Why Turks and Caicos:
Turks and Caicos is a British overseas territory located just southeast of the Bahamas. The islands were originally part of the Bahamas but were granted a split in 1848 due to the Bahamas´ high taxes on salt. They were then governed by Jamaica before eventually gaining home rule. Today, the islands are one of the most popular beach destinations in the Caribbean.
The territory consists of two separate island groups: Turks and…. Caicos. The capital, Cockburn Town, is located on Grand Turk. However, most of the population lives on the island of Providenciales, which is part of the Caicos group. Providenciales was largely uninhabited until the 1960´s and was developed for tourism. “Provo” as it is colloquially known has the country´s sole international airport.
In January, I found a flight deal to Turks and Caicos, but unfortunately my plans were foiled by a blizzard which cancelled my flight.
Fast forward to June and I started receiving lots of notifications about deals to Turks and Caicos. I decided to try again. This time, I would stay one night and then add on a trip to Florida to see my grandfather. The flight came out to about $250 which includes the hefty $92 of airport taxes and fees.
July is also the off-season, so the car rental and Airbnb were considerably cheaper than what I had booked in January.
July 30, 2022: Grace Bay
My flight from New York´s JFK airport let at 8:00. In a strange stroke of luck, my college friend Elle was on the plane too. She lives in LA but was in NYC for a month for work and had planned a girls´ trip with her friend Tatum.
I had an empty row, but Elle was unfortunately stuck next to a very drunk couple. They apparently apologized to her before the flight (Side note: I really do not understand drinking heavily at airports. The drinks are all grossly overpriced, you risk a lot from getting sick in a place where you can´t fix it to getting kicked off the plane to ruining your internal sleep clock to arriving at your destination drunk). Immediately after taking off, Elle moved back and sat with me where we caught up on life.
As we landed at Providenciales International Airport, the only commercial international airport in the territory, we could see spectacular blue water like nothing I have ever seen.
Like in the Cayman Islands, I received a rather thorough customs and immigration search. A large lady with a mean mean stare hand searched my bag! Then, we took a shuttle to the rental car dealer.
Nearly everybody rents a car on Providenciales despite having to drive on the left side of the road. The reason is that the taxis are unbelievably expensive and unreliable. They are so bad that it is recommended to rent a car even if you never intend to leave your hotel and only intend to use the car to drive to/from the airport. Sheesh!
I got the car, said goodbye to Elle and Tatum for now and headed to lunch. I visited the top recommended lunch spot on the island: Da Conch Shack.
The outdoor restaurant was painted pink and turquoise. Most of the tables were on the sand and a man sang over a track of Caribbean remixes of popular American songs like Margaritaville. The vibes were immaculate.
I ordered fried conch, the obvious specialty given the restaurant´s name. With tax and tip, the bill turned out to be nearly $45. Expensive!
I then checked in to my Airbnb, located in a seemingly desolate part of the south side of the island. It is a share house on the second floor of an abandoned strip mall. It was by far the cheapest place to stay, but at $95/night still not cheap. The room had a comfy bed, Wi-Fi, and air conditioning, which is really all you need. I´ve said it time and time again, lodging is the most overpriced and overrated part of a vacation.
I then visited the Turks Head Brewery, the only brewery on the island. While I could not get a formal brewery tour, the tap room was open. I sat down next to a middle-aged white guy with curly hair. We ended up chatting and it turns out he is the owner and he moved here 30 years ago.
We got into a long discussion about the islands. He explained to me why Turks and Caicos is so incredibly expensive. The islands produce essentially nothing. Therefore, everything must be imported by container ship or plane. All imports of finished goods get taxed at an astonishing 37%. Since the container ships go back empty, the shipping companies bake this into the shipping costs making it one of the world´s most expensive destinations per nautical mile to ship. All this gets baked into the costs.
The brewery exists because unfinished goods aka raw materials are not taxed at 37%. So, by opening a brewery, this guy can make beer for far cheaper than the price that anybody can import. He will never completely conquer the market because people like certain brands and a variety of beers on the menu, but he is in a very strong position.
