While staying in the Bahamas we took a tour to fed iguanas, pigs, stingrays, sharks—and ourselves! We also ventured to a nearby island. But we were in for a bit of a surprise when we realized too late it was not part of the Baha Mar experience. That’s traveling: always something new and something unexpected!
We stayed at Baha Mar for two weeks and wanted to book a tour off-property. We chose the Powerboat Adventures tour to The Exumas. This archipelago of 365 cays (pronounced keys) and islands are 36 miles southeast of Nassau.
Three major areas make up the archipelago: Great Exuma, Little Exuma, and The Exuma Cays. Each offers a unique Bahamian experience. Great Exuma and Little Exuma are known for their laid-back surroundings. The Exuma Cays have numerous private homes, condos and luxury resorts.
The Powerboat Adventures tour is pricey at $200 per person. But it packs in activities and includes food and drink.
We started at eight o’clock in the morning with free pickup at our hotel. They took us to the main dock, and we met the other tour passengers for the day. The tour operation has only two large, speedy powerboats; you need a reservation to be sure you get a spot.
It took about 70 minutes to cruise the 38 miles to the first stop, Allan’s Cay. On route, we saw luxury homes and had a clear view of the Atlantis Resort.
Allan’s Cay is a natural wildlife refuge for the Allan’s Cay Rock Iguana, which is endangered. It’s also called the Bahamian Dragon.
The tour recommends you bring towels, sunscreen and a hat or other protection from the sun. Depending on the weather, I recommend bringing a change of clothes and a sweater or jacket. If the temperature drops into the 70s, traveling 40 miles per hour on the water is chilly.
When we arrived at Allan’s Cay, we waded into waist-deep water. If you’re wearing a T-shirt or something above the waist, it is likely to get soaked. Also, bring reef or water shoes—or even Crocs. The cays are rocky and uncomfortable for bare feet.
The guides gave us a wooden stick and lots of grapes to feed the Bahamian Dragons. Where we were the iguanas were plentiful, but they were also quite shy.
We didn’t see anyone able to feed an iguana with a grape on a stick. Instead, we saw plenty of people—ourselves included—throwing grapes in the general direction of the large iguanas. Despite this the iguanas seem very happy. Later, our guide told us the reason the iguanas were not approaching us was it was too cool for them. That day was in the mid-70s, so most of the iguanas were on the warmer side of the island.
The Allan’s Cay stop lasted 20 minutes. We took lots of photos and tried to feed the Bahamian Dragons. We boarded the powerboat and headed to the cay where the rest of the activities would be taking place: Ship Channel Cay.
Upon arrival, we disembarked and were greeted with snacks and refreshments and plenty of lounge chairs. One of the first things you see is the bar, stocked with liquor, wine, beer and soda, along with water, which are all included in your price.
One of the main attractions of the tour is the swimming pigs. We wondered what all the fuss was. The pigs are not indigenous to the islands, and we heard a story from one of our hotel personnel that filled in some gaps.
A pig farmer found his pigs regularly were very dirty and quite smelly. One day he decided to let them out of their pens and get clean in seawater. Cruise ship passengers saw these pigs swimming about and thought it was quite unusual. They asked how they could go see the swimming pigs. Now, there are many places to see swimming pigs, and they’re certainly entertaining.
We waded into the water and formed a line approximately 15 feet from shore. This is waist deep for most people. The guides gave us directions. The pigs are in their pens and come to see you because you’re feeding them. Two types of food— apples and dog food—were offered to us, and the guide told us exactly how to feed the pigs to avoid bites.
The guides let out the pigs from their pens and encouraged them to come to the water to be fed. Some of the pigs are quite large while others are piglets. The pigs are essentially treading water and they’re not very tall. They don’t like to go into deep water very often, unless there is the prospect of food. With 60 people standing in line offering them apples and dog food, it’s lunch time for the pigs!
They are very friendly, but be cautious how you feed them so you don’t get bit. We offered them apples from an open hand. The pigs have no intention of fighting you; they’re just hungry!
We had no trouble feeding the pigs and found them to be very entertaining. And they enjoy being pet. One of the hazards of this feeding frenzy is that pigs can go to the bathroom at the same time as they feed. This is just part of the entertainment.
The pig feeding frenzy lasted 30 minutes. Then it was time for the next activity: feeding the stingrays.
We saw a family of stingrays along the beach when we arrived. There were three of them and were quite large. For this activity we stood along the edge of the beach along the water line. Then we put our knees in the sand.
The guides gave us instruction on how to feed the stingrays. We got a small slice of ahi tuna and put it between your index and middle finger. To feed the stingray, we put our hand in the sand and made the tuna available for the stingray directly above our fingers. The stingrays swam about an inch above the sand line looking for food.
