In March of 2016 we kayaked 23.6 miles to island and beach hop through the Exuma Cays near George Town, Bahamas. We’ve had some amazing vacations, and I’m not sure I could pick one to call our “favorite”, but this was definitely up there! If you follow me on Instagram, then you got the gist, but I also put many more photos in this album, which you are welcome to view. Below you’ll find our full Travel Guide for Kayaking and Camping the Exuma Cays.
Our Itinerary: We flew into George Town, Bahamas, located on the island of Great Exuma. Great Exuma is very low-key, with a population around 3,000, and a limited number of restaurants, bars, and not much nightlife. We spent four days sea kayaking the Exuma Cays and Brigatines, and camped on the beaches. We ended the trip with two more nights in George Town to relax and unwind and highly recommend arranging your trip so that you have a few relaxing days at the end! Here’s what our trip looked like:
Day 1 – Travel and arrival in George Town, Bahamas. Grocery and supply shopping. Water taxi to Stocking Island for dinner at the Chat n Chill. Stay at Two Turtles Inn. If you stay at Two Turtles Inn the Exuma Market and a liquor store are right next door, so it’s super convenient to just check in and then walk over to get your supplies.
Day 2 – Equipment rental, supply check, and transportation to Barraterre provided by Out Island Explorers (40 min drive to Barraterre). Packing up the kayaks and launching!
Day 3 – Paddle 2.3 miles from Barraterre docks to see the Blow Hole on Blow Hole Cay. Paddle an additional 5.3 miles to Lee Stocking Island and beach camp on twin beach. Take the sand trail from the beach to the top of the island for amazing views of the cliffs along the Atlantic coast. Snorkel out near the rocky coastline past your campsite.
Day 4 – Paddle 3.2 miles to Norman’s Pond Cay. Here you have 2 miles of white sand beach to yourself. We set up camp near the trees so we had a spot for our hammock. At high tide, paddle down the beach where you’ll eventually encounter an opening to a small river that leads you into the mangroves. At high tide you can enter here and paddle inland to a salt water pond. Snorkel off the beach in the evening, this is when we encountered a 5-foot black tip shark. I also had a small shark swim up to me while I was washing our dishes out in the water. You can find sand dollars in this area too.
Day 5– Paddle 4.4 miles across to the Brigatines. During this stretch we had a big dolphin come up next to our kayaks. Spend the afternoon out on the sand bars that appear off Lily’s Cay at low tide. Camp on the beach at Lily’s Cay and if you want to snorkel or spearfish there are several great areas just off the shore along with a lot of starfish. We also saw a sea turtle off the shore from our campsite.
Day 6 – Paddle 2.3 miles from Lily’s Cay to Cluffs Cay. Stop to hike to the abandoned estate and see the iguanas. Paddle an additional 6.1 miles towards Barraterre through the mangroves to be picked up. Enjoy an afternoon sailing lesson with Out Island Explorers and then devour a fresh lobster dinner at Peace & Plenty (1 block from Two Turtles Inn)! Stay at Two Turtles Inn.
Day 7 – Breakfast in George Town and then take the ferry to Stocking Island for lunch at the Chat n Chill. Enjoy an afternoon hike to the Atlantic side of Stocking Island. Stay at Two Turtles Inn. (we had planned to do a 1-day sailing trip. But we decided we’d had enough time on the water and the weather wasn’t ideal).
Day 8 – Depart George Town.
Why You Should Go: If you love beautiful water, are adventurous and physically fit, this vacation is for you! My husband gets really bored at resorts, and over time I’ve realize that I much prefer action-packed, adventurous vacations to lying on a lounge chair. The three nights we spent out camping were amazing. We saw a few people on our first day. On our second day we had a short chat with a guy on a sailboat and then another kayaking couple who passed by our campsite. After they passed by we didn’t see another person until we returned to land on day 4. The islands we were stopping at were entirely uninhabited. The water was crystal clear. The sand was white and we had the beaches to ourselves. We had some of the most incredible experiences. One evening we were holding hands and snorkeling just off the coast of our campsite, when a 5-foot black tip shark came out of the shadows. We had a dolphin pop up next to us while we were kayaking across open water early in the morning. We saw a sea turtle go zooming past while we were wading in shallow water. We saw dozens of stingrays and manta rays. On the mainland we ate delicious food and had incredible conversations with people from around the world. Every aspect of the trip was just amazing (even a thunderstorm!).
