Talking Travel Destination Worldview Suzanne Wright Turks & Caicos


Return to the Sea:
Experiencing a State of Bliss in the Turks & Caicos
by Suzanne Wright

Even before I board the plane, I’m getting good feedback on my destination. When I check in for my flight to musical-sounding Providenciales, the capital of the Turks and Caicos, the ticket agent looks up from her keyboard. “My sister and I are planning a trip there next month — without the kids,” she says with a smile. As I hand my boarding pass to the stern-faced TSA agent at the screening point, he breaks into a grin. “Well, Ms. Wright, going to Turks, are you? Don’t you wish I were going with you?”


Because this small two-island territory still belongs to the United Kingdom, for Brits especially it is a quintessential paradise in the “New World.” But for anyone who loves living by and in the sea, the Turks & Caicos are one of the last remaining unspoiled Caribbean destinations..

Located 575 miles southeast of Miami, The Turks & Caicos are at the tail end of the Bahamas archipelago, and as part of the British West Indies, they consist of two island groups covering 193 square miles and separated by the 22-mile Columbus Passage. Population? Only about 25,000. At one point, there was “talk ” of the Turks & Caicos becoming part of Canada — sort of a Canadian Hawaii or Puerto Rico — but it never came about, much to the chagrin of lots of chilly Canadians.

The name Turks is derived from the indigenous cactus called Turk’s Head (or “fez”). The name Caicos is a Lucayan term that means “string of islands.” Christopher Columbus was said to have discovered the islands in 1492, but some still argue that Ponce de Leon arrived first. However, the first people to truly discover the islands were the Taino Indians, who left little behind but ancient utensils. The Lucayans eventually replaced the Tainos, but by the middle of the 16th century they too had disappeared, victims of Spanish enslavement and imported diseases.

The 17th century saw the arrival of settlers from Bermuda, who established themselves on Grand Turk, Salt Cay, and South Caicos. They used slaves to rake salt for the British colonies in America, and were later joined by British Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution. The economy of the island revolved around the rich cotton and sisal plantations from which their abundant harvests were sold in London and New York. Sisal was an important product used in making rope; itself an important commodity during the great seagoing era. Because of competition from other areas where cotton grew in abundance and the thin soil of the Turks & Caicos, the cotton plantations slowly deteriorated, and were wiped out during a hurricane in 1813.

In 1766, after being controlled by the Spanish, French and British, Turks & Caicos became part of the British colony of The Bahamas, but attempts to integrate failed and the negotiations were abandoned in 1848. The islands seemed determined to be a world unto themselves. However, trading ships from London and Kingston, Jamaica frequently visited the islands; so links with Jamaica were developed and this resulted in annexation to that “Crown Colony” in 1874. After Jamaica’s independence in 1962 however, when that new nation was undergoing its own nation-building, the Turks & Caicos Islands became loosely associated once again with the Bahamas for a period of about 10 years until in 1973 they too became a British Crown Colony with their own Governor and Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II.

For years a sleepy enclave known to only a few, the island of Providenciales (“Provo”) is today the main urban center and is buzzing with development involving both U.S. and European companies. For some, the shadows cast by building cranes on the town portend the imminent loss of innocence in this paradise. Still the principal tourism slogan of “Beautiful by Nature” still holds true here. The locals are both sanguine and optimistic about their burgeoning tourism industry, and are hoping for something much less invasive and more environmentally sensitive than Cancun. I have my fingers crossed.

In the Turks & Caicos, it’s all about the water. And after spending four days in and on it, I’m convinced the seascapes here are the prettiest in this hemisphere. And according to Scuba Diving Magazine, the islands boast the third largest coral reef system in the world — and the healthiest marine environment.

Like many, I often yearn to return to the sea — the original and nurturing environment of of our species — and to its constant and dependable rhythms. I like to just float, in a Zen-like state of mind, allowing the beneficent sun to warm my skin. (Yes, I’ve applied a 30 SPF sunscreen). But those in the know tell me that the “wall diving” here is spectacular. So in addition to sailing and kayaking, I decide that I too will dive. I will make myself one with this watery world.

Usually if I go on a romantic vacation, I opt for a swanky resort with full service when I can. But in the Turks & Caicos, I immediately feel community life that is very much an extended family, and my choice of accommodation certainly supports this laid back and communal feeling. I’ve checked into Ocean Club West. One of the oldest resorts on the island, it is located on beautiful, 12-mile stretch of beach fronting Grace Bay. This property is wearing its age well. A condo-style development, it offers studios as well as two- and three-bedroom units, perfect for families, groups or the ever-popular “girlfriend getaways.”

So here I am in my own little piece of paradise in a two-bedroom loft with two and a half baths, a living room, screened-in porch, washer and dryer, full kitchen, wicker furniture, and lots of ceiling fans. Does this feel like home or what? That is, if home came with a view of swaying palms and clear turquoise water, and daily maid service. Did I mention that these islands were the stuff of dreams? Well I'm living this particular dream.

With all the amenities within reach, I decide to really settle in and save my extra cash for sailing. First I decide to stock the fridge, so I head to the local IGA grocery store. The friendly front desk clerk calls The Gecko Shuttle Bus and a few minutes later, a bright red minibus arrives, sporting on its side a large and colorful image of the friendly lizard. The doors swing open and the courteous driver greets me and asks my destination. I settle into the clean, air-conditioned comfort. The dream continues. The minibus follows a route that passes the marina and several small shopping areas. We stop and I wander into the grocery to buy a few rather expensive provisions. I then pop into the Unicorn Bookstore in the same plaza. In addition to a great collection of local books, there is a good children’s section and a fine newsstand. At the front desk, magazines are lined up vertically with yellow stickies earmarking customers’ New York Times or Oprah. I’m charmed by the “personalization” of this travel experience service, one of the leading trends in the travel and tourism industry.

