Forty kilometres (25 mi) south-east of the Bahamian capital Nassau is Beacon Cay, the first of 365 cays belonging to the Exuma chain. The Exuma archipelago continues 150 km (90 mi) southwards in a gentle curve, ending with the two main islands of Great Exuma and Little Exwna. The islands are sparsely populated, mainly by conch fishermen, but offer a wonderful environment for yachting, sailing, diving, and coral reef and cave exploring. Some of the cays are just barren chunks of reef, others are islands with densely vegetated rolling hills, caves and grottos to explore. The Exumas are famous for their pristine beauty, outstanding anchorages and breathtaking marine environment. Under the clear turquoise waters are beautiful natural gardens of coral teeming with fish and lobster. With the excellent water visibility and abundant marine life, the cays are popular with divers and underwater. photographers. Much of the area, including large tracts of offshore reefs, are protected as part of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, the first national marine park in the world. There are many endemic species within the park, including the Hutia, the only terrestrial mammal native to the Bahamas. Iguanas forage unmolested and sea turtles lay their eggs on undisturbed beaches without interference. The no-fishing policy means there are plenty of species to discover in the sea, but perhaps the most intriguing are the stromatolites, blue-green, reef-forming algae. Stromatolites are the oldest living creatures on earth, with some fossil reefs dating back 3.5 billion years.
Exuma was settled in 1783 by American loyalists fleeing the Revolutionary War who established a number of cotton plantations in the cays. George Town, the biggest settlement in the chain, was IS named in honour of George III, to whom the settlers maintained their sovereignty. One Loyalist settler, Lord John Rolle, was a major figure in the islands' heritage. On his death in 1835, he left all of his Exuma lands to his slaves. This led to a number of towns on Great Exuma being named after him (such as Rolleville and Rolletown). Today, George Town is a quaint village surrounding Lake Victoria, boasting a safe natural harbour. The harbour attracts boats from all round the world, and hosts the Family Island Regatta each year. The population of George Town grows from about 1,000 to more than 20,000 as teams from all over the Bahamas arrive to race around the harbour in traditional wooden boats. Hotels in Bahamas