|Size||238 square miles (616 square kilometers)|
|Population||49,100 (88% black, 8% white, 4% mixed)|
|Status||British Overseas Territory|
|GDP per capita (2014)||$23,614|
|Electricity||US standard two-prong|
|Driving||on the left|
The archipelagos of Turks and Caicos are as close to a paradise as one can get. There are 307 beautiful islands here, each surrounded by crystal clear and calm waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic. When you fly above them, you will see large swaths of turquoise blue coast and miles and miles of wide, sandy beaches. Only eight of the islands are inhabited so if you are looking to truly get away from it all, you can have you pick for a perfect hideaway. However, don’t be surprised if the spot you have chosen is already a holiday retreat to a Hollywood celebrity. In fact, Turks and Caicos are a known VIP hideout with many A-listers visiting often in order to get away from all the attention and enjoy the natural beauty of these islands and their waters.
Turks and Caicos were first visited by Europeans in the beginning of the 16th century and although several of the colonial powers wrestled for control over them, it was Great Britain that eventually took full governance of the islands. The British Empire transformed several of the main islands of the archipelago into major centers of sea salt production and used slave laborers brought from Africa for this purpose. Today, the salt industry is still a major source of income for the islands, while the demographics of Turks and Caicos closely reflect their colonial history. As many as 88% of the local residents are descendants of African slaves. Interestingly, 85% of today’s population of the archipelago live on only two islands, Providenciales (tourist hub) and Grand Turk (home to the local government). It is also these two islands where you will most likely arrive to first before venturing into any of the other 305 islands. With so many deserted islands to explore, it may be worthwhile to take a whole year off just to visit them all. Thus, get your Robinson Crusoe gear together and jump right into your Turks and Caicos adventure!
There are at least five US cities that offer direct flights to Providenciales all year round. These include with a guaranteed options available from Boston, New York and Miami. Similarly, you can find non-stop flights from Toronto, Montreal in Canada and London in the United Kingdom. For all other islands in the archipelago besides Providenciales, you will need to change for a smaller plane at Providenciales International Airport. Alternatively, you can also take a ferry from Providenciales to North and South Caicos as well as to Grand Turk.
Whereas Providenciales and Grand Turk have many roads and some traffic, all of the other islands are much quieter with few cars and easy to navigate roads. Hence, while it may be useful to rent a car on the two islands mentioned, using bikes or relying on taxis will be sufficient on all other inhabited islands. You will find that taxis themselves are most often in the form of vans that can carry up to 12 people. This is especially the case for taxis that pick passengers from the Providenciales International Airport. Many drivers wait at the airport to fill their vans with guests for various hotels and then drop them off one by one along the most convenient route. This is a much cheaper option that taking a taxi just by yourself. Taxi rates on the islands are all regulated and charged on a per-person basis in US dollars. When you first get into a taxi on the island you may wonder why your taxi is not going over 40 mph. This is, in fact, the maximum speed limit throughout the islands, which is worth keeping in mind when you if you rent a car. When it comes to the smaller and uninhabited islands, your own two feet will be the only available mode of transportation. And, in order to get to them, your best bet will be sailing charter/daytrip from Providenciales or Grand Turk.
Things to explore
Turks and Caicos are all about the beaches. There are hundreds of amazing and mostly deserted stretches of sand spread throughout the very many islands. The islands are also home to several natural wonders that are one of a kind on a global scale. Below is a list of all the inhabited islands with most interesting spots on each one:
- Providenciales – location of all the major resorts, Providenciales is famed for its beautiful Grace Bay with miles of silky smooth sand and shallow turquoise waters extending hundreds of feet into the sea. However, equally if not more impressive feature of the island is the Chalk Sound National Park clearly visible upon landing to Providenciales International Airport. This natural lagoon the size of three square miles is the bluest place you will find it all of the Caribbean. Although there are only a few public access points to Chalk Sound, you are free to roam it in a kayak, paddle board or just by swimming around. The water here is waist deep though the sand is dense and muddy so walking in it can be difficult. However, even from a distance, the lagoon is an impressive sight worth taking many pictures. The best spot for taking them maybe the nearby Sapodilla Hill, which overlooks Chalk Sound as well as two popular beaches – Taylor and Sapodilla bays. Besides these two and Grace Bay, you will definitely also want to check out the extensive Cooper Jack Bay and Long Bay beaches, with both offering super snorkelling and calm waters all year round.
