From where to stay, the best things to do, and what to pack, here is everything you need to know about traveling to Staniel Cay, Bahamas.
A peaceful island home to swimming pigs, endless white-sand beaches, and a gorgeous resort, planning a trip to Staniel Cay in the Bahamas should be at the top of your travel bucket list. Located within the Exuma Cays, this island is home to just over 100 people yet attracts paradise-seekers from around the planet looking to soak up its pristine waters and natural attractions.
I recently visited Staniel Cay (pronounced Staniel Key) with EMBRACE Resort and am so excited to spill everything I learned about this paradisiacal destination.
Staniel Cay Travel Guide – Exuma Cays, Bahamas
Where Is Staniel Cay?
Located in the middle of the Exuma Cays, a district of 365 pristine islands surrounded by sapphire-blue water, Staniel Cay is approximately 130km (80 miles) south of Nassau, Bahamas, and 400km (250 miles) south of Florida.
How To Get To Staniel Cay
Traveling to the Bahamas is an easy trip from the East Coast of the United States! If you’re traveling from the US, then the easiest way to get to Staniel Cay is by air from Florida. From Fort Lauderdale, you can either take a flight straight to the island (TYM airport), or you can catch a layover in Nassau, Bahamas.
If you’re flying from the West Coast of the United States, like I did, many of the flights have connections in North Carolina before heading to Nassau.
You will likely have a 5-6 hour layover in Nassau. I found a peaceful outdoor courtyard just outside of the international terminal where I was able to breathe in some fresh air and relax before the short 30-minute flight to Staniel Cay with Flamingo Air.
When returning home, make sure to give yourself enough time to get through security in Nassau. You will go through customs at the Nassau airport instead of upon arrival into the United States.
Transportation in Staniel Cay
With a surface area of less than 2 square miles, the easiest way to get around Staniel Cay is to rent a golf cart for roughly $60-70 per day. EMBRACE Resort guests receive a discounted rate of $60 per day. I recommend reserving your golf cart in advance and you can do so by booking through this link.
These 2 or 4-seater carts will get you to any point on the island within 5 minutes. To operate a golf cart, you must be at least 18 years old and have a valid driver’s license.
If you don’t have a license or prefer other methods, then there are bicycles available on the island and most things are within a relatively short walking distance.
The Best Time To Visit Staniel Cay
Paradise is the name of the game in Staniel Cay, and if you want to experience the best weather in Staniel Cay with the least amount of crowds then I’d recommend visiting in September, October, or May.
The December-January holiday season is typically the busiest time of year in the Exumas, with the rainy season running between June and October. However, statistically speaking the Bahamas almost never get rain two days in a row and the showers usually start at night, so you can expect sunny skies most of the time.
Heat-wise, November through April experience roughly 75°F (24°C) with some cooling winds, and winter is known to stick around 62°F(17°C). You’ll rarely get higher temperatures than 89°F(32°C) even in the summer and it tends to stay pretty balmy year-round.
Best Things To Do in Staniel Cay
Take a Swimming With Pigs Tour
One of the best things to do in Exuma is to swim with pigs! Chances are if you’ve looked up photos of Staniel Cay then you’ve marveled over the area’s infamous swimming pigs. I mean, besides the stunning landscape, they’re a major draw! But how exactly should you plan to see the pigs?
Located on nearby Big Major Cay island (affectionately called Pig Beach), the easiest way to see the pigs and get the lay of the land is by tour — particularly a half-day 3N’s Exuma Vacations Swimming Pigs tour.
Leaving from either the Staniel Cay airport or the Yacht Club, the swimming pigs tour includes ample time to interact with the pigs, a stop to see the Compass Cay nurse sharks, a visit to the indigenous iguanas of Guana Cay, a swim at the stunning Thunderball Grotto, a stop at the sandbar at Pipe Creek, and a sunken plane photo op.
They provide snorkel gear, bottled water, towels, and even food for the swimming pigs.
If you’re staying in Nassau and you still want to take this tour, you can book a Pig Beach Excursion with 3N’s Exuma Vacations. Your 30-minute flight will leave from Nassau at 8am and the entire tour will last approximately 7 hours (4 hours on the boat). This tour average 8 people per boat.
Why should you book with 3N’s Exuma Vacations? A few of the reasons we love this tour company so much: they are family-owned and created by 3 generations of women, they are the #1 tour on TripAdvisor, and their guides are extremely knowledgeable, fun and environmentally conscious. They truly do treat their guests like family. (You can read more about 3N’s inspiring story here.)
3N’s tours are limited to 12-15 people (where other boats can have 20-40 people), they spend more time at each stop, and they visit more stops on these tours (they visit 7 stops and the other tours only visit 4).
I recommend booking online before you leave for your trip to make sure they have space on your preferred day.
Tip: If you book your tour towards the beginning of your trip, you will have time to reschedule for another day in the case of bad weather! (Note: There would be an extra charge to change your flight but at least you wouldn’t miss out on seeing the pigs on your trip!)
And because you were probably wondering — the reason the island has these pigs is that local farmers decided (a long time ago) that they were too stinky to keep at Staniel Cay Village. With Big Major Cay island being uninhabited at the time, the farmers moved the pigs there. When the pigs saw the farmers approaching with food, they would swim out to greet them, and thus the swimming pigs attraction was born!
See the Nurse Sharks At Compass Cay
Roughly eight miles north of Staniel Cay, Compass Cay is home to another of the region’s main attractions — Nurse Sharks. These docile creatures are slow-moving and mostly feed off of shellfish, coral living on the sea bed, and fish fed to them by marina workers, which makes them super friendly to humans.
