February 19, 2019

Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park

We arrived to the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park on January 25 and liked it so much we stayed in the area for nearly three weeks (with very limited cell reception for most of it). The 15 cay/island park is 22 miles long and 4 miles wide and was established in 1959 as a conservation area to native species; the park is a no-take zone by land or sea, so no fishing, lobstering, conching or shelling - and its efforts are obviously paying off.

Conch are heavily overfished in the Bahamas; this beach of live conch in the Exuma Land & Sea Park
shows the value of the marine park's efforts 

Despite its Seaworld-esque name, the park is mostly undeveloped and uninhabited - there are no stores, restaurants or roads - just beautiful beaches and trails, crystal clear water, and reefs teaming with fish.

Warderick Wells

After arriving from the Eleuthera island chain to the Exumas, we stayed on a mooring in Warderick Wells for four nights, which is the headquarters to the Exumas Park, and one of the most popular destinations in the Exuma island chain. The contrast in colors between the deeper mooring channel and the shallow, sandy shoals at low tide is surreal and looks nearly fake.

The highest point on Warderick Wells is Boo Boo Hill, where legend says that it's haunted by the souls of a ship that ran aground after hitting the reefs below and sinking. The tradition is for cruisers to leave an offering atop the hill to King Neptune and the sea gods to ensure smooth sailing and safe passage. In anticipation of our visit, Nick found a piece of wood while hiking and carved our names to make a sign, which we left atop the hill with the hundreds of other signs. This is also where we climbed once a day to get a somewhat quality cell signal, but we've quickly learned we can't have it all!

Sara taking advantage of the cell signal on Boo Boo Hill
While in Warderick Wells, we spent a day hiking the criss-cross of trails around the island, some of which were better marked than others. The small cairns, or rock piles, marking the trails were sometimes difficult to spot, and at one point, after wandering around in brush for 30 minutes, we briefly considered lighting a fire to send a smoke signal for help, but thankfully soon found our way back to a trail.

There are also small reefs nearby the park marked with mooring buoys for dinghies to tie up and snorkel over the coral and fish, as well as a sunken boat in the mooring field, which we were told caught fire (and eventually sank) in the 1990s while the hosts were having dinner aboard a friend's vessel.

Hawksbill Cay

After leaving Warderick Wells on January 30, we headed 14 nm north to Hawksbill Cay, which is uninhabited but has several nice beaches. There is a small trail on the island to the highest point marked with a rock cairn, which gives a great 360-degree view of the island and anchorage (and was a popular meeting spot for fellow cruisers looking for a cell signal).

While in Hawksbill - and for the first time since arriving in the Bahamas a month ago - we had an overcast, rainy day. While the rain was great for cleaning all the sea spray and salt that's always covering the boat, Nick had to run out twice during drier spells to bail water from the dinghy.

Nick bailing water from the dinghy after several inches of rain fell in a few hours

Highbourne Cay

After three nights in Hawskbill Cay, on Sunday, February 3 we headed north to Highbourne Cay, the northernmost inhabited island in the Exumas (and privately owned by a marina), in search of provisions, diesel, cell reception and most importantly, a restaurant to celebrate Nick's 40th birthday! While underway, we heard on the radio that it was also Super Bowl Sunday and learned which teams were playing in the game!

Nick being a good sport and wearing his birthday hat made from a chart
After more than a week with little-to-no cell reception, we anchored directly in front of the island's 300-foot-high BTC tower, so Nick could connect with and hear well wishes from family and friends on his big birthday!
We were able to FaceTime with Nick's parents and sing happy birthday before he blew out his candles
We went ashore that night to Highbourne Cay Marina's restaurant, Xuma, for Nick's celebratory dinner (it was the only real restaurant in a 25 mile radius); the food was pricey, but delicious, and we'd definitely visit again! We were also able to watch some of the Super Bowl on the restaurant's TV along with two dozen other vacationers and cruisers (we have no TV aboard Borealis and are limited in what we can stream since we are out of the country).

The next day, we took the dinghy north to Allans Cay, a few small islands that are heavily populated by rock iguanas. As you dinghy ashore, iguanas of all sizes come crawling out of the bushes towards the beach, and while mostly harmless, Sara was a bit too timid to step out of the boat and onto shore.

Sara unwilling to step ashore and leave the safety of the dinghy
While we enjoyed our time in Highbourne, we had little sleep while there. Despite having protection from the north easterly/eastern winds in the anchorage, we had 1 - 2 foot swell from the northwest the entire two days we were anchored there, which rocked the boat from bow to stern like a teeter-totter. The waves made it hard to move about during the day, and at night it forced us to sleep on the salon settees, where the rocking was considerably more tolerable than the aft and v-birth cabins.

Sleeping in the salon to get a break from the swell rocking the boat in the front and back cabins.
Nick's birthday decorations were even falling!

Shroud Cay

In search of a better nights sleep, on February 7, we sailed south to Shroud Cay, which has a forest of mangroves in its center that can be explored by dinghy at high tide. The current was so swift in the winding creeks, we were able to turn off the outboard engine and simply steer a straight course with the dinghy oars (thank goodness we recovered the missing oar!). While we only spotted a few turtles, we thoroughly enjoyed the peace and tranquility of slowly floating through the mangroves to the ocean beach.

At low tide, hundreds of yards of tidal flats are exposed for exploring and beach combing, which we did on another day during our visit there.

Cambridge Cay

Our last stop in the park was to Cambridge Cay, where we stayed for a whole week! After moving around every few days for months, it was nice to relax in one spot for awhile. While privately owned, the cay is open to guests to hike and lounge on its sandy beaches.

Every day boats came and went around us, while we spent the time exploring and snorkeling, relaxing on our own "private beaches," and tackling boat projects. The highlight of our visit was snorkeling the natural "sea aquarium," where we visited several times to see soft corals, hundreds of small colorful reef fish, and a few large rays. While snorkeling, Nick also found a nice mask and snorkel on the seabed, so we now have a spare set!

We attempted to snorkel the nearby Rocky Dundas caves while in Cambridge, but calm water is necessary to safely enter and snorkel the caves and it's open to easterly swell from the Atlantic Ocean, which we unfortunately didn't have during our visit.

Overall we loved our time in the Exumas Park, and after six weeks in the Bahamas, we are convinced this mostly untouched area is amongst the most beautiful in the islands and that we will ever see; the park's contrasting water colors, tropical fish, colorful reefs, and white sandy beaches are simply stunning!


  1. Now I think you guys should rush to meet us in Puerto Rico ;)

    1. We are on our way and hope to be there soon!