There is no better time to visit the Caribbean than now. But, really, is there a bad time? After feeling locked down at home during the ongoing pandemic, sun, sand, and a fruity rum drink seem like just the answer.
The Turks and Caicos are 40 low-lying coral islands, only nine of which are inhabited. Two, Providenciales and Grand Turk, are the most popular and the jumping-off points for all the other islands. Getting to Turks and Caicos is easy with frequent flights from Miami, New York, London, and other major airports. Once there, ferries and small hopper planes get between islands.
The unusual combination name of this British Overseas territory (British West Indies or BWI) comes from the islands of the Turks (Grand Turk and Salt Cay) to the east and the Caicos archipelago (Providenciales, North Caicos, Middle Caicos, East Caicos, South Caicos, and West Caicos) more westerly with the group being divided by the 5,000+ foot deep Columbus Passage.
The islands are small and fairly dry, with a high percentage of sunny days and only about 45,000 people live in this paradise. As you may imagine, tourism is the major industry, and thousands of tourists seeking luxury, privacy, island cuisine, and relaxation find the islands each year. Celebrities from Mick Jagger to Princess Margaret to Gwyneth Paltrow and Beyonce have found peace and tranquility in this unique paradise. As I write this, the Kardashian clan is there!
Pro Tips: The currency on Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) is the U.S. dollar, which makes things easy, but be prepared for steep prices. Also get ready for plenty of conch, from the food to the shells in every tourist shop to the decor on top of the Conch (taxi) Cabs. Taxis are costly, so compare with the cost of a rental car.
Things To Do In Turks And Caicos
Although most people will say that hanging on the beach, reading, and relaxing is enough to do in TCI, you may want to take a day or two and have some adventure.
Horseback riding on the beach and through the turquoise waters of Turks and Caicos is sure to be on the bucket list for many visitors. Provo Ponies on Long Bay has horses that love the water as much as their riders do.
Snorkeling off the beach or on a cruise to a nearby reef is the perfect activity for any and every day. The Bight Reef, or Coral Gardens, on the western end of Grace Bay, is one of the most popular areas to snorkel. For a cruise, the Leeward Beach reef works well to see colorful fish, turtles, nurse sharks, and possibly JoJo, the friendly dolphin who interacts with humans! In addition, dive boats go out regularly to reefs around the TCI.
A day trip to North Caicos and Middle Caicos, which are the only islands connected by roadway, is a great way to visit Midgin Harbor and the Conch Caves. The terrain is beautiful and offers a different glimpse of these magical islands.
Explore the wetlands and see wildlife up close with a kayak or paddleboard excursion. Calm lagoons, mangrove trees, and tidal currents throw up some fun wildlife-sighting opportunities, and you won’t even have to get wet -- or too wet!
Best Restaurants In Turks And Caicos
One of the main things to eat in the Turks and Caicos is conch. Conch is everywhere and is easy (and legal) to catch yourself to grill or have a local restaurant prepare. Conch fritters, conch soup, conch steaks, and conch ceviche are only some of the many wonders of this gorgeous mollusk whose shell is a keepsake reminder of your island vacation.
Seafood, including lobster, shrimp, and fish, like grouper, mahi-mahi, snapper, tuna make up the majority of the local specialties, along with peas and rice (really rice and beans) and local produce. Some of the best restaurants are expensive, yet among the popular eateries, there are some more affordable beach shacks, including the must-see da Conch Shack.
Pro Tip: One article I read mentioned that there are more restaurants per capita in Turks and Caicos than there are in San Francisco, the leader in the U.S., so you won’t be going hungry. Try as many local and different specialties as you can. This is what you will remember most.
Notable restaurants include Mangrove Bay Restaurant, Bay Bistro, Coco Bistro, Coyaba Restaurant, Mango Reef, Las Brisas Turks and Caicos, Crackpot Kitchen, Sharkbait Bar and Grill, and Bugaloo’s Beach Shack.
