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10 Unexpected Wildlife Experiences in the Bahamas

Feeding wild iguanas, swimming with pigs and more exhilarating island adventures await.

U.S. News & World Report

10 Unexpected Wildlife Experiences in the Bahamas

A green sea turtle, Chelonia mydas, Bahamas

Beyond lounging on unspoiled beaches, wildlife enthusiasts can enjoy thrilling encounters, like snorkeling with sharks, feeding stingrays and tagging green sea turtles.(Getty Images)

When you think of a vacation to the Bahamas, swimming with dolphins, snorkeling or sunbathing on a pristine beach might come to mind. But today's wildlife-seekers can find diverse encounters, from feeding iguanas to petting sharks and even swimming with wild pigs, ranging from the educational to the extreme. Here are 10 surprising wildlife experiences in the Bahamas.

Saluting Flamingos and Feeding Lorikeets at Ardastra Gardens in Nassau, Bahamas

In Nassau, locals call flamingos "drill birds," a testament to the long-standing military-style march tradition that takes place three times daily at Ardastra Gardens, Zoo and Conservation Centre, which is conveniently located near downtown Nassau's bustling cruise port. Every day, a uniformed man commands the flock of pretty pinksters, the national bird of the Bahamas as they strut their stuff. Even when "at ease," you can see and hear the flamingos freely strolling the gardens. Best of all, the facility allows visitors to approach the birds closely for cameo shots. Another worthwhile wildlife encounter takes place during daily lorikeet feedings when you can enter the center's enclosure to feed the colorful birds apples. In their excitement, the birds often land on visitors' arms and heads.

Feeding the Iguanas of Great Guana Cay in Exuma, the Bahamas

On a boat tour to the small outlying Great Guana Cay, you can feed iguanas grapes on a stick. Fierce and prehistoric looking, the iguanas magically appear on the rocky, sandy landscape as boats approach the cay. You will most likely witness a territorial squabble or two as you step onto the beach in search of a stick. The iguanas will even stand on their hind legs to reach suspended grapes. But a word to the wise: Cover brightly colored pink- or red-painted nails, which iguanas may mistake for berries.

Swimming With Wild Pigs in Exuma

Typically, on the same tour that stops at Great Guana Cay, visitors can enjoy a crazy encounter with wild pigs at Big Major Cay. The pigs swim from the beach to greet the tour boats in anticipation of snacks, such as chunks of bread and meat thrown their direction, and many people jump in the water to swim with the swine.

Petting a Shark in South Bimini, Bahamas

The Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation (or the "Bimini Sharklab") in South Bimini is all about shark research and conservation. The public may visit for low tide tours of the facilities most days. After a talk about sharks and the foundation's work, visitors can wade into the shark pens, where they may have the opportunity to touch a juvenile lemon shark or a nurse shark and learn more about their respective lifestyles.

Feeding Sting Rays With Your Toes in the Abaco Islands

A number of tours available in the Abaco Islands chain incorporate stingray feeding into visitors' island experience. For example, Brendal's Dive Center in Green Turtle Cay takes you on a snorkeling expedition that ends on the deserted Manjack Cay for a picnic. On the tour, the staff snatches up scraps of the raw grouper for you to stuff between your toes in shallow water to draw the silky and sleek stingrays to glide over your feet. But a word of caution: Make sure your toes remain flat on the sand bottom.

Tagging Green Sea Turtles in Cat Island, Bahamas  

Fernandez Bay Village resort on Cat Island can arrange for guests to go on a green sea turtle tagging roundup with employee Mark Keasler. The best time to participate in the sea turtle roundup is the summer. The roundup involves two boats circling the 300-pound creature until it tires enough so Keasler can jump into the water and lift it into the boat for tagging. The ongoing, Bahamas-wide study helps monitor the local green turtle population, which was once decimated by islanders who slaughtered the prehistoric animals.

Snorkeling With Sharks in Nassau

It's an eerie feeling, gazing down upon 30 some reef sharks schooled 30 feet below. Distracted though the sharks may be by the cage of chum that the guides of the Stuart Cove snorkeling operation drop to the ocean's floor, the sharks nonetheless can seem menacing. Still, the guides assure snorkelers that these are not predatory sharks and that no one has ever been attacked on their popular three-site snorkeling excursions that end with this blood-pumping experience. Snorkelers can quietly enter the water without flapping or kicking and hang onto a rope to breathlessly watch the fearsome creatures circle around them.

Shark Diving in Grand Bahama Island

If snorkeling with sharks isn't extreme enough for you, the UNEXSO (Underwater Explorers Society) dive operation in Grand Bahama Island, which pioneered shark interactions decades earlier, goes well beyond snorkeling. After a briefing to allay fears, guides take scuba divers to the iconic Shark Alley (also known as Shark Junction) in Freeport, where the guides feed and interact with the toothy creatures.

Explore a Bat Cave in Grand Bahama Island

Limestone underlies most of the Bahama islands, which results in blue holes, caves and other remarkable geographic features. At Lucayan National Park, east of Freeport on Grand Bahama Island, you can climb down into two caves that serve as doorways to one of the world's longest mapped underground cave systems. In the summertime, one of the caves is home to nesting bats, which you see hanging upside down sleeping on the cave's moist ceiling during daytime hours.

Fishing for Ghost Fish in Andros Island

Known as "gray ghosts" because of their smoky color, quickness and tendency to spook easily, bonefish attract a rabid following. They pose a great challenge to determined anglers, especially fly fishermen. The settlement of Cargill Creek on Andros Island is famous for its expert bonefish guides, who can teach you the delicate art of spotting, hooking, finessing and netting one of these strong fighting, catch-and-release fish.

Corrected on April 1, 2016: A previous version of this story misstated that sharks are placed in a chum cage on a snorkeling operation in Nassau. The sharks are distracted by a cage of chum that tour guides drop into the ocean.

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Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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