Turk and Caicos Islands, The Bahamas
The Turks and Caicos Islands. I reacted exactly the same way, “the what and where?” Many people, though well traveled, have yet to hear of these treasures of paradise which continue to linger undiscovered by most tourists.
The Turk and Caicos Islands lie southeast of the Bahamas, north of the island of Hispaniola, only 575 miles southeast of Miami, Florida, a one hour and thirty minute flight. Leave the crazy Miami night lifestyle behind because these islands are not notorious for their fanatic night clubs. They are quiet, in an unspoiled haven.
Stuffy attitudes and high expectations of luxurious accommodations should also be checked at the gate, unless you are willing to spend high dollars. Smaller lodging options might not include the usual amenities such as telephones and televisions. True admirers of unpolluted waters and beaches will appreciate these limitations.
Hidden to the east of the southernmost land masses of the Bahamas lie two main clusters of islands. The Turk islands include Grand Turk, where the capital and government headquarters are located, Salt Cay and nine uninhibited cays. The Caicos Islands consist of six main islands and over 30 cays. The popular Providenciales of the Caicos Islands boasts the majority of the country’s tourism.
The Turks and Caicos are separated by a deep sea abyssal channel of water known as the Columbus Passage. This waterway becomes part of a popular migration trail of humpback whales. If you visit between the months of January through March, you might spot these giant beauties. The Columbus Passage is better known to the natives as the Turks and Caicos Passage, yet history suggests that it may have played a part in the great explorations of the New World.
It is generally accepted that Christopher Columbus, on his way to the New World, first set foot on San Salvador. However, local inhabitants of the islands disagree, claiming, supposedly in stone, that their island of Grand Turk was Columbus’s first stop. The original occupants of the islands were the Taino Indians. By the mid-16th century, when Europeans arrived, the Tainos were either used as slaves or died because of unfamiliar airborne disease. It is also rumored that for about one hundred years, up to the 17th century, the Caicos Islands were a hideaway for notorious pirates.
The French, Spanish and British disputed the ownership of the islands, but it landed finally with Great Britain. The islands were not on a central sailing route and due to the lack of rain, promised no fast development of sugar. They remained practically uninhabited until the late 17th century when a group of Bermudans and salt traders prospered in creating salinas (salt-drying pans), which still remain on the islands.
The Bermudans prospered. Similar to many other islands at the time, the Turks and Caicos were a target for pirates. After the American Civil War, the Bermudans were introduced to new inhabitants – colonial loyalists and their slaves. These southerners re-established their cotton plantations on the islands, but the production was short. By 1820, the cotton crops had failed. Most of the planters left their slaves on the islands, moved on to other islands, or back to live under the British crown.
It was not until 1973 that the Turks and Caicos became a separate Crown Colony of Great Britain. Despite the short-lived excitement in 1962, when American astronaut John Glenn landed off Grand Turk island after he completed the first orbit around the earth, their history has remained relatively calm. When millionaires and luxurious resorts, such as Club Med, started to occupy the islands, their popularity and economy began to grow.
Providenciales, better known as Provo, is the most developed and popular of the islands, hosting the abundance of hotels and main airport. It is about fifteen miles long and eight miles wide, but regardless of where you are staying, you are not far from pristine white sand beaches.
Grace Bay Beach, on the north of Provo, offers 12 miles of luscious sand. While wading or snorkeling in the water, keep an eye out for JoJo, the friendly bottle-nosed dolphin who is seen playing. To the northwest of Grace Bay Beach is another outstanding beach, considered Provo’s supreme, Bight Beach. Malcom’s Road Beach and Simeon Rigby Hole Beach are not as easy to reach, yet offer the serene seclusion that is worth the effort it takes to get there.
Diving in Provo deserves its own article of claim – extensive research on these islands proves this. The coral reefs unfold for 17 miles off the island’s north coast, making these underwater marine wonders renowned. The warm ocean water allows divers to explore Provo’s abundant marine coral life throughout the year, offering tourists flexibility of schedule. At the northwest point of the island rests the most dramatic scenes of this island’s reef, with a wall dive consisting of a vertical drop of about 7,000 feet.
In addition to the beach and water, visitors can tour one of the world’s few conch farms (Caicos Conch Farm). The fishermen on the trip can venture to Provo’s bonefishing flats, which are said to have some of the best. The championship course on the Provo Golf Club is the only 18-hole course in the Turks and Caicos Islands. After the betting begins, nightly gambling follows at the Port Royal Casino.
Real estate has blossomed in Provo. It’s easy to see why. The islands offer a tax free offshore jurisdiction, along with no restrictions on the purchase and ownership by foreign investors – along with magnificent surrounding waters of natural beauty and uncrowded beaches. The comfortably sunny climate, the activities that exist for even the most diverse of tastes, are all backed by the friendly and accommodating island natives. People are buying.
For the first time, cruise ships planned to dock on Grand Turk Island starting mid-2003. Could this growing development of the islands and increasing tourism disrupt the reefs and unspoiled island nature? Hopefully the Turks and Caicos will remain the, “what and wheres?” to most travelers, so “pirates” who are in search of gold, will seek and protect these gems.
Researching the Turks and Caicos Islands uncovers the answer as to why these islands, especially Provo, are exceptional. It isn’t that the information is not attainable, but rather that it is impossible to see where to begin the interpretation of unspoiled praise.