- Grand Turk – home to the local government, Gran Turk is also where you will find the archipelago’s oldest buildings, its museum as well as many many fantastic beaches and diving spots. Cockburn Town is where you will discover most of the island’s historical sites including the mentioned national museum which is opened on weekdays and costs $7 to visit. If you head south of Cockburn Town, you will find several great beaches like English Point Beach right by the airport and Norman Sounders beach right below it. These two sandy spots are rarely busy and offer plenty of shade from casuarina trees growing right on the beach. If instead, you go north of the capital town, you can take the Lighthouse Road that will take you to, yes you guessed it, a 19th century lighthouse on the islands’ most northern tip. The western side of Lighthouse Road is also where you will find another long and impressive beach stretching for several miles and surrounded by many picturesque sand dunes.
- North Caicos – second biggest island of the archipelago after uninhabited East Caicos, North Caicos is a lush island with several small inns and restaurants near its only village of Whitby. Whitby is also very close to an absolute gem for flamingo lovers – the Flamingo Pond located right on Whitby Highway is home to thousands of these pink birds and you can get a really good look at them from a special overlook located right on the main road. The overlook is also located less than a mile from Horse Stables Beach, which beauty is hard to describe with words. And, for some of the best snorkelling in the Caribbean you will want to visit Three Mary Cays in the east of the island, whichhide lots of rare aquatic species under its various rock formations.
- South Caicos – home to several impressive resorts, South Caicos is all about beach fund and water sports. The beautiful beaches of East Bay and Sailrock resorts is what attracts many visitors to the island. Others come here for the sailing regatta that occurs every May in the Cockburn Harbour. In fact, the regatta is actually a one big party so if socializing, partying and sailing is your thing, put this event in your calendar.
- Middle Caicos – if you crave to be away from people and have a whole, long beach just to yourself than Middle Caicos is the perfect place for you. There are only 300 residents here across 84 square miles (so less than 4 per square mile). Indeed, you can hike for hours around the island and not meet another soul. One place you will definitely want to hike to are the Conch Bar Caves where you are sure to meet several types of bats and take some great photos. Outside the caves, you will miss out if you don’t spend a whole day on Bambarra Beach, a wild beach stretching for as far as four miles!
- Salt Cay – you can walk around this small, flat island with about 100 residents in just a couple hours. It has a lovely long beach on its north shore, but its main draw is the nearby diving sites, which attract amateur and professional divers from all around the world
- Parrot Cay – the only human settlement on this islandsandwiched between Dellis Cay and North Caicos is the luxurious Parrot Cay Resort, which also fronts a mile long, shallow water beach. There are a few other nameless and empty beaches here, which are superb for long romantic walks and lazy swimming
- Ambergris Cays – only accessible by a private plane or boat, this small island offers miles of trails and vacant beaches. It is as isolated as you can get in the Caribbean
- Pine Cay – Not too difficult to get to from Providenciales, Pine Cay hosts the Meridian Club hotel and is all about beach fun. The hotel employees are the only permanent residents of the island
- West Caicos – just like Parrot Cay and Pine Cay, West Caicos is pretty much all nature besides a new hotel to be opened in 2019
There is plenty of luxurious accommodations available on Turks and Caicos. Many resorts here specifically cater to visitors who are looking for complete privacy, peacefulness and nature. You can also find many budget friendly options here though the overall prices are higher here than in most other places in the Caribbean. As the tourist hub, Providenciales offers the most options of hotels in all price ranges. The most fancy resorts line up Grace Bay and include Beaches Resort & Spa, The Palms, Point Grace and The Tuscany among many others. On the other end of the scale there The Island Club, which is a cost friendly apartment complex as well as the family friendly Ocean Club resort. Outside of Grace Bay, consider the several inexpensive hotels in Turtle Cove, right by Smith’s Reef and close to restaurants and shops near the airport.
A special type of resort that Turks and Caicos are well known for are hotels that take over a particular island and are the only human settlement on it. This means hotel visitors have the whole island to themselves and can are guaranteed to have unparallel privacy and peace (hence, it’s no wonder celebrities are drawn to these islands). Such hotels are COMO Parrot Cay Resort, Ambergris Cay, Sailrock Resort, East Bay Resort and The Meridian Club. Except for the East Bay Resort where you can get a night for under $300, expect to pay at least $1,000/per night in season in all other of the hotels mentioned.
