Crystal clear blue lagoon dotted by a lone chartered boat

Travel Guide: Explore the Tropical Oasis of Turks and Caicos

Two local children run past a mural of Turks and Caicos painted on a wall

Beautiful by Nature

Have you ever been to a destination so pristine and picturesque that it makes you wonder how something so beautiful could exist? There are quite a few exquisite places around the globe that have this appealing quality. One of these places is located in the Caribbean Sea which is already known for its natural wonder and awe. Nestled in the Northern tail end of the West Indies and directly Southeast of the Bahamas and mainland Hispaniola which is now modern day Haiti and the Dominican Republic is the tiny islands nation of Turks and Caicos. As a part of the Lucayan Archipelago which consists mainly of the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos remains a British overseas territory.

Crystal clear blue lagoon dotted by a lone chartered boat

Long before the arrival of the British Empire to North America people had been coexisting in the Americas for centuries. Particularly in the Caribbean, the people who migrated to Hispanoila and around the Greater Antilles were known as the Taino people who first arrived to the islands around 800 AD from Cuba. For the next 800 years they would live peaceful lives until the arrival of Christopher Columbus and the discovery of the New World. While Columbus made the first European voyage across the Atlantic, it was believed that Turk and Caicos was not discovered until Spanish Conquistador Juan Ponce De León, the first European to lead an expedition to Florida and also the mythical military commander in search of the Fountain of Youth, officially set foot on these beautiful shores.

In spite of Nature’s given beauty, when the first Europeans arrived it was only inevitable that there would be warring amongst them and the indigenous people who had been living there. Failure to communicate due to language barriers, the passing of communicable diseases, and the Europeans might all come into play. The Taino people for instance started a rebellion on Hispaniola which was crushed by the Spanish Colonial Government and De Leon himself. The real killer was not the warfare but also the deadly diseases and viruses the Europeans had carried with them infecting the local populaces. By 1512 Turks and Caicos was depopulated and remained unchanged for two centuries.

A couple of tourists trying out Kite Surfing with a local islander walking along the shore

While Turks and Caicos has been a part of the British Empire since the 17th Century, with a rich and bloody history, these magnificent islands have retained their natural beauty which has drawn people from far and wide. From firsthand experience, Turks and Caicos has sea water that reaches bath water temps, memorable white sand beaches, and water so turquoise blue that it radiates in the sun like millions of sapphires. Booking a trip now to Turks and Caicos will be an unforgettable experience for those who want to soak up the sun with a cocktail, take a splash in the sea, and the number of other activities that the islands have to offer.


The greater Turks and Caicos consists of over 22 different islands, some of which are deserted. In the mid 18th Century, these uninhabited cays served as hideaways and places of refuge for pirates. The third largest island of Turks and Caicos is Providenciales, but it is the largest island by census with over 23,000 people living there. There are only two ways on and off the isle of Providenciales, either by air or by boat. 

Once you touch down in Turks and Caicos, one will come to find that there is no public transportation on Providenciales. While the most populated cay within the Turks and Caicos chain, Providenciales did not receive a modern day infrastructure until 1964. This meant that Providenciales up until that point had no roads, running water, or power. It was just a barren sandy island that became a refuge for aquatic wildlife and those accused of piracy. 

Beach front view from one of Grace Bay's premier resorts.

Majority of the Western half of Providenciales is empty wilderness. The surrounding ecology consists of three distinct ecoregions unique only to the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos; Bahamian Mangroves, Pines, and Dry Forest. While this flora is found nowhere else, not much fauna or terrestrial wildlife has found its way here. The frequent flyers one might see around the islands are Rose-Throated Parrots and the Funnel-Eared Bats. Majority of the wildlife to be found on Turks and Caicos isn’t found on land, you’ll have better look searching in the sea. The importance of the sea is prominent to island life, so it is here you’ll find the best beaches, snorkeling, and resorts that Turks and Caicos have to offer. 

The very first resort and casino style complex on the island was built and introduced at Grace Bay by Club Med which began a major development boom on the island in the 1980s. What originally started with Club Med Turkoise, has now expanded ten fold, from the prestigious Grace Bay Club, to The Sands at Grace Bay, perhaps some of the most prestigious resorts found on Providenciales. By the year 2000, Provo as Providenciales is known locally became the most developed and tourist oriented of all the cays in the Turks and Caicos chain. Grace Bay by far is the most developed with numerous resorts and restaurants from Sharkbite Bar and Grill at the Yacht Club, Hemingway’s on the Beach, to Da Conch Shack famous for its sandy beach front dining.

