Islands of Turks + Caicos
Concierge.com's insider take:
The main Turks & Caicos tourist center is the island of Providenciales (pictured), also known as Provo. It's not fully built up yet but it's quickly getting there, with hotels continually sprouting along the 12-mile beach of Grace Bay. For seclusion on Providenciales, you'll need to head for the still nearly virgin point of the island, where, at the end of miles of dirt road, the 40-suite Amanyara opened in March 2006. But if you don't want to share, you'd better get there soon, because just down the beach from the Amanyara another luxury hotel group, GHM, whose properties include the Setai in Miami, has its own resort, The Tanai, already under construction.
Turks & Caicos's capital island and administrative center is Grand Turk, and the historic Cockburn Town, one of the places where Columbus is rumored to have made his first New World landfall in 1492. Passed over by the development that swept Provo, Grand Turk had long been a sleepy place, visited mainly by divers who stayed in a handful of tiny inns. That changed in early 2006 when a $50 million cruise center opened and the island began hosting up to 32 cruise ship visits a month. Still, most of the shipbourne passengers never get beyond the center, with its 1,100 lounge chair beach area and 400-seat Margaritaville Restaurant, and the diving remains some of the best, and most uncrowded, anywhere.
Change is in the offing for another sleepy Turks & Caicos island, too, with word that a 120-room golf resort is planned for Salt Cay, population 60, where for now the few visitors who come for the diving and the whale watching will find that its beach is one of the prettiest, and most pristine in the Caribbean.
Nature tourism is a draw at Middle Caicos, which boasts the biggest cave network in the Caribbean and, along with North Caicos, is the lushest of the islands, with a variety of birdlife. Mind you, "lush" is relatve. These flat islands aren't known for their varied scenery, but the uncountable devotees of private island resorts like Parrot Cay don't seem to mind the monotony of the white sand and blue sea.
One of the biggest projects currently underway is the Ritz-Carlton's development of one of the uninhabited islands: The 11-square-mile, 6,000-acre West Caicos (www.westcaicosreserve.com). This protected island is a natural wildlife sanctuary harboring the 500-acre Lake Catherine and Molasses Reef, a phenomenal dive site that may be where Columbus's Pinta went down. The 125-suite resort Ritz-Carlton Resort Molasses Reef was slated to open in late 2008, but construction has been put on hold until the economy picks up again.
In the meantime, South Caicos Island, which mostly attracts anglers who go after bonefish on the flats and billfish offshore, is seeing its own signs of tourism development with the construction in 2007 of its first real hotel, the 24-room, South Caicos Ocean Beach Resort (www.southcaicosoceanbeachresort.com).
Ambergris Cay, long one of the most isolated of the Turks & Caicos, is being gentrified with the coming of the island-swallowing Turks & Caicos sporting club (tc-sportingclub.com). The club will feature homes going for up to $6 million, a 100-slip marina capable of handling mega yachts of more than 200 feet, and a 5,700 foot jet airstrip.