Turks & Caicos
The Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), hiding at the southern tip of the Bahamian Archipelago, elude most travelers' radars. Yet this sparsely populated string of low sand cays boasts some of the world's most spectacular coral reefs and beaches, and has built itself into a true luxury-tourism destination. The pace of life is easygoing, the local welcome genuine and the diving truly out of this world.
Providenciales is the bustling epicenter of all this, but beyond its flash beaches and world-class resorts, you'll find local festivals, jungle-wrapped ruins, perfect seaside bars and even traces of Europe's first discovery of the New World.
Venture to the less populated islands, and you'll be enchanted by colorful postcards of fading colonial glories, gobsmacked by the annual migration of thousands of humpback whales, spoiled with your pick of deserted beaches and all but forced to abandon the pace of modern life.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Turks & Caicos.
Several kilometers long – the frequently boasted '12 miles' (19km) only applies if you measure the entire northern coast of Provo, which is, admittedly, one unbroken beach – this world-famous stretch of coast is powdered with white sand and close enough to the reef wall to see the Atlantic breakers. Though it’s studded with hotels and resorts, its sheer size means that finding your own square of paradise is a snap.
Granted to Loyalist Wade Stubbs by King George III in 1789 as compensation for the loss of his Florida estate, this cotton and sisal plantation struggled on until 1814, when hurricanes, boll weevils and the harsh climate led Stubbs to abandon both the estate and his slaves. Quickly claimed by dry tropical forest, it's the best-preserved plantation anywhere in the Caribbean. Out-of-hours visits can be arranged (including Saturdays, but not Sundays) and guided tours are included.
Grace Bay Beach in Provo may get all the accolades, but 5km-long North Bay beach is every bit as stunning – just without the resorts or people. You can easily spend an afternoon lazing on the fine white sands and swimming in aquamarine waters without encountering another soul.
Chalk Sound sums up Provo: a startlingly turquoise 5km lagoon studded with tiny cays sheltering Turks and Caicos rock iguanas, but marred by less-than-scenic development. It can be a delightful place to kayak (no powered craft are allowed) in the company of bonefish, barracuda, rays and lemon sharks, but isn't easy to access, as there are no launching places.
Standing on a bluff high above the notorious northeast reef, wrecker of many ships and nearly of the salt industry (cargo ships began to balk at the danger, demanding greater safety), this iron lighthouse was cast in England in 1852 and assembled in situ. The views out to sea are spectacular, and there's a high-rope course to add spice to your visit.
Backed by the pines and low scrub of Columbus Landfall National Park and adorned by the picturesque (or ugly, depending on your view) iron hulk of a beached ship, Governor's Beach is a lovely place for a relatively quiet dip. It's also a scene of celebration, during events like October's Lobster Festival.
TCI's only brewery produces six excellent varieties, including the strong IPA 'Down Da Road' and a seasonal stout. Brewery tours are a popular way to see the process and taste a paddle of beers, but you can also visit the tap room and sample the brews outside tour times.
This scrubby patch of shorefront, most popular with mosquitoes, commemorates Columbus' putative landing on the island in 1492. The park extends out into the water to encompass its true treasure: the reef and 7000ft wall beloved of divers.
The beautiful, protected cays off North Caicos' northeast coast are a refuge for iguanas, birds and sea creatures. With sandy beaches and coral to the north, and mangroves to the south, they're delightful to explore in a kayak or boat.