Turks and Caicos Islands Travel Guide

Krisha CanlasRachel Carr
By Krisha Canlas  - Travel Guide Manager Rachel Carr  - Junior Travel Editor 28 Min Read

The low-lying archipelago of the Turks and Caicos Islands is lapped by the rhythm of the azure waters and invites visitors for an unparalleled experience in an untouched utopia.

INTRODUCTION


Boasting beaches so beautiful they look photoshopped, the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) is a luxurious destination with seas of a hue so blue that the idyllic archipelago is both ideal and dreamlike. 

The Turks Island Passage separates the two entities of the smaller Turks and the larger Caicos, with the private bolt holes of Parrot, Ambergris, and Pine Cay nestled amongst the islands of North, Middle, and South Caicos, Providenciales, Salt Cay, and Grand Turk. These are the only inhabited places out of the 40 in the tropical Bahamas island chain. As the third-largest British Overseas Territory, the Lucayan Archipelago is in the Atlantic Ocean and northern West Indies. 

Home to one of the world’s largest and healthiest coral reefs, TCI has many popular dive spots where visitors can come eye-to-eye with turtles and other marine life, such as lionfish, rays, parrotfish, balloonfish, and trunkfish. The tropical ocean spectacle is a must to experience and explore. Friendly-finned inhabitants include dolphins, barracudas, and mellow species of sharks. The graceful underwater display of mangrove-loving lemon sharks can be witnessed when venturing on a diving excursion, as sharks are rarely seen in the calm and pristine waters of popular beaches.  

Moreover, TCI’s culture goes beyond its crystalline waters; its history begins with the Taino and Lucayan Indians, who left a rich seafaring heritage, salt raking, and farming. For almost 700 years, they were the sole inhabitants, settling mainly in Middle Caicos and Grand Turk – home to Cockburn Town, which is the capital city of TCI. Today, the islands stand on the threshold of becoming the fastest-growing economy in the Caribbean. Luckily, it has strictly controlled development to protect TCI as a pristine sanctuary for residents and tourists to enjoy for thousands of years to come.   


TOURISM INSIGHTS: EXPERIENCE TURKS AND CAICOS


Racquel Brown, Change Manager and Interim CEO of Experience Turks and Caicos, speaks about marketing the country as a multi-island destination with a plethora of possibilities while maintaining a sustainable approach to tourism.

Can you talk us through the origins of Experience Turks and Caicos and its initial vision and mission?

Racquel Brown (RB), Change Manager and Interim CEO: Following the dissolution of the Tourist Board in July 2023, two entities were formed: Experience Turks and Caicos and the Department of Tourism Regulations (DTR).  While the DTR is entrusted with regulating the industry and ensuring all tourism stakeholders function to a particular set of standards across the board, Experience Turks and Caicos’ mandate is to promote and market TCI. As the destination marketing organisation, our mission centres around three pillars: inclusive growth, sustainability, and competitiveness.  

Through inclusive growth, we aim to ensure all communities in TCI benefit from tourism, which comprises 80 percent of our GDP. Core to this mission is the marketing of TCI as a multi-island destination, encouraging guests to visit and discover the beauty, history, and culture of our main islands beyond Providenciales – Grand Turk, North, Middle, and South Caicos, and Salt Cay – plus our exceptional private island resorts of Parrot Cay, Ambergris Cay, and Pine Cay.  

As a luxury destination, ensuring our guests enjoy a quality experience is key. Therefore, sustainability is essential. The natural beauty of TCI – our breathtaking beaches, our underwater attractions such as the third largest barrier reef in the world, which captivates divers from all over the world, our limestone caves in North Caicos, and our natural parks teeming with flora, fauna, and marine life – must all be protected for the benefit of our residents and visitors.  

We work hard to enforce several sustainability measures to ensure that these pristine natural environments – both on land and underwater – are preserved for future generations. In October, we commissioned a carrying capacity study, and we are the only Caribbean island to implement this. The study examines current pressures in the tourism industry and will act as a benchmark in reviewing the implications of growing tourism numbers while setting, monitoring, and maintaining industry standards. A carrying capacity model for TCI will be designed in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and all its indicators. 

