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Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

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Did You Know…?

  • Although British, the Turks islands sold salt to George Washington’s Continental Army.
  • For nearly 100 years, the TCI flag misrepresented the islands’ iconic salt mounds as igloos.
  • The roads on Salt Cay are paved with salt.
  • Several U.S. astronauts, including John Glenn and Scott Carpenter, trained for their flights on Grand Turk.
  • In the heyday of salt, a crew of 16, using conch shells, could scoop up nearly four tons of salt in six hours.

A salty choice

Grand Turk is one of 40 islands in the Turks and Caicos, a British territory just south of the Bahamas. Technically, the archipelago is located in the Atlantic rather than the Caribbean, but for the visitor, that fine distinction doesn’t matter much. Also, although British, the island group makes the U.S. dollar its official currency.

Among the islands, only two, Grand Turk and Salt Cay, comprise the Turks portion of the territory’s name. However, the only settlement of consequence on Grand Turk, Cockburn (COE-burn) Town, is the TCI’s administrative capital.

There are historic buildings to be visited on Grand Turk and on nearby Salt Cay, but Hurricane Ike visited severe damage upon these islands in 2008, and the recovery has taken time.

The Turks and Caicos National Museum, a colonial structure, survived the hurricane intact. It houses the artifacts from the oldest excavated European shipwreck in the Western Hemisphere (1513), called the Molasses Reef Wreck, named for the place where it was found.

The climate is hot and dry, and the land low lying, a combination suited for harvesting salt from the sea. Old saltpans and other related sites tell of a time when Grand Turk and Salt Cay were the center of one of the world’s largest salt industries. From 1678 to 1964, the Turks and Caicos subsisted almost entirely on the salt trade. Salt Cay is essentially a two-mile string of natural saltpans.

The sightseeing aside, tourists most often come to Grand Turk to play in, on or near the water. Top draws are diving (the island has one particularly fine nearby reef, called the Wall for obvious reasons), boating, fishing, snorkeling and beaches for sunbathing, swimming and even horseback riding on the sand or in the water.

But, January through March, no one has to get into or even on the water to watch whales.

Finally, Grand Turk is well prepared to receive the largest cruise ships, including Queen Mary 2, at its Grand Turk Cruise Center. The facility, covering nearly 14 acres, offers beach space (but no water sports), a swimming pool and a full range of shopping and dining options.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Dive at Grand Turk’s nearby reef called the Wall, which plunges more than 7,000 feet into the sea. It is close enough for beach dives. Or, head to another site, the Library, for a night dive.
  • Come in summer for the Grand Turk Heineken Game Fishing Tournament. Compete if you are in that league.
  • If history fascinates, get to tiny Salt Cay, the island that is essentially one big saltpan and was once a major center of salt production. Few people live on the island now, but it has an evocative collection of stone buildings dating from salt’s heyday.
  • Sightsee from a helicopter.
  • Or get your airborne view while parasailing.
  • Take a guided off-road tour of Grand Turk, riding in a dune buggy. Guided ATV tours are available, too.

Things to do for Centrics

  • On a day trip to the uninhabited Gibbs Cay, swim with the stingrays, which come right up to the shore.
  • Deep-sea and flats fishing are options. Choose the one that suits your style.
  • Ride horseback on a beach. Ride your horse into the sea.
  • Explore the narrow streets of Cockburn Town. See St. Thomas Church, which was built by early settlers, and the Governor’s House. Then, ask a taxi driver to take you to the still-functioning Grand Turk Lighthouse.
  • Paddle around South Creek in a kayak, the better to explore the mangroves and view the birdlife.
  • Join a day cruise that takes you to one or more out islands and provides a snorkeling opportunity. Or, just snorkel at one of Grand Turk’s beaches.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Watch for humpback whales, either from the shore or on board an excursion vessel. Look for pink flamingos at the island’s salt ponds.
  • Relax on any of a number of beaches. Then, overnight in one of the historic inns in Cockburn Town.
  • Recall the excitement of the first space flight at the “Splashdown Grand Turk” exhibit near the Grand Turk Cruise Center. The exhibit includes a replica of the Friendship 7 capsule, which splashed into the Atlantic in 1962, with John Glenn on board. Glenn’s first landfall after orbiting Earth was on Grand Turk.
  • Spend a few hours at the TCI National Museum. Look for the collection of artifacts from the Molasses Reef Wreck. That moniker refers to an unnamed ship that went down in TCI waters in 1513.
  • For a lark, try these ideas: Have your hair braided at the Grand Turk Cruise Center. Ride in a donkey cart along Front Street in Cockburn Town.
  • Tour Conch World to learn the life cycle and importance of the Queen Conch. Then taste conch at the site.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Turks and Caicos Tourist Board at www.turksandcaicostourism.com