By Mary Carol Fitzgerald
Photo credit Dave Markowski
Once a sleepy town, undiscovered to the world, rocky, unpaved roads mapped the rugged terrain. Pristine white sand shorelines and clear turquoise waters compose the breathtaking beauty of Turks & Caicos Islands — an ideal destination for anyone wanting to relax and unwind from their busy lifestyles.
Having recently been battered by the ferocity of Hurricane Irma, the residents of the TCI came together as a community to help each other cleaning up their beloved island. Determined to put the pieces back together in a timely manner, they succeeded and are open for business, welcoming visitors with open arms.
Providenciales (also known as ‘Provo’) is the main island of the Turks & Caicos. The British Overseas Territory is located southeast of the Bahamas — only a 75-minute flight from Miami & Fort Lauderdale. With major airlines such as United, now having direct flights from Chicago, along with JetBlue and Southwest Airlines servicing routes to Provo, this island escape is within convenient reach.
Since the mid-1990s, high-rise luxury condominiums, boutique resort hotels and villas have popped up along Grace Bay Beach where the majority of visitors reside. Though tourism has dramatically increased during these years, it is no secret that tranquility continues to caress the archipelago offering a far more intimate experience than other discovered Caribbean islands.
With adventure at your fingertips, there is no shortage of leisure activities — from kitesurfing enthusiasts finding your way gliding the shallow waters of Long Bay or Chalk Sound to vacationers experiencing activities such as kayaking, parasailing and horseback riding directly off the beach from your hotel on Grace Bay. The draw of Provo is perfect for family holidays, romantic getaways and adventure seekers alike.
As a scuba diver’s haven, many come to dive on the world’s largest coral reef wall that drops 6,000-7,000 feet. Comprising of 40 islands and cays (pronounced keys), only 8 of them are inhabited. These islands boast the most beautiful shades of turquoise and deep blue waters one has ever seen. Several uninhabited islands offer exceptional dive spots with nearly 300 square miles of TCI are protected wildlife sanctuaries. On the surface level, cool trade-winds and warm shallow waters create ultimate conditions for kiteboarding.
Though Provo is the commercial hub due to tourism, the capital of the Turks and Caicos Islands is Grand Turk. If you have enough time during your visit, it’s worth a day trip, via a small aircraft, to explore the historical land, local food and rustic island scenery.
Traveling to Provo with my family for over twenty years has lent to some of the best days of my life traveling about this exotic destination. Often, a typical day would consist of lounging on beach chairs watching visitors emerge from underwater experiences. While wading in waist high water, conversing with family and making new friends with guests of the resort.
Feeling the soft powdery sand between my toes, sipping on rum punch, I cool off from the heat, finding my myself floating in the warm water, eyes closed, head back and toes up.
Once of my favorite pastimes is a catamaran sailing cruise with Sail Provo. If staying on Grace Bay Beach, boat companies such as Island Vibes Tours and Caicos Dream Tours will pick you up directly on the beach. Talk about convenience. Grab your sunscreen and hop aboard!
For a half-day cruise, the captains will take you to set your sights on vibrant shades of blue where you can enjoy snorkeling, shelling on a desert beach to sand dollar hunting in shallow waters. With reggae jams to dance to and rum punch for cheers, we find ourselves saying, ‘Now this is the life’.
Sunset glow worm cruises are also popular. After a full moon, watch the sun dip beyond the horizon as dusk reveals magical lights that scatter across the water’s surface — like fire flies dance in a field on a midwest summer’s night.
After a few day on island, once you are finally unwound should things become too quiet, a good diversion is to take a trip to Salt Mills, the islands shopping area offering authentic galleries, restaurants, and boutiques.
Perhaps take a drive to Caicos Conch Farm — the only conch farm in the world where the Caribbean queen conchs are raised from one egg. Visitors learn about the history and process of raising conchs.
Back at the beach, snorkeling is quite common directly in front of the boutique resort, Coral Gardens on Grace Bay, now home to Provo’s popular beachfront bar & restaurant, Somewhere Cafe & Lounge. Here you can indulge a tasty Tex-Mex cuisine, casual atmosphere, island music, glorious sunsets and friendly staff.
Coral Garden on Grace Bay is a boutique resort offering oceanfront condos, with sweeping beach balconies. It is comfortably nestled within tropical landscaping, steps from the power white sand, beach bar and coral reef. http://coralgardensongracebay.com/
After relaxing days in and out of the sun, dinner may find you in the mood for local flavor or world-class cuisine and Provo won’t let you down. Al fresco dining with balmy island breezes is an option at most venues.
Make an afternoon stop at the Conch Shack for fresh conch ceviche mixed with bell peppers and jalapeño. Stop by The Shark Bite in Turtle Cove for creamy conch chowder and mouth watering conch fritters.
Hemingways Restaurant, located at The Sands at Grace Bay, great for lunch or dinner, offers beachfront dining, mesmerizing views of sunsets and a relaxing dim lit atmosphere in the evenings. My favorite tomato-based conch chowder is found here. It’s always a toss up between that and their black been soup served in a bread bowl. Be sure to order their homemade tortilla chips and salsa — the best on the island. https://www.hemingwaystci.com/
For a delectable dining experience, visit Coyaba at Caribbean Paradise Inn.
Anacaona at Grace Bay club also offers a more formal dining experience and romantic atmosphere offering delicious Nouvelle Cuisine infused with Caribbean flavor.
And then there is Cocoa Bistro, another all-time favorite of mine. The mediterranean cuisines and european wines are enhanced by the enchanting atmosphere set amidst a palm tree grove. http://www.cocobistro.tc/
If planning an event, be sure to check out Coco Vibes for custom branded locally grown coconuts for a unique and local welcome gift for your guests. Ask for JJ! http://cocovibestc.com/
“Beautiful by Nature”, the TCI’s motto, is most appropriate. The Turks & Caicos Islands is a destination where you will find friendly locals and residents from around the world, a place to make fond memories, have fun, and revive the Spirit.
Mary Carol Fitzgerald, Dave Markowski