Tourism is now the only real source of revenue for the islands. There used to be an offshore finance industry. After the UK government forced the Turks and Caicos government to report financial statements of people being investigated for crimes, the industry collapsed. Sketchy!!
I then headed to the island´s most famous beach: Grace Bay. This enormous pristine stretch of white sand is home to most resorts on Providenciales and is the primary reason people come to Turks and Caicos. Mid-rise resorts lined the coast, most of them placing lounge chairs and umbrellas up in front of their property. The beach was so large that the beach was not crowded at all.
After walking for 10 minutes, I found Elle and Tatum. After parking my bag next to theirs, I headed into the calm 85 F/29 C turquoise water. I have never been in seawater this warm, and it was awesome!
It seemed like an endless amount of time but I was probably in the water for just 20 minutes. Eventually, it started to rain and I headed back to the car. Elle said that she heard about a party sponsored by Igloo that we should check out.
The party was on the rain-free eastern edge of Grace Bay Beach. We parked on the street amongst a sea of cars. It was obvious where the party was since EVERYBODY was heading there. The crowd was young, dressed in their best beachwear. In line with the island´s demographics but in stark contrast to the tourist population, everybody was Afro-Caribbean. Nobody seemed to notice us or care that we were there, which is nice. The party had a funny catch, you can bring in as much alcohol as you want so long as it was in an Igloo brand cooler.
After weaving through a crowd of people, we learned that the entrance fee to the party was $100, an insane figure given that we could stand next to the rope for free. And that is what we did.
For dinner, Elle made a reservation for us at a fancy resort. The food was delicious, and we even got to meet the chef. He is Aussie and flies here for Australia every few weeks. He said how everything at the restaurant is flown in except for one fish dish. The lobster, another local specialty, was not in season (we missed it by a week). Entrees were about $50, which is in line with a similar quality restaurant in NYC.
We then heard about an Igloo afterparty in town, which by the way is super boring. The cover was $20, which was a bit more than I wanted to pay so I headed home. I think Elle and Tatum ended up going.
July 31, 2022: Chalk Sound
The next morning, I set out to explore the area near my AirBNB. But first, I was approached by another guest. This American PE teacher did not have cell coverage or a car. And overnight, the WI-FI went out, which meant he was essentially stuck. Luckily, with my international data plan, I was able to message the Airbnb host who told me how to reset the router.
I then went for a “hike” to the nearby Sapodilla Hill. The 10-minute walk took me to a viewpoint of the turquoise ocean and the even more turquoise Chalk Sound.
The hilltop contains historic graffiti from marooned sailors in the 1700´s.
I then walked over to the stunning Sapodilla Beach. Compared to Grace Bay, this beach was far smaller and quieter. There were at most 5 people on the entire beach.
A few minutes’ walk away was the Las Brisas restaurant, which is on Chalk Sound, a spectacular turquoise lagoon. The water was so turquoise it looked radioactive. The restaurant/hotel is also a center for watersports. They run a 2-hour powerboat and snorkeling tour of the highlights. However, the timing of the tours did not work with my schedule so instead I went kayaking for an hour. The currents were strong, but I still had a great time.
Elle and Tatum then joined me for lunch before I headed to airport. Lucky for them, they had another couple days in paradise.
24 hours in Providenciales is enough to get a feel for the place and do most of the activities. But most tourists come here to relax and to successfully do that, you probably want to stay a little longer than one night.
The beaches in Turks and Caicos are the best I have seen in the Caribbean and perhaps ever. Full stop.
However, there is not much else to do. The culture does exist but is very difficult to encounter as a tourist. The infrastructure is also not so great, hence the need for a car.
Also, the prices are outrageous. Absolutely outrageous.
For that reason, I would recommend visiting once, but I think there are better places to spend your money. If I were to rate it amongst Caribbean destinations, this would be on the low end of that list. But if you have to pick a high end Caribbean destination, I think the Cayman Islands are a better version of Provo.
Providenciales is not the only destination in Turks and Caicos. Cockburn Town on Grand Turk island receives cruise ships and is supposed to have more culture. Perhaps, I would recommend combining both destination if you visit.