A Caribbean Escape: The Turks and Caicos Are So Close, But a World AwayApr 03, 2022 10:31AM ● By DIANE YORK
About 700 miles by sea from Fort Myers lie the Caribbean islands of Turks and Caicos, on the southeastern periphery of the Bahamas chain—so close, yet a world away in landscape, culture, music, food, and experiences. In the Turks and Caicos the sun starts out mellow and low, but by midmorning 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, and the plumeria trees are covered in fragrant yellow blossoms. The sky is the true blue you see only when the air is pure and clear. These islands have pristine white sand beaches and the clearest ocean water you will ever see. The reefs encircling the islands make this a top destination for snorkeling and scuba diving.
A family vacation brought me to the Turks and Caicos Islands. I rendezvoused with my son, his wife, and their three daughters for a week of sun, swimming, and most of all, 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 on Tripadvisor, is located on Providenciales, the most populated of the 40 islands that make up the Turks and Caicos.
The Alexandra is one of many “all-inclusive” resorts on the island, meaning you don’t pay extra for meals or drinks (including champagne at breakfast or piña coladas by the pool). Breakfast and dinner are served buffet style in a large dining room, open on the sides to gentle ocean breezes.
The food is a curious mix of British tastes such as toffee pudding, fantastic local seafood, and Caribbean jerk dishes with a bit of spice and “peppa.” For variety, the resort has sushi and seafood restaurants, too. Dishes the islands are famous for include local red snapper, lobster, jerk chicken, crab, and rice and PeppaJoy hot sauce. And there is conch served every which way: fritters, ceviche, and chowder.
The favorite drink of Providenciales is rum punch made with strong, smooth Bambarra Rum distilled on the island. The rum was named after the Middle Caicos home of West African slaves shipwrecked on the island in 1841.
A favorite activity is listening to the nightly sessions of reggae, steel drum, rock, jazz, and Caribbean music. Dance lessons teaching the Wobble, the Cuban Shuffle, and the Macarena keep visitors moving. In the daytime, there is water volleyball, soccer, and boat trips for exploring, snorkeling, scuba diving, or sailing excursions.
Offshore, delineated by a distant rim of white waves, the reefs await. If you love snorkeling, this is your place. You can snorkel off the beach or hop on a boat provided by the resort (for an extra fee) and sail out past the reefs that encircle Grace Bay. You might stop at Iguana Island, where the lizards are so unafraid of humans, they allow you to pick them up.
Once at the reefs, you can slide off the boat (on a real slide) and swim with the fishes. The water is filled with multicolored corals and sponges of all shapes and sizes—some like fingers reaching for the sky, others like barrels with pairs of shrimp residing inside. The sponges constantly sift the seawater, cleaning it.
Snorkelers and divers call it a mystical experience to see the vast collection of underwater plants and creatures here: barracuda, bonefish, yellowtail snapper, lionfish, jolthead porgy, small sharks, and rays. A shipwreck dating from the time of Columbus, still unnamed, provides a garden and home for creatures of all kinds.
The Turks and Caicos are prized by serious scuba divers from all over the world. Only 1,000 feet off the beach of Grand Turk Island, a short boat ride from Providenciales, is the Grand Turk Wall, with its dramatic drop-off of 7,000 feet. Divers come here to experience the “wall” and its enticing underwater cave system. Scuba Diving Magazine readers have voted the Turks and Caicos among the best diving sites in the Caribbean.
The Turks and Caicos are easy to get to. Miami to Providenciales is only 90 minutes by air, and is serviced by all the largest U.S. airlines. The islands, which are a British Overseas Territory, are English speaking and their currency is the U.S. dollar.
The Turks and Caicos Islands place an emphasis on health and have one of the highest vaccination rates and lowest number of Covid cases among Caribbean Island destinations.
A stay in the Turks and Caicos can be a quick trip into another world of fantastic resorts, clear water, culture, and natural treasures such as the Grand Turk Wall and the barrier reefs that provide incredible ocean adventures.
Diane York is a freelance writer based in Richmond, Virginia, who spends as much time as possible on Sanibel. Her articles on lifestyle and health, the arts, and travel have appeared in numerous regional magazines, medical journals, and trade publications.