Going for a swim with pigs in The Bahamas is as silly as it sounds, and that's precisely why it's so much fun.
Why are pigs swimming in gorgeous Caribbean waters? How'd they get there? And who takes care of them?
I'll answer all these questions and more, plus share my experiences swimming with the pigs at two different times of day (morning and sunset).
Whether you've seen the photos on social media, remember Pig Beach from an episode of “The Bachelor,” or are entirely new to swimming with pigs, let's dive in.
Kel joined me to help capture the moment; you'll see her in many photos, too.
Frequently Asked Questions
Before sharing my experiences from this popular tourist attraction, I'd like to address some common questions so you know what to expect.
Where in The Bahamas can you swim with pigs?
Pig Beach is on Big Major Cay in Exuma, a district of The Bahamas, a five-minute boat trip from Staniel Cay, the closest island.
This small uninhabited island is the original and most popular place to swim with pigs. Copycat locations have since popped up in other parts of The Bahamas.
Staniel Cay has an airport, making the swimming with pigs tour a popular day trip from Nassau. Due to the cay's famous resident pigs, it's now known as “Pig Island.”
Why are there pigs swimming in The Bahamas?
Many theories are floating around the interwebs, such as pigs having escaped to shore from a shipwreck. Captain Dave dispelled the rumors on our day tour and gave a simple explanation.
A few decades ago, farmers began raising pigs on Staniel Cay. When the smell became too bothersome for the locals, they demanded a change.
The farmers took their pigs on a short boat ride to the nearby uninhabited Big Major Cay.
As the farmers frequently returned to feed and care for the pigs, the farm animals began associating the approaching boats with food, thus swimming out to them.
Over time, as more people saw this, tour operators took notice. The activity went viral with the advent of smartphones and social media.
In 2018 alone, over 6 million visitors came to The Bahamas to swim with pigs. It's become a significant draw to the country and thus has had a beneficial economic impact.
Is it safe to swim with pigs?
Yes, it's safe to go swimming with pigs in The Bahamas. However, there are essential safety precautions to keep in mind.
The pigs' only mission is to get the food, which will be thrown from your boat into the water.
If you're in the way, the pigs will swim next to you, and they won't care where their hard-hooved feet are going as they try to stay afloat.
I learned that keeping a few feet between you and the pigs in the water is best because they can accidentally kick you while swimming.
Kel and I were inadvertently kicked, and they were hard enough to leave bruises on our thighs.
Don't tease or withhold food from the pigs or do anything that might scare them. You don't want to get accidentally bitten.
This should go without saying, but don't attempt to “ride” the pigs in the water, grab them, or hold them. They're trying to stay afloat and alive, paddling in the water, just like you.
Pigs are animals, and animals poop, so don't be surprised if you see pigs pooping in the shallow water where they can stand.
Unfortunately, the brown poop balls will float in otherwise clear shallow waters. Just try to avoid it if you see it. And try not to let seawater get in your mouth.
Be respectful, play nice, and you're sure to have a good time.
Are the pigs well-cared for at Pig Beach?
An upside to the incredible popularity of pig tourism in The Bahamas is that some of the proceeds can be reinvested in caring for the pigs.
The pigs are fed food donated from restaurants and other sources on Staniel Cay. They also have a sufficient supply of fresh water on the beach.
A veterinarian visits Pig Beach monthly to check on their health and address any medical needs.
A local person stationed on Pig Beach monitors tourist interactions throughout the day and ensures the pigs are treated well.
The local monitor and tour guides help, such as putting coconut oil on the pigs to protect them from sun exposure. As far as I can tell, the pigs live the good life in The Bahamas.
They're well cared for, appreciated by local business owners and tourists alike, and not at risk of being killed for bacon. They're curious belly rubs fanatics that sincerely seemed to love our attention.
Some pigs passed away about five years ago, and there was no apparent cause. Early rumors suggested tourists had fed them alcohol, and this proved false.
Upon further investigation, the deaths were due to the pigs ingesting too much sand, which can happen when tourists feed them on the beach.
This is why it's only safe to feed the pigs while they're in the water, preferably swimming.
Which celebrities have gone swimming with the pigs in Exuma?
Visiting and swimming with the pigs is fun for all ages, not to mention the rich and famous.
Celebrity visitors include Pitbull (whose music video for “Timber” features the pigs and has over one billion views on YouTube), Kendall Jenner, the Kardashian sisters Kourtney and Khloe, and Amy Schumer.
Johnny Depp and Tyler Perry own private islands nearby, so it's not hard to imagine they've stopped by.
My Experience at Pig Beach
Swimming With Pigs at Sunset
My first (of two) swimming with pigs tours arrived at Pig Beach on Big Major Cay after 4:30 p.m.
We'd spent a full day on the boat exploring the best things to do in the Exuma cays, including:
- Swimming with nurse sharks on Compass Cay.
- Snorkeling with sea turtles at Little Farmer's Cay.