Smith’s Reef and the Turtle Cove

The luxurious beach front villas encircling Turtle Cove and the Marina.

Aside from the fine dining and cocktails and the amenities the resorts of Providenciales can offer you, the real draw lies just under the sea. If you are staying at a fairly decent rate at the Yacht Club, just across the road is Smith’s Reef. The reefs found here are perhaps the most easily accessible for beach goers and snorkelers. Located 3.5 miles north of Grace Bay, it is possible to walk all the way down the beach from the resorts at Grace Bay to Smith’s Reef, and if you do, make sure one doesn’t get blindsided by a surprise monsoon.  

When you arrive at Smith’s Reef the first thing one will notice is the color of the water. A radiant fifty shades of blue that feels even more sublime once you enter into the 80 degree water. One will notice how salty the water is due to being so close to the equator. Just beyond the shore are the outer reefs which provide some of the best world class snorkeling and diving. Diving below the waves is where an underwater cosmopolitan awaits your arrival. A vast array of marine life calls the local coral reefs of Providenciales and the surrounding cays of Turks and Caicos their home. Due to being depopulated for centuries by European colonization, Turks and Caicos has become a safe haven for organisms found only endemic to these islands as well as a sanctuary for birds to breed.

A kaleidoscope of different colors and shapes of coral found at Smith's Reef

Although devoid of people for many many years, Turks and Caicos has become a tourist hotspot for biodiversity which has thrived under these conditions. Smith’s Reef being the most accessible dive site on Providenciales, is the gateway to observing this rich biodiversity up close and personal. Below one will find a prism of different patterns of coral and colors so vivid from the reef to the numerous fish that it can be like sensory overload. From Angelfish, Parrotfish, Pufferfish, Moray Eels, and if you’re lucky enough when looking to the horizon one might spot a Humpback Whale passing by. Eventually the body will get tired, so after a long day of diving or snorkeling, kick back on the nice sandy beach but be wary. The beaches of Providenciales have signs that warn of the intense sun and heat so always bring extra sun block.

After a long day frolicking at Smith’s Reef, across the way is the Yacht Club at Turtle Cove named after the turtles that come to Smith’s Reef. From luxury condominiums, resort style villas, to a number of eateries and shops, the Turtle cove is the largest marina on Providenciales and has affordable rates for people looking for a more affordable style vacation rather than at one of the exclusive resorts. Foremost though, it is here where people can book private charters and boat guides for a number of activities from deep sea fishing, scuba diving, to parasailing above the crystal blue waters. Many of the on sea adventures generally begin here, where one can sail and explore all of the different cays.

Chalk Sound National Park

A beautiful backdrop of the chalky blue waters of the park

Located to the Southwest of Providenciales is the stunning Chalk Sound National Park. Chalk Sound is a natural lagoon with turquoise blue water so blue it looks like glacier ice, dotted by hundreds of small rocky islets. Because of its protected nature, the use of boats or any other form of watercraft is strictly prohibited and rightfully so. The water here at Chalk Sound is some of the clearest and purest ocean water on Earth. 

The stunning hues of blues comes from the refracting light bouncing off the limestone particulates in the sea. Hence why the park is called Chalk Sound, it looks as though it was a chalk drawing. The best ways to get the best views of this natural wonder is either by the Southern road or by way of kayaking or paddleboarding since these activities do not create any potential harmful pollutants. 

Due to the pure nature and state of the national park, there is a unique and vast abundance of wildlife found here. On one of the many hundreds of rocky islands, keep an eye out for Rock Iguanas who forage the islands for insects, prickly pear cacti, and other plants. In the water, people might spot an array of Stingrays, Lemon Sharks, to the feisty Barracuda. 

The best way to see the wildlife up close is by way of water sports. On most days Chalk Sound is calm and peaceful. But on the occasion, strong trade winds blow in from the East, making conditions not as pleasant for the mere kayak or SUP(Stand Up Paddleboard). Of course with the amount of human activity that increases with the area so do the restrictions to protect the park and the surrounding ecology. No gas powered watercraft is allowed in the park, no tampering with wildlife, and a hefty fine for littering as it would be anywhere else. 

Sapodilla Bay & Taylor Bay Beaches

A drone shot of single boat cruising through the shallow water of Sapodilla Bay.

