The Turks and Caicos Islands are situated approximately 575 miles southeast of Miami and 39 miles south east of Mayaguana in the Bahamas. Turks and Caicos Islands have one of the longest coral reefs in the world, making it a very desirable diving destination.
The white sandy beaches cover 230 miles in total and are surrounded by crystal clear waters. The islands are relatively flat but depending on the island, the terrain can vary from sand dunes to lush green vegetation. There are eight major islands: Salt Cay, Grand Turk, South Caicos, East Caicos, Middle Caicos, North Caicos, Providenciales and West Caicos. The people on the islands are known for their friendliness. East Caicos and West Caicos are uninhabited.
Turks and Caicos gets its main revenue from the tourist industry. The fishing industry also continues throughout Turks and Caicos. On the islands of Providenciales and Grand Turk you will find International style hotel accommodations, each one has its own unique set up and surroundings. Native dishes are served along with international cuisine, you will find this at most of the restaurants. More casual and serene accommodations can be found on the other islands and smaller cays.
Grand Turk is the capital of Turks and Caicos and the financial center of the islands. It has the second largest population of around 3,720 people. Grand Turk is one of the main historical points of Turks and Caicos. There are many old buildings and ruins, along with The Turks and Caicos National Museum. Grand Turk’s main attraction is diving, with many dive operators and schools. It caters to novice snorkelers and experienced divers alike and the major income for the island is dive-orientated tourism with the island’s outstanding protected coral reef.
Located on Grand Turk, Cockburn Town is the administrative capital and the historic and cultural center of the islands. It was believed to be where Columbus landed during his discovery of the New World in 1492. One can tour the town itself on a walking tour.
Bermudan style architecture representative of the salt era of the 18th and 19th century line Duke and Font Streets. Two of these buildings are now popular inns. Other buildings make up the governor’s residence, other government offices, the public library, churches and private residences and fraternities. A popular tourist spot to visit is the Turks and Caicos National Museum where a central exhibit tells the story of the Molasses Reef Wreck, the oldest European shipwreck discovered in the Western Hemisphere (dated around 1505). The museum also outlines the rich cultural and natural diversity of the islands. Other historic sites include the Lighthouse which offers a spectacular view of the island, the prison, Fire Hill and the Hawks Nest Anchorage. It is well worth hiring a taxi and driver/guide to tour the island to give you first-hand information on the history and places to see. Another interesting attraction we witnessed during our tour was an abundance of feral horses and donkeys inhabiting the island, roaming free.
Providenciales, or more commonly called “Provo”, covers an area of 38 miles and is the most developed island in Turks and Caicos. Provo, with a population of over 6,000, is found on the west side of the islands and offers all modern conveniences, including superb hotels, a casino and a Golf Club. Provo is considered a great destination for those who want to escape their busy schedules and relax. Provo has the largest non-native population made up of Haitians, Dominicans, Canadians, Germans, French and Americans. The growing population is mainly due to the completion of the airport in 1984, which is capable of dealing with large planes.
The most beautiful beaches are found on the north of the island, near Sapodilla Bay, along with a long coral reef rich in aquatic life. Towards the south of the island, Chalk Sound, offers a large lake with striking turquoise water and an array of small cays. South Dock found east of Sapodilla Bay is the island’s commercial port and has the capability to deal with containerized goods.
The two main and oldest settlements on Provo Island are Bight and Blue Hills, both of which have a real Caribbean feeling. Provo shops offer a good range of boutiques at Turtle Cove and downtown one can find a range of retail shops, business offices and travel agents. Provo is the main island for hotels and resorts, with many accommodation and recreational facilities options available.
A great attraction to the islands is the varied and bountiful wildlife and sea creatures they offer. The islands are arranged around the edges of two large limestone plateaus called the Turks Bank, that has deep offshore waters which serve as major transit points for Humpback Whales, spotted Eagle Rays, Manta Rays and Turtles. From late December through April, it is believed that as many as 2,500 Humpback Whales pass through the shores on their annual migration to the Mouchoir Bank. During the summer, divers may encounter many Manta Rays cruising the face of the walls, and encounters with dolphins are not uncommon.
Bordering the edges of the islands are lines of coral reefs and some of the most impressive walls of coral in the Caribbean. From the legendary walls of Grand Turk, West Caicos and Provo’s Northwest Point to the historic wrecks south of Salt Cay, a dozen world class walls have become important for the serious diver.
The same rich waters are used by anglers fishing for Tuna, Wahoo and Blue Marlin. Also, the salt ponds and inland marshes serve as excellent feeding grounds for resident and migratory birds. One can be on the lookout for Great Blue Herons, Flamingos, Osprey, Pelicans, Egrets, Terns, Frigates, Boobies and other water birds. As part of the National Parks system more than twelve small cays have been set aside and protected for breeding grounds.
On some of the less disturbed and smaller islands of Little Water Cay or Great Sand Cay one can find the Turks island Iguana, which is endangered and delicate. It thrives on these deserted islands, away from the influence of man. These islands are also protected by the National Parks system.
A beach vacation to the Turks and Caicos Islands would truly be a memorable experience. It would be wonderful to visit each island, but even if you were only able to see one, the beauty and pristine beaches would make it a worthwhile vacation.