Last Updated on May 9, 2022
The main draw for me to visit the Bahamas was to meet the swimming pigs. Prior to my trip, I hadn’t done much research – I had no idea where the pigs were living (did you know that the Bahamas are made up of 700 islands and 2,400 cays? But only 30 of the islands are inhabited.) or how to get there from the international airport in Nassau (the capital of the Bahamas). As I delved deeper into the topic of how to swim with the pigs in the Bahamas, I learned that they live on a small island named Big Mayor Cay, which doesn’t have any inhabitants other than a few dozen pigs. In this article, I am sharing everything you need to know before visiting Pig Beach in the Bahamas – all the things that I wish I would’ve known prior to my visit, and some facts I learned while I was there. If you have any questions you don’t find answers for here, feel free to contact me via the comment section.
Things to know before visiting Pig Beach in the Bahamas
Where exactly in the Bahamas is Pig Beach?
Pig Beach is located in a part of the Bahamian Islands known as The Exumas. The Exumas are an archipelago of 365 cays and islands which begin about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southeast of Nassau. The majority of visitors tends to stay in Nassau, but there are various resorts, hotels and vacation rentals scattered across the Exumas.
The island the pigs live on is called Big Major Cay. Apart from the pigs, the island is uninhabited. The closest inhabited island to Big Mayor Cay is Staniel Cay – a tiny island with a population of around 110 people, but luckily it has an airport. If you want to visit the swimming pigs, you have two options: you can base yourself on Staniel Cay (from where you can get to the pigs in only ten minutes!), or you can take a day trip from Nassau. No matter if you’re visiting from Nassau or from Staniel Cay or another island in the Exumas, the only way to get to Pig Beach is by boat.
How did the pigs get to Pig Beach?
There are various stories about how the pigs ended up in Big Mayor Cay, including a shipwreck that they swam away from, a group of sailors who left them behind, and the pigs being relocated to the deserted island from nearby Staniel Cay because of their intolerable smell. Most often recited as the real origin story is the story of two farmers who brought the pigs to Big Mayor Cay in the late 1990s, preparing for the anticipated Y2K computer crash, which was expected to cause supply chain issues and possibly food shortages. The Y2K crash never came, but the pigs stayed on Big Mayor Cay – and they propagated.
The best time to visit Pig Beach
You can visit Pig Beach year-round, but take into consideration that there are more visitors during high season, and that the weather may not be perfect during hurricane season.
Off-season is between September and mid-November – that’s when you can expect to share the piggies with only few other visitors.
Peak season is in December and January – that’s when Pig Beach can get pretty busy (especially during the Christmas Holidays). High season lasts all the way through April.
Low season is from June to September. But while you’ll run into less visitors during the summer months, you may encounter a hurricane or severe tropical storm, along with rainy days and clouds. Morning vs. evening: The pigs tend to be more active and excited about visitors in the mornings. In the afternoon, they are sleepier, and you may have a harder time convincing them to go for a swim with you. The mornings are also busier, since almost all of the tour operators stop at Pig Beach in the morning. When I visited in the late afternoon, our group was the only boat docked at the beach, and we had the pigs all to ourselves.
However: you will have a great time with the pigs no matter what time of the day you’re visiting!
Tip: If you charter a boat / visit with your own boat, you can plan your visit for a time when no tour boats are docked at Pig Beach. You’ll have the pigs all to yourself between 7am and 9am and at certain times in the afternoon.
What’s the closest island to Pig Beach?
Staniel Cay is only a short boat ride from Pig Beach – you can get to Big Mayor Cay in less than ten minutes from Staniel Cay! But even if you’re not staying on Staniel Cay, there are ways to visit the swimming pigs:
How to get to Pig Beach
You have different options to visit Pig Beach in the Bahamas, but unless you travel in your own boat, they are all part of a guided tour:
- Visit Pig Beach from Staniel Cay (a small island near Big Mayor Cay, the island on which the pigs live) – 10 minutes away by boat
- Visit Pig Beach from Great Exuma – 2 hours away by boat
- Visit Pig Beach from Nassau – a 35-min flight to Staniel Cay, or 3-hr speedboat ride
- Visit Pig Beach on a day trip from Florida (a 1-hr flight to Andros Island, followed by a 45-min flight to Staniel Cay)
All options are usually full-day trips that include other stops in addition to the swimming pigs. You can read a detailed rundown of my Pig Beach Tour here. You can also opt for a private tour vs. a group tour, if you’re willing to pay a premium fee for some private time with the pigs. If you’re visiting Pig Beach from Nassau, you can choose between speedboat and airplane to Staniel Cay.
