Since I’ve been to the Exumas one whole time, I am now an expert and ready to share with you all of my tips on getting here and getting around. Okay, I may not know everything but I did plan to blog about this so at least took some photos and notes.
Fly into George Town International airport (GGT). You can get a commercial flight. There are directs on American Airlines from Miami and directs from Atlanta on Delta, at least. I’m sure there are others too.
The airport is little and their immigration process is thorough (aka, slow and suspicious) although it seems like it might depend on who is manning the desk and whether you look like the person who sold her best friend’s son’s cousin a used cell phone that broke after a month.
I would definitely make a beeline straight to the immigration desk (it’s like 20 feet from the tarmac) because you can stand there for an awfully long time if you dally and let the rest of the plane queue up first.
You definitely need a car to get around the island. There are no big name rental companies here but a google search will tell you the few local ones you can use. We rented from Don’s which is just across the street from the airport. They were very nice and polite and our car had a working air conditioner, which is important.
I emailed them to reserve the car in advance although I’m not certain if you need to. I’d recommend 4 wheel drive as some of the roads are either paved poorly or not at all.
There’s Don’s! And oh yeah, they drive on the left here!
Where to Stay
There are a few resorts but after reading reviews, they didn’t seem to offer a whole lot. Most of them had average rooms and similar nightly prices as private apartment rentals that come with more space and a kitchen. I don’t see a good reason why you’d pick a hotel over a private rental in this case.
We booked our rental through Home Away since for some reason it was listed for a bit less than the same listing on Airbnb.
Having a kitchen was wonderful as caribbean food is a lot of fried things plus rice and beans and it’s not really my cup of tea. There are several grocery stores that have everything you could need although prices are steep. I packed a bunch of spices in little plastic ziplock baggies to avoid having to buy full size containers at the store.
Exuma Market (top photo) and Shop Rite (bottom photo) are the two big grocery stores in George Town. Shop Rite is a bit less expensive. Grocery stores do not sell alcohol so if you want any, you will have to go to a liquor store. There are plenty to choose from though and one of them is right next door to Exuma Market.
There’s also a bank across the street from Exuma Market that has an ATM machine. Lots of places do not accept credit cards so if you didn’t arrive with cash, you should get some here.
Basic Tips Before Your Trip
- Bring lots of bug spray, duh!
- Everyone will accept USD although you might get change back in Bahamian dollars. Either is fine to use here.
- High season is December through April. Outside of these times you are getting rainier weather or into hurricane season. Hurricanes aside, it’s not really the rain that is a problem but the mosquitoes that come with it. High season = dry season = fewer bugs and nicer experience overall
- The Out Islands are generally sleepier and less crime ridden than the larger islands and cities like Nassau. When we were here, there was a package bomber on the loose in our hometown of Austin and we actually watched it unfold on the news from a television inside Mom’s Bakery. Needless to say, we were feeling a lot safer over in Great Exuma. Crime can happen anywhere though, so keep your wits about you!
- The main beer here is Kalik. It’s pronounced “click” and comes in lots of different varieties but I think Kalik Platinum Light is the best. Steer clear of the lime ones unless you want to stay sober.
Four Day Itinerary
Beaches South of George Town: Forbes Hill & Tropic of Cancer
It seems like the further south you go from George Town, the poorer and more rural the communities seem to be. You’ll pass through Rolle Town before you cross a narrow, one lane bridge on the way to Williams Town and you will know you are in each of the “towns” just because you passed a little sign saying so.
It’s worth it to drive down this way though because the beaches are breathtaking. Just after the bridge from Rolle Town you’ll get to Forbes Hill beach. The beach roads are little more than pathways and the signs are pretty small so it’s best if you take along a smart phone to map your way.
Once you get to Forbes Hill, park under a shade tree and enjoy a quiet and serene beach all to yourself.
Make sure you leave the beach just as pristine for the next folks!
Keep driving south for a few miles until you get to Tropic of Cancer beach. This particular beach is very long. There is some residential construction happening at one section of it so in the coming years it might not be as quiet. There were a handful of people already sunbathing here when we pulled up around noon. However, the beach has plenty of room to spread out.