Some Disclaimers: This trip isn’t for everyone, and here are a few things to consider before you book those tickets! The trip requires you to be physically fit and will require both physical and mental strength. We paddled a total of 23.6 miles. You’ll be paddling a kayak filled with 4 days of gear, food, water, and supplies. When the wind and waves are against you it can feel like you are crawling while hauling all that weight. If something happens while you are out on the cays, it will likely be an hour (or more) until someone can reach you by speed boat, and even then, there is no hospital nearby and you would need to be transported to Nassau for any injuries or emergencies (note: they are supposed to be opening a hospital in George Town in the near future). You’ll need to read a map to figure out how to get from island to island. You’ll need to prepare and/or cook your own meals. You won’t have access to a bathroom or shower. The Bahamas are famous for their bugs (and it’s not a joke). The sun down there is intense, and you’ll need to limit your exposure (tricky in a kayak or on a beach). You won’t have ice or a cooler, so you’ll spend 4 days in tropical heat without a chilled beverage. Your lack of refrigeration also limits what types of food you can bring. If you’re lucky, you’ll see some sharks! If you can get over all of that, then start planning and prepare for the trip of a lifetime!
The Basics: You’ll fly into the city of George Town, Bahamas, which is located on the island of Great Exuma. Although the city and airport are tiny, you can fly into it on major airlines. We flew to Atlanta and then from Atlanta directly to George Town through Delta. Before you purchase your tickets to George Town you will want to arrange gear rental and transportation with Out Island Explorers, to ensure that the outfitters are there and available during the time of your trip. The business is owned by Tamara and Dallas Knowles, and they are amazing at what they do. They communicated back and forth with us via email before our trip to help us get everything arranged. They can rent you everything from the kayak right down to a sleeping bag, but you can bring your own equipment, too. There is also a market in George Town where you can buy some food and supplies, but food on an out island is expensive, so the more you can bring with you, the better! We’ve provided our full packing and shopping list here.
Getting Around: There are plenty of taxis outside the airport to take you to/from your hotel. You can walk most places in George Town (most things are within a 1.5 mile stretch). The outfitter will pick you up from your hotel on the day of your launch and bring you back there after your trip. There are a few water taxis that will transport you to other islands and beaches near George Town.
Packing for the trip: We brought a lot of our own equipment and food and still traveled with only carry-ons. I don’t wanna brag, but we are really damn good at traveling with carry-on luggage only. I don’t even remember the last time we checked a bag. We each travel with an Osprey Porter 46 and use packing cubes to get our clothing as condensed as possible. Buy bug wipes and stick sunscreen, neither of which need to be in your liquid bag. You’ll spend most of the time in a swimsuit, so don’t stress too much about clothes. I brought 3 outfits for our nights on the islands. Make sure you have a long-sleeve layer and pair of pants to help protect yourself from bugs in the evenings. Having your skin covered is your best defense against the dreaded sand flies!
Packing for Kayaking + Camping: Once you meet up with Out Island Explorers, they’ll bring you any equipment you’ve agreed to rent. You’ll condense your belongings, and they’ll take any luggage you need stored while you’re out on the water. Try to simplify what you are putting into your kayak. Not only is it added weight, but with everything in small dry bags you want to limit how much you need to dig through every time you need to find something. When loading up the kayak, remember to put more weight in the back than in the front. Sea Kayaks actually have pretty large hull compartments, so you’ll have plenty of space if you pack smart. Utilize the deck of your kayak to strap on things like chairs, tables, snorkeling equipment etc. If you’ve never packed a kayak with camping gear I would recommend watching this video from Out Island Explorers to see how a pro does it.
How much experience do I need? You’ll want to be comfortable out on the water and with 2-3 hours of physical activity per day. The kayaking portion of the trip is relatively basic, but weather can change that in a hurry. If you encounter storms or high wind (over 18 mph) the waves will be bigger and the effort required to paddle will be greater. For us, it was pretty easy paddling most of the time, although we did cross some pretty big expanses of open water, and when crossing back towards Barraterre the cuts between cays can have strong wind, current, and waves. At those points you’ll need to focus and paddle hard for 20-30 minute stretches.
What was your route? We paddled 23.6 miles. I’d suggest doing some research and having some ideas of what you want to do, but be flexible. Based on the wind direction and the upcoming weather Out Island Explorers can help you plan your route the morning of your launch. They’ll suggest the best location to launch from and which direction to head out first, and if the upcoming weather has storms or strong wind you might need to make your four day trip and two day trip, etc. You can view our route via the map below, click the upper right corner to enlarge/zoom:
What did you eat and drink? A lot of oranges and a lot of rice! If you wanna lose weight on vacation, this might be a great plan! You could get fancy with your meals if you want, but we kept things pretty simple. For breakfast we usually ate KIND bars and oranges. Our lunch was typically peanut butter + jelly sandwiches with a side of quinoa or beans. For dinner we ate dried meals purchased at REI before we left that were mostly rice with dried vegetables. This was our first time doing dried meals. They were easy (just add boiling water) and delicious. The outfitter provided us with 4 days worth of drinking water in dromedary bags. So, we mostly drank water, but we did bring some rum and whiskey with so that we could make cocktails while relaxing on the beach! Your kayak definitely has room for a couple bottles of spirits, so if you’d enjoy having them, bring them along! We brought packets of lemonade, fruit punch, and raspberry green tea with us, and mixed up a lot of great concoctions while we were out there. Our favorite consisted of 1/2 packet lemonade and 2 orange wedges muddled together, with 2 shots of whiskey and a few ounces of water. Sure, nothing is cold, but we didn’t really notice.
