When you first step ashore the sugar sand beaches of the Bahamas, it's clear that the area isn't exactly the most natural place for a pig. Rather than snorting around Old McDonald's farm, Bahamian pigs wade through the aquarium-clear waters along the white sand island chain of the Exuma islands. The pigs themselves range in color from powder pink to jet black. Their flat button noses act as a snorkel as they swim and search for morsels of food brought by intrepid travelers.
The original Swimming Pig Beach in the Bahamas is found on the island of Big Major Cay, affectionately called "Pig" Major Cay by some. The island is uninhabited by humans and governed solely by its pig residents. While it's not precisely clear how or when the pigs first took up residence on this island paradise, locals have settled on a few theories.
One involves a group of sailors who charted their way through the Caribbean and dropped off a handful of pigs on the island. Their goal was to have a steady source of pork upon their return. However, the sailors never came back — supposedly, they fell victim to a pirate attack. Meanwhile, the pigs thrived as scavengers.
Another tale relates the story of a ship carrying pigs which ran aground on a sandbank or reef near Big Major Cay. The quick-thinking swine swam towards land and found a new home on the Bahamian island. To stay alive, they feasted on rubbish and scraps that washed ashore.
The most practical explanation, however, is that locals dropped the pigs off on the island in an attempt to form a makeshift farm, made possible through the island's freshwater source. The locals then returned to collect the pigs for food. A man named Wayde Nixon told the "Today" show that he and his business partner placed some pigs on the island during the late 1990s. Since then, others have followed in his footsteps by starting pig colonies on other islands throughout the Caribbean.
Though the pigs on Big Major Cay have resided there for decades, they didn't steal the limelight from Miss Piggy in mainstream media until recently. Now, though, the pigs have gained celebrity status to the point where they've made a cameo appearance on "The Bachelor," have graced the social media feeds of some of Hollywood's biggest stars and even have their own Instagram account, with over 330,000 followers. Once travelers caught wind of the swimming pigs, Bahamian boat owners began organizing tours.
Today, there are a number of islands within the Bahamas that host communities of resident pigs. To see them for yourself, you can charter a boat or join a shore excursion from Nassau, Bahamas.
While you can't expect swimming pigs to have the svelte style of an Olympic swimmer, they are talented piggy-paddlers. Many of the swimming pigs are food-motivated, wading into the water for a cool-down or for a treat in the form of a fruit or vegetable.
Bobby Laurie, travel host of "The Jet Set," says that his experience swimming with pigs off Treasure Cay was unlike any other he's ever had.
He and fellow travelers were given apple slices on a stick to feed to the pigs from a safe distance. When the pigs smelled the apples, they'd run over in excitement, their curly tails wagging and their hooves kicking up a flurry of sand.
Bobby says, "The pigs were friendly. They were so excited for the apples that they made their way as fast as they could from person to person."
Once their burst of energy dwindled, the pigs plopped down for a seaside snooze, sitting next to anyone who was on the beach. Bobby says, "If you're not getting into the water, you can sit on the beach and the pigs will come over to you, sleep next to you, and you can enjoy the same up-close experience."
Since each pig has its own personality, much like a dog or cat, you might find that some are eager to go for a dip while others prefer to take a break on the beach.
While venturing around the Caribbean, Lisa Conant, her husband and their 15-year-old son and 12-year-old-daughter stopped at Big Major Cay in the Bahamas to see the swimming pigs for themselves.
Lisa says, "It was equal parts exhilarating and terrifying! Apparently, pigs are excellent swimmers. The pigs get very excited to get treats and will rush over to you, which can be disconcerting, considering their size and teeth. I grew up raising pigs on our farm, so I knew they would be friendly and fairly passive, but seeing them run towards us all at once was a bit nerve-wracking for us and the kids."
Fortunately, the pigs typically know when to take a hint, Lisa explains.
"When you run out of snacks or if you get nervous, just raise your hands near your face to show the pigs that you don't have any food. The pigs are well-trained to recognize this signal and will immediately leave you alone."
Like Bobby, Lisa found that once the pigs' energy levels dwindle, they're laid-back. Lisa remembers, "The pigs let you walk up to them on the beach and you can see the sleeping piglets, which are so adorable. They're extremely entertaining to watch!"
Briana Beaty, a blogger at The Palm Beach Moms, has visited the swimming pigs with her children multiple times over the years. She says, "Swimming with the pigs is really unique. They are very hungry (but picky) and friendly. The kids really enjoyed it. We went one year and saw little pink babies. On our next visit, the piglets were fully grown."
Like many visitors to the swimming pig beach, Briana didn't realize that the pigs had special aquatic skills. "When our boat pulled up to the island, the pigs came swimming out to greet us," she says. "I had no idea that pigs could swim!"
Before you venture out into the water with the iconic Caribbean pigs, make sure you're prepared. Bring sunscreen, a bathing suit, a hat, a waterproof camera and a bottle of water. If you have any items that shouldn't get wet or dirty, it's best to tuck them safely into a dry bag or leave them behind.
Bobby also advises travelers not to leave their water shoes behind, since you'll need protection if you accidentally get stepped on. "The pigs are very heavy," he cautions.
At the swimming pig beach, tour guides will typically teach guests how to safely feed and interact with the pigs. If you're bringing your own food, the pigs squeal in delight if they're offered fresh produce like apples, bananas, carrots and swine feed. Clean drinking water is also a great item to bring along if you're venturing to an island where the pigs may lack a fresh water source. Ensure that the morsels aren't covered in sand before you feed them to the pigs, as ingesting too much sand can be harmful to their health. Some swimming pig beaches advise visitors to place the food on the end of a stick, leaving a safe distance between your hand and the pig's mouth. If you don't want pigs to get too close, avoid carrying any food. They'll likely leave you alone and wander elsewhere in search of a more stocked traveler.
Because there are more swimming pig beaches than the original beach of Big Major Cay, it can be a challenge to know which pig-ruled island is worth venturing out to. As a rule, islands where the pigs' and tourists' well-being are kept in mind will have shade, fresh water and food for the pigs. The best islands have guides who can help clean up after the pigs and can gently guide any rambunctious pigs away from guests who prefer to be left alone.
Keep in mind that despite their cute demeanor, the pigs can be unpredictable at times. You'll want to give them plenty of space to roam around and avoid interacting with the ones who seem overeager to get a treat.
Swimming with pigs in the Bahamas is sure to be an unforgettable experience. In addition to the swimming pigs, you'll experience endless sweeping isles, rock-roaming iguanas, hospitable locals and a thriving underwater world that's home to rays, reef sharks, sea turtles and more. Whether you want to spend all day with the water-wading pigs or see them for just an hour or two on a half-day excursion, you're bound to have a memorable time in the Caribbean.
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