay is by small plane. It’s just another reason to visit this beautiful island in the Exumas as the 30-minute flight is a scenic one.
It was overcast and at dusk when we flew into Staniel Cay from Nassau, so we did not see too much below but had front-row seats to a beautiful sunset.
On the way back, our morning flight with bright sunny skies unveiled a stunning vista below of the Exuma Islands, which we flew over almost the entire way.
You can either fly in from Nassau (Bahamas) via Flamingo Air or Titan Air or fly in from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport (Florida, US) via Makers Air or Staniel Air.
Flamingo Air, Titan Air, and Maker’s Air have flights twice daily.
When is the best time to visit Staniel Cay?
I was surprised to discover that Staniel Cay is a popular place to visit year-round. While Staniel Cay has never been hit by a major hurricane, it doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
It’s probably best to plan your visit outside of hurricane season, which usually lasts from early June to late November, and sometimes into early December. The wettest month is October, but it still only receives on average 12 days of rain in the whole month.
Peak times are Christmas and New Year, Spring Break, the 4th of July, Bahamian Independence Day, and the first week in August.
June and July are the busy high season. The low season is usually mid-August/early September to mid-November, but keep in mind that this is also the rainy season.
A good time to visit the Exumas is the Spring. From April, the weather is at its mildest and you are blessed with sunny skies. The peak season runs from December until early April, so a good time to visit would be late April and May, which will see fewer crowds and good weather.
Things to Do on Staniel Cay
At only half a mile by two miles long, exploring Staniel Cay is effortless and relaxing. There is no need to hurry. Slow days are the best days in the Bahama Islands.
1. Swimming Pigs Tour
The best thing to do while in Staniel Cay, and why most people come here, is the ‘Swimming with Pigs tour’. Pig Island, or Big Major Cay as it’s often known as, is the island next to Staniel Cay and is a short five-minute boat ride.
The best way to see them is to join a swimming with pigs’ tour, 3 N’s Exuma Vacations has the number 1 ranked tour on TripAdvisor and offers a premium four-hour tour that offers small group sizes.
It has seven stops as well as Pig Beach, and includes drinks (even local Bahamian beer, Kalik), snacks, snorkel gear, beach towels, and entrance fees and taxes. They also offer private tours.
Think sunning Bahamian Rock Iguanas on the beach of Bitter Guana Cay, swimming with nurse sharks at Compass Cay, snorkeling in a (movie-famous) grotto, and stepping on one of the most beautiful sandbars in the world.
You can read all about our swimming with pigs’ tour in our guide that includes what to expect, how the pigs got there, and the incredible other six stops on the tour.
2. Get Around by golf cart
As the island is only one mile by two miles, you can walk everywhere on Staniel Cay. But more fun is zipping around the island in a golf cart, which you can rent from Embrace Resort.
Our girls were most excited about this – particularly Kalyra, who is currently getting her driver’s license and wanted to practice.
However, you must be fully licensed and eighteen, so we canned that idea, and she had fun sitting in the back instead.
This is one of those times when the journey becomes part of the destination. Look at these stunning views you get as you drive around in your open-air vehicle.
3. Explore the beaches on Staniel Cay
There are five main beaches on Staniel Cay: Town Beach, Pirate Trap Beach, Ocean Beach, Ho Tai Cay Beach, and South Beach.
The last two beaches we did not visit. I’m not sure why. Possible confusion as to how to get there on the golf cart, but probably because we were blinded by the beauty of Pirate Beach!
Spend the day on Pirate Beach
Hello, one of our new top ten beaches in the world. We could not believe the vistas of Pirate Beach as we pulled up in our golf cart.
The conditions were perfect. Still, crystal clear, light blue water – it was like being at a giant swimming pool – super soft white sand. And there was no one on it.
On both days we visited Pirate beach there was only us and a passing boat with a couple who stopped for a while.
It was the perfect beach for swimming, sitting under shady trees and reading (or at the edge of the water) having a picnic, or exploring.
You can wade over to a small island on the eastern side of the beach which gives you views out to the ocean. Imagine our surprise when we rounded the small outcropping of rocks to see a super yacht parked just offshore in its own private space.
In this area, there is a small cove, which I imagine is how it got the name Pirate Trap Beach, as these shallow waters would trap a pirate – or at least hide one!
I could not get over how powdery the sand was. I’d sit there watching Savannah read by the edge of the water, just playing with the sand; it was like flour.
Don’t swim too far out. There is a strong current in the darker blue waters – you’ll see it and it will for sure sweep you out to the ocean.
Pirate Beach is on the northernmost part of the island, about a 5 min golf cart ride, or 20-minute walk from Embrace Resort.
We recommend packing a picnic from the Flying Pig Café and using your cooler from your Embrace Resort villa.
Take a short hike to Ocean Beach
The first thing you’ll notice arriving at Ocean Beach is that it’s not a beach for swimming. As it’s on the ocean side of the island, the water is a lot rougher and there could be riptides to watch for.
Nevertheless, it’s still a beautiful beach, and worth taking the short beach trail to reach it.