- Visiting rock iguanas on Bitter Guana Cay.
- Snorkeling at Thunderball Grotto (used in James Bond movies).
- Lunch at Staniel Cay Yacht Club.
- Photo op and walk on a pretty sandbar.
The beach was bathed in soft, golden light at sunset. And it was empty, of humans, at least.
Our boat captain, Kuenson, began calling for the pigs, and three started running into the water.
Any fatigue I'd felt evaporated as I saw the pigs swimming toward our boat.
I took photos from the boat before taking off my watch and jumping in the water.
Kuenson tossed them some food from the boat, which they consistently swam for while I tried to keep my head above water and smile for Kel's camera.
During this time, I got an accidental hoof to my thigh after allowing myself to float too close to one of the big pigs.
And perhaps not surprisingly, it's mainly the bigger pigs that swim out to the boats. I saw some smaller ones looking out curiously from the beach; however, they didn't swim.
Once we'd swum a little, our captain brought the boat in, and we hopped off for more photos with the adorable pigs.
After a full day of eating and swimming, the pigs tend to be tired in the late afternoon.
The bigger ones, like Oscar, seemed content to sleep, while the smaller ones were more engaged.
One of the cutest moments came when a little brown piglet lay down.
Kel was giving it plenty of attention, and then an enormous white pig came over and plopped right down next to it to assert its dominance and steal her affection.
The photo above looks like the enormous pig is lying on top of the smaller brown one, but it's just an illusion. The little one was fine (and super adorable)!
While on the beach, our boat captain released some freshwater from a storage tank for the pigs.
Pig Beach faces west, so it's an excellent spot to catch a sunset if the sky is clear.
The area just offshore is a popular spot for yachts to anchor. In my photo above, you can see one in the distance, just below the sun.
We departed Pig Beach about 40 minutes after arriving, just before dark. It was a five-minute boat ride back to Staniel Cay.
Morning Swim With the Pigs
The following day, Kel and I boarded a boat with a new captain, Captain Dave, and set off on our second swimming with pigs tour.
Two sisters also attended this tour on a day trip from Nassau; one had a baby with her.
Our first stop was the protected rock iguanas south of Staniel Cay before we backtracked and traveled five minutes north of Staniel Cay to Pig Beach.
It was about 9:50 a.m. when we arrived, and we once again stayed for 40 minutes.
In the bright sunshine, the waters were sparkling and clear. I enjoyed seeing the pigs at sunset the day before, but it's a different experience on a clear, sunny morning.
I was so excited; I didn't stop to take off my new Apple Watch before jumping off the boat into the water.
I didn't realize it then, but my watch fell off. More on that later.
I felt much more comfortable around the pigs on our second visit to the small island. I was in pig heaven, swimming with them and taking photos once we went ashore.
There were other boats, so we didn't have Pig Beach to ourselves this time, but it was still fun.
It was mid-November when we visited, something of a shoulder season between the end of hurricane season and the start of the high season from December through February.
What seemed like many tourists was probably nothing compared to the number of people visiting the pigs over the winter.
Reminder, over 6 million tourists went swimming with the pigs in 2018 alone.
I fed a baby piglet on land, a first for me. I was careful to let it down once it stopped showing an interest in the milk bottle.
Once we'd gotten all the photos we wanted, our merry group of five returned to the boat, and Captain Dave motored north for more sightseeing.
Lost and Found
About ten minutes later, I realized my Apple Watch was missing. My anxiety spiked, and I told the captain it must've come off when I jumped from the boat. He suggested returning right away was best, so we did.
In the meantime, I opened the “Find My” app on my iPhone and marked my watch as missing. I also had a weak signal from my T-Mobile cellular service and could see the watch's location in the app.
As we arrived back at Pig Beach, I showed Dave the watch's location in the app, and he positioned the boat nearby. The water was so clear that we could spot the dark watch from the boat.
Kel had brought goggles, and she confidently dove off the boat. She arose from the seabed with my watch and a big smile.
And it wasn't long before a pig swam up to her, perhaps thinking she had snacks, only to realize that wasn't why we were there. I was thankful to Captain Dave and thrilled with Kel.
I marked my watch as found in the app, and we continued our boat tour in the Exuma cays of The Bahamas for another four hours.
When's the Best Time To Swim With Pigs?
Swimming with the pigs in the morning and at sunset has pros and cons. When you go depends primarily on the kinds of photos you'd like to get.
Pros of Sunset
- Fewer people on the beach.
- Good natural light (golden hour).
- Pretty sunset if the weather is clear.
Cons of Sunset
- The water is darker.
- Pigs are tired, and fewer may go swimming.
- You may be tired by the end of the day, too.
Pros of Morning
- Water is gorgeous if the sun is shining.
- Prettier photos.
- Pigs are more active and engaged.
Cons of Morning
- More people and competition for pigs' attention.
This story is brought to you in collaboration with 3N's Exuma Vacations and EMBRACE Resort.