What’s the camping situation? Campsites are free and you can camp anywhere you’d like as long as it’s not on a privately owned cay (they are marked on the map/charts provided by the outfitter). Although I wouldn’t have minded tossing our tent on Johnny Depp’s island for a night *wink*. There’s no need to make reservations—which is nice because you can just go with the flow and set up camp when you want.
What’s the shark situation? There are 3 major types of sharks you are likely to see in the Bahamas and none of them are very likely to bother you. If you see one while you’re out, consider it a lucky sign, keep your distance, don’t mess with them, and just enjoy the experience. We saw 5 during the 4 days we were out but honestly I think the Stringrays freaked me out more. Those things are massive!
What’s the bug situation? The bugs in the Bahamas are bad. The good news is that they are usually only out around sunrise and sunset, and a slight breeze will usually keep them away. But, if you get a calm night, you’ll wanna watch out. The sand flies are thick and their bites are itchy! We brought DEET wipes, which are nice since they don’t count as a liquid in your carry-on. It also helps to have your tent set up and get in there as soon as you notice the bugs coming out. Bring cards, dice, or a bluetooth speaker with an offline playlist and just relax in your tent until you’re ready for bed.
What’s the bathroom situation? The outfitter will provide you with wag bags, which you can use and transport waste back with you to dispose of. Or, you can use the ocean as your bathroom. Which might seem weird, but honestly your waste is organic and everything living in the ocean also goes there so—-while on the water, live like the fishes! It’s not as weird or difficult as you might think.
Are there guided trips? Yes, Out Island Explorers offers options for guided trips. So if roughing it on your own doesn’t sound like your cup of rum punch, definitely consider joining one of their group excursions. Our dates didn’t line up with their group trips, and after talking with them they thought we’d enjoy going out on our own—and we agree. I think we liked making our own itinerary and being out there on our own…but a group trip would be fun, too!
I’m not a kayaker, so how could I enjoy those beautiful beaches and cays? Out Island Explorers also organizes “Castaway Trips” where they will haul you out to a beautiful cay and drop you off for the afternoon or even a 1-night camping trip. Since you’ll be taking a boat, you can arrange to have a cooler full of beer and ice (cold drinks!) and you can avoid all the paddling while still getting to see some of the beautiful things we saw and have a beach all to yourself. I don’t think there’s info about this on their website, but they told us about it, so drop them an email if it’s something you’re interested in.
What was the best part of the trip? This is a tough one. There are so many “still frames” in our memories of amazing views. Amazing sunsets. Amazing sunrises. The form of a shark coming at us while snorkeling. Feeding a stingray. Almost every minute we spent out kayaking the cays was unforgettable and almost felt like a dream. However, our time in George Town was also great. We met so many amazing people and spent hours having great conversations with them. All of the experiences you have when you travel impact you—and sometimes it’s the human connections that have the deepest impact for me. On our last day we got stuck in the Chat n Chill while a thunderstorm rolled in. Most people would hate a storm during their vacation, but we saw it as an opportunity to saddle up to the bar and meet people, and ended up talking to a couple who lives in the Canadian Yukon. Their lives were so fascinating! On our first night there we met the captain of a yacht who gave us snorkeling and spearfishing lessons on his boat and gave us a bottle of goggle defogger. We also met an amazing British woman who was basically our spirit guide during the entire trip and gave us so many great tips and suggestions. Engage in conversation with people. You don’t know how that conversation might improve the rest of your vacation, or the rest of your life!
What was the worst part of the trip? Brutal honesty: portions of the kayaking were exhausting for me. Don’t let the distance scare you—the distance goes by quickly and you can make it as hard or easy as you want depending on your pace. But, it was the mental aspect of being out on the ocean that I had to overcome. I have always feared open water, especially ocean water, so being out in the middle of it in a tiny kayak was something I knew would challenge me to my core. There were 3 different times where I got through a particularly rough area and then had to just stop and let myself cry. I would put up a mental wall, and once it was over I needed to grab on to Josh’s kayak and break down for a minute. I’m fortunate that he was always encouraging and motivating and didn’t laugh at me too often. Tip: we each had our own kayak (and preferred that), but if you’re nervous about the mental or physical aspect of kayaking, consider doing a tandem kayak instead of two, that way you share the work and you’re never far apart.
