Island Escapes: Exumas by Land and Sea

A visit to the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park reveals the natural beauty of the Bahamas


A short sail from the glitzy resorts of Nassau, a very different side of the Bahamas awaits. Stretching for more than 100 miles southward, the string of small islands known as the Exumas divide the emerald-green shallows of the Bahama Banks from the sapphire-blue depths of the Tongue of the Ocean. This is a yachtsman’s playground, filled with scenic anchorages, deserted white-sand beaches and coral reefs teeming with fish life. But you don’t have to play captain to enjoy a slice of Out Island life, as destinations along the archipelago can be reached by airplane, ferryboat or one of the iconic Bahamian mail boats. Day-trippers can also explore these islands by signing up for one of the speedboat tours or seaplane adventures that depart from New Providence Island each day.

Exumas Bahamas

An aerial view of the Exuma chain of islands. While shallow sand banks stretch to the west of these islands, the waters to the east drop abruptly to depths of a mile or more. Photo: iStock

A favorite destination is the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park. This nature preserve encompasses more than 18 small islands and 175 square miles of seabed, including some of the Bahamas’ best coral reefs. Most visitors arrive at the park headquarters on the island of Warderwick Wells. A stop at the visitor’s center provides background on this unique park, which became the world’s first above-and-below-water preserve when established in 1958. A seven-mile network of nature trails crisscross the island, leading to panoramic views from Boo Boo Hill, blowholes, the remains of a Loyalist plantation and a driftwood-laden shore that is a beachcombers delight. But the park’s greatest rewards are reserved for those who don mask and snorkel and immerse themselves in the marine environment. A great starting point for a snorkel tour is the beach at Pirate’s Lair. And yes, this island was once a favorite hideout for the Brethren of the Coast.


A typical underwater scene at the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park, with an angelfish hovering over a stand of soft corals and sponges that provide shelter for a school of small snapper. Photo: iStock

Today, thanks to the encompassing protection of the Bahamas National Trust, this idyllic collection of island gems is safe not only from marauding privateers, but also from the influences of development, and the ravages on commercial fishing. The entire park is subject to a no-take policy that includes all forms of terrestrial and marine flora and fauna. Fortunately, you are free to carry your memories home with you, and these are reward enough.