Paradise on Earth: The Turks and Caicos Islands
By Bill Bailey
The Turks and Caicos Islands is a country of 8 major islands and numerous uninhabited cays located 575 miles south of Miami. TCI uses the postal code BWI which represents British West Indies, a diversified group of Caribbean islands including Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Monserrat, and the Turks and Caicos Islands, all dependent areas of the United Kingdom.
Turks & Caicos are known for the world's most beautiful beaches, pristine coral reefs, diving, fishing, offshore investments, luxury condominiums and villa vacation rentals. The Islands are protected by a government dedicated to preserving the islands natural beauty.
Grand Turk is the administrative and political capital of the Turks & Caicos Islands and Cockburn Town has been the seat of government since 1766. This small island is bursting with turn-of-the-century Caribbean charm.
Founded by Bermudan Salt Rakers some three centuries ago, its Bermudan British colonial architecture amidst the colorful, Caribbean-style local dwellings make Grand Turk worth a visit.
Grand Turk is six miles long and just over a mile wide. Like the other islands, Grand Turk is blessed with miles of quiet sugary beaches and is close to several uninhabited cays just waiting to be explored. At the north point of the island, a channel to the sea gives access to North Creek, the only hurricane shelter for yachts traveling between Nassau and Puerto Rico.
Donkeys, horses and cattle were the means of transportation during the salt industry, and these animals are seen still wondering the streets and countryside of Grand Turk.
Every summer Grand Turk becomes party town. In July Grand Turk is host to the annual Grand Turk Heineken Game Fishing Tournament, a fun-filled event for local and visiting sportspeople as well as party enthusiasts. Also sometime between June and September, Grand Turk parties down again with a week full of dancing to island music, sporting challenges, local food and much fun and other events to break up the heat of summer.
Grand Turk excels in providing spectacular diving, snorkeling, fishing and sailing and is consistently rated among the top 10 dive destinations in the World. The warm Atlantic Sea waters are filled with marine life ranging from a tiny seahorse to manta, eagle and sting rays, green and hawksbill turtles, dolphin, shark, whale shark and the magnificent humpback whale. Diving is just a 5 minute boat ride offshore to the 7,000 foot vertical wall. On the top of the wall divers enjoy diving through the incredible coral formations and sand gullies.
Grand Turk diving is relaxed, boats go out with one-tank and easily return to shore for an hour interval before going out to the government's marine conservation parks for the second dive. The local dive operators have combined efforts forming an organization to 'Protect Reefs & Islands from Degradation and Exploitation' ensuring that the reefs are managed and used with respect.
Photographers enjoy old Bermudian-style archtecture, gates and doorways, beautiful turquoise waters and colorful plants that set Grand Turk apart from the other islands with its endearing Caribbean charm.
Providenciales is the urban centre of the Turks & Caicos Islands. Familiarly known as "Provo," the island offers all the modern conveniences one could desire while remaining a superior vacation destination for one who wants an escape from stress and overpopulated cities. Provo has an 18 hole golf course, a casino, shopping centres, three marinas, a growing number of bars and excellent restaurants. Provo is also a divers' and water lovers' paradise.
Beautiful beaches are scattered on all sides of Providenciales, the most spectacular of which is a 12 mile stretch located on Grace Bay, which is protected by a healthy barrier reef.
Situated on the west side of the Caicos archipelago, Providenciales has an area of 38 square miles. Prior to 1960, the island had a population of 500. Today, it has the largest population and contains the largest native and nonnative population in Turks & Caicos.
Development of Providenciales began in 1966 when the Turks and Caicos Government and the British Government made a lease-purchase agreement with Provident Ltd. allowing them to lease 4000 acres of Crown Land
The south part of the island faces the Caicos Bank. The Caicos Bank is a shallow, pale turquoise sea and is partly composed of swamp and tidal flats, filled with an abundant resource of conch and lobster.
Natural island formations offer safe mooring for sailors. Sapodilla Bay is a popular mooring for yachts traveling through the Turks and Caicos Islands. On the opposite end of Providenciales, the deep channel of Leeward Going Through makes a natural and safe harbour on the northeast end of the island.
Historical points of interest include the Cheshire Hall and Richmond Hill Plantation ruins. Stones engraved by shipwrecked sailors are found on a hill overlooking Sapodilla Bay.
The "Hole" at Long Bay is a deep and wide limestone chimney with a mysterious depth of salt water at the bottom. Provo is home to the only Conch farm in the world. These mollusks with their beautiful pink shells take five years to grow to their adult size. The Conch farm is open for tours during the winter months.
North Caicos, part of the archipelago known as Turks and Caicos Islands is located south of the Bahamas, north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti and northeast of Cuba.
North Caicos is 41 square miles and is populated with approximately 1500 souls. North Caicos is 12 miles northeast of Providenciales (Provo) where the International Airport hub is centered for Turks and Caicos Islands. Daily connecting flights and boat charters are available, making North Caicos easily accessible. For adventurous travelers, car and bicycle rentals are available as well as taxis and guided tours.
North Caicos, known in the past as the "Garden Island," has been the bread basket of the islands. Fine sloops were built to transport the crops from the extensive farms located close to the settlements of Bottle Creek, Whitby, Sandy Point and Kew to the other islands. Less farming is carried on now-days but the Government farm in Kew still produces tomatoes and cucumbers available on North.
For information on how to get there and where to stay, go to http://www.travel-tastic.net.
Bill Bailey is a freelance travel writer and consultant.
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Views expressed in the article are those of the author and are not necessarily the opinions of CaribbeanChoice, its staff or members.