Turks and Caicos
I know you’re not supposed to look directly into the sun, but I couldn’t ignore that right above me a complete rainbow was circling the sun. Wow, a rainbow with no beginning and no end. Was I at the end of the rainbow? And if so, had I found the pot of gold?
If Turks and Caicos is not the pot of gold, it’s close: pristine beaches, turquoise water, friendly stingrays and fresh, fresh seafood. I’d certainly found a place that makes it easy to forget my troubles and focus on what’s really important: getting away from everything.
“Would you like rum punch or fruit punch?” asked the man at the front desk of The Sands Resort at Grace Bay in Provo, Turks and Caicos Islands, British West Indies. “Hmmm,” I wondered. If this is the most difficult decision I have to make all day, I’ve come to the right place. Welcome to Turks and Caicos, a set of 40 beautiful islands located 575 miles southeast of Miami. The nearly-deserted sandy white beaches on the islands’ coastlines beckon the getaway seeker in all of us. The real beauty is that you won’t see a lot of other tourists while you’re there. Get ready to forget yourself and forget your cares.
The major airlines that fly here service the Providenciales airport. The islands’ hub of activity, this is where the journey begins. Driving around the island, a particularly breathtaking view is just a short hike up a hill to view the beautiful coastal water in Sapodilla Bay. Dick Clark enjoys spending time here. Continuing on Blue Hill road, the sites turn to churches, ocean-side gravesites and seafood shanties. The most intriguing find is Bugaloos, where you can see the famous conch shells harvested from the ocean, shucked and served ceviche-style in a conch salad.
A boat ride to the exclusive resort Parrot Cay puts you in good company. Barbara Streisand, Paul McCartney and Donnatella Versace are all building getaways here. Other celebs that visit are Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson and Shakira. Turks and Caicos is a great place to get married, just ask Donna Karan’s daughter, who got married in Parrot Cay; Juwan Howard of the Denver Nuggets celebrated his nuptials here, as well. The intriguing part about Parrot Cay is the completely private beach. How else would Bruce Willis enjoy time at the beach?
Inside the Turks and Caicos Club on the Grace Bay Beach is a hidden dining treasure: Simba. The dining focuses on French and Asian cuisine with an eclectic Caribbean flair. Another hot spot, Mango Reef specializes in Caribbean food with a Cuban influence. According to Jimmy Buffet, the Tiki Hut in the Turtle Cove Marina is the best restaurant in the Caribbean. Inside the Sands Hotel, a new restaurant called Hemingway’s has just opened. This is the type of beach bar where you’d expect to see Jimmy Buffet, but in his absence, some of his tunes are piped in.
All this and golf too? Tee up at the Provo Golf and Country Club, and you’ll be in the company of such celebrities as Michael Jordan and Richard Gere. If the water is more your cup of tea, the crystal-clear waters excite the swimmer in all of us. As you head to the Leeward Marina, you’ll see some picturesque houses with private boat docks and immediate access to the magnificent turquoise waters of the Caribbean. The Silver Deep Excursions beach cruise visits Iguana Island, the wooden planks around Little Water Cay and the coral reef where the striped, blue and colorful fish scurry under you while you search for sand dollars. The tour ends with searching for shells or relaxing on the sandy-white beaches.
Other islands that make up Turks and Caicos can be visited as day trips from Provo. A one-way airline ticket is 75 USD and takes you in an eight-seat plane from Provo to Grand Turk. Be sure to venture out and uncover the hidden treasures as each island possesses their own charm and mystique.
Landing in Grand Turk is like going back in time; the hustle and bustle of Houston is worlds away. Grand Turk was the first island to be settled by the Europeans. Salt was the main industry here from 1780 to the mid 1960s, and remnants of the historic salinas are still on the sides of the roads. A quiet street named Duke Street is the center of town containing small bed and breakfasts and boutique hotels with wonderful views of the ocean. The movie “Paradise Virus” with Lorenzo Lamas and Melody Thomas Scott was recently filmed at the Turks Head Hotel.
There isn’t a whole lot going on in Grand Turk if you’re not a scuba diver. According to one proprietor, “People come for seven days and dive every morning.” At Oasis Divers, all of the equipment is available for rent – the tank and all the extras are prepared and loaded onto the boat for you. The reefs are kept pristine because they are under a National Parks System protection plan. Not far from the town is the area on the reef known as Coral Garden. On this breathtaking wall, you just might meet a particularly friendly Nassau Grouper named Pretty Boy. He loves divers and isn’t afraid to come right up and say, “Hello.” If you’re really lucky, he’ll join you on your dive for a while.
While some scuba dive, the snorkeling tour includes diving for fresh conch. Then, everyone meets up on an uninhabited, gorgeous, sandy beach called Gibbs Cay. The stingrays are obviously used to guests, as they were waiting for us to feed them. After relaxing on the beach and a barbecue lunch of burgers and hotdogs, the guide whips up the freshest conch salad you’ve ever tasted.
If you’re looking for a little more in your hotel, try the Island House, which offers a freshwater pool, a stunning view of the ocean and the use of a car during your stay. The Manta House is owned by two Canadian sisters who visited Grand Turk, fell in love with it and bought a bed and breakfast. Located just 20 feet from the ocean, it’s the perfect place to stay and enjoy the beautiful coral reefs.
The eight-seat plane from Grand Turk to Salt Cay only operates on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. So, don’t be late because you might have a longer visit than you bargained for. Locals aren’t exaggerating when they call Salt Cay the island that time forgot. With only 78 residents, 13 elementary school children and the remains of the now-defunct salt industry, you’ll see local wildlife wandering the unpaved road and find the most down-home hospitality imaginable.
If you dream of a beach that is totally isolated from the rest of the world, it’s on the island of Salt Cay at a beach resort called The Windmills Plantation. To aid in your relaxation, you have difficult choices to make, such as: whether to use the clear-bottom kayak, snorkel or beach towel for the saltwater pool or two and one-half mile beach. Here, there are no phones and no televisions, nothing to invade the peace and quiet of the island.
Currently, there are four jobs for every person in Turks and Caicos, and they are making a concerted effort to preserve your island experience and not overdevelop the area. In theory, the pristine beaches you experience today will still be here for your enjoyment 10 years from now. But, why wait?