What it’s really like to swim with the Bahamas pigs on Pig Beach

What it’s really like to swim with the Bahamas pigs on Pig Beach

Ever had a 400 pound swine bite you in the butt?

I hadn’t either, until I ended up swimming with pigs in the Bahamas.

Bahamas pigs on Pig Beach

Let’s back it up a bit (see what I did there) and start off with how I found myself on famous Pig Beach surrounded by dozens of excited, screeching mammals in the idyllic Exumas Islands.

To be clear, I’m talking about my fellow guests here, not just the four-legged farm animals.

This experience landed on my bucket list after an episode of The Bachelor was filmed here, and predictably chaos ensued when the group of bikini-clad babes found themselves surrounded by wild, pooping pigs.

Sounds like another outlandish reality TV setup, but now that I’ve seen it for myself I can assure you their experience was horrifyingly realistic.

Bahamas pigs on Pig Beach

Needless to say curiosity got the better of me, so years later when my sister Courtney and I ended up visiting the Bahamas, swimming with pigs was high on the to-do list and the first thing we did was book this tour to Big Major Cay, AKA Pig Beach or Pig Island.

Bahamas pigs on Pig Beach
Pig Beach, Bahamas

Why are there pigs in the Bahamas?

There’s no official stance on how exactly the pigs ended up on this otherwise uninhabited island. Depending on who you ask, they were left by a group of sailors who planned to come back later to enjoy some bacon. Or perhaps they swam over from a nearby shipwreck.

The most plausible explanation is that farmers in neighbouring Staniel Cay had a pigpen just outside the village, and when residents complained about the stench the solution was to move the pig posse to Big Major Cay and boat over to feed them everyday.

Since pigs are pretty darn smart, they quickly figured out that boats=food and would swim out in hopes of getting first dibs. Realizing the potential gold mine on their hands, the farmers opened up the island to tourism and today millions of people make the trip over for this unique experience every year.

 

Where to swim with pigs in the Bahamas

There are a few different beaches with pigs in the Bahamas; while Big Major Cay is the OG and best known with a couple dozen porkers, they’re also found on Crystal Beach on Grand Bahama Island, Eleuthera, and Rose Island which is a quick boat ride from Nassau.

Getting to Pig Beach from Nassau requires a 180 mile round trip boat ride, so if you sign up for this expect a long, bumpy day on the water. Oh, and if a storm just so happens to roll in, this is what it looks like:

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Rose Island is a faster, easier option from Nassau, and tours are also much cheaper:

 

 

What it’s actually like to visit the Exumas Bahamas pigs

Now, back to the story of the pig who took a bite out of my backside.

As our motorboat with about a dozen camera-toting tourists drifted in the shallow water towards the beach, a pack of pigs swam out to greet us—hoping for a first chance to grab some grub, no doubt.

Their snouts poked out of the water, while their teeny legs dog-paddled in the water below. Who even knew swines could swim?!

Bahamas pigs on Pig Beach

It was absolute mayhem by the time the boat’s hull sloshed into the sand, as there were already about 50 people on shore jostling for pig pics and swine selfies. They’d dangle a long carrot or apple that the guides had provided and a pig would lunge at it, resulting in a flurry of squeals, giggles and a few shrieks when an animal’s teeth got too close for someone’s liking.

People were scurrying around in all directions in a feverish frenzy, while the pigs either zig-zagged around in search of food or ran the other direction to get some solace.

It was an absolute circus.

Bahamas pigs on Pig Beach

Courtney and I tentatively watched the antics from the safety of our high perch on the boat, trying to gauge whether we actually wanted to step foot on Pig Island after all. Sure the little buggers were cute, but this level of chaos wasn’t exactly the vibe.

Our guide eventually lured me down, and I stood just a few steps away ready to leap back up at a moment’s notice. That’s when he suddenly thrust a tiny piglet into my arms–despite touching the pigs being something we were explicitly told not to do.

Caught off guard, I didn’t really know what to do other than just go with it, and my sister started snapping a few cute pics of the snuggle session. And that’s when it happened.

Just as I put the babe down, I felt a sharp sensation in my butt. A hefty hog had come up behind me, and chomped into my butt completely unprovoked–I wasn’t even holding food!

I was shocked (luckily it didn’t hurt, it was just more of a surprise) and Courtney cackled down at me. Yup, I deserved that.

Opting to stick to the shoreline where there was less commotion, we eventually built up some confidence and started to stroll along the blonde beach, ensuring to keep a bit of distance between ourselves and an enormous pig named Dumpling.

Courtney making new friends on Pig Beach

I waded out into the water with a few of them (keeping an eye out for floating turds–yes, that’s a thing), while my sister occupied herself with a cute-as-a-button trio of piglets near the brush.

Retrieving a carrot from the boat, I eventually summed up the courage to toss the veggie at one of them, which in hindsight I wouldn’t recommend because then they ALL come at you like you’re a mama with their milk.

And as if the outing couldn’t get even more ridiculous, the experience culminated by almost getting peed on by a wayward hog as I leaned down to retrieve a carrot off the sand. Yes, Courtney caught the whole thing on camera.

Time to go home.

That time I almost got peed on by a pig
@globeguide At least they’re cute 🐷 #tiktoktravel #travelfail #fail #bahamas ♬ original sound – Matthew Rincon

More surprises on the Bahamas swimming pigs tour

But wait, it gets ‘better.’

Since it takes a few hours to get to the Exumas from Nassau by boat, tours usually make multiple stops throughout the day to break up the trip.

