Until a few years ago I didn’t even know about Turks and Caicos. Then some good friends of ours went there for vacation and came back quite happy. Then other good friends put in a good word about the place. So we decided to give it a try, and booked a few days at the Provo island during the Thanksgiving week.
Turks and Caicos Islands, often abbreviated as TCI, are a chain of islands in the West Indies, located to the East from Cuba, and to the North from the island of Hispaniola. TCI is a British Overseas Territory which is self governed, except when Great Britain temporarily takes over the control of the government due to a corruption scandal. Despite it being a part of the British world, the official currency is US dollar, and the power outlets are of the US type with 110 V. Given also that it’s only hour and a half flight from Miami, this makes TCI a perfect destination for US travelers.
This year’s hurricanes hit the Caribbean hard. Turks and Caicos did get some damage too but it was not as bad as some other islands. The hotel we stayed in opened on the November 16, just 5 days before our arrival. We didn’t see much destruction around, at least not in the beach area, but we heard that some local towns did sustain some damage.
We stayed at one of the resorts at Grace Bay, on the north coast of the Providenciales island (usually called just Provo). We heard that Grace Bay Beach is considered one of the best beaches in the world but at first we couldn’t pinpoint what exactly was it that made it so special.
After a while though we realized that it was a super great beach indeed. It was not a single factor that made it so, but a combination or many.
First of all, this beach is wide, clean and uncrowded, with sand almost white with a touch of yellow.
The water is clear, transparent and of that beautiful turquoise color so coveted by the vacationeers. As one enters the water, the bottom is sandy, clear of rocks, shells and seaweeds.
There are no noisy streets, highways or unsightly buildings next to the beach. The beach hotels and resorts are unobtrusive.
Grace Bay Beach is a long unobstructed stretch of sand one could walk or run along for miles and miles.
There is an occasional abandoned pier here and there:
Grace Bay is perfect for walking along the beach, stopping for an occasional swim or for a drink at one of many beach bars.
If you want a more serious meal there are plenty of restaurants right there at the beach, where you can enter barefoot and in your wet swimwear.
Now that I mentioned the food, it’s time to talk about local cuisine. The restaurants are in abundance and the food is overall great and diverse. The prices are on the high side. The wine lists are mostly short and not too fancy, the beer is almost invariably bottled, not on tap. The local brewery Turk’s Head offers a passable Amber and Lager in bottles.
The highlight of the local culinary scene (as well as the main article of local export) is conch – i,e. mid to large size sea snail that with a fancy shell. Conch goes into all kinds of meals: conch chowder (replacement for clam chowder), conch cakes (similar to crab cakes), conch empanadas, tapas, you name it. Raw conch is great ingredient for a salad, but only if it is fresh caught.
There is a lot of local fish in the menus, and it is mostly good. Most places have fresh catch of the day in the menu, but unfortunately sometimes they serve a fish that tastes like it was previously frozen under the name of fresh catch.
The most popular beach entertainment is probably paragliding. You’ll see an occasional boat cruising 150-200 yards from the beach with paragliding written in large letters on the board. If it is not towing a client at the time you can just waive your hands and they will pick you up.
Sailboats (usually tiny catamarans) are offered for hourly rent by hotels and independent companies right there on the beach.
At any time is is easy to find a boat that will take you snorkeling, or fishing, or just sightseeing.
The nice thing about the climate on these islands is that both air and water are fairly warm at any time of day or night, at least in late November. Swimming at sunset or at 7am can be as enjoyable as at noon.
Another great advantage of Grace Bay Beach is that is has its own barrier coral reef which acts as a dampener for the incoming waves and also serves as a snorkeling destination.
It can get cloudy at any time of day without becoming cold or windy or causing any discomfort (unless it’s a storm during the hurricane season).
Apart from the beach, local residential areas are either non-descript single family home suburbias, or luxury villas hiddens behind fences and acres of land. There is a small commercial urban area at Grace Bay, sometimes called Grace Bay Downtown, with many souvenir/beach shops and quite a few decent restaurants.
On one day we signed up for a group tour on a boat that first took us snorkeling up to the barrier reef, and then to the Iguana Island, which is a stripe of sand about 300m wide and a couple of miles long with yet more fantastic beaches and plenty of iguanas.
Iguanas at Iguana Island
On another day we took the local ferry boat to the North Caicos Island.
After a smooth half an our ride we found ourselves at an island that looked almost deserted compared to the resort island of Providenciales. The population of North Caicos is probably a few hundred people, and local villages look all but abandoned.
The beaches on North Caicos look as great as on Provo island, only there are no resorts at there for some reason:
It turns out that most of the local population migrated to the Provo Island where the jobs and the money are.
We then drove down a long man-made causeway that connects North Caicos to Middle Caicos Island. Our first stop was so called Conch Cave located in the jungle away from the beach. The jungle looked quite messy and unwelcoming, and swarmed with bloodthirsty mosquitoes. Luckily the caretaker of the cave gave us some mosquito repellent.
The cave itself is very vast – its tunnels go miles and miles in all directions, but the part that is open to the visitors can be covered in 20 minutes. I don’t know why is it called Conch Cave. It is full of bats, and for many decades back in the 19th century is was a major source of bat guano in the Caribbean.
Mudjin Bar and Grill not far from the Conch Cave offers a nice selection of seafood (I loved their fish and chips, also ask if they have the conch among the specials), as well as great views and a few trails, some of which provide the beach access right across a small rocky island called Dragon Cay. This is one of few parts of the whole archipelago that features hills and tall rocks.
Where to Stay
Stay anywhere in the Grace Bay, that is on the north coast of the Providenciales Island anywhere between Turtle Cove and Tuscany Resort. There are many hotels and resorts for all tastes and budgets in Grace Bay.
On the beach:
Seven Stars Resort on Grace Bay beach offers a great beach bar with some nice seafood selection (try seafood tacos).
Bay Bistro at Sibonné Beach Hotel located to the West from Point Grace – nice setting either for lunch or dinner, try their conch chowder.
Off the beach:
Provence cafe, restaurant and bakery located at La Vele Plaza in Grace Bay, features French and Italian influence and is an excellent choice for a casual lunch or dinner.
Grace’s Cottage is one of the best places for fine dining in Provo. It is a separate cottage located at the Point Grace Resort in Grace Bay. A charming setting, excellent menu and bar, and great service. Good both for casual and formal occasions.