I duck into a clothing store and meet Debbie, who is originally from Nova Scotia but married a “TI” or Turks Islander. She explains the concept of “belongers” to me and shows me her passport which is actually stamped with the belongers insignia. She explains that some jobs are advertised as for belongers only and certain rights accrue to these natives. It seems that by marriage, she has now become a belonger. She hands me a magazine that explains the governmental policy, and I ponder the implications of such a policy, especially for a small nation like the Turks & Caicos.

I learn that survivors of a slave ship called the Trouvadore, which sank off the East Caicos in 1841, are considered to be the original belongers, tied by blood to Africa. The concept is certainly an interesting one from many points of view and I also learn that a museum has been proposed in Provo to highlight this fascinating history. I tell her that if it gets built, I hope that people will be able to tear themselves away from the beaches long enough to tour it. She calls the Gecko for me.

I wait 35 minutes for my friendly lizard to arrive, but this is of little concern. I have lots to do; every person who walks by me greets me and I return the greeting. And because people pass frequently, I'm doing a lot of greeting. It's hard work but someone has to do it.

Eventually the Gecko arrives and I hop back on. I begin to practice my rudimentary French with my Creole-speaking driver and another passenger, an off-duty waiter. Along the way, I meet lots of other islanders — some from from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, and Martinique — as well as numerous natives and ex-pats. I'm starting to appreciate another kind of diversity in this piece of paradise.

Back in my suite I settle in for sunset and a little wine before heading to the snazzy Gecko Grille. The latter features gourmet international cuisine with a Caribbean flair. Our instant family group tonight dines en plein air on the attractive, candle-lit terrace. We sample boutique vodkas and such fare as escargot cassoulette and pan-fried snapper. It’s a savory end to a near perfect day.

The following morning, we board a catamaran stocked with delectable food catered by Ocean Club and take off across the crystal-clear Atlantic Ocean; the balmy breezes cool and invigorate us. There are more than 230 miles of pristine sandy white beaches in the Turks & Caicos and we stop at one which the captain calls Fort George. The beach takes my breath away; it is as if a Prospero has conjured up a vision. Everywhere we look there are pristine, intact white conches — of all sizes — scattered on the sand. If you “collect” beaches, this is one for your memory bank: the shells, the sand, the cloudless sky merging with the sea. Camera-less I take a mental picture, knowing that no technological device will do justice to this vision. But I will retrieve it from time to time in my mind's eye on dreary, desk-bound days back home. It is no wonder that these islands have a return rate of 60 per cent, as does Ocean Club.

We return to Provo and dine under the stars at Caicos Café, an outdoor bistro where the menu is listed on a chalkboard: conch fritters, conch ceviche, conch Creole, a tomato and rice dish, grilled grouper, snapper, and two-toned chocolate mousse. The stars are diamonds in the deep-blue velvet of the night sky.

The next day I am scheduled to dive, but I am somewhat trepidatious. Art Pickering, the island’s foremost dive operator and who supped with us at Gecko Grille a few nights ago, has warned me that the visibility could be severely reduced because of a recent storm. As it happens, he’s right. The visibility, which on a fine day can reach 150 feet, is reduced to perhaps 60 feet. So we won't be diving after all. I'm a little disappointed but ... another day on the sea cavorting in the water among stingrays and colorful fish, is fine by me.

In the afternoon, we visit the Caicos Conch Farm, the only one in the world. It was founded 22 years ago by a Connecticut marine biologist who was shipwrecked in the islands and then decided to stay. Today, the 60-acre farm grows Caribbean Queen conches, mostly for food-export to Miami. The operation is simple and the tour is brief and interesting. Like so many, I have always admired the unique beauty of the conch but knew little about the species. We learn that conches grow in their shells clockwise and take a full two years to mature. But the undisputed highlight of the tour is meeting Jerry and Sally, two adult conches who have been “trained” to greet visitors. Jerry is the shyer — and smaller of the two — but he does ... um ... have a certain masculine “charm,” which grows to an impressive foot during mating. (The men in our group exchange odd looks.) Sally however is a showgirl mollusk; she has an alluring blush to her shell, a seductive and undulating body, and two dewy eyes atop her graceful tentacles. Is it possible to be in love with a gastropod? If so, several of us have fallen hard. I only hope Jerry and Sally didn't smell our fritter breath. But maybe they would be pleased to know how many of us keep a conch shell back home as a kind of talisman to remind us that Paradise has not been completely lost.

Photographs courtesy of the Turks & Caicos Tourism Board


If You Go

American Airlines has the most frequent flights into Providenciales, although other airlines are also discovering the Turks & Caicos. Delta, for example has direct service from Atlanta, US Airways has service from Charlotte, and Air Canada flies from Toronto daily.

For general information on the islands, log onto or call 1-800-241-0824.

Also visit the Turks & Caicos Island Information Directory at

For reservations at Ocean Club or Ocean Club West, visit or call 649-946-5880


Wide sea, that one continuous murmur breeds
Along the pebbled shore of memory!
— John Keats