While exploring the naturally formed beauty of Chalk Sound National Park, it would be insane not to visit either Sapodilla Bay Beach or Taylor Bay Beach while visiting. These are two of perhaps the best beaches on all of Providenciales. Right off the South coast of the Chalk Sound is Sapodilla Bay. Located here is a 900 foot strip of beach that is protected and a sanctuary for families vacationing due to the calm and shallowness of the water here which is a safe place for young children to play and have fun. Surprisingly enough, being on the southern end of the island, the water here is warmer than other parts of the same island. 

While nowhere near as busy or as populated as Grace Bay, on rare occasions Sapodilla Bay can become overrun with visitors due the small amount of beach provided. What is provided is one of the finest white sand beaches you will find anywhere on the planet. The reason the sand is so white is because a vast amount of the sand on Turks and Caicos is made up of dead coral exoskeletons. Another aspect of Sapodilla Bay is that there is not an overabundance of coral reef colonies near this isolated bay since the beach is mostly sand bottom. 

The crystal clear sand bottom water that can be walkable for hundreds of feet at Taylor Bay.

The other adjacent beach in the area which is a little bit more secluded and harder to access than Sapodilla Bay is Taylor Bay Beach. Just West of Sapodilla Bay, Taylor Bay Beach is a bit larger, some 2000 feet long of beautiful white sand and shallow turquoise water. Just like Sapodilla Bay, Taylor Bay is a great place for families to vacation since the waters are nice, warm, and mellow. On certain occasions, when the tide is low enough, beautiful archaic patterns are shaped in the sand as the tide drops due to the lack of corals. Before heading to Taylor Bay one will spot the Neptune Villas which are nestled right near the Chalk Sound. Both of these beaches are unlike any other and deserve to be seen in person.

Salt Cay

Just 8 miles away from Provo is the second largest of the Turks Islands, Salt Cay. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, as its name entails, Salt Cay was known for its vast amount of sea salt production. Since Turks and Caicos’ discovery by Juan Ponce De Leon, Salt Cay has only been home to some few hundred people, all of whom were salt producers. Because of this, Salt Cay has sparsely limited development. But for most visitors and tourists, they do not come to Salt Cay simply to lounge around resort style. The reason you’d come here is to escape from the crowds for the top tier scuba diving and Humpback Whale watching.

One of the many untouched and unexplored beaches of Salt Cay

Considering much of Salt Cay is barren and devoid of modern infrastructure, one will find countless untouched beaches and pristine coastline when exploring. The only way to get to Salt Cay from Providenciales is by way of Caicos Express Airways. If you are coming from Grand Turks, there is a ferry that charters people over approximately three times a week. Once you are there, to the North Bay you will find the best snorkeling and swimming on Salt Cay. South Bay is the best area for beach going and viewing spectacular sunsets. The Northern Point of Salt Cay is most known for its remote hiking. These trails course all throughout the scenic landscape of the cay. Towards the Southside, the wetlands of South Creek are the best spot for bird viewing as they come here for their hatcheries. 

While wandering through the cay, one will inevitably stumble upon remnants of the centuries old salt mining production that gave the cay its name. Feral Donkeys roam Salt Cay after production had been abandoned at some point in the 1960s. From the 1600s all the way up until the mid 1900s, Salt Cay was producing salt. Now it is a tourist hotspot even though it remains mostly barren and preserved by nature. Salt Cay is just one of many such cays in Turks and Caicos that remains mostly uninhabited. Yet, Turks and Caicos is one of the most popular tourist destinations on Earth that has become a trend in today’s popular culture. 

The Pirate Island Chain

A graceful dolphin leaps out of the Caribbean before the Sunset.

The very meaning of these beautiful deserted islands literally translates as ‘Pirate Island Chain’. The Lucayan term caya hico translates into a ‘String of Islands’ and the Turks cactus is the profound cacti found on the islands. Booking a trip to this Caribbean paradise will be an adventure of a lifetime for any occasion. A remarkable location for a beach side wedding, exquisite resorts to enjoy a honeymoon, to just taking the family on a nice Caribbean style vacation, Turks and Caicos is there for you.


From the coral reefs, white sand beaches, to numerous small islands and cays to explore, one can see why these islands served as a safe haven for Pirates of the Caribbean for centuries, and a host of wildlife endemic to the region. Once you come and visit, the lifestyle might be hard to leave once you have gotten the taste of tropical island life, where life is not taken so seriously and one can escape the trials and tribulations of  their everyday lives.

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