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Turks and Caicos Islands

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Did You Know … ?

  • Public nudity is illegal on all the islands, many of which are uninhabited.
  • After astronaut John Glenn ended man’s first orbital flight (1962), he first touched land on Grand Turk Island.
  • There are an estimated 1,000-plus shipwrecks in TCI waters.
  • Intermittently since 1917, Islanders and Canadians have considered making TCI a Canadian province.
  • Within a generation of Christopher Columbus’s arrival, the TCI indigenous population was wiped out.

Small islands, big reefs

The Turks and the Caicos are two island groups southeast of the Bahamas in the North Atlantic (not the Caribbean despite the understandable tendency to consider them part of the Caribbean). Combined, the island groups form a British overseas colony, called Turks and Caicos Islands (aka TCI), where the language is English but the official currency is the U.S. dollar.

There are a total of 40 islands, Islets and cays, eight of which are inhabited. Providenciales, nearly the westernmost of the Caicos group, is the most developed of the lot. Grand Turk Island, in the Turks group and at the eastern end of the entire archipelago, is the capital.

This string of islands is dry and relatively barren by the standards of Caribbean, or almost-Caribbean, islands. The two groups also are vulnerable to hurricanes. In 2008, Hurricane Ike made a mess of Grand Turk.

Although there are luxury resorts with good on-site dining and there are entertainment options on Providenciales, the Turks and Caicos are not known for a very lively nightlife either.

Those are drawbacks for some vacationers, but not for those who are attracted by the archipelago’s really big asset, namely, the surrounding waters. This patch of the Atlantic harbors one of the world’s major reef systems and hosts not just the beautiful marine species that divers seek but the game fish sportsmen seek, as well.

TCI fans head onto or into the water for jetboating, kayaking, sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling, whale watching plus fishing of all kinds, especially targeting bonefish.

Tourists also relish the beautiful white-sand beaches for some serious lazing around. Besides having the luxury accommodations and the nightlife, Providenciales is home to the famed 12-mile white-sand beach on Grace Bay.

There are a few attractions that fit the standard sightseeing category, including defunct cotton plantations, a couple of museums and a lighthouse. But traditional sightseeing doesn’t play much of a role here.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Strap on the scuba gear and get into TCI waters. Experienced divers head for the area’s dramatic walls. Another choice is a night dive off the coast of Grand Turk. And, for all divers, the shallower waters offer numerous wrecks of Spanish galleons.
  • Charter a boat for deep-sea fishing. Fly-fishing and night fishing are available, too. If it’s summer, compete in one of several fishing tournaments.
  • For nightlife, head to Providenciales, where there are nightclubs and bars and where local bands often perform. The music may be a mix of calypso and reggae. Also, listen for ripsaw, the national music made using a saw among other inventive instruments.
  • At Grace Bay on Providenciales, charter the retired 77-foot rum-running schooner, Atabeyra, for a half- or full-day jaunt into TCI waters. Practice sailing skills with the crew, and even take the helm for a spell. Or, get married on the schooner!
  • At Long Bay on Providenciales, you can be lowered by rope 80 feet into a 40-foot hole, known formally as the Hole, then enjoy the swimming hole at the bottom.
  • Consider a combination of activities. Some tour operators make offers that combine mountain biking with a selection of water-based sports.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Do your bird-watching on Middle Caicos, North Caicos or Providenciales. The Turks and Caicos Islands host boobies, egrets, flamingos, frigates, great blue herons, osprey, pelicans and terns, among others.
  • On Grand Turk, explore the coastline in a two-person glass-bottom kayak, the better to see nature’s wonders under water as well as those on the horizon.
  • Join a snorkeling excursion to Gibbs Cay that also will allow you to pet a stingray.
  • Liven up your beach time on Providenciales by swimming with a national treasure, meaning Jojo, the beloved resident Atlantic bottlenose dolphin.
  • Take a whale watching cruise from Salt Cay, considered one of the best wildlife encounters in the area. For other wildlife encounters, look for the rock iguana on Little Water Cay.
  • On a tour of Grand Turk, see the salt pans that recall the island’s past as a producer of salt for export.

Things to do for Authentics

  • See trained conchs (trained to come out of their shells for visitors) at the Caicos Conch Farm on Providenciales, the world’s only conch farm. Learn how conchs are raised and see conch pearls, too.
  • On Providenciales, see the ruins of a former cotton plantation, called Cheshire Hill. Similarly, visit the Wades Green plantation on North Caicos. The National Trust owns both.
  • Attend a native dance and culture show. Also, learn a lot at the Turks and Caicos National Museum on Grand Turk Island.
  • Sample the locally raised conch in salads, and sip a popular rum-and-fruit punch called porcupine spike. If it’s November, attend the Conch Festival on Providenciales.
  • Buy handicrafts or high-end goods at the Grand Turk Cruise Center. Also, to the side of the center, see “Splashdown Grand Turk,” a 3,500-square-foot attraction, including a replica of John Glenn’s Friendship 7 capsule, celebrating the American human spaceflight program and TCI’s role in the program.
  • Picnic on the grounds of the still-functioning Grand Turk Lighthouse. At this spot, in February and March, watch for whales.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Turks and Caicos Tourist Board at www.turksandcaicostourism.com and, to find a certified Turks and Caicos Islands Expert Agent, go to www.turksandcaicostourism.com/travelagents–show–USA.html