Stretching well over 100 miles in length from north to south, there is a lot of ground to cover on an Exuma yacht charter.
Too much, in fact, for a week-long round trip Exuma sailing itinerary from Nassau, Bahamas. If we only have 7 days, we usually turn around mid-way, around Staniel Cay. There is just too much to see!
But, let’s say you want to sail through all of the Exuma Cays. Is it possible?
Yes, I’m going to show you how to do it. Have two weeks? Even better.
If you’re planning a trip like this and don’t yet have a copy of the Explorer Chartbook for the Exumas, make sure you pick up a copy. It’s the gold standard.
Let’s get into it.
Why this plan works to sail the Exuma Bahamas
Remember, we’re trying to see it all! If you have an extra few days, perfect. You can slow down a bit. Another idea is to skip Elizabeth Harbour – this will give you an extra more chill day or two to relax.
But to get all the way down and back to Georgetown, Great Exuma, we’ll be moving about 20 nautical miles a day. Here’s what to expect:
2-3 hours of sailing a day (a couple longer days)
A new destination each night
We’ll take a few extra days to go south when you’re more likely to be sailing to windward; heading back north you should have some downwind sailing
A beach bar or restaurant every couple days (but not every night, this is the Exumas!)
Several options to re-provision along the way
If you attempt this trip in the winter months, be prepared for a possible itinerary disruption should a cold front sweep down, which they do like clockwork every few days
The 10-day Exuma Sailing Itinerary
Day 1: Cross the Yellow Bank to Highbourne Cay
After your sleepaboard, try and get an early start to cross the ~30 nautical miles over the Yellow Bank to the northern part of the Exuma Cay chain.
It the weather is settled, it’s fun to stop mid-way for lunch on the Yellow Bank. Toss out the anchor in 10-15 feet of water, and enjoy a snorkel of a nearby coral head. Perhaps you’ll find some Bahamian lobster for dinner (lobster season runs August 1 – March 31)! Snorkeling may be difficult if the tides are running – exercise caution.
Highbourne Cay is a good option for your first night. Near your anchorage, the beach is beautiful and is great for an evening stroll. The Highbourne Rocks also offer great snorkeling.
Crack a beer and enjoy the view – it doesn’t get any better than this. You’ve arrived in paradise.
Day 2: Sail south to the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park
The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is huge, with over 170 square miles. It’s an ecological reserve and marine sanctuary – you won’t be disappointed by the snorkeling here.
The mangrove “river” is full of sea life such as turtles and rays. On other other side is the absolutely stunning Driftwood Beach and Camp Driftwood.
PLEASE NOTE: you need to check the tides and begin this river ride on a mid to, rising tide. This will give you time to explore and avoid being stranded. The river is only passable on a mid or high tide. If this doesn’t work out for your second day, try to work this in on the back end of your yacht charter.
Beach your dinghy, and enjoy a ride or two on the water slide. Here’s a video of us enjoying it on a recent charter tip.
Camp Driftwood is worth exploring, so bring some walking shoes. It was built in the 1960s by a hermit who lived there with his sailboat. The camp was later used by the DEA to conduct reconnaissance on the drug kingpin Carlos Lehder’s operation at Norman Cay.
Day 3: Visit the jewel of the Exumas Park, Warderick Wells
Keep sailing through the park to one of the more popular destinations on this Exuma sailing itinerary, Warderick Wells, for good reason.
We recommend grabbing a mooring ball in the Emerald Rock mooring field. When you are within range, call “Exuma Park” on channel 9 to check ball availability. Once you’ve taken one notify them. You can pay the $35 mooring ball fee at the Visitor Center (larger yachts have higher fees). They also might send around a boat to collect the it.
The Emerald Rock area is near a couple beautiful white sand beaches and has trail access to the wonderful hiking on Warderick Wells. Make a quick dinghy ride over to the visitors center to snap a picture with the whale skeleton. They can give you a trail map too.
Boo Boo Hill is a popular destination and the highest point on the cay. It’s tradition for cruisers to leave a piece of driftwood behind with your boat’s name on it.
Day 4: Enjoy an evening at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club
It’s back to civilization as we leave the park boundaries.
Sandy Cay is a fun lunch stop close by with one of my favorite sandbars. Anchor on the west side and head ashore for a picnic!
Big Major Cay is the location of the famous swimming pigs. Some words of caution: this is a busy anchorage, so if you’re looking for more solitude, check out Between the Majors anchorage (more advanced anchoring) or Bitter Guana Cay a bit farther south.
Pig beach is fun to see once, but it isn’t a place I’ll need to return. Go get your pictures while swimming with the pigs if you decide to stop here.
The other famous attraction in the area is Thunderball Grotto. It’s an amazing cave snorkel featured in the James Bond movie Thunderball. It’s a short dinghy ride over from Big Major Cay. Otherwise, there are several places to anchor your yacht nearby. Try and plan your visit for slack tide.