Tropic of Cancer beach entrance in front of a small parking area – enough for about eight cars.
Look ma, no waves!
After swimming at two beaches, you’ll probably be hungry. Get in the car and keep going south until you see the sign for Santanas. Have a beer here and eat some food. Check out the beautiful beach right off the deck and feel cool eating and drinking in the same place where Johnny Depp hung out when he was filming Pirates of the Caribbean. Or just feel cool because the sun is shining and you are in paradise.
Don’t let the casual atmosphere at Santanas fool you. You won’t find a $2 taco on this menu.
This isn’t even a “destination” beach. It’s literally just the beach outside of the restaurant! What?!
Save room after lunch at Santanas so you can walk next door to Mom’s Bakery and get a sweet treat. Rum cake (freshly soaked in hot, sweet, rum sauce) seems to be the signature dish.
There were lots of other cakes on offer also. To be honest, I’ve had better baked goods. However, these were fresh out of the oven and consumed on the beach so no complaints here!
Beaches North of George Town: Jolly Hall & Hooper’s Bay
The beaches north of George Town are not intuitive to find. They are hidden little pathways with small signs just off the main road. When your map tells you that you’re near, slow down to a crawl until you spot a sign that looks like the one below. Park on the side of the road and follow the footpath to the beach.
Arrive at Jolly Hall beach and take a moment just to gaze in wonder.
When you’ve soaked up enough sun at Jolly Hall, drive a little further north to Hooper’s Bay which, in my opinion, wins the top beach award. They’re all amazing but Hooper’s Bay was long, calm, beautifully arced, and a little more magical for some reason. Maybe just because it’s the last one we went to.
If you’re staying up by Hooper’s Bay instead of down by George Town, never fear: Smitty’s grocery store and a liquor store are right around the corner.
Swimming Pigs or Other Tours
Brian and I didn’t do the tours because I felt like it was exploitative for the pigs. Our friends didn’t feel that way though and happily booked! After seeing the photos I changed my tune. Those pigs are livin’ the life. The same tour also lets you swim with sharks and see some iguanas and other wildlife. I can’t remember the name of the tour company but once you’re here, the tours just sort of find you.
Diving is also a thing you can do around one of the many nearby cays. We’re not big divers though so I don’t have anything to share about that.
From the port at George Town you can take a water taxi over to Stocking Island and hang on the beach there, grab a snack at the Chat ‘n Chill and meander around with friendly sting rays. It’s a short 15 to 20 minute boat ride and costs about $15 round trip.
Food We Ate
I’m not a huge fan of Caribbean cuisine but we did eat out at a couple of places while we were there. Here’s a quick overview.
Kalik lemon – says it’s a beer but acts like a lemonade.
This is just north of George Town and is an unassuming little place on the water (not spectacular water like at Santanas, just…water). It’s cash only. Service was friendly. Food was kind of expensive for a casual lunch. I had a small appetizer of conch hush puppies (can’t remember what they were actually called) and I think it was $9. The main courses were about $16-$20.
Blu on the Water
It’s on the second floor of a building in George Town and overlooks the water. We were there unfortunately right at dusk when the mosquitoes were at their busiest. The restaurant is pretty much all open air so there was no getting away from them. There are repellent candles on the tables but you can practically hear the mosquitoes laughing as they sail right through the smoke and bite you on your face. Our waiter was friendly. We placed our order and waited. And waited. Finally, the third time we asked about our meal, he admitted he’d never put it in with the kitchen. They ended up comping our food but despite that, it was an overall thumbs down. Service, food, atmosphere, all fell short of expectations.
Waiting for our food on the deck of Blu on the Water. I am not actually smiling, just grimacing through the pain of one thousand mosquitoes simultaneously biting my body.
If you get to the airport early, grab a drink at Kermit’s Airport Lounge which is just across the street. It’s more comfy than the waiting room in the airport.
Take one last picture of the islands as the plane whisks you back to real life.
Immediately begin planning your next trip here.