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While the Caribbean’s white-sand beaches and azure waters may be the primary attraction for travelers visiting the area, an up-close encounter with one of the region’s animal species could turn out to be the most memorable part of a trip. Most travelers are well aware of the options for swimming with dolphins, observing migrating humpback whales and participating in turtle release programs, but there are many more animal-related activities off the mainstream radar in the Caribbean.
The Swimming PigsGiven the exotic nature of the Caribbean, it may come as a surprise that the swimming pigs of the Exuma Cays in the Bahamas are one of the region’s most popular attractions. A common theory for their existence in the area is that a Bahamian farmer marooned his pigs on the small island of Big Major’s Spot, and their population flourished. Smart animals that they are, the pigs soon associated the sound of a boat engine with the arrival of food. These pigs now splash into the water and swim out to tourist boats when they arrive. Intrepid travelers dive in and swim along with the pigs, but it’s safest to have children feed them from the boat.
Area resorts and operators can provide boat trips to see the swimming pigs. Island Routes Caribbean Adventures offers the 007 Thunderball Tour, which includes a visit with the pigs, lunch on Royal Plantation Island and a tour of Thunderball Grotto, featured in the James Bond film, “Thunderball.”
Stingray CityFor an eerie experience, families can head to Grand Cayman and take a boat excursion to Stingray City, a submerged sandbar out in the middle of North Sound. Like the swimming pigs, the island’s stingrays have become accustomed to tourists. Travelers can stand on the sandbar with a piece of squid in their hand as the graceful stingrays glide toward them to pluck the snack from their fingers. The stingrays may look threatening, but they are only intent on feeding. That being said, visitors should refrain from manhandling these majestic creatures.
The Donkey SanctuaryFor animal lovers, Antigua’s Donkey Sanctuary & Animal Shelter is a touching and emotional experience. The shelter provides a home to abandoned donkeys, which frequently roam the island and present a threat to themselves and motorists. The donkey sanctuary allows visitors to interact with these gentle animals, including foals and a blind adult donkey. Visitors can even “adopt” a donkey by making a contribution for its care.
The Ostrich FarmAt Curacao Ostrich Farm, guests can observe more than 600 ostriches, including adorable ostrich chicks, and hold a huge ostrich egg in their hands. Afterward, grab a snack in the farm’s Zambezi restaurant, but be warned — the kids may be alarmed when they see ostrich burgers on the menu.
Butterflies in St. MartinThe Butterfly Farm operates in both Aruba and St. Martin (where it’s called La Ferme Des Papillons). The farms house hundreds of butterflies from around the world, including the local beauty, the Caribbean Longwing. Almost as fascinating as the butterflies are the caterpillars on display. Visitors can take a 20-minute guided tour before interacting with these colorful creatures.
Antigua’s Donkey Sanctuary & Animal Shelterwww.antiguaanimals.com
The Butterfly Farm on Aruba and St. Martinwww.thebutterflyfarm.com
Curacao Ostrich Farmwww.curacaoostrichfarm.com
Island Routes Caribbean Adventureswww.islandroutes.com
Stingray City on Grand Caymanwww.caymanislands.ky