Food & restaurants
Conch (snails) in many forms is the national dish of Turks and Caicos. You can expect to see it on every menu, even if the restaurant serves Italian of French cuisine. Seafood, in general, fills most menus and majority of the premium restaurants are located at or near the bigger hotels. Hence, on Providenciales it is Grace Bay where most of the best dining establishments are located. In addition If you are staying at a suite and intend to cook quite a bit, Graceway Gourmet supermarket located a few minutes’ walk from Seven Stars resort is the best stacked food shop in all of the islands. Although nothing is cheap, you can find products from the US and Europe here as well as, of course, fresh conch. In fact, for some of the best conch dishes in Providenciales, you will want to visit Da Conch Shack beach restaurant located on the water straight north from the airport.
When it comes to the other islands, there are about 10 restaurants on Grand Turk, 3-4 on North Caicos and 1-2 on middle Caicos, South Caicos and Salt Cay. Due to few available ingredients, menus at these establishments are pretty small and seafood dominates. Cash is the only way to pay so be sure to have a couple hundred US dollars on hand. Finally, be mindful of the opening hours as these vary greatly from one restaurant to another. In addition, a few restaurants close in the off-season (late summer to early fall). Therefore, be sure to plan your dining in advance. If you rather avoid any hassle related to food, consider staying at one of the several all-inclusive resorts.
Turks and Caicos is not a party destination. There are only a handful of bars here and most close by midnight even on weekends. What’s more, whatever nightlife does exist is scattered between and across the islands making it difficult to change locations in the middle of the evening. On Providenciales you will find a couple bars and a casino around Grace Bay, a few around Smiths Reef and a couple close to the airport. On Grand Turk there are several bars located next to the cruise center and a few more in Cockburn Town whereas North and South Caicos islands have 4-5 bars between them. All in all, you can expect to find most nightlife entertainment in the island’s biggest resorts (like Club Med Turkoise, for example), but access to it is often restricted to the hotel guests.
Sports & adventure
We mentioned in the getting around section that a popular way of getting around Turks and Caicos is on a bicycle. In fact, as there is little car traffic here, bikes are a fun way to explore the various parts of the islands and their beaches. Bike rentals are available at most resorts as well as in rental offices in the main towns and villages. Similarly, if you are looking to do some diving, there are lots of diving shops spread throughout the islands that offer equipment rentals as well as tours with PADI certified guides. Some of the best diving locations are around West Caicos, Pine Cay and Salt Cay. If you are a beginner, you can also practise some good diving around Grace Bay. If snorkelling is as much or even more fun for you then diving, then you are in luck. The calm and crystal clear waters of Turks and Caicos offer some of the best snorkelling in all of the Caribbean. Some fantastic diving spots include Smiths Reef and Long Bay on Providenciales, Dragon Cay on Middle Caicos, Black Forest by Grand Turk and the waters near East Bay Resort on South Caicos island.
Besides in water fun, Turks and Caicos are also a popular destination for on water activities like sailing and fishing. There are many charter companies operating out of Grace Bay and Grand Turk where you can sign up for a group trip or charter your own boat. Although prices can be high, the experience of cruising around many of the shallow lagoons and bays of the islands is second to none. Kayaking around the islands is also popular and one place where it makes for a very unique experience is the Chalk Sound. Kayak and paddle board rentals are available from Las Brisas restaurant and you can kayak around the whole Chalk Sound in about two hours. Finally, when all the water activities drain you dry, other fun things you can do on the islands include horseback riding, golf (there is an 18 course professional course in Grace Bay called Provo Golf Club), hiking and cave exploring. This last activity refers to Conch Bar Caves on Middle Caicos, which cost $10 to enter, but you have to arrange to visit them in advance through TCI National Trust.
Safety and security
It is difficult to be a career criminal in a place where everyone knows each other. Yet, this is the case on all the smaller islands of the archipelago where population count does not exceed 3,000 people. Only on Providenciales and Grand Turk does police have some work to do. However, even here, crime rates are low. Perhaps a bigger concern for many visitors besides criminals are stray dogs, which the locals call potcakes. There are hundreds of these dogs across most of the inhabited islands. In general, they are non-aggressive and many will approach you looking for food or company. If that happens to you, stay calm and walk away slowly. Do not run or make aggressive movements as you may trigger the dog to respond aggressively in defence. Importantly, dog attacks are very rare so do not worry in advance and do not panic when you see one come your way.