Turks and Caicos Islands guide
Turks and Caicos Islands at a glance
About TURKS & CAICOS...
THE TURKS & CAICOS ISLANDS are made up of 40 islands and cays divided by the 7,000ft deep Columbus Passage into The Caicos and The Turks. Only eight of these islands are inhabited, and most development is on Providenciales (Provo) with high-end resorts along its 12-mile Grace Bay Beach.
The administrative capital is Grand Turk, home to a major cruise centre and next door to diminutive Salt Cay, once the home of a vibrant salt trade and now a sleepy island where you can watch whales migrate.
The islands are home to the third largest barrier reef in the world and consequently are a major dive destination. However they offer so much more for families, honeymooners, watersports enthusiasts and adventurers who enjoy exploring the remoter Sister Islands such as North and Middle Caicos with their farms and deserted beaches such as Mudjin Harbour.
Read about Turks & Caicos history, population and politics in the Island Essentials section of our in-depth guide.
The Definitive Turks & Caicos Islands Guide gives you independent reviews, listings and information from top travel journalists and Caribbean specialists.
- Best for:
- Laidback beach holidays, families, romance, private island retreats, spas, island hopping
- What for:
- Beach, Scuba Diving, Weddings & Romance
- Not for:
- Designer shopping, 24-hour partying, naturists
- How to get there:
- Easily accessible from North America, particularly Miami and some flights from Canada. Flights from Europe via Nassau.
- Top tip:
- Don’t limit yourself to Providenciales. Visit Grand Turk, Salt Cay, North and Middle Caicos, even if just for the day.
Turks and Caicos Islands in depth
About TURKS AND CAICOS...
Like the myriad hues of turquoise which break on its shores, the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI) is a multi-faceted destination: sophisticated tourist resort with an impressive range of five-star hotels; ideal family destination with condo style accommodation and plenty of kids clubs; private island idyll; foodie, spa and dive mecca with the third largest barrier reef in the world; eco-lovers dream and a genuine Caribbean of yesteryear with deserted white sand beaches and domino ‘n’ rum nights in the sole café on island.
The Turks & Caicos Islands are both established and a new frontier. And the reason for its diversity is simple. This is a multi-island destination. The Sister Islands is an apt nickname as like most families, the female siblings couldn’t be more different from one another!
Scattered like parts of a broken necklace, the Turks & Caicos Islands are a continuation of the Bahamian archipelago, 550 miles southeast of Miami, Florida and just to the east of Cuba. Technically they are located in the Atlantic Ocean, not the Caribbean Sea. There are 40 islands and cays, only eight of which are inhabited in vastly varying ways. Unusually, they are geographically split into to two island nations: The Turks and The Caicos, dramatically divided by the 7000ft deep Columbus Passage, a vital route for migrating whale from February to April.
Providenciales (better known as Provo) is the island everyone associates with the Turks & Caicos Islands and is the mainstay of the Caicos Islands. It’s neither the largest island nor the administrative capital and yet due to its incredible 12-mile Grace Bay Beach and international airport, it has attracted the most development. Its economy relies predominantly on tourism and real estate development. Most resorts are built as condos, which are put back into a rental pool. For visitors this is focused largely around Grace Bay Beach, though there are many villas around Chalk Sound, Silly Creek and Leeward. The most remote resort on Provo is Amanyara, set amongst the nature reserves of the north-western shore.
Just east of Provo are two exclusive private cays, Pine Cay home to the exclusive, yet feet-in-the-sand Meridien Club and the altogether more style conscious Parrot Cay with its eastern influence and celebrity-owned villas. Unfortunately there is an ugly skeleton of an abandoned Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group development on Dellis Cay.
Just a narrow stretch of water divides Parrot Cay from North and Middle Caicos, which are themselves linked by an extensive causeway that is currently in need of serious repair following 2008 hurricane damage. Beautiful lagoons stretch out either side and white sandy waters are where the bonefish favour. Middle Caicos is the largest of the islands, though one of the least inhabited with just one significant hotel at the spectacular Mudjin Harbour. It’s also famed for its Conch Bar Caves.
North Caicos is known as the fertile island and has a fledgling farm community championing the cause of home-grown crops, in a destination that relies almost exclusively on imported food. Visitors come to see Flamingo Pond and Wade’s Green, the remains of a loyalist plantation, now under the care of the Turks & Caicos National Trust. The island has tiny settlements including Kew and Whitby with local hotels and stunning castaway beaches.
West Caicos was all set for a Ritz Carlton development but this was suspended in 2008. Lehman Brothers was the major backer.
South Caicos used to be known as Big South but has been in decline over the years. Its main industry is fishing, with fish, conch and lobster being sent to Provo and the US. It has a number of old historic buildings and the old salt ponds remain. There is one modest beach resort, but there are long term plans for development.
Take the spectacular 25-minute flight over the Columbus Passage and the Caicos Islands of Grand Turk and Salt Cay lie waiting to be discovered.
Grand Turk is the home of government and the administrative capital. With its evocative Bahamian architecture, low-key boutique hotels and National Museum, Duke Street must surely be one of the most beautiful and historic streets in the Caribbean, running parallel to the turquoise sea. Drive south past Governor’s Beach and you’ll find the Turks & Caicos Cruise Center which greets the mega liners and entertains the crowds with shops, restaurants, a Splashdown space exhibit that commemorates the 1962 splashdown of the Friendship 7 capsule and a large public swimming pool with FlowRider surf simulator.
South of Grand Turk is tiny Salt Cay, perhaps the most historic of all the islands, with the legacy of its salt industry clear for all to see in its Salinas and majestic White House. Visitors come here predominantly for the diving and the whale watching (February to April) but even if they only come for a day trip, it’s yet another fascinating facet in this diverse island group.
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Turks and Caicos Islands weather
Looking for inspiration?
- Chill out on 12-mile Grace Bay Beach with its many watersports
- Explore the mangroves by kayak and meet the rock ignuanas at Little Water Cay
- Check out the Turks & Caicos National Trust’s sites including Wade’s Green Plantation on North Caico
- Eat fresh conch salad at Da Conch Shack, Blue Hills
- Step back in time at Salt Cay with its historic Salinas, top dive sites and whale watching (February to April)
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