I admit I was a little timid when it came to swimming with the Nurse Sharks, but unless directly provoked, they are extremely gentle and friendly.
The nurse sharks are part of the half-day tour with 3N’s Exuma Vacations.
Read more: The Best Overwater Bungalows Near The USA
Take A Tour Of The Islands
As I mentioned above, there are 365 islands in The Exumas, so getting to all of them is a pretty tall order. However, there are some awesome day tours that will get you to all the best sites in one fell swoop, such as scuba diving tours, Thunderbolt grotto snorkeling tours, turtle sanctuary excursions, and fishing trips.
Find The Best Beaches
In an area of the world with top-notch beaches, chances are you’ll have no problem finding a great lounge spot. But all the same, not every beach is made equal and each one is worth checking out.
There are five primary beaches on Staniel Cay — South Beach, Ocean Beach, Public Beach, Pirate Trap Beach, and Ho Tai Cay Beach. Each of these beaches is accessible by walking or golf cart, but make sure not to drive your cart directly onto the sand (you’ll probably get stuck).
Where To Stay in Staniel Cay
If you’re looking for a gorgeous rental that can fit any group from a solo traveler up to a full family, then you have to check out EMBRACE Resort. They offer seven different villas that caters to every type of traveler and budget — one-bedroom villas, a honeymoon suite with an in-room jacuzzi, two bedroom villas with a full kitchen, living room and dining area, as well as a three-bedroom villa.
EMBRACE is also a sustainable resort with eco-friendly amenities such as Energy Star appliances and dual flush toilets in all the rooms.
Though not beachfront, the resort is right next to the airport which makes flying to and from the island a breeze — you can even check into the airport and then relax in your room until your flight leaves because of the close proximity.
Some of the more popular amenities include air conditioning, a BBQ area, free WiFi, and a swimming pool.
PROMO CODE: Use our promo code TRAVEL21 when booking at EMBRACE Resort to get a 5% discount off your stay!
EMBRACE Resort is in the process of building new additions to their property that will make this resort even better! These include:
- A Cafe: Serving Bahamian food, paninis and with a focus on vegan,vegetarian and gluten free options as these are underserved on the island.) The expected finish date for the cafe is early 2022.
- A Gift Shop: Offering Bahamian handmade crafts as well as the normal souvenirs which are custom made to represent the Exumas).
- A Gym: Many guests have been asking for this. There will be treadmills, ellipticals, yoga mats and more.
- Meeting Room / Conference Center: Paving the way for corporate events and destination meetings as well as team building activities or social gatherings such as parties or dinners.
Staniel Cay Yacht Club
Featuring 13 bungalows, a primary villa, a lounge, and a marina, Staniel Cay Yacht Club is another popular option on the island.
Where To Eat in Staniel Cay
Staniel Cay Yacht Club
Offering excellent breakfast, lunch, and dinner options, Staniel Cay Yacht Club is easily the most bustling place for food on the island. It’s also one of only two restaurants currently open on the island.
Their prices are mid-range and their food is delicious. I was happy to see a couple of vegetarian options on the menu (the Beyond burger salad is delicious!).
For low-key eats, check out Big Dogs Bar & Grill on the east side of the island. They offer traditional favorites, Bahamian soups, and a selection of cold beer for reasonable prices.
If you plan to stay at EMBRACE Resort, then take advantage of your kitchen access and stock up on essentials from one of the three “grocery stores” — Pink Pearls, General Isles, and The Blue Store. These are more like large convenience stores than anything, but they have a fairly good, basic selection.
That’s not to say you can’t visit the restaurants too, but having on-the-go snacks and breakfast items is always a plus.
Read more: 15 Best Places To Have A Destination Wedding
Need To Know Tips For Staniel Cay
Bring Plenty of Cash
Being such a small, remote island, there are no ATMs on Staniel Cay and, though credit cards are accepted at some shops, some places have a 5% fee. In any case, definitely bring cash (USD is widely used and accepted) for places that don’t accept cards and also for tips.
Note: AMEX is accepted at EMBRACE & 3Ns, but not anywhere else on the island.
Don’t Expect a Budget Trip
Due to the off-grid nature of the island, Staniel Cay is not a budget destination. Though not widely expensive, expect to pay mid-tier prices for most services and budget around $150-200 per day with accommodations being your biggest expense.
Covid-19 Tips & Requirements
Covid-19 Testing & Visas
For vaccinated travelers, you must get a Covid-19 test no more than 5 days before you arrive in the Bahamas. I recommend getting a test 2-3 days before and once you receive your negative test results, you can then apply for the $40-$60 visa which will take about 24-48 hours to process.
Keep in mind that the requirements and fees for vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers are slightly different.
The COVID restrictions on the island are minimal as they have had very limited cases. The mask mandate is for indoor areas and the airport only.
Returning to the United States
Upon returning to the US, all travelers (both vaccinated and unvaccinated) will need a negative Covid-19 test within 1 day of returning home.
- EMBRACE Resort offers both guests and non guests COVID tests (rapid antigen) on property. The cost is $35 per person.
- You can book an appointment at this link (appointments are encouraged).
Stay up to date on Covid protocols for Bahamas travel here: https://travel.gov.bs/
What To Pack For Staniel Cay, Bahamas
Toiletries: In addition to your standard toiletry products, I recommend bringing reef-safe sunscreen and bug spray. The entire island was sold out of bug spray while I was there, so it’s definitely not something you want to forget!