The Swimming Pigs of The Bahamas
In December 2017, I finally fulfilled a lifelong ambition to visit the famous Swimming Pigs in the beautiful Bahamas! I thoroughly researched all the main tour providers and set off on a fact-finding mission to see what all the fuss was about.
The Bahamas is spread over 100,000 square miles of ocean, starting just 50 miles off the coast of Florida. It comprises 700 breath-taking islands, over 2,000 rocks and cays, and boasts the clearest water on the planet—with a visibility of over 200 feet.
(A cay is a low bank or reef of coral, rock, or sand.)
To get to the famous pigs you need to fly to the capital of the Bahamas, the gorgeous island of Nassau. From there you take a boat or plane to the island of Exuma where the colonies of pigs are. Exuma is one of the largest island in the Bahamas, attracting thousands of people every year.
In Nassau we visited Rose Island with a company called Sandy Toes. The island homes 3 gorgeous pigs aged about 6 months old. Rose island is shaped like a rose and from there you can hire snorkelling equipment to explore the marine life on one side of the beach. On the other side you can also swim with and feed the beautiful tropical fish and see the coral. There was a sign about young nursing sharks! However harmless, we didn’t wait around to find out! The excursion is a full day (including a gorgeous lunch), the pigs weren’t exactly swimming pigs as they were on land, but they were fed in the water and as a British farmer, I was a little shocked to see that the pigs were being fed chicken and left-over foods. In addition, they were being fed pig pellets 3 times a day. I also checked out their enclosure of where they have shelter and sleep – and found it was extremely clean. The only negative was that we didn’t get to spend much time with the pigs.
I did give them some suggestions before leaving as it would have been better to stay with the pigs a little longer, not to feed the pigs any animal by products and to cut their feed a little as they were being fed far too much. I also mentioned the risk involved in the public feeding the pigs as pigs are naturally greedy animals and it can cause hysteria amongst the pigs. It may be best to feed them in the morning and bring the pigs out just for play. I also mentioned it may be better for them to have a larger enclosure. Overall it was a fantastic day out, with lots to see and many memories to make. Rose Island is a beautiful place to visit and the people of Sandy Toes were very knowledgeable and friendly. This is a fantastic excursion if you do not want to travel for very long to see the pigs on the other islands – it only takes 25 minutes by boat.
Exuma Water Sports is based in the north of the Island of Exuma. Their excursions take you to White Bay Key and you can also charter a boat to Major Cay (where the original swimming pigs are based). This is a two-hour boat journey and we would not recommend it for people with young children. We took part on the half day excursion and found the staff to be extremely informative and knowledgeable about the pigs and the islands of the Bahamas. The first stop was of course the amazing Swimming Pigs at White Bay Cay, which took around 30 minutes to reach. The pigs are a large breed, predominantly Duroc and Hampshire and are a little overweight. The staff of Exuma Water Sports knew the pigs extremely well, knew them all by name and the pigs showed a real affection for them.
While on the tour I found out a little about the care of the pigs. They are fed twice daily, again it was scrap food which they receive from Sandals Resort. They seemed a little disinterested in the food as they are probably overfed. The pigs are given fresh water, which has to be brought to the island by Exuma water sports. I did notice that a few pigs were slightly sunburnt, which is natural living in such a hot destination. From what I saw, there was only one small piglet and the rest were quite large. They were very friendly and didn’t pose a threat or show any aggressive behaviour. They loved to be stroked and were swimming in the sea and even came up to the boat. After speaking in depth with Exuma Water Sports, I found that they take a lot of responsibility for the pigs and love them dearly. During the bad storms that hit the island in the summer of 2017, the team went to check on the pigs and cared for them. I stayed with the pigs for around half an hour, which I would have loved to have been longer, but the tour did include other amazing stops, including meeting & feeding the iguanas with food prepared by EWS. The island is very pretty and has a beautiful lagoon to view nearby. We also went snorkelling in the lagoons to see the tropical fish. The team were fantastic, especially Ray the owner and his son Justin, we cannot recommend them enough.