Stingrays are quite harmless and docile. But don’t touch their tail, which is poisonous with a painful sting. Their skin is silky soft, and a gentle touch is fine.
The stingray very gently took the food, and then moved along to the next person, always looking for more delicious tuna. Feeding the stingrays lasts 20 minutes.
Next, we fed sharks. Unlike the three stingrays, the sharks knew that feeding time was about to begin and came in greater numbers.
For this activity, audience participation is limited.
The guide tied large hunks of fish to a long rope. He threw the line out into the water to attract the shark’s attention. One of the guests is told to reel in the line to lure the shark to shore. The guide cautioned everyone not to get anywhere near the water line, because sharks will come right up to that line. When the shark got all the way to shore, the guide took the rope and what‘s left of the fish away from the shark’s jaws.
The shark was encouraged to go back into the water. It looks dangerous, but the guides keep you well protected from strong jaws and sharp teeth. We saw three types of sharks: Caribbean reef sharks, nurse sharks and lemon sharks.
After we fed sharks, we went snorkeling. Powerboat Adventures provided regular snorkeling gear. All you need to bring is a waterproof camera. If you’ve never snorkeled, instruction is available. We saw many small fish and small coral reefs. Since we fed the sharks, they were nearby but not interested in our snorkeling adventure. It’s a good thing you feed the sharks before you go snorkeling. Otherwise you might be lunch for the sharks!
Lunch and Conch Shell
After snorkeling, it was time for a late lunch. We ate from a nice buffet that included fish, beef and vegetables. There also were salads, cheeses and fruit available. After finishing our lunch, we experienced the delightful conch shell.
As we ate, someone was busy preparing a conch salad for us. If you’ve never seen a conch before, it’s a large mollusk inside a large shell. The guides explained how you get the conch out of the shell, with an entertaining explanation of the anatomy of conch and how the natives were able to get fresh fish out of a shell. The conch we ate was made in front of us with plenty of citrus including lime, lemon, orange and other citrus fruits.
After the demonstration of the conch shell extraction process we sampled a small cup of conch salad, which is quite expensive anywhere else. It was very fresh and tasty with some heat mixed in with the citrus fruits.
The Trip Back
That ended day’s activities. A bell rung at 3:15, and we boarded our boat. Another 70 minutes later, we were back at the dock. Our transportation was waiting for us at the dock and took us back to the hotel. It was an all-day experience and we got back to our hotel after five o’clock that evening.
We really enjoyed the Powerboat Adventures tour. It packed many activities into the same day. We had heard about the swimming pigs and were excited to see the show.
Madeline and I also really enjoyed the stingrays, sharks, the snorkeling and the food. Without hesitation we highly recommend this adventure if you want to experience local culture and the nearby cays. The Bahamian Dragons were great too, but you’ll see more of them if you choose a warmer day. The iguanas like to lie in the sun, so the hotter the better.
This was an interesting tour. When you stay at Baha Mar, there’s a large pier at the edge of the property and near the Blue Hole swimming area. We approached it earlier in the week and found there was a ferry to take you to a private island. We thought that sounded fun, so we asked around about it. The staff said you could charge things to your room and you didn’t need to bring towels since they were provided on the island.
The Balmoral Island ferry leaves on the hour from nine o’clock in the morning to three in the afternoon and returns on the quarter hour. We thought the island was associated with Baha Mar but were wrong.
Balmoral Island is self-supporting and probably derives its main source of revenue from cruise ships. You can’t charge to your room if you are a guest at Baha Mar. It’s quite surprising nobody bothers to tell you any of this before you board the ferry.
Staff escorted us to a VIP area, but if you want water, soda or an alcoholic beverage, you better bring cash or a credit card. As for towels, you should have brought them; they are not provided.
We met a great bartender, DJ, at the VIP bar. He was very informative. He sees all sorts of people from every hotel or cruise ship, so he was at a loss to explain the basics of why you’d get on a ferry from a Baha Mar pier and find that there is nothing at all you can do on the island that has anything to do with Baha Mar. DJ was very generous and supportive so this is not the fault of any staff of Balmoral Island. We saw the Sandals resort also had a large presence on Balmoral.
The island is nice, and they do offer extra-cost activities, including feeding stingrays and swimming with dolphins. If you’re interested in those activities, you’ll want to reserve a slot ahead of time.
We preferred the Powerboat Adventurers tour for stingrays, sharks and swimming pigs. However, if you simply want to do something close to Baha Mar, this might be a better option.
See our other post on The Bahamas: