LAY OF THE LAND
Although rightfully considered part of the Caribbean region, the islands of the Turks & Caicos, lying between the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, are not actually in the Caribbean Sea, but the Atlantic Ocean. Universally flat and scrub covered, yet set amid a dazzling seascape that ranges from Pellegrino clear to Levi Straus blue, the 40 or so islands are divided, as their name suggests, into two groups. The Caicos Islands, essentially one land mass separated by channels just wide enough to give ferryboat operators honest employment, are where most of the action is. Chief among them is Providenciales, or Provo, where the majority of hotels are, and where it is nearly impossible to be out of hearing range of construction work. Separated by a 22-mile deep-water passage from the Caicos are the Turks Islands. Grand Turk, home to the long-languishing capital, Cockburn Town, has seen its own overnight boom with the coming in 2006 of a cruise ship facility that has bumped annual visitation to the island from the thousands to the hundreds of thousands. Just to the south of Grand Turk is tiny Salt Cay, one of the last holdouts against development.
WHEN TO GO
The Turks & Caicos get an average of 350 days of sunshine per year (sunscreen is very important here). The heat is tempered by nearly constant easterly trade winds, but the summer temperatures can still be uncomfortably high (95° F on some days). Summer is a great time for significant price reductions, but keep in mind that in August and September many hotels, restaurants, and shops close or use the time to undertake significant, and sometimes noisy, maintenance projects. In the winter high season, the average daytime high is a more comfortable 85° F. Hurricane season is between June and October.
HOW TO GET THERE
Most flights from the U.S. arrive at Providenciales International Airport, with limited international service to Grand Turk and South Caicos (649-941-5670; www.provoairport.com). American Airlines flies daily nonstop to Provo from Miami (75 minutes flying time), daily nonstop from New York's JFK, and Saturdays nonstop from Boston, the latter two depending on the season. US Airways has a daily nonstop flight from Charlotte and weekly nonstop flights from Philadelphia. Delta flies daily nonstop from Atlanta, in season. Spirit Airlines flies nonstop from Fort Lauderdale to Grand Turk then on to Providenciales once or twice a week, depending on the season. The departure tax is $35, and is usually included in the cost of your ticket. Try to avoid beginning your stay on a weekend, when the crowd in the Provo Airport arrival hall moves along as slowly as sand through an hourglass.
From the Provo airport, many hotels arrange to pick up guests. If not, you have the option of taking a taxi or renting a car. Both are easily done (until you forget to drive on the left). Taxi fares are metered, in theory, from the airport to Grace Bay should cost about $25. Hertz, Avis, and Budget are all there, and rates start at about $60 a day. Only your home driver's license, and not an international driving permit, is necessary.
If you are staying at one of the Grace Bay Hotels, a great way to get around is The Gecko, a shuttle bus that operates in the Grace Bay and Turtle Cove areas. A single ride is $4, and a daily pass $11 for adults, with other options as well. All rides and passes must be purchased in advance, and are available at most resorts and many shops and restaurants (649-941-7433; www.thegecko.tc).
If you are traveling on from Provo, scheduled commuter flights on Air Turks & Caicos serve Grand Turk, Salt Cay, North Caicos, and Middle Caicos (649-941-5481; www.airturksandcaicos.com). SkyKing flies between Provo, Grand Turk, and South Caicos (649-941-3136; www.skyking.tc). Charter flights are also available (Global Airways; 649-941-3222; www.globalairways.tc, specializes in them), and most islands can be reached by boat.
Turks & Caicos Tourist Board Offices:
Front Street, Grand Turk
Turks & Caicos
Tel: 649 946 2321
Stubbs Diamond Plaza
Turks & Caicos
Tel: 649 946 4970
NEED TO KNOW
Capital City: Grand Turk
Area: 166 square miles
Telephone Calling Code(s): 1
Electricity: 120V, 60 Hz
Currency: As of Dec 30, 2008:
1 United States Dollars = $1.00 US Calculate Other Amounts
Turks + Caicos do not require visas for citizens of the United States. A valid passport is sufficient for a 30-day stay.
GOOD TO KNOW
Like the islands themselves, dining on Turks & Caicos is that rare combination of humble yet refined. You will find island favorites such as conch, lobster, and soft-shell crab in modest clam shacks and seaside restaurants alike.
Shops in the Turks & Caicos are rather expensive, selling a humdrum assortment of handmade jewelry, ceramics, and Haitian art. Rare conch pearls are the only jewelry worth seeking out, but the price can be just as stunning as the pearl itself. The airport has duty-free shopping—it wouldn't be the Caribbean without some bargain perfume and liquor—but those accustomed to a large selection at bigger airports might be disappointed. Oddly, for islands with a past built largely on the harvesting of salt from the sea (Turks & Caicos salt helped General Washington preserve food for his troops during the revolutionalry war), one thing seemingly impossible to find is gourmet sea salt. Provo's main grocery store, Graceway Iga, carries sea salt from France, and Miami, but not the Turks & Caicos. Nor is there any to be found in airport or hotel gift shops, just in case some entrepreneurial spirit is reading this.
Did You Know?
For almost 100 years, igloos were displayed on the Turks & Caicos flag. When the flag was designed, in 1870, the flag maker, who had no idea where the islands were, thought the two mounds of salt in a sketch he was given to work from were igloos. He added a door to them, and incorporated them into the design, which was not changed until 1968.
January: 1, New Year's Day
March: 13, Commonwealth Day
May: Last Monday, National Heroes' Day
June: Third Monday, Queen's Birthday
August: 12, Emancipation Day; 30, Constitution Day
September: Last Friday, National Youth Day
October: Second Monday, Columbus Day; 24, International Human Rights Day
December: 25, Christmas Day; 26, Boxing Day
Spring: Friday before Easter, Good Friday; Easter; day after Easter, Easter Monday