- From Nassau by plane
- From Nassau by speedboat
See below for how much each option costs:
How much does it cost to visit Pig Beach
Note that prices are apprx. – just to give you a rough idea about how much you can expect to spend on your trip to Pig Beach.
- Pig Beach from Nassau by speedboat: $399 per person
- Pig Beach from Nassau by plane: $499 per person / $250 per child
- Pig Beach from Staniel Cay: $249 per person / $100 per child
- Pig Beach from Staniel Cay private tour: starting at $999 for the smallest boat (up to four people)
- Pig Beach from Florida: There are three companies offering day trips to Pig Beach from Fort Lauderdale’s Executive Airport: Makers Air and Staniel Air. Prices range from around US$630 to US$900 – depending on time of year and availability. It’s worth checking all companies for special offers.
Children under two usually don’t pay anything.
Prices vary slightly, depending on what tour company you book your tour with.
Note: The cheapest way to visit Pig Beach from Nassau is by speedboat. However, this is also the most uncomfortable way to visit the piggies, since the ride is quite bumpy, and you’re spending hours on the boat. It’s also an open-air boat, which means that on rainy and windy days, you’re exposed to unpleasant weather conditions. Tours are sometimes canceled on short notice because of rough weather conditions. Tours by plane are more reliable and are rarely canceled.
What to expect when visiting Pig Beach
- Don’t expect to spend all day with the pigs. If you’re on a boat tour from Nassau, you’ll spend only about 15 minutes at Pig Beach. If you’re on a boat tour from Staniel Cay, you get to spend a little bit more time with the pigs, but if you want more than half an hour with the piggies, you’ll have to fork out the money for a private tour. (If you think half an hour with the pigs doesn’t sound like much time: there’s not much else to do on Pig Beach, other than snap a few photos of the pigs, swim with them, and coo over the piglets). The tours all include a number of other stops in addition to Pig Beach – for example swimming with nurse sharks, a sandbar, and a sea cave (stops may vary depending on tour operator and weather conditions).
- Don’t expect there to be pigs in the water. They do swim, but not always. When I visited Pig Beach in the afternoon, most of the pigs were asleep on the beach.
- Expect to share your experience with other tourists – most days, several boats stop at Pig Beach at the same time. If you want the pigs all to yourself, you’ll have to pay for a private tour.
- Expect to be in or on the water pretty much all day. If you can’t swim, don’t worry – there are usually life vests on board which you can wear to feel safe in the water. You’ll have to wade through shallow water to get to Pig Beach, the Iguana Beach, and the sandbar, and you will have to swim into Thunderbolt Grotto. If you don’t feel comfortable swimming, you can stay on board during the beach visits / snorkeling excursions.
Is it unethical to visit Pig Beach?
There have been some incidents in the past that made people wonder if the pigs were treated well and if it was unethical to visit Pig Beach.
The pigs are actually well looked after – by a committee of caretakers. These caretakers maintain the enclosures of the pigs, refill their drinking water, feed them, and deal with any potential issues. A nursery was even built for the piglets, so that they’re protected from rain and wind. There’s also a vet who checks in on the pigs regularly. The pigs are all tagged and registered.
The pigs aren’t bothered by visitors, unless visitors behave like a**holes. (see below for Do’s and Don’ts when visiting Pig Beach). The pigs get excited when boats arrive, because that usually means “Feeding Time”! They also know the boat drivers who arrive with tourists every day, and when our boat driver got in the water, he was surrounded by pigs immediately – they were thrilled to frolic around with him. And our boat driver was equally as delighted to be swimming with the pigs, it was obvious that he was very fond of the pigs and that he treated them respectfully. That can’t be said of all visitors, however, which is why I added the following section.
Do’s and Don’ts when visiting Pig Beach
Unfortunately, not all visitors use common sense when visiting Pig Beach, and there have been incidents in the past during which both the pigs and visitors got hurt. I wish that tour operators would make an announcement on “pig beach etiquette” and state some guidelines before descending on the island, especially with larger groups.
