Ten years ago, the Turks and Caicos Islands did not exist on most world maps. It was an anonymous dot in the Caribbean. Wherever I travelled, even to neighboring countries such as the Dominican Republic or Cuba, it was always a task having to explain the location of the Turks & Caicos. “Southeast of the Bahamas, and about 1000 kilometers from Miami” was the script I repeatedly chanted. Today it is a different story, wherein most people have heard about these ‘beautiful by nature’ islands as their motto states, to the point that they were voted as having the number one travelers’ choice island in the world this year as per TripAdvisor.
“You are so fortunate” is a common comment I get when I tell anyone while abroad that I live in the Turks & Caicos Islands. This paradisiac notion of beach, sun and fun magically pops into people’s heads when I tell them I’ve lived all of my life in the Caribbean. The truth is that most people that live on these beautiful islands would never take the time to explore and enjoy the country they were blessed to live on. I refused to be one of those people.
The Turks and Caicos Islands consist of forty different islands and cays. Only eight of them are inhabited. Although I have not visited all forty, I have managed to enjoy the uniqueness of all of the major ones.
The rustic allure of Grand Turk, the capital island, is a history trip in itself. This is where Christopher Columbus made landfall during his initial voyage in 1492. This historical heartbeat is filled with bright colored Bermudian architecture and colonial styled ruins. The Turks & Caicos National Museum can be found on Grand Turk. It is considered the country’s time capsule as it contains artifacts dating back to the era of the indigenous Lucayan Indians, to the African slave trade era, to present as one of the last remaining colonies of the historically mighty British Empire. Remnants of the salt industry still remain from the tall mill ruins and salt ponds that once were the leading salt producers for European exportation. Grand Turk is now popular as the country’s only cruise ship center in the Turks and Caicos. The island’s major touristic activities are now dependent on a cruise ship docking; but when there is no ship, Grand Turk is still a quiet town offering a glimpse into Caribbean history.
Two other major islands that I have had the pleasure to visit are North Caicos and Middle Caicos. They are the only islands joined by a bridge. Together these two are known as the ‘green’ islands because they represent the best of the environment. Their lush green woodlands and vast range of plant life are home to a variety of birds. They have the most fertile soils of all the islands. Our weekly farmer’s market consists of food grown mostly on North and Middle Caicos. The most fascinating thing I had experienced during all of my years in the Turks & Caicos was a trip I took to the Conch Bar Caves in Middle Caicos. It is the biggest cave network in the Caribbean. Although the bats were a bit frightening, the formation of the stalactites and stalagmites, along with the carvings from the indigenous Indians that took shelter in the caves, amazed me with the notion of how history preserved itself in nature.
When I want to go fishing I hop on a boat with friends and head over to South Caicos. It is known as the fishing center of the Turks & Caicos Islands. Most of the exported lobster, conch and fish are caught off the coast of South Caicos. This island is also popular for its annual Regatta festival which started after Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited South Caicos in 1966. The event consists of maypole dances, junkanoo music, parade floats, triathlon and of course a regatta with participants from the entire Turks and Caicos Islands chain, as well as a few from North America and other Caribbean countries.
When I want to imagine that I am on an episode of Gilligan’s Island, I spend a day on one of the smaller uninhabited cays such as Dellis Cay, Iguana Cay, or Little Water Cay; but usually I am stationed on Providenciales – the top rated island of the world. It is the most populated island in the Turks and Caicos, with an estimated total of 23,769 residents living there. Provo, as it is locally known, offers all of your modern conveniences – shopping, golf course, luxury resorts, restaurants, casinos, and who can forget the breathtaking aquamarine clear sparkling beaches.
As in any country, recognition comes with skewed biases and limited knowledge of different unique locations to visit on Providenciales. Here, the most advertised beach is the Princess Alexandra National Park Beach in Grace Bay. Don’t get me wrong – the hype is worth your while if you don’t mind other visitors on the beach with you. For those like me that prefer to enjoy their free time alone or in the companion of close friends, a secluded private beach is more of their taste.
Some years ago I came across an isolated beach that I keep dear to my heart to this day. It is about forty minutes on the Cooper Jack winding dirt road. The number of houses decrease to non-existent as you move closer to the end: the most southern part of Providenciales. There is a bit of walking down a shrub covered hill with the most picturesque sparkling beach decorated with powder white sand at the bottom. Blue crabs that blend perfectly with the water spontaneously run in and out of the caves and crevices that have formed under the hill from years of erosion. After a few visits I notice that there was something extra special about this beach. It only reveals itself when the tides recede. If the tides are high the water fills the spaces in the caves and there is no sand to walk on. After a few failed visits, I’ve perfected the study of the tides and now know at what time of the day it is best to visit.
At the end of the day, the long drive, hiking down the bushy hill and learning when the tides are low on that side of the island, are all worth the ‘Ahhh moment’ you experience with every visit to this hidden gem. This beach is one of Providenciales’ unique places, such as the caves in Middle Caicos, the Flamingo Pond in North Caicos or the salt mills in Grand Turk. To have a satisfying life as a local, it only takes a will to want to explore, experience and embrace what each of these ‘beautiful by nature’ islands have to offer.