Turks & Caicos Neighborhoods & Towns
The Turks and Caicos Islands sit just north of the Dominican Republic in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 550 miles southeast of Miami. Its 40 islands and cays (small islands formed on coral reefs) comprise Turks and Caicos, but only eight of these are inhabited. The islands are separated into two groups, the Caicos Islands (the largest group) and the Turks Islands.
The Caicos Islands
The Caicos Islands are loosely strung together to form a crescent moon-shaped archipelago, with the main island, Providenciales, occupying the western section.
Providenciales, better known as Provo, is usually the main destination for visitors. Hilly and green, Provo has ideal spots for diving and fishing. On land, Provo features the Northwest Point Marine National Park and Nature Reserve. Take in the sunset there -- but also prepare for an onslaught of biting bugs. Provo is also home to the only 18-hole golf course in the Turks and Caicos Islands, as well as a couple of low-key casinos.
The small grouping of islets between Providenciales and North Caicos, Caicos Cays was once used as a safe haven for plundering pirates. Today, many remain mostly untouched and are a popular daytrip destination among snorkelers. Other area islands, such as Dellis Cay, Pine Cay and Parrot Cay, are privately owned and feature top-notch secluded resorts like the Parrot Cay Resort and Spa.
Considered one of the lushest isles of the set, North Caicos is also hailed as the next tourism hotspot; several hotels and condominiums are in construction.
Middle Caicos is the largest island and has a variety of terrains for visitors to explore. Bambarra Beach sits near 600-year-old limestone caves, which are near green hills that rise above the waters. Although there's a causeway (as well as a ferry) connecting North and Middle Caicos, we recommend checking out the Crossing Place Trail, which was used by settlers during low tide to travel between the two islands.
Nature dominates this island, which sits on the southeastern tip of the island chain. Creamy white beaches, jagged cliffs and serene bays are just some of its characteristics. With very few residents, South Caicos is now the center of the islands' fishing industry, with several fishing plants and seafood processing centers. It's also popular among students studying ecology and marine life; Boston University has a post here. Architecture enthusiasts will enjoy South Caicos' older Bermudian-style buildings.
Once home to pirates and overgrown natural beauty, West Caicos now hosts the exclusive and luxurious Ritz-Carlton. Those who stay here often visit the abandoned Yankee Town settlement, where a railroad and steam engine are the only signs of the small sisal (a plant used to make rope) plantation that existed here in the late 1800s.
East Caicos sits just north of South Caicos. Once dominated by cotton plantations, this island is now characterized by swamps. Home to more animals than people, East Caicos is only accessible by boat from one of the other populated islands.
The Turks Islands
Sitting several miles southeast of the Caicos Islands, the Turks Islands are much smaller and, according to some, more laidback. The larger of the islands, Grand Turk, sits approximately five miles north of the second main Turk Island, Salt Cay.
Experts say that visitors who only visit Providenciales miss out on a large portion of the islands' heritage. Home to the islands' capital, Cockburn Town, Grand Turk is the region's historical center. Despite the influence of a partnership with Carnival Cruise Lines and the subsequent arrival of a few chain restaurants, this is still a sleepy island filled with 19th-century Bermudian architecture. Like its sister islands, Grand Turk offers several snorkeling and scuba diving spots, as well as the Grand Turk Wall, which drops 7,000 feet beneath the water -- a quarter of a mile off the western shore. On land, there is the Turks and Caicos National Museum. The nearby Gibbs Cay is a sweet spot to swim with the stingrays.
It's not hard to see why all two-and-a-half square miles of Salt Cay has been recommended as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Horses and donkeys run free and often have right-of-way on the streets. Most don't choose Salt Cay as their ultimate destination, but the island does boast several of the best snorkeling beaches.
Crime is infrequent on the Turks and Caicos Islands, but you should still leave your valuables in your hotel safe, not resting on a beach blanket unattended.
You will want to take precautions for the tropical weather, however. Drink plenty of (bottled) water while outside, and apply sunscreen at regular intervals. Travel sites even suggest that you avoid strenuous outdoor activity for the first day of your trip, so that you can adjust to the blazing heat and constant sun (according to some sites, T&C gets an average of 350 days of sunshine a year).
The Turks and Caicos Islands are popular for diving, but there are risks. One, make sure to receive proper training. Two, never dive alone and preferably, dive with an instructor. Three, know the local weather conditions. Four, be careful when ascending from a deep dive. Decompression sickness, or "the bends," can occur when divers come to the surface too quickly (causing nitrogen bubbles to form in a diver's blood and tissues, and resulting in joint pain, itchy, swelling skin, confusion loss of balance and shortness of breath). Ascend slowly (no more than 30 feet per minute) and take breaks when surfacing after deeper dives.
- Associated Medical Practices (located in the Medical Building on Leeward Hwy. in Providenciales; tel. 649/946-4242) has a dive decompression chamber to treat the bends. Note: The treatment is expensive, so be sure to check you dive insurance before you dive." -- Frommer's