Step onto the white-sand beaches of the Exumas — a chain of more than 365 tiny Bahamian islands and sleepy cays — and you'll be struck with the feeling that you're the first to discover this remarkable corner of the planet.
Here it's iguana tails, not human footprints, that leave marks in the sand, and stumbling upon a gleaming pink conch shell the size of your head is as common as having a new shade of blue catch your eye each time you survey the surrounding waters.
But as your boat approaches Big Major Cay, you're awoken from this daydream by some rather boorish inhabitants: loud, snorting pigs paddling out to greet you like a jolly bunch of golden retrievers rushing to the door when their owner finally gets home from a long day of work.
The locals at Big Major's “Pig Beach” are transplants rather than native islanders, just like many of the people you'll meet in the area. And though they've clearly taken to their tropical digs and rising popularity — spurred in part by a dramatic appearance on “The Bachelor” and more than a few well-liked Instagram posts — the rewards of fame (read: free food) have come at a cost.
Since human visitors have become a fixture on the island, the pigs have mostly abandoned foraging in the forest in favor of eating the food that's thrown to them from boats and on the shore. Swallowing sand amidst the feeding frenzies, coupled with a dry January that depleted their already limited supply of fresh drinking water, was likely the true cause of death, a Humane Society inspector told National Geographic. Healthy pigs have been brought in to replace their fallen comrades, and the friendly sunbathers are still splashing their way onto the bucket lists of animal-loving travelers everywhere.
Here's what we learned on a recent visit, including how to get there, what to expect, where to stay, and, of course, how to responsibly interact with the animals.