Turks and… what?
The Turks and Caicos Islands, or TCI for short, are a British Overseas Territory consisting of the larger Caicos Islands and smaller Turks Islands, two groups of tropical islands in the Lucayan Archipelago of the Caribbean Sea and northern Caribbean region.
They are known primarily for tourism and as an offshore financial centre. The resident population is 31,458 as of 2012 of whom 23,769 live on Providenciales in the Caicos Islands.
I remember as a kid, my parents and I traveled to a few Club Med locations, which is how I found out about this serene set of islands on the edge of the Caribbean Sea, home to bright turquoise waters and white sand beaches. I didn’t think much of it again until I was searching for destinations to spend my 30th birthday. I knew I wanted to go somewhere fairly close to home, which meant Europe and Asia were out, so I started focusing on Caribbean destinations. My first thoughts were Exuma, Bahamas or Saint Lucia, but I decided against those for various reasons. I was in search for really bright blue water, and happened on Turks & Caicos Grace Bay Beach on a “Top 10 Beaches” list. Being only a 4.5 hour plane ride away, it was a no brainer.
Providenciales was exactly what I hoped for: Hot weather, crystal clear water seen from above through the plane cabin window, and a welcome band inside the airport playing cheerful Caribbean music on arrival. Getting through customs was fairly easy as it’s a pretty small airport, but it did take a minute because several planes seem to arrive at the same time. Renting a car was a little more complicated that other places, make sure you have a visa credit card or you’ll end up paying a lot more money upfront as a deposit. TCI is a British overseas territory, so cars drive on the left side vs the right side in the US, and many cars have right-side steering wheels instead of the US left. That didn’t take long to get used to outside of constantly turning the windshield wipers on instead of the turn signal; we got used to locals laughing at us, though. 🙂
We rented a little Air BnB cottage to stay in that was slightly off the beaten path, more in a residential neighborhood. The TCI economy thrives on tourism, so you’ll mostly find expensive AI resorts near the beaches; Don’t worry, most have free beach access if you decide to ditch the resort life while on the island like us.
Things to do in TCI:
- Take a Snorkeling Cruise: I expected a lot out of the snorkeling off shore from Provo, because not only is the water the clearest I think Ive ever seen in my life… but TCI is also home to an impressively large set of coral reefs. We chose to go with Island Vibes Tours– Be sure to reserve at least 4 days in advance, especially if reserving a spot online, as they are not keen on “last minute reservations”. I saw a lot of claims of sea turtles, sharks, sting rays etc… but unfortunately I only recall seeing about 3 -4 different types of fish on our tour (Ok, I’m probably being dramatic but I was tryna see some sharks). I still would highly recommend Island Vibes because I had a blast in the water and on the boat, regardless. Our tour guides were a lot of fun, and cruising around the Caribbean sea on a yacht is worth the money alone.
- Relax on Grace Bay Beach: Grace Bay Beach lives up to all the hype. It’s absolutely stunning in every sense of the word. We travelled at the very tail end of the season, so all the beaches were practically empty, but we understood why- rainy season begins in August, so we were met with some wet days and mosquitos.
- Treat Yo Self: If you have the funds, get a massage! We went to Teona Spa, and found a reasonably priced summer special ($90 for 1 hr). Make sure you shower first, don’t come straight from the beach unless you like sand-exfoliation with your rub down 🙂
- Pet Some Island Pups: Located near the Grace Bay area, you’ll find Potcake Place, which saves stray puppies and finds loving homes for them abroad. “Potcake is the name given to the dogs of the Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos Islands. It came about because the locals fed the caked remains of the cooking pot to the dogs”. If you show up early enough (there is always a line, and sometimes they run out), you can take a puppy out for a walk on the public beach area.
- Enjoy Live Music: Every night, a different restaurant or bar has live music to enjoy. We found ourselves at Somewhere Cafe, Da Conch Shack, Danny Buoys for Karaoke, and Bugaloos. These places are all very touristy and pricey, Bugaloos being the furthest outside of the touristy Grace Bay area. If you research nightlife in Provo, you’ll find a lot of travelers saying that the nightlife is fairly sleepy on these islands, but I found that you really just need to make friends with locals. 🙂 We hung out with “belongers” (TCI locals) a few nights, and went to a few local spots I really enjoyed; the one that seemed to be the local favorite was Jamrock – just a casual gathering in a parking lot with locals and loud but good music. There were several other small clubs off the beaten path, but I would not recommend that for the casual or lone traveler. I prefer to see how local people actually live and have fun, so those nights were my favorite. Anyways, check which nights each restaurant has live music, and enjoy the ocean breeze. Bring bug spray.
- Have a Visa Card and Cash: Many places don’t take Mastercard or Discover.
- Book Tours 3-4 Days in Advance, especially when booking online vs calling.
- Travel During the High Season: and no, that is not a Caribbean pun. Late August-December is a terrible time to travel to Providenciales because it’s rainy season and most of the businesses and tours close completely for a few months due to slow business and bad weather. We just made it on the tail end of the summer high season, but it did rain at some point every single day we were there. Go January-July.
- Get Rental Car Insurance: Provo roads can be rough at times, sometimes completely unpaved. We declined the insurance and then ended up popping a tire during our stay. Womp womp.
- Bug Spray: Mosquitos, y’all… ’nuff said.