Don’t miss your chance to do some re-provisioning and dump some trash. Use the government dock to access two of the nearby grocery stores.
The Staniel Cay Yacht Club is the biggest establishment you’ll come across in this part of the Exumas. We like to plan a meal ashore here, for either lunch or dinner. At a minimum you’ll want to try out their SCYC original – the Peanut Colada.
Day 5: Onwards to Lee Stocking Island
If the weather is settled, consider using one of the cuts to enter the Exuma Sound for some deep water fishing. If you go in the fall, it’s a great time to catch some wahoo – my favorite eating fish. Check out our sailboat fishing guide for some advice or my more specific Exuma fishing tips post.
This is a longer day on the water, as we’re going to make a push all the way down to the northern part of Great Exuma. Rudder Cay Cut or Galliot Cut are good final options to transit to the Exuma Sound.
You have a few options for anchorages, so it depends what your crews likes. A lot depends on how strong the easterly winds are blowing as some can be quite rolly.
A good option is Lee Stocking Island where you can go ashore and visit the abandoned marine research center – deserted since 2012. Recent reports are that it might be under construction and will be re-opened in the future.
Go ashore for some hiking and exploration after a long day on the water. You can hike to Perry’s Peak, the tallest point in all of the Exuma Cays.
Or, just relax and float in the turquoise water with a cold beer!
You should have very good protection here from easterly winds.
Day 6: Visit the Bahamas cruiser’s paradise of Elizabeth Harbour
This is our final day heading south on this Exuma sailing itinerary. Use Conch Cay Cut to enter the channel to Elizabeth Harbour, a large, sheltered basin with room to spread out for hundreds of yachts.
Many full-time cruising yachts spend time here, especially in the winter. But don’t worry, you’ll fit in just fine as a charter yacht.
I would set up shop at the top 10 beach bar of Chat n Chill and spend the day liming away the afternoon. Enjoy the people watching and hustle/bustle of the cruising community that has been established here.
If you need to stock up on supplies, dinghy over to Lake Victoria where there is a dinghy dock. You’ll find plenty of shopping options within walking distance.
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Day 7: Back north to Little Farmers Cay
Time to retrace our Exuma sailing itinerary steps! This is probably our longest day on the water, at ~40nm. Get an early start if you can.
This is another great day for fishing as you can as you can ride the drop nearly the entire way up to Farmers Cut.
We’ll spend the night at Little Farmers Cay, one of the more established areas in this part of the Exumas. You have a few anchorage options – try Great Harbour to be closer to the action.
Head ashore to explore at the Farmers Cay Yacht Club or the government dock at Little Harbour. The Ocean Cabin is a popular local spot to grab a bite.
Day 8: Beach day at Compass Cay
Get those sails up again on your catamaran for a ~20nm passage to Compass Cay. You have a few options for anchoring. I like the Compass Cay (Outer Anchorage) since it is less affected by the tides.
If you want more of a challenge, check out the many options at Pipe Cay. It’s a maze of sandbars and one of the most beautiful areas in the Exumas.
Compass Cay Marina is worth a visit. Get your pictures with the nurse sharks and check out the trails on the cay. Crescent Beach on the east side is said to be one of the finest beaches in the world. It’s a short hike.
Pack a cooler of cold ones and spend the afternoon at this beautiful spot.
Note that you’ll have to pay a landing fee for your dinghy and crew.
Day 9: Final night in the Exuma Cays at Norman’s Cay
The main attraction at Norman’s Cay is the sunken drug plane from Carlos Lehder’s activities in the 1970s. If you want to snorkel it, try and do so at slack tide.
Macduff’s is a quaint restaurant ashore which seems like it is in the middle or nowhere. You may want to radio ahead for reservations if you plan to eat there for dinner.
Anchoring is easy on the west side of the cay. You can also anchor in the cut closer to the sunken plane – you will swing on the tide, so be prepared.
Another final night option is to head farther north to Allen’s Cay. This is the location for the local species of iguanas. There are numerous anchorages marked on the charts. Be prepared to share the area with tour boats depending on when you arrive.
Day 10: Crossing back to Palm Cay to complete the Exuma sailing itinerary
Hopefully the wind gods cooperate and give you some great, downwind sailing. The first time we made this crossing back to Nassau, we had 5 knots directly behind us – no fun!
If you weren’t able to have a lunch stop at a coral head, give it a shot.
You may either return to the Palm Cay marina and enjoy the amenities, or, head over to Rose Island if you prefer another night on the hook. Make sure you plan for time in the morning to return and go through check-out procedures – it’s about an hour’s motor.
Sandy Toes is a excursion-focused bar at Rose Island. There are mixed reports of whether they permit cruisers to come ashore.