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Travel to Turks & Caicos Islands, Caribbean

Enjoy the Soothing Sights in the Turks & Caicos

by Suzanne Carmel

Middle Caicos beach
The coastline around Middle Caicos is a little more dramatic than that of the other islands.

The debate over who discovered the Turks & Caicos Islands first - Christopher Columbus or Juan Ponce de Leon - is still in question, however it's an indisputable fact that many people are discovering the islands today. With an average of 350 days of sunshine annually, a constant breeze and mild temperatures between 80 and 90 degrees, the islands are the perfect place to break away from the daily routine - and not just in winter.

The islands are a study in contrasts. Here one can find the ultimate in luxury resorts, or bare bones beachside shacks; the bustling development on Providenciales or the slow and easy pace of life on more remote islands such as Salt Cay. Though the islands' capital and head of government and commerce is on Grand Turk, it is far less developed that Providenciales, where many tourists take their vacations.

Grand Turk and Salt Cay - two of the islands in the Turks group - are famous spots for diving. The 260 mile-long coral reef system here offers some of the best diving in the world. Interestingly enough, the islands are also known by avid stamp collectors for producing new series of high quality, well-designed stamps on a regular basis. There aren't many nations that can boast two such disparate claims to fame!

For those who are still among the uninitiated, the Turks & Caicos Islands are a British Crown Colony of over 40 islands and cays, located halfway between Miami and Puerto Rico. The two main groups of islands are separated by the Columbus passage. Of the islands, only eight are inhabited. Grand Turk and Salt Cay on the Turk side; and Providenciales (frequently called Provo), North Caicos, Middle Caicos, South Caicos, and the private islands of Parrot Cay and Pine Cay on the Caicos side.

The main islands cover about 193 square miles of land, 230 miles of which are white sandy beaches along the coastlines. There are only about 24,000 local inhabitants, comprised primarily of the descendants of former slaves brought here to work on plantations, and of expatriates primarily from Great Britain and anywhere else someone heard the call of this natural paradise.

Even with a burgeoning industry in tourism, the government keeps a watchful eye on development. You won't see any buildings on Provo above four stories; on all other islands, two stories. Buildings must allow for public access to the beaches beyond them, all of which are public. A portion of the land and marine environment is comprised of 33 national parks totaling 272 square miles. On Provo, most of the hotel development is along Grace Bay which is actually part of a national park. In these parks, there are restrictions on water sports activities, and the environment is checked and monitored by the government department of environment and coastal resources and the national parks department.

Parasailing from Provo
Parasailing from Provo

This emphasis on protecting the natural environment ensures that visitors and locals will be able to enjoy the beauty of these islands and the local flora and fauna for many years. In addition to spectacular diving and snorkeling, there are many ways to enjoy these islands. Choose from deep sea, bone and bottom fishing; watching for humpback whales between January and April, sunset and glow worm cruises; bird watching; land activities such as hiking, biking, horseback riding, golf and tennis; water activities such as sailing, parasailing and wind surfing, and assorted day trips or excursions to the other islands.

Little Water Cay, not far from Provo, is a great stop along the way to some of the other islands. Stroll along the boardwalk here and you'll likely encounter some of the 2,000 rock iguanas that call this island home. There are 50,000 of this endangered species living on the islands. Many have been relocated to preserves such as this one in order to protect them. A day boat trip from Grand Turk to Gibbs Cay affords visitors a chance to meet another of the local residents. Slip into the water after donning mask and fins and friendly stingrays will swim up to greet you. Even from the deserted beach it is possible to see these graceful creatures gliding along the shallow water along the shore.

For those who prefer to admire the water from above, a boat cruise from Provo affords the perfect way to view the islands from offshore. Sunsets in the Turks & Caicos Islands can be pretty spectacular even if you don't get a chance to see the much touted "green flash" that occurs on clear days as the sun dips into the horizon. Out on the water, as darkness descends on the landscape the sky is blanketed by stars. For a few days once a month, typically five to six nights after a full moon, the stars are mirrored below the surface of the water as well. Tiny glow worms swim to the surface to mate, giving off neon light. Though brief, the ritual is well worth the boat trip.

It's another short trip by boat from Provo to North Caicos for an eco-adventure tour. Scooters or bikes make it easy to see local attractions such as freshwater Cottage Pond, the ruins of Wade's Plantation and the shy, colorful birds that frequent Flamingo Pond. These tours allow visitors to meet locals, and to experience lunch in a resident's home. Another trip from Provo, this time by air, will get you out to Grand Turk where you can visit the national museum and learn about the history and culture of these islands. From either here or Salt Cay you can also go whale watching during season, snorkel and dive. Grand Turk and Salt Cay offer less populated places to vacation, with 73 and 45 hotel rooms respectively.

No matter where you are in the islands, you'll want to sample local seafood including conch - endangered elsewhere, but carefully farmed here. Provo is home to the world's only conch farm where you can watch how these creatures develop and see what adult conch looks like when it pokes out of its shell. Restaurants on the islands range from simple grills to white tablecloth fine dining. Whether it's fried fish with peas and rice or haute Caribbean cuisine fused with European or Asian flare, dining is an event in the Turks & Caicos Islands.

Relaxing at Grace Bay Club
Beach view from the Grace Bay Club

During your days and nights here, it will be easy to see why many people are beginning to vacation in the Turks & Caicos Islands. Even though you didn't get here first, the exciting discoveries you'll make while on these islands will have you believing you did.


Grace Bay Club on Provo
Grace Bay Club

For more information on the Turks & Caicos Islands, contact the tourist office at (800) 241-0824 in the U.S., (866) 413-8875 in Canada, +44 (0) 208 350 1017 in Europe or (649) 946-2321/2322 or while in the islands. You can also visit the website at or email the tourist office at

There are many wonderful places to stay among the islands; many of these places are listed on the tourist office website. Two upscale, all-suite hotels on Provo that deserve a closer look are the esteemed Grace Bay Club, (800) 946-5757 or and the new Turks & Caicos Club, (800) 269-0966 or Both are located on Grace Bay along what is considered by many as the best beaches in the Caribbean, if not the world.