Turks & Caicos offers the perfect blend of stellar beaches, never-ending sunshine, and animated snorkeling pockets for those looking to take it easy and those looking to reconnect with their natural environments.
Dates: August 20–21, 2016
Time on the Ground: ~28 hours
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars
Pizza Rating: 0/8 pizza slices – We’d recommend skipping the PLS airport pizza
Walkability: 1/5 stars – You definitely need to rent a car to get around on the island
Airport Rating: 3/5 stars – The airport was similar to other small island destinations—small, hot, and a bit disorganized
Airplane: Airbus 319
Free Walking Tour: N/A
Lay of the Land
Turks & Caicos is a small group of islands south of the Bahamas that is often considered the beginning of the Caribbean. Known for it’s pristine beaches and blue water, Turks & Caicos is a popular destination for American and European travelers. Many of the islands, including Providenciales, don’t have water deep enough for cruise ships to pull into port, preventing the large influx of tourists that other Caribbean destinations experience. Turks & Caicos is composed of 40 islands and cays, with Providenciales being the most populated island and host to the country’s main airport (PLS). Since we were just doing a weekend trip, we stayed on Providenciales the entire time, but we heard great things about some of the other cays, especially Parrot Cay.
To maximize our beach time, we booked at Ocean Club Resorts in Grace Bay (a condo resort where owners rent their units out to vacationers). Ocean Club was a great mix of price, location, and amenities, with a private beach and cabanas included in your stay. There is also a pool and beachside bar and cafe where you can spend some serious $$ for a delicious Caribbean drink. (There is an option to purchase all-inclusive packages with your stay, if that’s more your style.)
Getting around was an adventure in it’s own right. Turks & Caicos is a British territory, so everyone drives on the left side of the road. Since you really need to rent a car to get around on the island, you better get adjusted to that quickly! The island itself is only 23 miles long and takes 30 to 45 minutes to get from one side to the other, which is very manageable.
Da Conch Shack
Our first stop was to grab some grub! We went to Da Conch Shack, a famous eatery on the northwest side of the island. Da Shack is known for its beautiful views and conch fritters. Conch is a sea-dwelling mollusk that is very common in the Caribbean. To show patrons of the restaurant how fresh their conch fritters really are, the locals catch and process the conch right on the beach in front of the restaurant. This combination of food, views, and entertainment made Da Conch Shack the perfect way to start our quick trip.
After lunch, we made our way to the other side of the island to visit the Conch Farm. The farms have guided tours that provide background on the life cycle of a conch, how they commercially farm conch, and future changes in the farm and industry. The Conch Farm is the first commercial farm for conch in the world. The farm also developed a tool to extract the conch from the shell without breaking it, which produces some exceptional shells that you can purchase from the farm as well. We brought home a beautiful large shell for around $20. Remember, if you do purchase a shell, get a receipt. If it is not conch fishing season, you will need to prove you did not fish the shell yourself when exiting the country.
Now that we had more than enough conch for the entire trip, we made our way to the resort to check in and check out the beach. Grace Bay was a great way to spend the remainder of the afternoon soaking up the sun and going for a swim. Foreshadowing our snorkeling trip the following day, Ashley spent most of her time at the beach swimming around with a school of silver fish that would come within inches of her.
We grabbed a bite to eat, then decided to head over to the west side of the island to try to get a good view of the sunset. This posed a few unanticipated problems: First, the west side of the island is slightly higher than the main part of the island, so you really have to find a place to pull off and climb up to get a good view. Second, the west side of the island is made up of residential houses and developments under construction. Finally, the cell service is spotty at best on that side of the island. All of this produced a slightly chaotic adventure, resulting in a lackluster view of the sunset and getting lost in a subdivision under construction with no street signs. Eventually, we found our way out (after a run-in with some protective guard dogs) and decided it was probably best to head back to the hotel room and catch some sleep before our snorkeling excursion the next day.
We packed up and drove to the east side of the island for a snorkeling trip with Big Blue Unlimited. We did the Snorkel Eco-Tour, which included a small group trip on a boat to two different snorkel locations along the barrier reef, a beach lunch, and an optional walking excursion to historical structure. The snorkeling, especially the first stop because the water was clearer early in the day, was some of the best that either of us had done. The assortment of fish was probably above average compared to other Caribbean locations; however, the coral features were exceptionally large and close enough to the surface for you to dive down and swim through them. During the tour, we saw an assortment of fish and lobster, which our tour guide would point out and talk about. Not to mention, we had to slither passed a barracuda who seemed to be lurking around our boat at the end of the first snorkel. One of our guides made the comment that if we were not in the national park he would have picked up a lobster on our way out for dinner because they were large enough to eat!
After the snorkel, we hopped in the shower at the marina and jetted off to the airport to return our car and head back to the States.
Overall, we highly recommend a quick trip to Turks & Caicos. The size of the island lends itself to a short visit because you can quickly get a feel for the land during your time there. Similar to other Caribbean destinations, the people were extremely friendly and helpful as the majority of the country’s GDP comes from tourism. We spent some time exploring the island and were surprised at how many houses were under construction or had not yet been fixed from Hurricane Matthew’s landfall in 2016. Although this is not surprising given how difficult and expensive it is to get building supplies to the island.