We love the Bahamas. With its white sand beaches, crystal-clear water, and close proximity to the United States, it’s no wonder the massive island chain has become such a popular vacation destination. In addition to snorkeling, fishing, and enjoying the sand and surf, the Bahamas offer another truly memorable experience: swimming with swine. These pigs aren’t your ordinary barnyard variety, however -- they’ve obtained worldwide fame and have been featured on The Today Show and even an episode of The Bachelor.
Here’s what you need to know about the adorable celebrity pigs of the Exumas, and how you can have your own close encounter with these fascinating island residents.
Where Can You Find The Pigs?
The Exumas are a sandy chain of 365 islands that begin just 35 miles from Nassau and stretch for more than 100 miles. While they are served by an airport in George Town, the Exumas still maintain a remote, off-the-beaten-path feel with their pristine beaches and amazing fishing and snorkeling opportunities. Their famous, feral porcine residents live on Big Major Cay, an uninhabited sandy island that can only be reached by boat. It’s about 80 miles from Nassau and 30 miles from George Town. The island, only a mile long, features a forested stretch where the small group of pigs can forage for food and a gorgeous beach where they go to sun and swim. It’s a small slice of paradise that these creatures have claimed, and who can blame them?
Where Did The Pigs Come From?
The pigs -- some spotted, some pink, and all really cute -- are not native to Big Major Cay. But they are a bit of a mystery: No one is really sure where these adorable residents came from. Some say that a few were left behind by the sailors who first cruised these waters, and that the castaways formed their own little colony on the island. Others speculate that they survived a shipwreck, swam to shore, and thrived.
While these legends are lots of fun, it’s most likely that residents of nearby islands placed the pigs there themselves. The Exumas are quite far-flung, and getting food deliveries from America could be tricky. The people who lived nearby probably chose to raise the pigs on Big Major Cay in case they had trouble getting the essentials they needed. The island was close enough to provide easy access to the animals, but far enough away to prevent any stink associated with the swine. Big Major Cay’s freshwater pond and forest provided food and water to sustain the pigs.
About The Pigs
The herd on Big Major Cay fluctuates in size -- according to the Bahamian government, there are about 20 pigs and piglets there now -- but one thing is certain: When motorboats approach, the pigs know it’s time to eat. You’ll see them jump right into the water to swim alongside your boat. As they snort and squeal, your tour operator will provide you food to give to them, as well as instructions on how to approach them. They will likely follow you straight up to shore.
It’s important to be on your best behavior when interacting with the animals. While the recent influx of tourists has made the pigs quite used to visitors and usually very friendly, you’ll still need to use common sense when getting up close and personal with them. Get your selfies, swim nearby, and even give them a scratch or two if you go to shore, but remember that the pigs are feral animals and can be unpredictable. When in doubt, listen to your tour guide. And of course, be gentle with these creatures. After all, you’re visiting their home. Be a good guest!
Do not give the pigs any other food than what your operator supplies for them, and try to put the food in the water or give it directly to them. In 2017, a number of the pigs died unexpectedly. While the first reports indicated that tourists might have given them alcohol (obviously, inhumane and a huge no-no), further testing showed large quantities of sand in their stomachs. Veterinarians and other experts suspected that this was because tourists threw food into the sand for the pigs to root up. The government is so concerned about the Exuma pigs that it might soon start posting a warden on the beach to help keep the animals safe from harmful tourist interactions.
The Exuma pigs are a huge tourist attraction and bring in much-needed cash for the Bahamas. Those dollars are especially important in the wake of the devastating Hurricane Dorian, which skipped Big Major Cay. The tour operators who take visitors to the island understand that, and they are grateful for your patronage. Just be responsible and respectful when visiting.
How To See The Pigs
As we mentioned before, the Exumas are remote, and Big Major Cay is no exception. It’s not cheap to get there, and your trek will likely involve both a plane and a boat. Your best bet is to book a chartered trip, and there are a few options to consider. From Nassau, you can book a quick flight on a puddle jumper to Staniel Cay, and arrange a charter or tour from there -- Big Major Cay is only a short boat ride away. When all is said and done, you’ll pay about $500 per person going this route.
You can also take a high-speed boat from Nassau. Tour operators regularly offer excursions to see the pigs and take in the breathtaking beauty of the surrounding islands and cays. You’ll need to be prepared for a full day at sea on a small saddleback-type seat, but most tours include snacks and lunch and make frequent stops. This option will cost about $400 per person. Whatever you decide, don’t forget to bring high-SPF sunscreen!
A word to the wise: Make sure that when you book your trip, you are heading to Big Major Cay and not to another island in the Exumas chain. Sadly, copycats have tried to cash in on the phenomenon, establishing fly-by-night attractions that aren’t concerned with the safety or well-being of the animals. The Humane Society in the Bahamas is working with the government to crack down on these facilities, but you can do your part by doing your due diligence and insisting on the Big Major Cay for your trip.