I had the chance to spend a little more than a week this winter in the Bahamas and after seeing all of the amazing photos from other travelers, I had it on my list to see the famous Bahama swimming pigs for myself. Of course, it wasn’t a surprise to me that pigs are able to swim; haven’t you ever heard of Kama the surfing pig in Hawai’i? Even then, I was skeptical about what I would find there. Was it going to be a pig paradise? Probably not.
The truth: My experience with the swimming pigs of the Bahamas
We set out in the morning with our boat driver who stopped to picked up some scraps in Staniel Cay. Our small Boston Whaler then made the short journey to Big Major Cay, now commonly called Pig Beach and as we approached, I could already make out small dots moving along the shore. Soon, a few of the adult pigs where swimming out to meet our boat, hoping to get the first of our scraps. Luckily, we were one of the first boats to arrive that day, so there weren’t many people yet, but in just half an hour, the shoreline was filled with tourists trying to get their selfies with the pigs, who were now running around in a frenzy looking for someone who would give them some breakfast.
Since the small island with Pig Beach is virtually uninhabited and has few natural resources besides a freshwater spring, the pigs rely on humans for food. Pig Beach is filled with visitors day in and day out, who typically feed them bread. When I passed by the beach again in the late afternoon, it was still filled with boats and tourists. If possible, try to bring along some healthier fruits and veggies, although this can be a challenge since the nearby islands only have small markets with limited pickings. The pigs, especially the adults can get a bit aggressive, so if you don’t have any food, make sure to raise your hands up to show them they’re empty, otherwise you might get nipped. Also, be careful when feeding them! While I was there a tourist jumped in the water with a full bag of bread and almost got bitten when the pig tried to lunge for the entire bag along with her hand.
All in all, there were about 20 pigs on the beach, the majority of which were piglets. For whatever reason, while I was there none of the piglets entered the water to swim, but instead stayed on the shoreline, waiting for their visitors to approach the beach. The adult pigs also weren’t very eager to go swimming. Visitors and their boat drivers tried to lure the pigs into the water with food, but even then, they were reluctant to go for a dip. It was even harder to snap a photo in the water next to them since they are moving quickly from person to person constantly looking for snacks. Do not expect to go to Pig Beach with the hopes of spending the day relaxing and swimming with them. Tourists cycle through the area and stay only 20 to 30 minutes, just long enough to take a few photos. Nevertheless, pigs on the beach are definitely not a sight you see every day.
The bottom line: Are the swimming pigs worth visiting?
Yes, visit them if you wish, but don’t make the pigs the main focus of your trip to the Exumas. The pigs aren’t all that interested in you (unless you have food) and will ignore you and your selfie stick. They seem to only associate humans with food, so it’s no wonder that they’re running around from person to person in an endless search. I’ve seen many articles detailing how the now famous tourist attraction is inhumane and that the pigs are getting sunburned. Although the lighter colored pigs were a bit red on the top of their backs and head, I didn’t see any peeling or blood. There are also low trees and bushes along the edges of the beach and a few pigs were sitting in the shade during the entire time I was there. As Pig Beach is becoming increasingly popular, there definitely needs to be some sort of regulation in place to protect both the animals and the humans who visit them.
In short, expect to spend around half an hour with the pigs (or shorter if you get annoyed with the crowds). Just be sure to plan on doing other activities in the area as well. For example, an impressive place to visit is the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, a protected area that is home to local seabirds, amazing snorkeling locales and colorful reef fish.
How to get to Pig Beach
The swimming pigs are on Big Major Cay, a small island in the Exumas, a district of the Bahamas with over 350 islands called cays. You will need to take a small plane from one of the international airports like Nassau, which is a 30 minute flight away (or come on over with your yacht or sailboat). The closest airport to Big Major Cay is on Staniel Cay, which is a prominent yachting destination and a great place to grab a bite to eat or watch the fishermen clean their catch. Also nearby with its own airport is the secluded Great Guana Cay a lovely island to relax with just three restaurants and a market to its name.
From there, Pig Beach is only accessible by sea, so rent a boat or hire a local guide. There are many guided day tours available with locals who also take you to iconic locations like the famous Thunderball Grotto, named after the James Bond film which was filmed there. I recommend hiring a guide because there are so many islands and they all look the same, making navigation tricky if you try to go anywhere else besides Pig Beach. A guide can also show you other interesting spots for snorkeling, swimming with nurse sharks, or relaxing on one of the many sandbars at low tide. From Staniel Cay or Great Guana Cay to Pig Beach, it’s just a short 20 minute boat ride away.