You must park your golf cart at the beginning of the path – there is a sign – and walk up. Do not drive the cart, it will get stuck. Tajia, our host at Embrace Resort recommends Ocean Beach as the place for sunrise on Staniel Cay.
Relax on Public Beach
This small beach is located next to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. There were never more than five people on it when we visited, although there were a few boats moored out the front.
On our first afternoon swim, a sting ray joined us at the edge of the shore. This was just after our morning swimming with pigs, and sharks, and hanging out with iguanas. What a place the Exumas are!
There are also lounge chairs on the beach for use. You can also go kayaking or stand-up paddle-boarding and rent gear from the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, if you prefer to be a little more active.
4. Get a Massage from the Therapist to the Stars!
Khori from Illusions by the Sea came to our villa for an incredible deep-tissue massage. I felt like a new person after it and have made a pact with 2023 to make this a monthly thing!
You know you are in good hands when your massage therapist is the masseuse to the stars. Yep, we were one degree of separation from many famous stars including Michael Jordan, Paris Hilton, Johnny Depp, and Pooh Bear.
In fact, my massage was postponed because Khori was caught up with Johnny Depp on his private island. #ThisIstheExumas
5. Watch The Sunset on Public Beach
Grab your cooler with a few drinks and some snacks and pull up a lounge chair on Public Beach for a spectacular sunset event.
The sunset is better from here than from the Staniel Yacht Club (mentioned below) as it’s a much wider vista, and we had it all to ourselves. It was the perfect way to end our Staniel Cay vacation.
6. Enjoy Sunset Drinks at Staniel Cay Yacht Club
The Staniel Cay Yacht Club is legendary on this tiny island. It’s the place where celebrities come to feel somewhat normal, drink a rum cocktail at the bars, and not be disturbed.
We came down here one evening to watch the sunset. We grabbed a rum cocktail and sat on the small deck outside for sunset. We enjoyed watching the huge boats dock into the marina just as much.
Although insider knowledge says they were babies compared to the super yachts that navigate the deeper waters.
7. See the Feeding of Nurse Sharks at Staniel Yacht Club
While at the Staniel Yacht Club, pier over the edge of the marina to see a school of nurse sharks feeding off the scraps the fishermen throw in from the nearby cleaning station.
While they are docile and gentle, they still have sharp teeth and won’t tolerate any stupid humans.
You have the opportunity to swim with nurse sharks on the swimming with pigs’ tour.
8. Tour the nearby islands and beaches by boat
If there is one thing we regret about our Staniel Cay vacation, it’s not exploring the nearby islands and beaches in a boat.
Sadly, we did not feel confident to drive a boat around on our own, as our experience is limited and you have to think about tides, reefs, sandbars, and more when you’re cruising around. The last thing we wanted to do was crash a boat and get stranded on a remote island…Or did we?
If you can confidently drive a boat, then definitely rent one while on Staniel Cay. Embrace Resort and 3N’s Exuma Vacation Travel Agency can help you organize that.
In hindsight, we wish we had of hired a local driver to take us around.
All you’re going to find out there are hidden coves, jaw-dropping sandbars, wildlife, and empty beaches. Pack your picnic, snorkels, sunscreen, and your curious and zen like spirit.
9. Go snorkelling (or scuba diving) at Thunderball Grotto
Just a short boat ride west of Staniel Cay and you’ll reach the impressive Thunderbal Grotto, an underwater cave system that is great fun to snorkel or dive in.
If you’ve seen the James Bond Thunderball movie, then you will surely recognise this spot (hense the name, Thunderball).
As you might expect from Staniel Cay in the Bahamas, it’s alive with marine live and vibrant coral reefs. You might see some yellow-tail snappers, Angel fish, Sergeant Majors and maybe even some nurse sharks!
Where to Eat on Staniel Cay
There are only a few places to eat on Staniel Cay (plus grocery stores listed below).
Remember that food on the island is imported, so some menu items may not be available when you visit.
Embrace Hotel has a provisioning service where they can have groceries from Nassau ready for you when you arrive.
Flying Pig Café Embrace Resort
We ate most meals during our stay at the Flying Pig Café at our Embrace Resort. Even if you are not staying here, you can eat at their café.
I was surprised at how affordable, fresh, and delicious the food was. Kalyra couldn’t get enough of the chicken bacon panini, Craig and I ordered the flank steak nearly every day, and Savannah fell in love with Mahi Mahi.
Those fluffy chocolate chip breakfast waffles were a huge hit, especially with the $6 price tag! There are gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options on the menu, like a coconut chickpea curry.
We were thrilled that the Flying Pig Café also had fantastic coffee, and signature cocktails at an affordable price.
There is a shaded outdoor seating area, a lovely modern ambiance, and a fun games night every Thursday for the Staniel Cay community. We were sad to miss it due to the rainy weather cancellation.
You can read more about the Flying Pig Café in our Embrace Resort review.
Staniel Yacht Club
There is also the option to dine at the Staniel Yacht Club for lunch or dinner. Note that the prices will be more expensive for dinner than lunch. We were lucky, on the evening we ate here, that they were only operating from the lunch menu, which was more affordable.
