10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to Exuma

January 4, 2024 — Written by

Heading to the Bahamas in search of warm weather, quiet beaches and crystal clear water? This is one of the most picturesque island locations and worth the effort, but there are some things to know in advance to make your experience a little smoother. Here are 10 things I wish I’d known before vacationing on Exuma.

A woman walks along the beach.

By: Lisa Fennessy

Exuma is a little slice of paradise known for its crystal clear waters, swimming pigs, blue holes, colorful snorkeling and white sand beaches. Basically an 11 out of 10 on the “picturesque island living” scale—so much so that it has celebs scooping up its 365 islands left and right for personal use.

Want to name names? Celebs like Johnny Depp, Tyler Perry, Faith Hill + Tim McGraw, John Travolta, Sir Richard Branson, Eddie Murphy, Nicholas Cage and David Copperfield all own their own Exuma island. It’s also known for Fyre Fest—the glorified celebrity-endorced music festival failure of the 21 century. And not to mention a boat ride to Samuel Bankman-Fried‘s (now defunct) notorious FTX crypto currency exchange headquarters.

Speaking of the David Copperfield island, you can rent it out for yourself if you are interested. It comes fully staffed with amenities like…5 houses, a restaurant, an outdoor theater, 40 private beaches, a private air strip, a lighted championship grass tennis court, outdoor bathtubs, a gym…or explore the waters with what you see fit via a 28-foot Nautilus Rib Catamaran, a 23-foot jet boat, Boston Whalers, sailboats, paddle boards and jet skis…all of which are included. You and 23 of your closest friends can enjoy (food and alcohol included) this private Exuma island for 400K USD per week lol. Who’s coming with me?! 

Anyways, needless to say, that’s NOT where we stayed but we did drive by it and it was B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Instead, we chose to stay at Hideaways on Great Exuma as it seemed like a convenient central location to local attractions. 

All in all, we had a great time on our Exuma vacation but there are definitely some things I wish I knew before going which would have made our experience a little smoother. Here they are in no particular order. 

RELATED: 5 Things I wish I knew before going to a Moroccan hammam

1. Cash is king 

One way to ruin your Exuma vacation is to not have cash in your pocket. 

When you are on the water you will need cash for tiki bars, lunch, access to attractions (like the sharks at Staniel Cay), tips for captains and more. When you are on land you need cash for beach bars, restaurants, grocery stores, the guy who just picked and cut you a fresh coconut…

Bahamas money with US Dollar in a person's hand.
USD and BSD are used interchangeably on Exuma.

We got caught without cash too many times. We had to leave a breakfast spot because we had no cash. Another time we had to leave a cart full of groceries behind because we didn’t have cash and they didn’t take AMEX. And we almost lost out on swimming with the sharks because we were in the middle of the ocean and 6 dollars short! It’s no joke. 

A woman in the water with a nurse shark.
It’s $15 cash only to get in the water with the sharks at Staniel Cay.

PLUS there are only three ATMs on the island—and the closest one to us ran out of cash while we were there. (The next closest one was 25 minutes away). 

Also, NO ONE takes AMEX. And no one has a Paypal or Cash App. I must have asked like 5 different people if they had an app and everyone looked at me sideways like I was speaking in tongues.

MY ADVICE: Since the exchange is 1:1 for USD, my advice is to just bring your own cash (ALL OF IT) and avoid this entire headache before it happens. You can use USD as local currency.

RELATED: What I packed for my beach vacation

2. Finding food can be a real issue 

Exuma is an island so most of the food there is imported and when restaurants run out, they run out. This happens A LOT. 

Let me paint the picture of what this looks like:

The last day we were there, my husband wanted to try this place that had a huge sign that said “breakfast” out front. He went in and asked if they were serving breakfast. They said no. So he went to Sandpiper Cafe (which is super cute and yummy – totally recommend) but they were cash only so he left to go to the ATM which was out of cash so then he came back to the hotel we were staying at and tried to order breakfast at that restaurant (Splash) and all they had was toast and yogurt because they were “waiting on food from the boat.” (They had been waiting on “food from the boat” for DAYZ).

Another time we went to try Coco Plum Bistro for breakfast and they said they had no eggs. 