The third pillar, competitiveness, speaks to the processes that will be implemented to guarantee the ongoing improvement of the quality of all the tourist services and attractions offered by tourism stakeholders in TCI.   

Why should someone visit TCI, and what type of travellers do the islands appeal to the most?

RB: We are a luxury destination and home to Grace Bay Beach, consistently ranked as one of the best beaches in the world. As such, we attract a demographic with discerning tastes, those looking for seclusion and privacy, unparalleled experiences, and stunning accommodations with the best amenities you can think of. Visiting TCI should be at the top of every travel list because we are the destination that helps you to unplug from the daily rigours of life, relax, dream, and enjoy life the way it’s meant to be. In TCI, you can soak in our gorgeous beaches, tantalise your taste buds at one of our many restaurants, and explore our culture and heritage in our sister islands and at events such as our weekly Fish Fry. As a multi-island destination, you can diversify your experiences with day trips and overnight stays to Grand Turk and North, Middle, and South Caicos.  

Beyond the stunning destination and accommodations, what makes for an unforgettable visitor experience is our emphasis on warm and authentic hospitality. We truly value our visitors and go above and beyond to ensure they have an unforgettable experience, regardless of where they are staying. This human connection is what continues to bring visitors back year after year. 

Which destinations within the islands would you recommend, and what is the target audience?

RB: For day trips and overnight stays we recommend: 

  • Grand Turk: The capital of TCI and our cruise capital is an island where history comes alive. Here, you can stroll through the picture-perfect Cockburn Town, one of the oldest areas in the country, and learn about the history of the islands through the many historic buildings that have been preserved and restored. Grand Turk also has magnificent beaches and amazing marine activities, such as diving along the 7,000 foot (ft) wall, part of the third largest barrier reef in the world. The Grand Turk Cruise Center also lives on the island’s southern end and serves as the base for cruise ship visitors, with gift shops, restaurants, and other tourist attractions here. 
  • Salt Cay: The smallest of the inhabited islands, Salt Cay was once the hub of the salt industry and offers a walk-through history, stunning beaches, whale watching, scuba diving, snorkelling, and fishing.  
  • South Caicos: Perfect for those who love marine activities, South Caicos is a quiet island that attracts bone fishers, divers, and those who enjoy paddle boating, kite sailing, kayaking, and boat tours.  
  • North and Middle Caicos: Our verdant twin islands, North and Middle Caicos, offer picturesque, secluded beaches such as Mudjin Harbour and Bambarra, beaches, stunning caves such as the Conch Bar and Indian Caves, plantation ruins, and birdwatching. These islands are great for a day trip for those looking to explore. 

Are there any new tourism initiatives or projects in the pipeline that you would like to highlight?

RB: Our current focus is on developing our tourism product on the sister islands to increase visitation and spending. We recently complemented our team with a local representative who will be focusing on developing the product in North, Middle, and East Caicos 

What are the current challenges facing the tourism sector?

RB: Of course, being an island in the Atlantic Ocean, the hurricane season, which runs from 1st June to 30th November, is our biggest challenge. Thankfully, we have proven our resilience in bouncing back from extreme weather situations in the past. 

How do you propose to promote the islands, especially when it isn’t peak season? Are there any changes to the marketing strategy you would like to implement?

RB: We are continuing to seek new airlift into TCI to encourage ease of access. In November, we welcomed a twice-weekly, non-stop Virgin Atlantic flight that will open up the UK and European markets for us and encourage more visitation throughout the year. There have been talks to begin airlift into Grand Turk, which would be a gamechanger for that island and further enhance our thrust to increase visitation. 

What are Experience Turks and Caicos’ key priorities and goals for the future?