They had gluten-free buns, so I had a blackened fresh catch burger with Asian slaw. The kid’s menu was quite expensive at $15 for chicken tenders!
Where to Stay on Staniel Cay
As it’s a small island, there aren’t many accommodation options – mostly vacation rentals in small bungalows. The only “hotel” choice is the Embrace Resort, which is where we stayed.
Embrace Resort was opened in 2014 by a local Bahamian woman, Nicole (Nikki) who has been working in the tourism industry for 30 years.
The resort aims to embrace the true essence of Bahamian culture – relaxation and a place where families can come together.
We love that Embrace Resort is an all-female, family-owned business that is the product of love and experience. The Resort is made up of 7 one-bedroom villas to three-bedroom villas, surrounding a swimming pool and lush gardens.
All guest rooms come with the amenities you would expect from a resort, such as safety features like smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in the room, flat screen tv with cable channels, free toiletries in the bathroom, and of course, free Wi-Fi.
Amenities on Staniel Cay
Come prepared for your stay on Staniel Cay as there are limited amenities.
The village (only three tiny streets) is mostly a residential house, a church, a marine supply store, a post office, a library, a clinic, a small casino, three grocery stores, and a laundromat/ liquor store.
The grocery stores are:
- Pink Pearl Groceries – cheapest.
- Burke’s Convenience Store – the most expensive.
- Isles General A-Z Store – closest to Embrace Resort.
There is also a liquor store for more affordable alcohol options. Don’t forget duty-free on your way to The Bahamas.
How much does it cost to visit Staniel Cay?
As this is a very subjective question closely tied to your spending habits, the size of your party, and what hacking strategies you implement to get free or cheaper flights via mileage points, I can only give a rough guideline for costs on Staniel Cay.
Most of the Staniel Cay attractions listed in this post will be free. Here’s a quick budget breakdown to give you an idea:
- Accommodation at Embrace Resort: At the time of writing (January 2023) room prices start at $250 for one bedroom, $550 for 2 bedroom and $600 for 3 bedrooms.
- Meals: At Flying Pig Cafe, Expect to pay $6-12 for breakfast and around $12 – $35 for lunch and dinner. Staniel Cay Yacht Club expect to pay around $20-$50
- Alcohol: Cocktails ranged from $10 – $16 | Beers $5-$6
- Golf Cart Rental: Start from $60
- Swimming with pigs tour starts from $300. Embrace Resort guests receive 30% off.
FAQs About Visiting Staniel Cay Bahamas
Here’s what people usually ask us about visiting the Exumas and staying in Staniel Cay.
Is Staniel Cay Safe?
We found Staniel Cay to be very safe and did not feel nervous or afraid once. Theft or crime is not really a problem, locals even leave the keys in their golf carts and sleep with doors unlocked.
The island is small and everyone knows everyone, so there’s not a lot that can go by undiscovered. But again, that doesn’t mean things can’t happen so be cautious.
As with any place you travel to, it’s important to use common sense and be aware of your surroundings!
Is there an ATM on the island / are cards accepted?
There is no ATM on the island, so bring cash. You can use USD or Bahamian dollars. It’s a 1:1 currency exchange. You may receive Bahamian change if you use USD or vice versa.
Yes, Credit Cards are also accepted!
What is the weather like in Staniel Cay?
The Exumas have a tropical savanna climate with dry winters. The yearly average maximum temperature in Exumas is 81°F (ranging from 76°F in march to 85°F in august).
Annual rainfall is 64.3 inches, with a minimum of 2.1 inches in March and a maximum of 11.7 inches in October.
We visited in the first week of January and had lovely warm weather (80F) every day with a few sudden, but quick rain showers. Understand that weather is always unpredictable and cannot be controlled. Learn how to dance in the rain!
What is a Cay?
Don’t feel silly if you’re wondering what a Cay is or how to pronounce it. Because that was all me.
Cay is pronounced Key (like the Florida Keys) and it’s simply a naturally occurring low island, either a sandbar or a coral reef. Cay is most often applied to Caribbean islands and comes from the Spanish word, Cayo, which means key.
Do you have to tip?
Tipping is not compulsory but welcome and accepted as the norm. Some places may automatically add on a gratuity of 15% so be sure to check your bill. Remember to tip your guides as well.
Final Thoughts on a Staniel Cay Vacation
It may take time for your Western wired-up physics to relax into Bahama Time. That is, things happen when they happen, you go with the flow of the day, and mostly there isn’t anything to do but swim, read, and be mesmerized by nature’s beauty.
Remember this, it’s okay to do nothing. Being busy is not always best and you will not fall behind if you put stillness first.
This trip took me back to my days backpacking Southeast Asia and Africa – before smartphones and social media – and I could not stop yearning to return to that.
They were the days spent being fully present, engaging in what was right in front of me, connecting to other cultures, people, and nature, and feeling hidden from the outside world.
Those were truly the best days and I think in this hyper-connected social world, we all need more of them.
This is Staniel Cay, and the Exuma Islands!
Are you planning on visiting? Let us know in the comments!