Pro Tip: At most all-inclusive resorts, there are several restaurants that cater to all tastes. Choose to create your own vacation or enjoy a place that takes care of the details, but, whatever you do on your Turks & Caicos trip, the ease of speaking English with the U.S. Dollar as currency sets the stage for days of relaxation, culinary delights, and maybe a little adventure -- with a side of conch.
Best Beaches In Turks And Caicos
The waters of the Turks and Caicos are legendarily aqua blue and clear while the beaches are pure, long, and white.
The most famous beach is Grace Bay Beach in Providenciales, or Provo, and it is repeatedly named one of the top beaches by travel and tourism magazines. Most of the major TCI resorts are here, but we will get to them later.
Grace Bay is protected by a close extensive barrier reef assuring calm water and also excellent fish life.
Leeward Beach is to the east of Grace Bay and without the hustle-bustle of resorts. Tranquil waters here are great for kayaking and paddleboarding and the beaches perfect for shell-seeking.
On the island of Middle Caicos, Mudjin Harbor is the area’s greatest attraction. Towering white limestone cliffs, white beaches, and rolling surf make this the most heralded landscape on the islands. Nearby is a large cave system called Conch Bay Caves and another quiet beach, Bambarra Bay.
Long Bay Beach is the name of several beaches on the islands, but the one in the Providenciales with constant eastern trade winds is a hot spot for kiteboarding and one of the most popular spots for horseback riding. A soviet ship sunken by Hurricane Frances in 2004 makes for great diving, and the Shore Club (my favorite place to stay -- more on why below) is among many luxury resorts here.
Half Moon Bay is a beautiful slice of nature with a sand bar lagoon where small lemon sharks can be seen swimming in the water and the unique Turks and Caicos Rock Iguana makes its home. Most people get to Half Moon Bay by private or boat charter.
Named after the governor’s mansion, Waterloo, which is hidden on the beach, Governor’s Beach is just north of the Grand Turk Cruise Center where cruise ships stop in the area and has some of the clearest water in the Caribbean.
Other notable beaches scattered around the Turks and Caicos Islands include North Bay Beach on Salt Cay, Pine Cay Beach, the rugged and remote Cedar Point Beach, and Sapodilla Beach on the southwest side of Provo.
Best Places To Stay In Turks And Caicos
People come to Turks and Caicos for the beach and relaxation and many times this is wrapped in a luxury resort on a pristine beach.
Grace Bay is home to some very nice and very pricey resorts. There is also the option to stay in an all-inclusive resort where food, drinks, and activities are included.
Top resorts really offer the maximum in luxury, and it is best to do your research to see what may fit your needs. Several are adults-only and perfect for honeymooners or as a romantic escape. Although pricey ($400+ per night), I like the elegant, breezy Shore Club, where breakfast, afternoon tea, and bikes and water equipment are included. There are several bars and restaurants, including a Peruvian one, so you will not be bored when it comes to dining. (And remember, these islands have more restaurants per capita than almost anywhere in the world.)
Luxury resorts that include breakfast with your stay, and sometimes modified meal plans, include Grace Bay Club, Point Grace, and The Palms, Turks and Caicos. Family-friendly all-inclusive options include Club Med Turks and Caicos, Villa del Mar, and Beaches Turks and Caicos. Hotels for families include Grace Bay Beach Ocean Villas, Northwest Point Resort, Bohio Dive Resort, Osprey Beach Hotel, and Ocean Club West. Coming this fall, a new European-style resort, Rock House, will join The Providenciales’ Grace Bay Club and West Bay Clubs in offering ultimate privacy and luxury, including the longest infinity pool in Turks and Caicos.
Note that Turks and Caicos is open for visitors with negative COVID-19 tests and visitors’ applications for authorization. A bit of paperwork, but it’s worth it. There are mask laws and curfews but they are changing all the time, so check www.visittci.com before getting on a plane to know what to expect.