We sped past palatial homes on their own private islands owned by celebs like Johnny Depp and Tyler Perry, and bobbed off the coast of Norman’s Cay which once belonged to infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar.

Johnny Depp’s humble abode

Fans of Narcos might recall a scene where a plane bound for Miami and overloaded with cocaine crashes into the sea: this is exactly where it happened, and you can still see the wreckage submerged underwater.

The shadow in the water is wreckage from the plane crash

While I knew that the tour we booked also included a visit to Allen Cay which has pristine blonde beaches and the opportunity to feed lettuce and grapes to technicoloured iguanas, our next stop of the day was a HUGE surprise.

Allen Cay
Allen Cay

Allen Cay

Allen Cay
Courtney feeding an iguana grapes at Allen Cay

As the captain cut the motor and we bobbed towards the dock in Compass Cay, I peered down into the crystalline water and let out a gasp. Just below, a nurse shark silently slid along the hull of the boat, as if leading us into the marina.

The guide then announced that this was where we’d get out to swim with the silver sharks, and my sister and I looked at each other in shock– umm what?! Clearly we didn’t read the tour description properly because I had absolutely no idea this was on the agenda.

Compass Cay, Bahamas
Compass Cay

It turns out this clear lagoon is another popular destination, where visitors have the opportunity to stand in the shallow water as sharks glide by in search of food (hopefully of the seafood variety, like the chum our guide started throwing into the water by the handful).

He then demonstrated how you could gently put your hands on their stomach, and they would calmly hang out so you could get a closer look at them.

He encouraged us to do the same, bringing one right over to me. I have to admit, it’s a pretty incredible and awe-inspiring experience to hold a shark in your hands.

Compass Cay

The spellbinding experience was broken when a procession of boats filled with loud, exuberant tourists suddenly showed up and flung themselves into what had been a calm lagoon just minutes before.

The second I saw a couple of 40-somethings start chasing around a shark and trying to grab it by the tail for a selfie, you’d better believe I jumped out of the water and watched the antics in dismay from the safety of the pier.

Absolute mayhem in Compass Cay

Fortunately, our last stop of the day in Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park was much more tranquil than the shark and pig debacles, as we lounged on a blissful, sugar sand beach and clinked our cool beers that perfectly matched the sea, glad to have finally escaped it all.

Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park
Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park

Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park

Ethics of visiting the pigs in the Bahamas

The actual ethics surrounding swimming with the Bahamas pigs is definitely worth a conversation. Honestly, my sister and I felt a bit uncomfortable with what a spectacle the whole thing was–and don’t even get me started on the surprise shark session.

I think that if done properly there’s a tremendous tourism benefit in regards to supporting the livelihoods of locals. Unfortunately, I didn’t see that play out and think operators could benefit with some education to ensure the sustainability of these fragile habitats, and in turn educate visitors more on the dos and don’ts.

Instead, we saw throngs of tourists overwhelming the cays, wildly grabbing and holding onto shark fins and tails (a HUGE no-no) and trying to snuggle the piglets even when the directions were explicitly not to.

I definitely screwed up with this too and felt icky about it after. For example, I knew not to touch the pigs and was simply standing next to the boat when the guide literally thrust the piglet into my arms. Sure it ended up being a cute pic, but also resulted in its protective mama coming up and rightfully biting me in the ass.

Do NOT do this if you go to Pig Beach

With the sharks, it was honestly such a surprise seeing them since we didn’t realize that was part of the tour that we didn’t have much time to think about it. It was calm when we first got in the water and I enjoyed simply watching the sharks leisurely swim around…until boatloads of tourists arrived and it felt like a feeding frenzy.

Unfortunately people have been attacked in this exact spot (allegedly for not following directions).

In retrospect, I wish I’d said no when the guide went to put the piglet in my arms, and also stayed on the dock to watch the sharks from a distance (or visited on a private tour without other tourists, and simply stood in the water ensuring they weren’t being disturbed).

The pigs are just as cute if you watch them from a distance!

Tips for visiting the swimming pigs in the Bahamas

  • Do not touch the pigs 
  • Only feed them food provided by guides (fruits, vegetables, bread and pig feed that can be purchased locally.)
  • Watch out for poop!
  • Stay in designated visitor areas
  • Do not startle the animals

Community efforts to care for the Bahamas pigs

Several measures have been implemented by a pair of restaurateurs on Staniel Cay, the so-called ‘dedicated custodians of the swimming pigs.’ Those include:

  • Raising funds to buy water tanks and developing a guttering system to ensure the pigs receive freshwater, even when volunteers aren’t there to refill the tanks.
  • Building a nursery for the piglets to ensure proper care and nutrition, and separate pens for animals who are ill and need medical treatment (provided by a vet from Nassau).
  • Adding signs detailing ‘pig approved’ foods and tips for interacting with the pigs.
  • Installing a trough so pigs don’t ingest excess sand or saltwater.
Bahamas pigs on Pig Beach
Pig Beach

So, is seeing the swimming pigs in the Bahamas worth it?

I wish we’d done a few things differently in terms of giving the animals more space, and I didn’t love the hours-long boat ride between Nassau and Exuma. This trip is a lot easier for those already staying in the Exumas, visiting Rose Island instead, or springing for this tour that goes by plane.

Despite the sky high price tag (pretty sure this is the most expensive day trip I’ve EVER done) and Instagram versus Reality experience at Pig Beach, I’m still glad I crossed ‘swim with pigs in the Bahamas’ off my bucket list.

Book a tour to Pig Beach

 

 

Book a tour to Rose Island

 

 

Bahamas pigs on Pig Beach

 

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