Turks & Caicos Islands, Caribbean
"You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place." Miriam Adeney
These islands are my favourite place. A string of 40 islands surrounded by the most heavenly aqua waters, they fit the cliche of a Caribbean paradise. However there is something unique about the islands which captivates many visitors to whom it is much more than just a pretty postcard destination.
The islands are as complex as they are beautiful which makes them all the more interesting. The locals are as politically passionate as they are friendly, all with the aim of maintaining what’s so special about the islands for their children and visitors to share in years to come. I’ll do my best to describe them to you, but to ‘get it’ you have to go and see for yourself!
A British Overseas Territory, the Turks and Caicos islands are located in the north Atlantic ocean just south of the Bahamas. Surrounded by the world’s third largest barrier reef with waters so clear you’ll think pictures have been photoshopped, it’s no surprise tourism is their main industry. Development has been carefully controlled so you will not find hulking resorts a la Cancun here, this approach has maintained the islands’ status as a premium destination. It’s not cheap to visit, but then again, with the Caribbean you get what you pay for.
Grace Bay on the main island of Providenciales (Provo) is the primary destination for the majority of visitors. A three mile stretch of soft sand, crystal clear water laps gently onto the beach. Looking out across the bay, the water displays only the most vibrant shades of blue as the coral reef and deeper waters show their presence.
The beach remains free of crowds even in the busiest winter season, instead there is an ever present calm vibe. The modest hotels, bars and restaurants are set back a little from the beach giving a feeling of even more space. Wander along the beach at any time of day or night to find a variety of bolt-holes to admire the setting. Fresh fruit and eggs for breakfast, ceviche or mango salad for lunch, today’s catch of fish or fajitas for dinner.
Long Bay on the south of the island is now a popular kiteboarding beach, it’s windy here so best left to the kiteboarders and spectators. to the south west, Sapodilla Bay is a calm protected bay with few others around. Just opposite is Chalk Sound, the milky blue lagoon is deliciously calm. Bonefish Point on the south west tip of the island is my favourite spot, hard to reach without a 4×4 and a strong sense of direction it offers seclusion and 270° ocean views so clear and light it’s hard to see where the ocean ends and the sky begins, a stunning phenomenon that I’ve only ever see in the Turks & Caicos Islands.
The main draw of the islands is the water, and there are numerous ways to enjoy it. Island hopping trips are very popular and worth doing, from a half day trip to Little Water Cay (Iguana Island) including snorkeling and a freshly caught conch salad lunch. The full day tour to North and Middle Caicos is well worth the time, the other islands are sparsely populated with plenty of history going back hundreds of years. North Caicos is where you’re most likely to see flamingos, Wades Green Plantation is a great place to learn a little about the history of the islands. Middle Caicos is famous for the beach and caves at Mudjin Harbour. If you’re feeling adventurous, see if you can get to the blue hole off the western shore of Middle Caicos.
Sunset cruises are especially popular just after the full moon when the glow worms mate, spinning to the surface to form luminous green spirals. The two hour cruises serve plenty of rum punch and are great for groups or couples.
Parasailing offers a fantastic view of the island and reef below, and several resorts offer catamarans to sail within Grace Bay. If you want an underwater experience without getting wet, a semi-submarine tours Grace Bay providing a dry view of the reef, with a real mermaid swimming past. When on land, the mermaid helps keep the island’s beaches clean and writes guest blogs!
Stand-up paddle boarding
Each time I visit the islands I take the two hour SUP tour into the mangroves, opposite Leeward. This fragile environment is where sharks, turtles and fish breed in the shallow waters, protected by the meandering roots. Power craft aren’t permitted so they offer a serenely quiet environment to observe nature.
This takes place on Long Bay, ideal for beginners or advanced boarders with its shallow waters and consistent winds. Intermediate to advanced boarders can take a kiteboard safari, location dependent on conditions.
The diving is spectacular (French Cay is the best spot I’ve experienced anywhere in the world). Much of the reef is a protected nature reserve so the reefs are in good condition, with excellent visibility, water temperature and very little tide or current. For those who prefer to catch rather than swim with the fish, there are several deep sea, fly and bone fishing operators.
Land based activities
Away from the water, there is an 18 hole golf course, yoga, Cheshire Hall Plantation for history buffs and of course beach hopping. For an aerial tour of the island, helicopter tours are available. There are several shopping plazas with independent boutiques and restaurants. The art galleries have some beautiful arts and crafts made on the island, and don’t forget to try the rum cake, these make great souvenirs too.
To get a more rounded feel for the islands, it’s possible to visit several others for a day trip or more. Big Blue offer a great island hopping tour taking in several of the islands and their key natural attractions, well worthwhile.
Inter island flights and ferries are available year round. Grand Turk is a popular cruise ship destination so it’s crowded during the day but very quiet at night, while Salt Cay is off the beaten track. North, South and Middle Caicos have a few resorts, empty beaches and plenty of nature.
Potcake Place charity rescues stray dogs across the island. The dogs are neutered, cared for and adopted out. To date some 6000 have been adopted, mostly to the US. Puppies can be fostered for a day, to give the puppy some 1-2-1 time, and perhaps to persuade a family to adopt. This is a hugely popular initiative which benefits all involved.
In recent years, beach restaurants have popped up off the beaten track. Bugaloos in Five Cays has rustic solid wood deck furniture built around the trees, overlooking an ankle shallow stretch of water. Beach chairs are often taken into the shallows for a cool-footed afternoon beer. Froggies on daa Beach in Wheeland serves simple food on raised decking right on the beach. Da Conch Shack is an old favourite in Blue Hills, colourful picnic benches are right on the sand leading down to the beach where fresh conch is caught and cleaned before being served as fresh as you can get.
One of my favourite places is Sharkbite Bar & Grill in Turtle Cove, this was my local when I lived there and still is now when I go back. This is a gorgeous wooden shack over the water, looking out over Turtle Cove marina, open to the sides with lovely breezes blowing through. They serve simple food and cocktails with great service – this is the bar where they remember your name year after year.
For a more formal experience, the Infiniti Bar at Grace Bay West is a great spot for sunset cocktails. Later in the evening the fire pit set under the hanging lanterns is perfect for a nightcap. Coco Bistro, Hemingways and Asu all offer wonderful menus.
For the healthy, there are now several juice bars and even a vegan cafe, all based around the more developed east end of Grace Bay.
Equally, the food shacks set back from Grace Bay and in Downtown serve delicious cheap food. Thursday is Island Fish Fry night on the western end of Grace Bay beach, a perfect place to try the local fayre of rice and peas, plantain and curried fish or goat, it’s delicious! From the high end to the most casual, I’ve never had a bad meal on the island.
The X Factor
One Christmas I met a retired couple who had sailed to Provo from the Bahamas. The lady told me “we loved the Bahamas, but this place is something special isn’t it!” The islands are special and it’s hard to put my finger on why. It could be the wonderful locals, the calm atmosphere, delicious food, stunning beaches, or perhaps it’s a mix of them all. Or maybe there’s just something in the water!