RB: Our key priorities and goals are to develop our tourism products in keeping with our pillar of inclusive growth. Ensuring all communities and stakeholders benefit from tourism is key. We are also enhancing our collaboration with stakeholders to ensure our guests receive a quality experience and that we continue to preserve the environment around which our tourism product is centred.   


SALT CAY IN FOCUS


With its name derived from a long history of sea salt production, in the southeast of TCI lies Salt Cay – a small, inhabited island with a total landmass of 2.6 square miles. Despite its size, Salt Cay has many activities, experiences, and possibilities, but passenger ferries between the island and Providenciales are unfeasible due to its distance. Instead, there are several scheduled flights a week.  

The primary settlement on the island is Balfour Town, where the main port of Deane’s Dock is located. The population peaked at around 700 people in the 1700s and 1800s. This number has generally declined since, and today, it is an example of an island that time forgot. Around 100 residents remain, and donkeys, previously used to pull ancestors’ carts, now roam freely all over Salt Cay. There are also no paved roads and very few cars.  

One of the island’s icons is the Harriott White House, part of the remaining old colonial architecture in the Balfour Town and Deane’s Dock area. Remnants of the salt salinas and windmill foundations also remain. Salt Cay has been nominated to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which will be the only place of its kind in the whole of TCI. The small island is also an excellent location for diving and whale watching. The scuba diving industry has been a key driver of the Salt Cay economy since the demise of salt production in the 1930s. 


OUTLOOK RECOMMENDS

Do:


FOR AN AUTHENTIC ADVENTURE…  

Whether it’s a Caicos Cays seafari on a jet ski, Emerald Reef snorkelling, or an excursion on land to Iguana Island, Caribbean Cruisin’ has all these adventures and many more. The trip to Iguana Island is a chance to see endangered rock iguanas in their natural habitat, which involves an informative tour with a National Trust guide. 

As a locally owned and operated boat charter company with a fleet of vessels, Caribbean Cruisin’ enables you to explore the serene and natural beauty of TCI. In an Island Discovery Tour, you will discover the historic Wade’s Green Plantation and the Kew Farm in North Caicos, both of which provide fascinating insight into the past.  

Crossing over to Middle Caicos, an extensive non-submerged cave system awaits. Its unique formations are something of a natural wonder, and as a bonus, a complementary treasure map leads you to a hidden trove and locally made crafts.  

Caribbean Cruisin’ offers visitors to TCI the chance to immerse themselves in the waters of this tropical paradise, guided by an experienced captain and crew. Explore the vibrant reefs, go free diving, or simply relax and soak up the sun. Caribbean Cruisin’ is committed to helping you have an unforgettable experience with choices of bottom fishing, catch and grill, snuba (a portmanteau of scuba diving and snorkelling), and private charters for a dream getaway with the entire boat to yourself and a tailored itinerary.  

Most excursions, whether by sea or land, include equipment, soft drinks, beer, and rum punch.   

Happy friends diving from sailing boat into the sea

Sleep:


FOR OCEANFRONT SURROUNDINGS…   

The boutique Caribbean resort of Windsong on the Reef has a laid-back island luxury. Windsong’s beaches have the world’s third-largest coral reef system, offering a romantic dining experience at the water’s edge. Accommodation includes oceanfront, penthouses, and resort view suites, studios, and rooms.

FOR A UNIQUE STAY… 

Family-owned boutique accommodation, Pelican Beach Hotel on the island of North Caicos, is untouched by development and happily shares island culture and traditions with its visitors worldwide. To make your stay extraordinary, the Barracuda Beach Bar enables you to unwind in the shade with waves lapping at your sand-covered feet while sipping on an afternoon cocktail – its signature drink is inspired by the flavours of Bambarra rum. Appetisers of conch fritters and freshly cooked island cuisine accompany the scenery and libation. As a bonus, the friendly staff and locals who frequent the bar will tell you all about the history and culture of TCI. 

Leave the world behind while you enter the realm of relaxation in the CaicoSpa. Deep massages, facials, and body scrubs are available to help you unwind, along with manicures, pedicures, and waxing.. Packages such as the Pretty Pelican and Flamingo with a combination of treatments are offered. 

