Turks & Caicos

Turks & Caicos

Aside from the Turks and Caicos’ spectacular white-sand beaches and unbelievably blue waters, a view from the air reveals little that’s inviting about the mostly dry, scrubby, sparsely populated chain of Caribbean islands. Their real appeal lies below the water—one of the world’s largest networks of coral reefs provides exceptional diving and snorkeling, while the turquoise inshore flats and deeper aquamarine offshore waters guarantee world-class fishing.

Resting serenely to the southeast of the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos are beyond being “discovered” yet still remain off the radar for the average Caribbean island vacationer (truth be told, the islands are surrounded by Atlantic, rather than Caribbean, waters).

Those who do visit typically head for Providenciales (known locally as Provo), the largest, most developed and most westerly island in the Turks and Caicos island chain. Provo has exploded in recent years and has many luxury hotels and many good restaurants, but no cruise ships stop there, and although the skyline is now creeping upward, no one could mistake it for Aruba. You won’t find fashion franchises or fast-food outlets; for many locals, dressing up means a clean T-shirt that doesn’t promote a brand of beer.

The second-most-important isle, history-steeped Grand Turk, is the island capital and was thoroughly trashed by Hurricane Ike in September 2008.

The rest of the inhabited Turks and Caicos islands have a real outpost feel to them—but they all have their own annual festivals, which provide a great time to gather on the beach, renew or start friendships, and eat some local specialties.

The Turks and Caicos islands are a pleasant destination, but before you go, make sure you have a solid understanding of what’s there and what’s not: Those who want to delve into the undersea world or lounge on the beautiful beaches—and want little else—won’t be disappointed. The same goes for vacationers seeking hotel luxury beyond the dreams of Croesus. Those who are looking for lush Caribbean island scenery or who can’t appreciate a slow-paced, quirky island atmosphere should spend their vacation somewhere else.

The main attractions on the Turks and Caicos include diving, snorkeling, sea kayaking, fresh seafood, isolated white-sand beaches, deep-sea fishing, bird sanctuaries, spas and the deluxe hotel experience.

The Turks and Caicos are best suited to those who want watersports, solitude and relaxation. Those seeking abundant nightlife and lush tropical vistas will be disappointed.

Geography

Part of the British West Indies, the Turks and Caicos consist of 40 islands, islets and cays (pronounced keys). They lie to the southeast of the Bahamas and are separated by the 30-mi-/48-km-wide Caicos Passage. The Turks Islands (Grand Turk and Salt Cay) to the east are separated from the westerly Caicos Islands by the 22-mi-/35-km-wide Columbus Passage.

Only eight of the islands are inhabited: North Caicos, Middle Caicos, South Caicos, Grand Turk, Parrot Cay, Pine Cay, Salt Cay and Providenciales (also called Provo). Providenciales is world-famous for 12-mi-/19-km-long Grace Bay, which is lined by a scintillating white-sand beach.

The islands are composed of limestone that formed over millions of years on the seabed and was thrust upward by geological forces. Coral reefs surround the perimeter of the islands. The Turks islands are washed on their windward (easterly) side by Atlantic breakers.

The climate is hot and dry. The most southerly and easterly isles—Grand Turk, Salt Cay and South Caicos—get little rain: The terrain is covered with cacti, thorny scrub, low trees and crabgrass. The northern and westerly islands are somewhat greener and have a scattering of Casuarina trees, as well as Caribbean pines, the national tree. Many of the islands are studded with briny pools and pocked by sinkholes, called “blue holes.”

Resorts

Beaches Turks & Caicos