Explore Turks and Caicos Islands, reefs
In the Turks and Caicos Islands, the sun starts out mellow and low, but by mid-morning it’s a slashing bright blanket of heat.
Everything on these Caribbean islands is intense: the bougainvillea blooms in vivid shades of purple, pink, red and orange, while the plumeria tree is covered in fragrant yellow blooms. The sky is a true blue you only see when the air is pure and clear.
These 40 Caribbean islands have pristine white sand beaches and the cleanest ocean water you’ve ever seen. The water is a treasure — turquoise and clear all the way to the polished white-sand bottom, where tiny silver fish flash about.
A family vacation brought me to the Turks and Caicos Islands. My son, daughter-in-law and three teenage granddaughters flew from Colorado to rendezvous with me in July for a week of sun, swimming and, most of all, a reunion.
We stayed in a four-bedroom villa at the Alexandra Resort on Grace Bay Beach, with spectacular views of the sea and sky. The beach, rated number four among the top beaches of the world by TripAdvisor, is located on Providenciales — the most populated of the 40 islands and part of the Bahama chain.
The Alexandra Resort is one of many “all-inclusive” resorts on the island, meaning you don’t pay extra for meals or drinks (including champagne at breakfast and piña coladas all day if you desire). Breakfast and dinner are served buffet style in a large dining room, open on the sides to gentle ocean breezes.
If your idea of a great vacation is to sit by a pool under an umbrella with a cool breeze blowing over you from a sparkling ocean as a waiter brings you an icy rum punch on a tray, then this resort is your kind of place. Your greatest stress here might be waiting for a seat at the outdoor café overlooking the ocean.
The food is a curious mix of British tasties, such as toffee pudding, fantastic local seafood, and Caribbean jerk dishes with a bit of spice and “peppa.”
For variety, the resort has a sushi restaurant and a seafood restaurant, too. Try the conch fritters, local red snapper, lobster, jerk chicken, crab and rice, conch ceviche, peppa joy hot sauce and coconut conch chowder, washed down with rum punch made with local Bambarra rum.
Drumming classes, dance lessons
Entertainment for guests is available around the clock. Every day offers a different schedule of activities.
Our family played several games of soccer with staff and guests, as well as water volleyball in the pool. All of us, regardless of ability, could participate together.
There were also drumming classes, water aerobics and karaoke. Dance lessons teaching the Wobble, the Cuban Shuffle and the Macarena kept us moving.
One of our favorite activities was listening to the nightly music sessions of reggae, steel drum, rock, jazz and Caribbean music.
Many of the staff are talented musicians. One evening Sudima, our waitress, stood up at karaoke night to level us all with a rendition of Alicia Keyes’ song “Fallin,’” belting out the lyrics: “I never loved someone the way I love you.”
Startled, I said to her, “You should be in New York with a voice like that!” She replied, “Put me in your suitcase!”
Other staffers had hidden talents as well. Tony, a handyman at the resort by day, turned out to be a pro-level soccer player. He joined our game when we needed more players, astonishing us with his skill.
But the best part of the Turks and Caicos is beyond the reef that encircles the island. Delineated by a distant rim of white waves, the reef is the third-largest barrier reef in the world.
If you love snorkeling, as I do, you can snorkel off the beach or hop on a boat provided by the resort (for an extra fee) and sail out past the great reef that encircles Grace Bay.
You might stop at Iguana Island (also called Little Water Cay), where the lizards are so unafraid of humans, they allow you to pick them up.
Once in deep water past the reef, you can slide off the boat (on a real slide) and swim with the fishes. The water is filled with corals in shades of purple and red, and sponges of all shapes and sizes, some like fingers reaching for the sky, others like barrels with shrimp residing inside. The sponges constantly sift the seawater, cleaning it.
Divers call it a mystical experience to see the vast collection of underwater plants and creatures: barracudas, bonefish, yellowtail snappers, lionfish, jolthead porgies, small sharks and rays. A shipwreck dating from the time of Columbus, still unnamed, provides a garden and home for creatures of all kinds.
As we marveled at the undersea world, suddenly a huge sea turtle slid by, just brushing my shoulder. I was momentarily terrified, then thrilled. An underwater cave system tempted us. My grandkids loved this experience and could not stop talking about it.
Internationally, this area is prized by serious scuba divers. Only 1,000 feet off the beach you will plunge off the continental shelf and fall 7,000 feet to encounter what is called the Grand Turk Wall.
Divers from all over the world come here to experience the ‘Wall’ and extensive underwater caves. Scuba Diving Magazine readers have voted the Turks and Caicos the best diving sites in the Caribbean.
While they are a British Overseas Territory, Turks and Caicos Islands are self-governing. Power is exercised by an elected legislative council and an appointed executive council.
The governor oversees foreign affairs, defense and offshore finance. The islands are English speaking and use the U.S. dollar.
Downtown Providenciales is lovely, with its British colonial style architecture, expensive shops and cafes, and fountains.
But the luxurious resorts and condo complexes of Providenciales contrast with its residents’ concrete and stucco dwellings. The island has little local housing and few stores and public restaurants. Along the roads, numerous housing and business developments look as if they were abandoned mid-construction.
Days before we were to leave, the resort provided free COVID tests required for re-entry into the U.S. The nurse talked about the rising cost of living on the island.
“It’s getting so that you have to work two jobs to live here,” she said. “The land cost is so high now, people born here can’t afford to stay.”
Turks and Caicos is an international investment center for offshore investors in part because there is no income tax, capital gains tax, property tax, inheritance tax or corporation tax.
There are, however, mandatory health insurance contributions, financed by a 37.5% tax on all imported goods. Since almost all goods here are imported, this provides considerable revenue.
During the worst of the pandemic, resorts were empty. Now they are so packed that dining at a local restaurant requires a reservation and a one-hour wait.
If you go
The Turks and Caicos Islands are a one-hour flight from Miami; Delta has a round-trip flight from D.C. to Providenciales for $565.
Most hotels cost $200 to $700 a night, but all-inclusive resorts can be $500 to $1,000 a night or more. The Alexandra Resort’s rates start at $560 per night. However, more affordable beachfront hotels include Neptune Villas at $203 per night and Banyan Inn at $299 per night.
As of press time, Turks and Caicos requires a negative COVID test within three days of arrival. You must provide evidence of medical insurance and a printed list of covered health benefits.
They also require proof of travel insurance that would cover you for emergency medical treatment, evacuation by air, and a local stay if quarantine was required.