Six beachfront rooms and one beachfront apartment come with all the amenities, and the facilities include air conditioning and ceiling fans. As one of the first locally-owned hotels, the Pelican Beach Hotel was founded in 1984 by TCI natives and entrepreneurs Clifford and Susan Gardiner, offering exquisite views as the beach is just 10 steps away.  

The charming Pelican Beach Hotel is where legacy meets hospitality for a memorable stay on the quiet Whitby Beach in North Caicos. 

FOR CONTEMPORARY COMFORT… 

Modern design meets luxury at the Oasis at Grace Bay. The 25-studio boutique hotel in the idyllic Grace Bay Village is a slice of your very own private paradise in the central location of the north shore on the island of Providenciales.   

Suites and villas are also available, with seafood specialities and international flavours served in the Trattoria Isolana dining area. Get pampered in a canopy by the private beach or pool with various spa treatments. The hand-picked team of specialists and professional therapists will guide you on a path to health and wellness. Alternatively, you could dive into an adventure with snorkelling, golfing, and kite surfing.

FOR THE SUITE LIFE…  

Sul Mare Villas is an escape to the secluded beachfront of Sapodilla and Taylor Bay on the island of Providenciales. Each one-bedroom vacation rental is inspired by a dream-like Italian destination and is ideal for a romantic getaway. With names such as Sorrento, Sardinia, Bari, Capri, Positano, and Amalfi, the main amenities include an ice machine, air conditioning, breakfast bar, swimming pool, BBQ grill, and kitchen, making it a home-from-home.   

With stunning ocean views, the luxury villas are set in peaceful surroundings and feature contemporary décor across two levels of living space. The outdoor patio is only a few steps away from crisp, white sand, enabling you to experience a piece of la dolce vita in the heart of the Caribbean.

FOR AN EXCEPTIONAL EXPERIENCE… 

Designed with the intention of ensuring guests have the ultimate in comfort and total exclusion, Beach Enclave has accommodations on the island of Providenciales in Long Bay, Grace Bay, and North Shore. 

Dedicated to a curated escape experience, services include a private transfer to the villa, butler and concierge services, daily pool and beach set-up, and continental breakfasts. For a stay that is equally relaxing, luxurious, and exclusive, the team at Beach Enclave, which includes a private chef, endeavours to give you undivided attention in stunning villas and beach houses nestled within exclusive gardens.

FOR AN ALL-INCLUSIVE IDYLL… 

Alexander Resort has deluxe oceanfront rooms, studios, and suites at Grace Bay Beach. It offers breathtaking vistas wrapped up in an all-inclusive experience, including access to its sister resort – Blue Haven. A scenic hideaway, Blue Haven perfectly combines spacious suites, a secluded beach area, and all-inclusive amenities.

Food and Gastronomy


Conch is so beloved throughout TCI, that the sea snail from the queen conch shell is even found on its national flag. Indeed, Providenciales is home to the world’s only conch farm. In fact, the ingredients here are so fresh that there are no fast food chains on the islands. TCI is one of the few countries that can boast this desirable fact.  

Cultural and geographical factors have influenced the everyday cuisine of TCI, and although the conch is omnipresent, either breaded in fritters or served raw in a salad, other seafoods such as grouper and snapper also feature on menus. Agriculturally speaking, modern hydroponics and the availability of freshwater produce papayas, bananas, herbs, plantains, okra, maize, and other vegetables. The current authentic local cuisine consists of pan-poached fish, peas, and rice, with a side of locally grown mixed greens. 

As expected for a small Caribbean nation, seafood has historically played a primary role in its gastronomic delights. However, at times, locals have had to get innovative. Drought-resistant maize was dried, ground into hominy or grits, and used instead of the rice or cereals common today. 