I then took a third tour to the island of Major Cay with a company called Sunrise Tours, our tour operator was the lovely Levi. I found this to be the best tour as it was a full day at a very reasonable rate. The tour included an hour speed boat ride over to Major Cay. The first thing we went to see were the pigs. We found this island to be the most prepared and organised. They had signs to inform people on how to treat the pigs as they were under the care of a vet and had signs with the pigs’ pictures and their names, making it a welcoming experience and it felt like you really got to know the pigs. The island had big water containers for the pigs there, which was fantastic as the they always had fresh water. The pigs were extremely well cared for. They had a very good shelter to keep them out of the sun which also gave them somewhere to sleep at night. However, one pig did look unwell and was sunburnt. It was a farrowing mother which was underweight which is quite usual for mother pigs to lose weight so quickly after birth. The visit to the pigs was around half an hour long, and I noticed that bread, fruit and vegetables were given to the pigs by visitors instead of meat. The pigs were very friendly and were not phased about people coming to see them. I then went on to Thunder Grotto, a cave, which you can snorkel and dive through. We then went on to the calming caves for photos. During the tour I also had the opportunity to swim and feed the sharks. We met the amazing Iguanas which inhabit 7 different islands in the Bahamas. I then got to swim with the large turtles! Next was an amazing snorkelling attraction in the ocean. A mermaid playing a piano! After lunch the final stop on the agenda was the Sandbank, a shallow water area where you can find star fish and Sand Dollars.
There are many islands you can visit while in the Bahamas. On Stocking Island there is a fantastic restaurant called Chat N Chill, with amazing food and you can even play volleyball on the beach! You can also feed the Sting Rays there for free. Exuma Point restaurant is another go to place. Owned by a gentleman called Elvis, the original founder of pig island on White Bay Cay and he manages stock control of White Bay Cay. This restaurant also does tours to see the pigs. The staff are amazing, as is their wonderful food!
While in Exuma, I visited Grand Isle Resort and Spa and cannot recommend them enough. They had incredible facilities, including an infinity pool. Based on Emerald Bay Beach, it is a serene and idyllic spa location.
I also took the time to visit Little Exuma, home to the Tropic of Cancer Beach and where they filmed parts of Pirates of The Caribbean. Little Exuma is very quiet, with a few little shops. Coco Plum beach is beautiful, this is where they have the amazing swings in the ocean!
Exuma is quite a remote place, there are no commercial outlets and not too many shops. Driving is a must have when visiting as there is no public transport. This should be booked well in advance using a reputable company. The driving style is very chilled out there! There is a lack of fresh food on the island. Fruit and vegetables seemed to be quite expensive and hard to find.
In short, we had a once in a lifetime trip, with incredible experiences interacting with the diverse wildlife of the islands. We discovered that you need plenty of spending money, & that for restricted diets it’s better to stay at one of the bigger resorts like Grand Isle, Sandals and February. The people we met were enthusiastic & took care of the pigs, although a dedicated member of staff to live with them would be ideal, with more shelter for the pigs and further restrictions to regulated what the pigs are fed on by the public.
This is an amazing tourist attraction which in my opinion needs much more investment by the local authorities to ensure the health of these wonderful creatures as now it is unregulated. A pig quarantine is a must for any sick pig. Pigs can both give and receive diseases to humans and are zoonotic and therefore disease prevention controls should be in place including health and safety regulations. Hand gel would be a good start. Basic knowledge of the pigs health and safety should be available by leaflet to inform the public of do’s and don’ts before the visit takes place. This could be easily supplied by the tour operators. These minor implementations could ensure the welfare of the pigs and the visitors.
Finally, we’d like to thank:
- Ray & Justin – Exuma Water Sports http://exumawatersports.com/
- Jordan & Debs – Sandy Toes https://www.sandytoesbahamas.com/
- Elvis – Exuma Point https://www.bahamas.com/vendor/exuma-point-restaurant-bar-grill
- Jeffery Todd – Grand Isle Resort & Spa https://www.grandisleresort.com/
- Levi – Sunrise Tours https://www.exumasunrisetour.com/
- Julie Angove – Bahamas tourism board https://www.bahamas.com/