The beautiful Turks and Caicos Islands are situated 575 miles southeast of Miami and 39 miles south east of Mayaguana in the Bahamas. Covering 193 square miles of the Atlantic ocean, Turks and Caicos Islands has one of the longest coral reefs in the world, making it a premier diving destination.
One of the most valuable possessions of the islands are the white sandy beaches, which in total cover 230 miles and are complimented with 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.
The Tourism industry gives Turks and Caicos its main revenue. In addition to this the islands are also a major offshore financial center. There is a small traditional fishing industry that 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.
Cockburn Town is the administrative capital and the historic and cultural center of the islands. It is strongly reputed to be the landfall island of Columbus during his discovery of the New World in 1442. The town itself is well suited for a walking tour. Duke and Font Streets are lined with historic 18th and 19th century landmarks that reflect the Bermudan style architecture of the salt era. Two of these buildings are now popular inns, another in the governor's residence, other government offices, the public library, churches and private residence and fraternities. At the Turks an Caicos National Museum you will find a central exhibit that tells the story of the Molasses Reef Wreck, the oldest European shipwreck discovered in the Western Hemisphere (dated around 1505). It also discloses the rich cultural and natural diversity of the islands. Other historic sites include the Lighthouse, Fire hill and the Hawks Nest Anchorage.
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. You will find 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 can cater for novice snorkels to experienced divers. The major income for the island is dive orientated tourism. There is an outstanding protected coral reef which has clear and calm waters. There are 6 major accommodations.
It has the air of a frozen moment, a place where time stands still. Salt Cay was the center of the Bermudan salt industry, the mainstay of the Turks and Caicos economy from the late 1600's until the early 1960's. When the salt industry stopped, the tools fell where they were being used. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Salt cay is a time capsule from the days "when Salt was king." She is a community of 200 hundred souls, surviving on an arid islands with one unarmed policeman and a strong sense of family and order. The island is largely divided into squares controlled by windmills that no longer turn and salinas holding slowly evaporating seawater.
Twelve cars wander her roads, soft beaches border much of her shore line, herons feed in the salinas and others in the marsh land to the south. The distinctively Bermudan style homes, all with dusty but neatly swept dirt yards, set a tone, and possess an undeniable style. The White House, owned by descendants of Bermudan salt rakers, is a landmark and contains the original antique furniture.
Salt Cay also hosts relics of the whaling industry that once existed. The whaling station at Taylor's Hill has long been lying in ruins, visitors to this land in the winter stare in amazement at the gigantic Humpback Whales. The residents are very friendly and are always ready with a bit of conversation. This is old Turks and Caicos, a direct line to a simpler and slower time.
South Caicos is the fishing capital of the islands, and boasts the best natural harbour and several fishing plants, processing most of the nation's seafood harvest of lobster, conch and fish for export and local consumption. Other features of the island include the 18th century Commissioner's House, old salt works, and the Boiling Hole which fed the salt pans that once made South Caicos the islands' largest producer of salt.
East Caicos is an uninhabited island but is large in size being 18 square miles. A majority of the island is inundated by swamps and mangroves, you can find the highest point of the islands here. There is a splendid 17 mile beach on the north coast of the island, this is usually only used by Sea Turtles to lay their eggs because of the large mosquito population. Near Jacksonville in the north west of the island there are a series of caves that used to be used for mining bat guano, and petroglyphs shows early evidence of settlers on the island.
Being the largest of the islands Middle Caicos is 48 square miles of natural beauty. There are 3 settlements on the island, Conch Bar, Bambarra and Lorimers and there is a population of 275. The coastline around Middle Caicos is more dramatic than that of the other islands, to the north there are Limestone cliffs with long sandy beaches. The south is dominated by swampland and tidal flats which almost covers half the island. Rain is plentiful on Middle Caicos, which is why the island is so green and ideal for agriculture. Middle Caicos is home to the largest caves in all Turks and Caicos at Conch Bar. There are 2 small but comfortable accommodations.
Mudjin Harbour, a half-moon cave and a picturesque beach that juts out from the land to link up with an offshore Cay is a most dramatic feature. The huge limestone caves feature stalactites, stalagmites, bats, owls and salt lakes that link up with the sea, and are considered to be one of the most extensive cave systems in the region. There also the remains of huge Lucayan Indian settlements. One site excavated near Armstrong Pond in 1978 contains a Lucayan ball court, unknown elsewhere in the Lucayan islands. Artifacts recovered from the caves suggest that they were used either as shelter or sacred places. Middle Caicos also contains ruins of Loyalist plantations. A Frigate Bird colony resides on a cay Just offshore. A large blue hole just offshore in shallow water features an abundant variety of marine life. The island's Northwest Point is a combination of beautiful inlets, marshes, mangroves and in land ponds which serve as a haven for birdlife.