Although many desirable culinary experiences are scattered among the islands and cays, the WE Market Café and The Chef’s Table at the Kokomo Botanical Resort offer food connoisseurs a memorable dining experience. At the WE Market Café, award-winning chefs create gastronomic delights of aged prime AAA steak and fresh market seafood in a zen-like atmosphere blended with the spirit of an open-concept eatery. At the same time, The Chef’s Table has premium ingredients flown in for its world-class, exquisite dishes for the limited-edition dining courses served in an unmatched atmosphere. With small group sizes, each visit is an intimate celebration.   


LANDMARK ATTRACTIONS

NORTH AND MIDDLE CAICOS


These largely uninhabited Caribbean islands present an all-too-rare opportunity to discover their treasures by vehicle. The back roads are safe and easy to navigate, leading to countless beaches, coasts, and wetland sights. As the largest islands of the group, there are plenty of adventures to be had. A hired jeep will take you through the beautiful unpaved wilderness from the remote beach of Cedar Point to the village of Lorimers on Middle Caicos.  

TURKS HEAD BREWERY


Based in central Providenciales and beginning operations in 2001 as TCI’s first and only brewery, Turks Head Brewery currently produces four varieties of beer and lager: Turk’s Head Lager, Turk’s Head Amber, Island Hopping Ale, and Turk’s Head Lite. The brewery occasionally produces a seasonal selection, including a St. Patrick’s Day stout. Even though it has recently expanded, it is still small yet interesting, with an on-site shop and taproom.  

Cold Beer

TURKS AND CAICOS NATIONAL MUSEUM


The country’s only museum resides in Cockburn Town on the historic Front Street, and as the only place to find artefacts and learn about the islands’ past and cultural heritage, it is well worth a visit. The primary exhibit is centred on the oldest European shipwreck excavated in the Western Hemisphere – the Molasses Reef Wreck. It also houses important physical evidence of Indigenous people, such as a canoe paddle, pottery, and bone tools.   


GETTING THERE AND AROUND


Multiple international airlines serve Providenciales International Airport (PLS), with onward connections to Grand Turk and other islands. The main carrier is interCaribbean Airways, and British Airways flies from the UK with a brief stop in Antigua. However, Virgin Atlantic recently began non-stop flights from the UK and Europe twice a week. Otherwise, the remote location can be accessed from major US cities, Canada, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, the Bahamas, and the Dominican Republic. Of course, there is also the option of a cruise with a list of leading operators calling at Grand Turk.  

Once there, you can travel between the islands via local airlines and ferry services. North Caicos and Middle Caicos are the only two islands connected by a causeway; for accessing the others, there are chartered interCaribbean Airways and Caicos Express Airways flights offered by both airlines to the country’s smaller islands. Small passenger ferry services operate between Providenciales and North Caicos, Providenciales and South Caicos, and Grand Turk and Salt Cay.  

On the islands themselves, cars are the main means of transport for residents and visitors alike. Note that the country has no train, bus, or subway service. As the distances between most attractions, sights, and beaches are often far apart, walking and cycling are not comfortably feasible, and taxis make for an expensive journey. Therefore, car hire is the obvious choice. Rental cars may not be needed for guests staying at an all-inclusive resort, and some luxury vacation villas also offer complimentary transport. A short stay in the central Grace Bay area may not warrant vehicle hire either.  

The minimum driving age is 25 and 18 for scooters. If your license is in a language other than English, then an International Driving Permit is required.  

As an extra special travel treat, booking a place in the Fast Track TCI fast lane is an option. It is a luxury service offering a diplomat experience at PLS, with expedited immigration and customs. Airport transportation is available for arriving and departing guests from the plane to your accommodation and vice versa. Helpful and friendly staff will assist you in booking the required service and ensure you are taken care of on your vacation. Now offering VIP transport via luxury and stylish SUVs, Fast Track TCI prioritises you while you prioritise convenience.



VIEW THE TURKS & CAICOS ISLANDS TRAVEL GUIDE

Read Issue 15 of Outlook Travel Magazine
By Krisha Canlas Travel Guide Manager
Follow:
Travel Guide Project Manager