The first thing that stops you is the beach, a snaking strip of white sand that serves as a glittering buffer between the Atlantic Ocean and the steps to the Grand Isle Resort and Spa. Nassau and its sky scraping hotels get all the pub in the Bahamas but it's an open secret that here, in Georgetown, the capital and largest city of the Exuma Islands district, are some of the most picturesque waterfronts on the planet. Up the stairs, past the infinity pool and around the open air Palapa Grill are some of the most luxurious villas ever built. Paradise? Paradise ain't got nothing on this place.
There are two types of vacation-goers: The adventurous and the relaxed. And as the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit crew discovered on a weeklong trip to Grand Isle, this place has a little something for both. For the golfers, an award winning 18-hole championship course--designed by the great Greg Norman--winds around the property, and every villa comes equipped with a golf cart. Others can watch days disappear on a float in the infinity pool or enjoy anything from a Balinese massage to an organic facial in the SeaStar Spa. There is a fitness center for the health conscious and a plethora of restaurants to sample the local cuisine--the conch salad is an always popular choice--are a short cab ride away.
Some--like me--prefer to explore the area, and there is no better tour guide on the island than the staff at Four C's Adventures. Wake up early, hop on a boat and motor out into the clear blue sea to experience all the Exuma Islands have to offer. Many of the smaller islands are private playgrounds for the uber wealthy, with the likes of Nicolas Cage, David Copperfield and Faith Hill owning some of the lots that freckle the Atlantic down here.
The Exuma's, of course, are a collection of islands known for its natural treasures. One of the first stops on the Four C's tour is an island inhabited by oversized Iguanas. Putter out a little further and go ashore at a thick sandbar planted in the middle of the sea. Sand is just sand to you until you stick your feet in this and watch them sink up to your ankles. A trip to a private marina allows passengers--for $10--the opportunity to swim with sharks, while at the Thunderball Grotto--so named for its use in the 1965 Bond film--snorkelers can cruise through the caves gazing down at the thousands of fish that call it home.
The highlight of the trip is the finale, a small, seemingly uninhabited island. It looks quiet upon first approach, but the sound of the outboard motor sends a pack of 300-plus pound pigs indigenous to the area charging into the sea. Tourists are encouraged to feed, pet and swim with them, and the pigs are happy to hang out as long as food keeps coming in their direction.
It's a unique experience in a unique place. And it's why for any visitor who makes the journey to Georgetown, one trip is never enough.