TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS BEAUTIFUL BY NATURE
The Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) is a sickle-shaped collection of 40 jewelled islands lying east south east of the Bahamas and north of Hispaniola. Flights to Turks and Caicos from nearby Miami, last 1 hour and from New York only 2.5 hours. Only 8 of these jewels are inhabited by the diverse population but many of the islands were first inhabited by the Lucayans and Tainos, centuries before the arrival of European conquistadors. The name Turks comes from the indigenous Turk’s head cactus, shaped somewhat like a Turkish fez. Caicos is derived from a Lucayan term “caya hico” which means ‘string of island’. Each island is unique with its own set of natural attractions. Turks and Caicos travel is easy between islands. There are five airports for convenient travel between Provo, North Caicos, Middle Caicos, South Caicos, Grand Turk and Salt Cay. Providenciales International Airport now has a VIP Flyers Club built to international standards. Though none of the other airports have a flyers club, each has seen its fair share of reclusive VIPs coming and going by private aircraft. Boating between islands is still the mode of travel between some islands, welcome transportation for seafarers at heart. Eating establishments abound, from formal traditional dining to shacks selling an abundance of tasty seafood.
Even in the economic downturn, TCI remains a favourite for off-shore investors. Traditionally, real estate development has taken the lion share of the investment opportunity but there are other sectors that enjoy activity. There are very few restrictions on business, the Government welcomes requests for foreign investment. Only certain companies require majority ownership by citizens or ‘belongers’. TCI’s infrastructure is modern and efficient, providing the full range of international banking and trust services, licensed investment fund managers and centralised services for registration of companies and intellectual property pursuits. The US$ remains the currency of choice and all that remains for business visitors to do is remember to drive on the left and schedule liberal visits to TCI’s world-class beaches.
Grand Turk is the most easterly of the bigger islands and the capital of Turks and Caicos. It’s the headquarters of the government. Charming Cockburn Town, not to be confused with Cockburn Harbor is the main town on the island and holds the second largest population in TCI. There are colonial style buildings everywhere, a dream for history and architecture buffs. It’s a diver’s feast in Grand Turk with close-to-shore drops up to 8000 feet. The coral reefs are an underwater Eden. On the surface, humpback whales pass by close enough to be seen from the shore but avid whale watchers take to the sea for close up views during whale season. Grand Turk has a modern cruise ship port, built to dock two visiting ocean liners at a time. Among other modern amenities, the port houses the largest Margaritaville in the world.
West Caicos is a nature preserve and the dive capital of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Old ruins of the sisal industry are now home for Ospreys. The 9-square mile preserve is now uninhabited but not for long. It’s the future home of the Ritz Carlton, which is being built carefully to protect the island’s ecology.
For major attractions, a wide range of hotels, restaurants, entertainment, the international airport, luxury condo style vacationing and golfing, head for Providenciales, lovingly called Provo. With all that action, tranquility is still to be found. Provo is the home of some of the longest stretches of white sand beaches in the world. While in Provo, don’t miss the 12 mile long Grace Bay Beach. Natural wonder, Chalk Sound, an aquamarine lagoon with more than a dozen islets should be classified a wonder of the Caribbean. Off the beaten path, the south side of the island is dotted with inlets, bays and charming private villas. Provo is the most populous island in the archipelago.
Vacationers can fly or sail from Provo to North Caicos, 12 miles away. The quieter North Caicos, receiving the highest rainfall, is the most lush of the islands. It’s a protected nature reserve and sanctuary to a variety of wildlife like iguanas and pink flamingos. It’s aptly named the emerald isle and the bread basket of TCI because of its dense green vegetation and farms.
This island is a dream for subterranean explorers. The largest among the group of islands, it has a tiny population of around 275 and the largest cave network in the Caribbean. These caves have stalagmites, stalactites, bats, owls and unusual salt lakes that feed out to the sea. Ancient Lucayan artifacts and a ball court have been found in the caves and surrounding areas. The Lucayans played Batos, the ancient forerunner of volleyball and soccer. Mangrove swamps line the coast and a blue hole off shore is a natural zoo for spectacularly colorful marine life.
East Caicos, 18 square miles, is majority mangrove swamps and the highest point in all of Turks and Caicos. It also has the longest beach, a whopping 17 miles, much longer than Grace Bay. The beach is a nature preserve and breeding ground for sea turtles. There are caves on this island also showing evidence of ancient Lucayan settlement. The old sisal factories are no longer operational.
The Big South as this island is called is rich in history. The town of Cockburn Harbor was once the political and social capital of TCI, bustling with businessmen and pirates. The Commissioner’s house, built in the 18th Century, housed Queen Elizabeth on her visit to the islands in 1966. Now South Caicos is the home of the world renowned marine research organization, School of Field Studies. Scuba diving here is an underwater dream with coral, sharks, octopus, loggerhead turtles and barracudas. Whale watching parties held here rival those on Grand Turk. The Big South is seafood king, housing most of the TCI’s seafood processing plants. Most of the famous conch and lobster exported from or eaten in TCI comes from South Caicos. Visit South Caicos in May for the annual Big South Regatta, one of the Caribbean’s renowned sailing regattas complete with pageants, a donkey race and a music festival.
The tiny island of Salt Cay continues to charm visitors. The 2.5 square miles of land holds a small airport, 80 residents and a salt industry dating back to the late 1600s. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, it’s a gathering place for humpback whales and other fascinating sea life. The sunken 17th Century warship Endymion and the 7000-feet sea cliff are a thrill for the Jacques Cousteau types who flock to this island paradise.
LOYAL REPEAT VISITORS
The Turks and Caicos Islands get loyal repeat visitors. TCI is in a small handful of elegant vacation spots in the world. Spectacular beaches, luxury hotels condo living, a variety of attractions, a multitude of island-sized habitats and world class service, keep visitors coming again and again. Yes, nothing pleases them more than seeing what nature has created in Turks and Caicos. It’s truly beautiful by nature.