Also, as an additional note, it was almost impossible to eat here with celiac. There are no gluten free products in the stores and nothing marked on menus. Servers also gave me unconvincing wish-washy answers to typical celiac questions. Which means there were several meals where I just ordered the fries and hoped the cross contamination didn’t do me too dirty. 

Thank goodness I happened to buy a stack of corn tortillas as we were on our way to check into the hotel. They became my lifeline as I fried them up in the room for egg wraps, bean wraps, avocado wraps…One time the food sitch was so dire I just ordered two glasses of Savi B and called it a night. 

A woman on a swing at the Splash Bar.
The bar at Splash has swings for seats!

Also, “open” and “close” times are unpredictable. So for us, Christmas was on a Monday, some stores are generally closed on a Sunday and then stores were still closed on Tuesday for Boxing Day so this (stores and restaurants being closed for 3 days straight compounded with restaurants having no food) was just wild. 

MY ADVICE: My advice (especially if you are traveling with children) is to hook yourself up and hit the grocery store to STOCK UP on stuff for breakfasts and packed lunches (at least).

RELATED: My tips on how to pack a suitcase for any destination

3. Get ready to wait

“Island time” is so fun until you are living it lol. If you are going out to dinner be prepared to wait HOURS.

We went to Shirley’s Seafood Restaurant in The Fish Fry on a Friday. We got the first seating at 5:45pm and didn’t get out of there until 7:45pm. Full stop. One time I waited 65 minutes for an order of fries at Splash. And generally speaking no sit down meal was shorter than 90 minutes. You are going to WAIT to be seated. You are going to WAIT for the food. And you will WAIT for the service. Good luck ordering a second drink lol. 

MY ADVICE: If you don’t plan, you will end up spending your entire vacation waiting at a restaurant. Make some meals at home or try ordering takeout. 

4. Things book up early

We went to Exuma during Christmas break so I don’t know if that played into this experience at all but I can tell you we couldn’t get a reservation at Blu On The Water—which I really wanted to try. The car rental options were sparse. Exuma Water Sports Tours (#1 on Trip Advisor) were sold out for the entire week. We couldn’t get in contact with Dive Exuma to scuba. And Minns boat rental was sold out for the week. 

A family of three on Minn's boat rental in Exuma.
Luckily we booked with Minns a few weeks prior to our trip.
Quinn written in the sand in the ocean.
My son Quinn’s handiwork.

MY ADVICE: The minute you decide on dates, lock in the things that are most important to you. 

5. Renting a car? Reserve a jeep if you can 

I definitely recommend renting a car so you can explore the island at your leisure. This is not a walkable island and you will definitely need to drive to beaches, tours, water taxi stops, restaurants, e.t.c. 

A woman and her son in a rental car.
In the Bahamas you drive on the left side of the road.

That being said, if you have the choice to rent a jeep, DO IT. There is one major road (Queen’s Highway) that runs the length of the island. Most of it is paved but parts are not and there are some serious pot holes that could leave you with a flat. 

On top of that, if you are going off Queen’s Highway to get to a beach, it is literally like off roading. To get to Coco Plum Beach I had to basically drive through a puddle the size of Lake Erie and to get to the Tropic of Cancer Beach it was almost undriveable in some parts. 

The road to the tropic of Cancer Beach.
The drive to Tropic of Cancer Beach was way worse than it looks!

MY ADVICE: Rent a jeep over a sedan if possible and put the two police numbers in your phone for if you break down, get a flat or need to call for help. George Town Police: 336-2666. Farmers Cay Police: 355-4034.

RELATED: How To Plan An Iceland Trip In Just One Week!

6. Know how to dig for sand dollars 

Did you know you have to dig to find sand dollars?! I didn’t! So here I am going to Coco Plum Beach looking for all the sand dollars everyone is talking about and I see nothing! Little did I know, sand dollars burrow in the sand so to find them you have to dig. I didn’t know until we were at the beach and some guy told me as we were leaving empty handed—then we found a ton right along the shoreline where the waves break. 

A sand dollar from Coco Plum Beach.
You have to dig in the sand to find sand dollars!

MY ADVICE: If you find a brown sand dollar that looks fuzzy, it is STILL ALIVE so put it back. 

