Hurricane Dorian caused devastation when it swept through the Bahamas.

But it’s business as usual in Great Exuma, discovers David Young


It’s a question sure to interrupt any daydream. I’m enjoying a lavish breakfast in the Bahamian haven of Great Exuma, ruminating about swing flaws and missed putts, when my wife comes across a guidebook entry she feels merits my attention.

“What should you do if you’re chased by a swimming pig?” she reads deadpan, coffee in hand, without a glance away from the page.

Kerri’s query conjures a somewhat alarming prospect. I’m in the Bahamas ostensibly to brush up on a flagging golf game at Sandals Emerald Bay resort; not flee the trotters of an enraged waterborne hog.

Thankfully, she moves swiftly to the guidebook’s recommended answer. It transpires the world-renowned swimming pigs, who’ve made an uninhabited Bahamian island their home, are not aggressive pursuers, they’re just not very good at stopping.

As they’ve only been at it for around 15 years (swimming, that is), I suppose evolution hasn’t yet had a chance to equip them with physiology more suited to the amphibious lifestyle they’ve unexpectedly embraced.

There are several local legends as to how a small group of pigs ended up on Big Major Cay, one of around 360 islands that make up the idyllic Exumas region of the Bahamas.

Some say they were left by sailors who intended to return to cook them but never did; others claim they were washed ashore from a shipwreck.

As the tour boat approaches Pig Island, our guide MJ insists it was the work of a local farmer, who thought its water hole and ample vegetation made it a perfect place to plump up his livestock.

The engine noise rouses the resident 20 pigs and piglets from their midday sunbathe.

Snorting loudly, they trot down to shore and start paddling out toward us. “The pigs were smart,” MJ continues. “They learned to swim and saved themselves. No one’s going to eat those pigs now.”

And he’ right. The swimming pigs have become a tourism sensation in recent years, drawing thousands of visitors keen to tick off what has become a surprise bucket list experience. “We call him Kung Fu Panda,” MJ shouts, a bucket of vegetables under his arm as he wades between the inquisitive stingrays gliding around our feet. He’ pointing at a hefty black and white chap who’s chugging at pace in my direction. “Watch out, he’s a kicker!” Luckily, I avoid a kick from the pig named after a panda.

He instead halts his momentum by clumsily bumping his snout into my stomach. A couple of carrots and an obligatory selfie later and he’s off again, paddling unsteadily towards his next food-bearing human buffer stop.

Swimming with the pigs is the highlight of a packed afternoon trip around the Exumas with Island Routes tours – a rollick that also includes reef snorkelling; peaking at the island homes of the rich and famous; and a stop at a beach populated by hundreds of endangered Bahamian Rock iguanas. It comes midway through our week on Great Exuma, the largest of the Exumas.

Our home is a fabulous beachside house at Sandals’ acclaimed all-inclusive resort, which sits like a jewel on the mile-long stretch of unspoiled sand that wraps around Emerald Bay. And our plan, swimming with pigs aside, revolves around golf and relaxation.

Not that Rich Gibson goes in for much relaxation on the range.

The veteran golf pro at Sandals’ championship Greg Norman-designed course, delights in keeping his students on their toes.

“Imagine you’re swinging at the girl who stole your lunch money at school,” he jokes, employing another colourful metaphor to urge Kerri to hit the ball harder.

My wife’s a complete novice and I’m seriously out of practice. Gibby, as he’s known to the sun-seeking golfers who come back to play this spectacular ocean-front course year after year, tailors our block of lessons accordingly. “Why are you lying to me?” he demands with faux outrage, as Kerri pings a drive 150 yards down the middle. “A beginner? You’e no beginner?”

His disarming manner makes learning fun and explains the popularity of his coaching programme. “I guess this is the best job in the world,” he concedes as he joins us at the end of a lesson to play a few holes on a course that hosts a PGA tour-sanctioned tournament every January.

Watching the boats bob in the azure sea around the rocky outcrop that cradles the 13th green, I find it hard to argue. But not everything in Great Exuma’s recent past has been plain sailing.

Rich rolls his eyes as I enquire about an infamous episode that made headlines around the world – the Fyre Festival. “That’s where it was, over there,” he says, pointing to a nondescript strip of concrete on the other side of Sandals’ marina.

The disastrous music party has become a byword for how not to stage an event, in no small part due to two coruscating TV documentaries on the debacle. Announced in a blaze of publicity and promoted by an array of supermodels and social media influencers (the launch video even starred the swimming pigs), Fyre Festival turned out of be one giant flop. Fans who had shelled out thousands on the promise of the world’s best acts, luxury villa accommodation and gourmet dining arrived in April 2017 to discover the reality was a scattering of damp tents, prepacked sandwiches and a mass pull-out of the billed stars.

Jeremy Mutton, the English-born general manager of Sandals Emerald Bay, resisted multiple approaches to participate in the event.

Despite the shambles, he believes the festival’s notoriety may ultimately benefit the Exumas. “It has shown a whole new generation of people just how beautiful this place is,” he says as we chat back at the hotel.

Great Exuma is, indeed stunning, but the island’s character is arguably just as compelling as its setting – doors lie unlocked, there are no fast food outlets, just one main road, and there’s never been any need for traffic lights. “I describe it as an innocence,”

says Jeremy, highlighting what he considers the defining feature of the Exumas.

Sandals bought its property on Great Exuma a decade ago. With around a dozen restaurants, six bars, a huge zero-entry pool, tennis courts, a luxuriant spa and wellequipped gym, and a team of attentive butlers if desired, you can easily find reason never to step foot outside Sandals’ real estate.

But Sunday afternoon served up a persuasive exception, when a short boat trip took us to nearby Stocking Island and the charming Chat ‘n’ Chill, a rustic and lively beach restaurant famed for its Bahamian roast and conch salad.

Our time at Sandals comes weeks before Christmas – a day when the resort hosts around 70 orphans, flown to the island by Bahamas Air pilots who volunteer their time to give some of the country’s most needy children an unforgettable experience.

Like the resort’s weekly guest trips to read to local schoolchildren, it’s an initiative of the Sandals Foundation – the philanthropic arm of the company that only months earlier was involved in the emergency relief response to one of the worst natural disasters in the Bahamas’ history. Hurricane Dorian devastated several islands in September, including Abaco and Grand Bahama.

Though it was the strongest tropical cyclone to ever hit the Bahamas, most of its 700 islands escaped unscathed, including the Exumas. The destruction was confined to the northern tip of a country that spans 500 miles of ocean.

While rebuilding is now the priority in the areas pummelled by Dorian, for the rest of this tourism-reliant nation there is an understandable desire to get the message out that paradise still awaits. And await it does, nowhere more so than in the Exumas. Just watch out for those kicking pigs.

PLANNING YOUR TRIP A seven-night all-inclusive stay for two at Sandals Emerald Bay Golf, Tennis and Spa Resort (; 0800 597 0002) in a Beach House Luxury Club Level Room costs from £2,160 per person. Price includes return economy flights from London Heathrow and resort transfers.

Price is valid for travel on select dates between August 31 and October 18.

Golf lessons per couple are $60/£46 for 30 mins and $100/£76 for an hour.

Green fees for two rounds of golf are complimentary for guests staying at the resort. Guests staying for seven nights or more get free green fees for multiple rounds of golf.

The Swimming with Pigs half-day adventure with Island Routes is priced from £158 per person. It can be booked via the Sandals UK website or via the call centre 0800 742 742.

For further information on the Exumas visit