North Caicos is the lushest of all the islands because of the abundant rainfall. The population of around 1305, mostly farmers live in the settlements of Bottle Creek Village, Whitby, Kew and Sandy Point. Bottle Creek Village boarders a lagoon on the northeast of the island, and is protected from the ocean by a long ribbon of sand. Like Middle and East Caicos, the southern part of the island is dominated by swampland and tidal flats. North Caicos boasts the largest flock of Pink Flamingo in the islands. There is a Crab Farm on Greenich Creek which grow Caribbean King Crab from eggs to adults. You can visit the farm by taking a raft.
A tour of the Crab Farm offers a lesson in a Crab mariculture, marine ecology and an excellent eco-tour. There are Loyalist plantation ruins, the grandest of which is Wades green. Lucayan artifacts were found in the caves near Sandy Point. Cottage Pond at Sandy Point is a large pool of tropical vegetation. There are flocks of Flamingo at Flamingo Pond and mud Hole Pond. You will find ospreys and their nesting sites on the adjacent Three Mary Cays, and a wide variety of other birds on the islands extensive nature reserves and sanctuaries. Iguanas on the nearby East Bays Cays are an outstanding example of the natural diversity of this green island.West Caicos
Said to have the most beautiful diving spots in Turks and Caicos, West Caicos is a 9 square mile island that is uninhabited. West Caicos is a favourite for Picnics and Dive Operators with sandy coves and beautiful waters. There are no accommodations on West Caicos but the island is visited frequently.
The ruins of Yankee Town, crested by an osprey's nest, its sisal press, railroad and steam engine are evidence of the small civilization that once existed on West Caicos. Lake Catherine is a nature reserve that is home to a variety of bird life. A number of other islands and cays remain in their natural state, without human influence, and serve as protected natural habitats for sea birds, Iguanas, Turtles and other wildlife.
Providenciales, or more commonly known as "Provo", covers an area of 38 miles and is the most developed island in Turks and Caicos. Found on the west side of the islands Provo can offer all modern conveniences, including superb hotels, a casino and a Golf Club. Although Provo is the most mature of the islands, it is still a destination for those who want to escape their busy schedules and relax. There is a population of over 6,000, and Provo has the largest non-native population made up of Haitians, Dominicans, French, Canadians, Germans and Americans. The growing population is mainly due to the completion of the airport in 1984, which is capable of dealing with large planes.
To the north of the island, near Sapodilla Bay, you will find the most beautiful beaches, and also a long coral reef which is rich in aquatic life. Towards the south of the island you will find Chalk Sound, a large lake with striking turquoise water and an array of small cays. The island's commercial port, South Dock, is found east of Sapodilla Bay and has the capability to deal with containerized goods.
The two main and oldest settlements on the island are Bight and Blue Hills, and are built around fresh water supplies. Both locations give a real feeling of Caribbean villages. If you wish to do some shopping, Provo can offer a good range of boutiques at Turtle Cove. Down Town you will find the likes of retail shops, business offices and travel agents.
There are three airports handling international traffic to Grand Turk and Provo, but most international flights arrive at Provo. The Provo airport has a tourist info booth in arrivals, a restaurant and not much else. Other islands have local airstrips.
Grand Turk International Airport (GDT; 946-2233)
Providenciales International Airport (PLS; 941-5670)
South Caicos International Airport (XSC; 946-4255)
There are limited flights to elsewhere within the Caribbean from Turks and Caicos; those planning on island-hopping may find themselves backtracking to Florida before delving deeper into the region. The following airlines fly into Turks and Caicos:
British Airways (1-800-247-9297; www.ba.com) London
TCI Ferry Service (946-5406) is a new ferry operation taking passengers from the Leeward Marina on Providenciales to North Caicos (US$25, $40 round-trip same day), eliminating the need for the expensive and inconvenient flight. There are four departures each way daily.
A ferry runs biweekly trips from Grand Turk to Salt Cay (US$12, round-trip). Contact Salt Cay Charters (231-6663; email@example.com). Whale-watching boat trips with this company cost US$75.
Taxis get expensive in the long run so renting a car makes sense if you plan to explore Provo or Grand Turk. The local companies are very good, and may be cheaper than the internationals. Rentals are around $80 per day and the cars are generally in good nick; most rental companies offer free drop-off and pickup. A government tax of $15 is levied on car rentals ($8 on scooter rentals). Mandatory insurance costs $15. A minimum age of 25 years may be required.
Driving is on the left-hand side. At roundabouts (traffic circles), remember to circle in a clockwise direction, entering to the left, and give way to traffic already on the roundabout.
Speed limits in the Turks and Caicos are 20mph (around 32km/h) in settlements and 40mph (around 65km/h) on main highways.
Please refer to island destinations for rental companies.
Gas stations are plentiful and usually open from 8am to 7pm. Some close on Sunday. Gasoline costs about US$5.50 per US gallon – luckily most destinations are pretty close. Credit cards are accepted in major settlements. Elsewhere, it’s cash only, please!