RELATED: The wellness retreats I’m dreaming about

7. Know where to look for starfish 

Likewise, we went to Starfish Beach and saw ZERO starfish. I’m like what is everyone talking about “Starfish Beach”? There is nothing here. It wasn’t until we took a GUIDED snorkeling tour to the same beach that the captain told us to snorkel to find starfish. I’m like omg I am so dumb—the starfish are in the ocean, not on the sand. I was looking for starfish skeletons not live ones lol. Right away we saw 5-6 huge starfish (like the size of basketballs) about 15-20 feet from shore. 

MY ADVICE: Sign up for tours or hire a captain to take you around Elizabeth Harbour. We rented our own boat and saw nothing. Then we went to the same spots with a captain and saw it all! A blue hole, massive starfish, the best snorkeling sites, a barracuda (!!), The Lazy River, the Rolletown sandbar and more. 

RELATED: My tips on how to ski Park City as a beginner

8. Use bug spray 

Listen, we were there for 8 days and I saw no bugs but I left with a zillion, itchy AF bug bites. It’s the no-see-ums, or biting midges that will tear you up and you won’t know it until it’s too late. On breezy days the wind keeps them away but on still days, look out. 

A close up of a woman's arm from bug bites.

MY ADVICE: Buy and use bug spray marked specifically for no-see-ums whether you think you need it or not. 

9. If the weather sucks there is NOTHING to do 

There is very little infrastructure on Exuma meaning there are no fancy hotels or movie theaters or malls. The whole point of an Exuma vacation is to either be on the water, in the water, at a beach or on a boat—that’s where it’s at! 

Georgetown, Exuma
“Downtown” George Town, Exuma
Hideaways Exuma
Our room at Hideaways, Exuma

So when it rains, you are basically S.O.L. You can go to a bar and hope they have food, read a book or sit in your hotel room. (Most streaming services won’t work there either. We couldn’t get access to HULU or Netflix etc. although Apple TV did work). 

Likewise, if the weather is rough it will affect the ocean visibility. We tried to see the sea turtles at Hoopers Bay not once but twice and both times we didn’t see much. It was too murky from windy weather. 

The entrance to Hooper's Bay
The entrance to Hoopers Bay, Exuma

MY ADVICE: Set yourself up for success and don’t go to Exuma during the rainy season! 

RELATED: How to manage frizzy hair

10. Check the tide schedule 

The tide schedule matters and it WILL affect your experience on Exuma. For example, there is one tour everyone does when they go to Exuma and it’s the one where you see the pigs, swim with the sharks, see the iguanas, see what’s arguably the best sandbar in the world, snorkel Thunderball Grotto, etc. All the tour companies do this tour and trust me, you want in on it. 

However, full stop. If you go on this tour when it’s high tide, you will not be able to snorkel the Grotto or see the sandbar. They are inaccessible during high tide. I was on this tour with a woman from LA who said this was her 5th time going on this tour and she never got to see either of those two things because it was always high tide. 

Also you don’t want to go to Coco Plum Beach at high tide because you will miss the spalling sandbars and an opportunity to go sand dollar hunting. Likewise, if you go to the Lazy River at Moriah Harbour National Park at low tide it’s not a lazy river at all and you will work to swim down it lol. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience. 

MY ADVICE: If you can, book a week there when low tide happens during the majority of the daytime hours. 

A woman on a swing in Exuma.
The swings at Peace & Plenty

I have so much more to say about this trip but for fear of writing a book, I’ll stop here. Feel free to ask me any questions and we can chat more in the comments. I want you to get the most out of your Exuma vacation! 

xo, lisa in cursive

By Lisa Fennessy

Lisa is the founder of The New Knew. Passionate about clean beauty, organic eats and nontoxic lifestyle, Lisa writes to create awareness. Conscious consumerism and informed decisions will impact the marketplace, our health and THE WORLD!


  1. Reply

    Melinda Lane

    Thank you, my husband and I just booked for end of April. I can’t decide between Grand Isle Reaort which I believe is Stocking Island; Peace and Plenty or the hideaways. Any recommendations on tour company for the pigs, sharks and sandbar tour?

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Melinda! Grand Isle and Peace & Plenty are both nicer than Hideaways. Peace & Plenty has two locations; one on Great Exuma and one on Stocking Island. The Stocking Island side is nicer. We tried to stay at Grand Isle but they were sold out. Grand Isle is supposed to be the number one place to stay on Exuma if you can get it. If you are thinking of staying on Stocking Island, Kahari Resort is better than Peace & Plenty. Lastly, staying on Stocking Island would be nice but also you would have to take the water taxi to get to Great Exuma to see any of those beaches like Coco Plum or Tropic of Cancer and you would also need a car to get to those places so just logistically I wounldn’t recommend staying the entire time on Stocking Island. One family stayed on Grand Exuma for most of their trip and then booked a few nights over on Stocking Island before they left. I liked that idea.