Weirdest part of the trip? We saw a lot of amazing, memorable things during our trip, but one experience was particularly “weird”. On our last day of paddling we stopped at Cluffs Cay, where we heard you could find large iguanas. We beached our kayaks, and from the beach we could see a white rooftop emerging from the middle of the island. We had heard it was an abandoned house and couldn’t resist getting closer to have a look. The hike in was longer than we expected, but we eventually encountered a large estate. It had been abandoned many years before (20+) but was still in pretty good condition. Some of the rooms still had furniture with beautiful draperies. A lot of the landscaping was still growing in beautifully. And the front porch was inhabited by a huge iguana! After wandering around a bit we found an amazing view at the top of the house. We have footage of this in our video or you can watch the full 5 minute video of the house on Cluffs Cay here.
How’d you entertain yourselves out there? The days go by fast. Faster than you can imagine! But, we had lots of options for keeping ourselves entertained. We had snorkeling gear. Spearfishing gear. We brought our frisbee. A hammock. Books to read. Card games. Bluetooth speaker + offline playlist. We definitely took time to just sit there with a drink and stare at the waves, but if we ever got restless we had plenty of options! We would also set up camp and then go on short paddles to look at interesting reefs, snorkeling areas, inland ponds and mangroves.
Cell phones? Since the cays are kind of surrounded by a few of the larger Bahamian Islands you’ll find that most major carriers will have ample coverage while you’re out on the cays. I have Verizon, and had service most of the time. The outfitter will also provide you with a satellite phone in a water proof box that you can power-up and use to call them if you need rescue or help. We brought a solar charger to keep our devices powered up.
How did you get out of the sun? We set our tent up with just the rain fly on it (photo below), so that it acted as a shade tent. On our second day, the island had trees, so we were able to hang our hammock up in the shade. We also tried to keep long sleeve shirts on as much as we could, just to limit our exposure.
Where should I stay in George Town? We stayed at Two Turtles Inn. Our goal when we travel is to spend very little time hanging around our hotel room, so we don’t much care for the amenities or what it looks like as long as it is clean and comfortable. The owner of Two Turtles, Spencer, is awesome, the prices are perfect, the rooms are sufficient, and the air conditioners are new. It is located right across from the ferry, which takes you out to the beautiful beaches of Stocking Island every hour, so it’s location is convenient and it has everything you need!
What did you enjoy doing in George Town? Two Turtles has a great little bar downstairs that is quite popular at night, so it’s great to just walk downstairs and encounter great people and great conversation. There’s a little bar down the street called Red Boone, which had live music one night we were there (included at end if our video, it was awesome!). About 1 mile north of Two Turtles there is “Fish Fry” which is a collection of tiny huts that serve different types of food, and just past that is a row of locally owned resorts that have waterfront restaurants and bars. We loved grabbing breakfast at Splash at the Hidaways. The most common thing for people to do in George Town is to hop on the ferry and go over to Stocking Island (cost is $12 per person round-trip). There you’ll find the Chat N Chill, where you can relax on the beach, order fresh conch salad, and drink rum punch all afternoon. If you’re there on a Sunday be sure to head over for the fish fry (everyone will be there). If you feel adventurous, you can take a short hike to the Atlantic side of the island, where there is a beautiful beach and an incredible view. Getting there involves wading through waist or chest deep water (depending on the tide), but it’s totally worth it.
What was the cost? Campsites are free and we brought most of our food, but the equipment, transportation and kayak rental came to $565 for the four day kayaking trip. Rooms at the Two Turtle Inn were $120 per night. We thought the trip was very economical, but that will largely depend on how much your plane tickets cost and how much money you spend on food, drink, cabs, water taxis and entertainment while you are in George Town.
Fun Facts: All of the people you encounter will speak English. Cays is pronounced “keys”. There is a Bahamian currency but the US dollar works everywhere and the exchange rate is 1:1, so it’s super easy!
Got other questions? Post them in the comment section and we’d be happy to add them to the list above. See below for resources to help you plan your trip! Enjoy!
Outfitter – Out Island Explorers
Our Packing + Shopping List – View Here
Accommodations in George Town – Two Turtles Resort
Map of our Kayaking Route – View Here
Full Album of our Trip – Access Here
Our Video Summary – View Here
How to Pack a Kayak Video by Out Island Explorers – View Here