- Be respectful when interacting with the pigs. They don’t like being picked up, and don’t force them into discomfort just because you want to get a cute photo. Even worse: trying to ride a pig.
- Let the pigs come to you, and don’t chase them down the beach. Remember that these are living creatures and not photo props.
- If you feed the pigs, don’t feed them processed foods. They’re allowed to eat vegetables, fruits (apples and watermelon) and bread. When feeding the pigs you’ll also have to be careful – they might go for your whole hand! It’s safer to put down the food for them. If you have food on you, they may try to get to it, so be careful what you take with you when you get off the boat.
- Don’t leave any trash behind when leaving Pig Beach.
What to bring to Pig Beach
Most of these items are obvious, but here’s what I recommend you bring to Pig Beach:
- Bathing Suit / Bikini
- Beach Towel / Sarong (it was great being able to cover up when we weren’t in the water – but a beach dress would also work)
- Camera or phone (fully charged, or with a portable charger)
- Waterproof case or pouch for your smartphone: While it’s possible to get off the boat and walk through the shallow water to Pig Beach, it’s not possible to get your phone inside Thunderball Grotto without getting it wet. While most iPhones are water resistant these days, remember that it’s still not advisable to get salt water inside the charging port, since salt is highly corrosive and will damage your phone.
- GoPro / underwater camera if you want to take underwater photos
- Sunscreen & sunhat (especially if you’re taking a long boat ride from Nassau – the sun is relentless and shade on the boats is very limited)
- Goggles if you want to snorkel with the pigs & sharks / take underwater photos or videos. Your tour operator will most likely provide them, but double check when booking the tour.
- Insect repellent (the mosquitos are quite aggressive!) – Amazon has several travel-sized bottles
- Water and snacks (most of the boat operators have water and snacks on the boat, but if you drink more water than average and you consider yourself a big snacker, I’d recommend packing extra of both)
- A sweater or a light jacket – it can get breezy on the boat, especially if you’re on a speed boat. We also got caught in a rainstorm, and I wished I had a long-sleeve shirt or a light rain jacket while it was raining.
- Cash or credit card if you want to buy something on one of the inhabited islands you stop at, and to tip your guide. Our tour included lunch on Staniel Cay, but alcohol wasn’t included. There are no ATM’s on any of the islands you’ll stop at, but credit cards are accepted in some places.
Remember that these are all-day tours and you’ll be on the boat most of the day. Make sure you have everything you need to be comfortable. Some people may want to listen to an audiobook / podcast on the flight / boat ride to Big Mayor Cay, in that case, add headphones to your list.
Other things to consider when booking a tour to Pig Beach (incl. COVID restrictions)
Make sure to check the weather before booking a tour – tours can get cancelled if the weather is bad, especially the boat tours from Nassau which include several hours in the speedboat (and even if the tour doesn’t get canceled: spending hours in the rain on a boat isn’t all that great). Book your tour for a sunny day to avoid cancellations and disappointment.
COVID-19 Bahamas Entry Requirements
Before traveling to the Bahamas, you need to apply online for a travel health visa. You can find the visa application here. Processing the visa application can take up to 48 hours, so don’t wait too long to fill out your application. The cost of the visa application is $40 for U.S. and Canadian citizens / residents, and $50 for travelers from all other nations. This fee is non-refundable and includes the cost of the mandatory health insurance to enter the Bahamas. This insurance will cover you for up to 30 days.
You need to present proof of a negative PCR test prior to boarding your flight to the boarding – taken not more than 72 hours (3 days) prior to your arrival date. If you are fully vaccinated, a rapid antigen test is sufficient. Children 12 and older need to take a PCR test before traveling to the Bahamas. Children between 2 and 11 also need to show proof of a negative Covid test, but a rapid antigen test is sufficient. Children under the age of 2 are exempt from Covid test requirements.
You can find further information about the Covid-19 protocol in the Bahamas here, including updated information on entry requirements as well as further information for additional requirements for unvaccinated travelers.
Once you’re in the Bahamas, Covid restrictions are minimal, but restaurants and shops may require you to wear a mask to enter. There is no mask requirement outdoors and on the boat.