  2. Reply


    We went to Exuma for the week of Thanksgiving and checked a cooler full of frozen meat on our flight! As long as the meat is frozen you can bring it onto the island. You can bring meatballs, burger patties, steaks, chicken breasts, bacon…it saved us so much money! We cooked every dinner except one night we got some pizza to go. It was the best tip we got. Just FYI for next time 😁

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Brilliant! Did you like the pizza you got and if so, where was it from?

  3. Reply


    I can’t remember where it was from! We were on Little Exuma and had to meet the delivery driver at the halfway point because they didn’t deliver to our house. It was good though.

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      We got some from Mike’s one night and my husband was surprised it wasn’t horrible. His exact words were, “Wow, this pizza is pretty good.” Just FYI if anyone is taking notes lol.

  4. Reply


    Looks amazing, thanks for the run down. Who makes that adorable red one piece suit you wore?

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Right?! Comes in a ton of colors but I love that the red gives old school baywatch vibes lol. It’s this.

  5. Reply


    Thank you for sharing!!

  6. Reply


    I can’t believe you actually swam with sharks. I basically had a panic attack looking at the photos! LOL. But the PIGSSSSSS. Great note on eating celiac safe – that’s a massive need!

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      LOL Nicolle! Thankfully they are just nurse sharks and are bottom feeders. They do not eat people. And actually they were rubbing up against my leg like they were cats wanting attention. It was crazy!

  7. Reply


    Stillll. My biggest fear. But I AM gonna buy that swimsuit now I think. All your outfits are so cute!

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      RIGHT?! It was 50% off over the holidays, I should have gotten one in another color!

  8. Reply

    Nicolle Mackinnon

    I’m mad I didn’t buy it then! 🤣 almost did.

  9. Reply


    HI Lisa, I just booked at the Hideaways for the first week in May. I booked the ocean side villa. Can you give me any insight I am reading mixed reviews and since you were just there I am hoping your insights are more consistent. Happy Monday! Best, Katie

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Katie! Hideaways was fine. It wasn’t posh and it wasn’t a complete dump. I could slam this place with a bunch of details I didn’t like. It was very mediocore. BUT it was a place to rest our head that had amenities for the kids like a pool, kayaks and the snorkling on their beach was great because they have a sunken boat where we saw a ton of fish and even a shark! It was also convenient to have access to the abutting restaurant Splash. The staff was nice too. One guy even picked and cut us fresh coconuts when we asked. I also liked that I could walk up the beach with a chair and get to Jolly Hall in 5 mins. If we went back again we would try for an Airbnb or Grand Isle or February Point.

  10. Reply

    Katie Hanley

    HI Lisa, Thanks so much for getting back to me. I booked the 2 bedroom Ocean view villa so I am hoping it is decent. If you wouldn’t mind telling me the bad details I would appreciate it. I can still change where we are staying but this place seemed convenient for it’s location next to Jolly Beach. Also, in pictures, the beach at Hideaways looks more tannish than white. How was the sand and the water? If you don’t have time to respond I completely understand. I just love being armed with knowledge though! All the best and Thanks again, Katie

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      The sand and the water is great. It’s great everywhere. At Jolly Hall it’s like you are swimming in bottled water over sugar white sand. So beautiful. As for Hideaways, everything is just old. The lobby is old, the “villas” are old. We stayed in two of them. The first the sink didn’t work and the wall that separated us and our neighbors was…way too thin. The second villa, the shower leaked all over the bedroom floor. They said they would send someone but they never did. The beach equipment is old, I can paddle board and I couldn’t even paddle straight on the ones they had. The restaurant kept running out of more and more food so much so that by the end of the week they only had yogurt and toast. Also if you are reading about the restaurant Latitudes that is on the other side of this hotel, that is closed now too. Truly, *everything* needed to be updated. But to be honest that’s what this island is though. It’s not a luxury island. It’s a developing island that is really hard to get resources to so it is what it is.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *