Turks & Caicos Travel Guide

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Turks & Caicos Area Map

Neighborhoods

The Turks & 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 & 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 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 & Caicos Islands, as well as a couple of low-key casinos. International flights use Provo's Providenciales International Airport (PLS). 

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 by COMO.

Considered one of the lushest isles of the set, North Caicos is also hailed as the next tourism hot spot; several hotels and condominiums are in construction. It is also home to the largest flock of pink flamingos in the islands.

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, check 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. 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.

At about 11 square miles, this largely uninhabited island was supposed to be the future home of Molasses Reef, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve resort. After the 2008 financial crisis, construction was halted. The unfinished buildings still sit on West Caicos. At any rate, this island is an ideal daytrip for divers or picnickers in search of an especially remote location. However, accessing the island can be expensive as it's only reachable via private charter. If you decide to make the trip, plan to 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 32-square-mile 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.

Sitting several miles southeast of the Caicos Islands, the Turks Islands are much smaller and, according to some, more laid-back. The larger of the islands, Grand Turk, sits approximately 5 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. You'll also find 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 2 ½ 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 unpaved streets. Most travelers don't choose Salt Cay as their ultimate destination, but the island does boast several of the best snorkeling beaches.

Crime is relatively rare in Turks & Caicos (though you shouldn't leave your valuables unattended), but as with any destination, you should exercise sensible precautions. Don’t travel alone at night and never answer your door without knowing who is there. According to the Turks and Caicos tourism bureau, Providenciales sees the most crime, and more crime is likely to occur around rental villas and properties (versus hotel properties).

You will definitely want to take precautions for the tropical weather. Drink plenty of (bottled) water while outside and apply sunscreen at regular intervals. You may want to avoid strenuous outdoor activity for the first day of your trip, so that you can adjust to the heat.

The Turks & Caicos Islands are popular for diving, but there are risks. Make sure to receive proper training, check the weather conditions and never dive alone – preferably, dive with an instructor. Also, be careful when ascending from a deep dive. Decompression sickness, or "the bends," can occur when divers come to the surface too quickly. A speeding resurface can cause nitrogen bubbles to form in the blood and tissue, resulting in joint pain, swelling, confusion and shortness of breath. Ascend slowly (no more than 30 feet per minute) and take breaks when surfacing after deeper dives.

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