By Renée S. Gordon
Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) is renowned for its outdoor and adventure, fine dining and the breathtaking beauty of turquoise water and sandy beaches—it’s credited with having some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world. Water temperature vary just eight degrees, 74° to 82°F, between winter and summer and the clarity is stunning. The sand is powdery soft, formed from broken down limestone, shell and coral; it’s usually white, occasionally rosy.
This is a destination with adult appeal whether you seek adventure or relaxation, romance or history, history or festivals, or just another stamp in your passport.
TCI is an archipelago of pearls strung out south of the Bahamas and 600 miles from Florida. The eight large and more than 90 smaller islands are situated on a plateau, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and a pristine barrier reef. Two island groups make up this British Overseas Territory: Turks Islands (Grand Turk and little Salt Cay) and Caicos Islands (East, West, North, South, and Middle Caicos). Of these, only five of the large islands and a few little ones are inhabited, which means you may find a very private getaway on a huge number of deserted beaches and cays.
The islands’ history is not duplicated on any other Caribbean island. The first inhabitants were migratory Taino Indians, followed by Lucayans beginning in 750 AD. The oldest extant artifact, a canoe paddle, dates from around 1100 AD. Some say that Columbus landed on TCI in 1492 and documents prove that Ponce de Leon landed in 1512. The entire native population was enslaved and forcibly removed to work on other islands by 1513. Around 1700 the islands were settled by salt workers from Bermuda and pirates like Anne Bonney and Black Jack Rackham. Salt production was the foundation of TCI’s economy until the 1900s. The salt was so superior that George Washington requested it for use by the Continental Congress.
Legend has it that Turks was named after the Turk’s Head cactus, so called because it resembles a fez. Caicos was derived from the Lucayan words, cayo hico, and ‘string of islands.’ Pirates were referred to as Turks; the name a warning to beware the pirate islands.
After the American Revolution, British Loyalists left the U.S. and were given land on the islands. Many of the new settlers brought slaves with them and established cotton plantations. When slavery became illegal in the British territories in 1834 the slaveholders simply vacated their plantations. The former enslaved workers took over ownership of the properties and many of their descendants continue to live on inherited property.
Mudjin Harbour, a corruption of Bermuda Harbor, once used to dock ships from Bermuda carrying goods and slaves. Undoubtedly some of these slaves were taken to Wade’s Green Plantation. The Green Plantation, one of three left on the island, is the best preserved. The land was given to Loyalist Wade Stubbs in 1789. He began a cotton plantation on 860-acres and held 384 slaves; it lasted until 1809.
A walking tour takes you along a stone-fenced pathway. The fence and the hand-cut limestone structures were constructed with slave labor. Highlights of the tour include the ruins of the Great House, the Garden, the Overseer’s House and the Slave Quarters. Big Blue Unlimited offers this and a menu of other tours.
Grace Bay, on the northern side of Providenciales, is home to 12 miles of beach sheltered by a barrier reef less than 2,000-ft. offshore. The coral reef makes for great diving and is ideally situated to serve as a hub from which to launch excursions. Ocean Club Resorts, two all-suite properties a mile apart, Ocean Club & Ocean Club West, is a wonderful choice for accommodations.
The spacious suites offer all the comforts of home along with deluxe amenities and excellent service. The expansive properties offer a “Stay at One, Play at Both” program so as a guest you can use the facilities at both resorts. Amenities include a menu of eco-tours, golfing, snorkeling, diving, cycling, other activities and an Excursions Concierge. Resort dining includes Solana, Seaside Café, Cabana Bar & Grill and the fine-dining establishment Opus Wine Bar Grill. The on-site, Spa Tropique, is considered the best spa facility on the island.
Horseback riding along the beach allows you to explore the surf and experience the sea in a new way. Rides are either 60- or 90-minutes long and must be arranged in advance.
The world’s only conch farm is located on TCI. Tours begin with a comprehensive overview of the farm’s work and continue to the tanks and growing ponds. They end, as tours often do, in the gift shop.
Although TCI is in the Atlantic it is culturally Caribbean. The best way to experience the culture is to embark on the Heart of the Islands tour that visits people and sites of North and Middle Caicos. The eight-hour tour begins with a 30-minute private boat ride. Stops include Flamingo Pond Nature Reserve, Conch Bar Caves National Park, Mudjin Harbour, lunch at Frank’s, and Wade’s Green’s Plantation. The caves are the most extensive above-ground system in the region.
Sun Charters is the Grace Bay operator of choice for private charter cruises. Sail aboard the Atabeyra while soaking up the sun and scenery with stops for snorkeling and sunset viewing. Snacks and drinks are provided, the service is exemplary and the voyage is customized for the group.
Da Conch Shack is a must. Conch is served in a variety of ways and you can watch as it is pulled from the water. Outdoor beach dining enhances the meal.
Thursday Night Fish Fry is a weekly gathering of islanders and guests. Admission is free and the outdoor venue is filled with food stalls selling the best of the island cuisine as well as souvenir and gift items. There is a Junkanoo Parade, entertainment and international performers have been known to take the stage at this celebration of culture and all things Turks and Caicos.
– Photos by Renée S. Gordon
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.