The TURKS and CAICOS ISLANDS, a British Crown colony, lie 575 miles southeast of Miami, Florida, just a short 1 1/2 hour flight from the U.S.. The Bahamas begin 30 miles to the northwest, and the Dominican Republic is some 100 miles to the southeast. The entire country encompasses only 166 square miles of land, on eight islands and 40 small cays. English is the common tongue, and the U.S. dollar serves as the official currency. As a result, the Turks & Caicos offer a relaxed, easily accessible, island holiday for travelers from both Europe and the Americas.
GRAND TURK - Grand Turk, the capital of the Turks & Caicos, is a diminutive island with a population of less than 4,000 full time residents. Currently without direct jet service, Grand Turk is a sleepy hideaway perfect for travelers who wish to really get away from the hassles of the modern world. It is a simple, safe, and friendly island, offering comfortable lodging, good dining, and great diving, all in a very laid back setting. Locals say that today's Grand Turk, both above and below the sea, looks like the Grand Cayman of 25 years ago. As for getting there, Grand Turk is serviced by small aircraft flying from Providenciales. The result is that tourism is relatively light, and the coral reefs exhibit virtually no diver pressure whatsoever.
PROVIDENCIALES - Favored with jet service by both American Airlines and Delta Airlines, the larger island of Providenciales (Provo) has developed more rapidly in recent years. With only moderate loss of the native island charm, in addition to its scuba diving, Provo adds the option of much larger resort developments, more upscale lodgings, fine dining, a golf course rated in the Caribbean's top ten, interesting shopping, windsurfing and other water sports. Provo has a range of hotels and some beautiful condominiums from which to choose.
TOPSIDE - The Turks & Caicos receive less than 30 inches of rain per year. As a result, these islands have an arid, almost desert-like feel, somewhat similar in appearance to Bonaire. Cactus grow at the roadside, and wild horses and donkeys are not uncommon. Bird watchers will find many beautiful water fowl, including a resident flock of flamingos gracing Grand Turk. The resorts are lushly landscaped in bougainvillea and other blooming plants, but the water for irrigation must come from desalination systems that each hotel is obliged to include in its physical plant. The government has had the forethought to denote numerous Nature Reserves around the islands to preserve the natural habitats.
UNDERWATER - In contrast to the arid landscape, the ocean is painted in an exquisite palette of turquoise and azure blue. The reef is characterized by both abrupt, deep drop-offs, and beautiful mini-walls. The big drop offs start as shallow as 40 feet, and appear to go down forever. The mini-walls often range from 30 to 100 feet in depth and are covered in hard and soft corals and fish cleaning stations. To me, the diving was reminiscent of aspects of both the Cayman Islands and Bonaire. Soft coral growth is particularly lush, and while large schools of fish are not always in evidence, the population of fish and invertebrates appears to be highly diverse. There are lots of hawksbill turtles, stingrays, sharks and other pelagics. Fish feeding is not encouraged here, but one reef we dived had large grouper and a magnificent queen triggerfish as tame as puppies, even though no food was offered. Manta rays are common around Grand Turk, May through November, while schools of Eagle Rays frequent the waters around Provo from October to May, with sightings common all year long. Pods of hump back whales migrate through the islands December through March. It's gratifying to note that the diving areas have been designated as National Parks and are protected with prohibitions against spear fishing, collecting, etc. Mooring buoys are in place on most dive sites, and anchoring is permitted only on sandy bottoms.
CONTRASTING the DIVING OPPORTUNITIES - While Grand Turk and Provo enjoy many similarities in reef structure and marine life, there are also some interesting differences between the two islands. Due in great part to the lack of direct jet service, Grand Turk currently receives only about 1,000 divers per year, while Provo routinely handles many times that amount...though still nothing like what Cozumel and the Cayman Islands experience. In Grand Turk, you will generally dive on a boat that handles a maximum of 8 divers...and often runs with less. Good dive sites are just offshore, hence the boat rides can be just two or three minutes, up to perhaps fifteen minutes in duration. One of the best dive sites we visited, Coral Gardens, was directly in front of our hotel. It was so close that, at the end of the dive I elected to swim freestyle back to the beach rather than ride! The situation is a bit different in Providenciales, where the better dive sites are a good bit farther from the hotel area, and there is no shore diving. The dive boats are much more substantial, and will routinely handle 16 or more divers. From Provo, the boat ride to the dive site will generally take from 15 minutes to just over an hour, each way.
LODGING OPTIONS - The following descriptions concentrate on the lodgings that I considered to be of greatest interest to the dive traveler.
OSPREY BEACH HOTEL, Grand Turk - Located on the beach at the edge of town, all rooms are oceanfront. Osprey Beach Hotel is the best option on the island for accommodations, lively bar, and a good restaurant.OCEAN CLUB CONDOMINIUMS, Providenciales - The Ocean Club maintains its spot at the top end of the lodging scale with a mixture of quality, beauty, and upscale value. This luxury oceanfront suite property is located on Grace Bay Beach, next to the Club Med. Amenities include a/c, phone, cable t.v., lighted tennis courts, and a very nice pool area with Cabana Bar & the Gecko Grill. Exceedingly spacious and well appointed one, two, and three bedroom suites are available, all with fully equipped kitchen. Art Pickering's excellent Provo Turtle Divers, described previously, has a shop on site. Just across the street from Ocean Club is the beautiful Provo Golf Course, rated one of the ten best courses in the Caribbean. If you are looking for the best that Providenciales has to offer, and/or are traveling in a party of four or six friends that would benefit from the convenience and value of a well appointed, multi-room condominium, the Ocean Club should be at the top of your list.
GETTING THERE - American Airlines provides jet service to the Turks & Caicos, flying daily, non-stop from Miami to Providenciales. The flight forward from Miami is only 1 1/2 hours. Delta Airlines offers flights from JFK (mostly weekend) and ATL (daily) If you are connecting to Grand Turk, or another out island, local carriers like Sky King provide frequent service between Provo and Grand Turk.
THE BOTTOM LINE - The Turks & Caicos offer an broad variety of lodging, scuba diving, water sports, and other amenities, all within a short flight from Miami. Travelers interested in getting away from it all may well find Grand Turk to be just what they are looking for. Those who are willing to trade the enhanced solitude and proximity to the diving for more amenities, tennis courts, a golf course, casino gambling, and more of a nightlife, may find that Providenciales is more to their taste. The quality of the diving is quite competitive with places like Bonaire and Little Cayman. While dining out can be somewhat expensive (more so at Provo than Grand Turk), for divers and sun lovers, I feel that the overall quality and value of the Turks & Caicos experience is very high. The relaxed feel of this tropical island hideaway comes as a welcome respite from the high pressure pleasures of some of the more popular Caribbean holiday spots.
For more information, color brochures, and value packages for divers and non-divers alike, contact your Adventure Experts at Island Dreams Travel. It is our pleasure to serve you. Regards, Ken
Copyright © Kenneth D. Knezick - Island Dreams Travel
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