5 Unexpected Caribbean Animal Encounters

From swimming pigs to swarming sharks, these adventures are exiting, yet suitable for the whole family


For a different kind of vacation adventure, ditch the shopping and sightseeing tours and get to know some of the Caribbean’s finned and hoofed creatures, up close and personal. Here are five of our favorite animal encounters that take place in the wild, but don’t involve risk.

Camel Safaris, Jamaica

Camels in Jamaica

Horseback tours are available on many islands across the Caribbean, but Jamaica is the only place where you can ride a camel through the grounds of a former sugarcane plantation. Alexey Furman/iStock

Camels were brought to Jamaica in the 1800s to work the sugar cane plantations. Today, their descendants carry visitors on riding tours of historic Prospect Plantation. Located just outside of Ocho Rios, this thousand-acre property is one of Jamaica’s oldest plantations, growing bananas, cassava, sugarcane and coffee. In addition to camel rides through fields and groves of native hardwoods, visitors can participate in a diverse range of adventure tours and cultural activities.

Stingray Encounters, Turks & Caicos

Stingrays Turks & Caicos

Near the island of Grand Turk, the shallow waters of Gibbs Cay are home to a school of stingrays. Swimmers and waders can safely interact with these animals, and no dive gear is needed. Photo:iStock

Grand Cayman may be the home of the original Stingray City, but many prefer the experience at Gibb’s Cay. Located a mile off the coast of Grand Turk Island, this deserted cay is reached by boat, and participants wade into the shallows to interact with a school of resident rays that can be approached safely, making this an encounter that is suitable for all ages. In addition, a colorful, fish-filled reef is just yards from the beach.

Swimming With Pigs, Bahamas

Bahamas Pigs

On a small deserted island in the central Bahamas, an easy boat ride away from Great Exuma, a family of wild pigs frolic in the shallows, and swim out to greet arriving beach goers. Photo: iStock

The swimming pigs of the Bahamas have become You-Tube celebrities. To see them for yourself, join one of the small boat excursions traveling from Great Exuma Island or Staniel Cay to uninhabited Great Major Cay. Here, you will be greeted by a family of porkers who splash into the water to greet arriving boats, hopeful of receiving tasty handouts. Bring a waterproof camera for some of the most amusing selfies ever.

Swarmed by Donkeys, Bonaire

Bonaire Donkeys

The feral descendants of domestic animals imported to the island as beasts of burden, Bonaire’s donkeys find refuge in a sanctuary, where visitors can hand-feed these gregarious creatures. Photo: iStock

When tractors replaced donkeys on the island of Bonaire, thousands of these beasts of burden were turned loose to fend for themselves. Today, more that 400 of their descendants reside at the island’s Donkey Sanctuary. Located just south of the airport, the sanctuary welcomes visitors, who can purchase feed and take a drive through the reserve. Roll down a window and you will be swarmed by gregarious donkeys vying for a treat.

Nuzzling with Nurse Sharks, Belize

Belize Nurse Sharks

Originally drawn in by fishermen cleaning their catch, the nurse sharks of Belize’s Hol Chan Marine Reserve now swarm snorkelers, creating an exciting yet safe encounter. Photo: Pete Niesen/iStock

Scuba divers can get up close with sharks at a number of adrenaline-filled shark feeding adventures throughout the Caribbean. For a milder encounter, head to Belize’s Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where a spot known as Shark-Ray Alley is home to a resident population of nurse sharks. Unlike their toothier cousins, nurse sharks are fairly mild-mannered, and will swarm among snorkels and swimmers as they jostle about in search of the handouts that tour operators drop overboard as enticements.