14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in the Turks and Caicos Islands
Lying off the southeastern tip of the Bahamas, the stunning Turks and Caicos Islands encompass one of the world's largest coral reef systems, earning the islands a reputation as a premier dive destination. Exquisite white sand beaches fringe this necklace of about 30 islands where water sports, nature trails, iguana reserves, underground caves, and dazzling seascapes are the main draws. Fishing is also excellent. Anglers hook bonefish, reef fish, and big game species in the islands' crystal clear waters. And from January through April, visitors can also spot humpback whales on their annual migration route around these unspoiled islands.
The Turks and Caicos Islands are a British Overseas Territory. Cruise ships glide into the main port on Grand Turk, home to the quiet capital of Cockburn Town. Providenciales, known as "Provo", is the most developed island and spectacular Grace Bay is its crown jewel. Island hopping and sightseeing throughout the chain, visitors can also explore Lucayan petroglyphs, plantation ruins, and the fascinating history of the island's lucrative salt industry. Middle Caicos, is the largest of the Turks and Caicos Islands, and has the most dramatic coastline with limestone cliffs plunging to turquoise bays. All the islands offer superb water sports and, of course, dreamy stretches of sand and sea that lure nature lovers and beach aficionados from around the world.
1 Grace Bay, Providenciales
Stretching for more than 8 km, Grace Bay is one of the world's most ravishing beaches. Powdery sand meets crystal-clear water in striking shades of blue along this exquisite slice of coast, and coral reefs shimmer just offshore. Lined with posh hotels, Grace Bay Beach is the focal point for tourism on the island of Providenciales, and the location of the Princess Alexandra Marine Park. Snorkelers can view the rich marine life at the Bight Reef and Smith's Reef snorkeling trails in the underwater park. The bay is also the playground of "JoJo" the wild bottlenose dolphin, who interacts with humans and has been declared a national treasure.
2 Chalk Sound National Park, Providenciales
An eye-popping shade of turquoise, Chalk Sound is a beautiful lagoon with limestone deposits separated from the ocean by a thin stretch of sand. Sprinkled throughout the luminescent waters are tiny green-topped rock islands, which are home to many iguanas. The area is a beautiful place to take photographs.
3 Caicos Conch Farm and Island Sea Center, Providenciales
On the northeast tip of Provo, the Caicos Conch Farm and Island Sea Center is the only commercial conch farm in the world. Caribbean Queen conchs are a popular food source for locals throughout the Caribbean islands, and the farm's guided tours offer a look at how these pink-shelled marine gastropods are raised. Visitors also have a chance to meet and touch two trained and friendly conchs named Jerry and Sally. A small gift shop sells conch jewelry and souvenirs.
4 Sapodilla Bay, Providenciales
Sapodilla Bay, on the ocean side of Chalk Sound, is a peaceful strip of secluded beach offering good protection for yachts. The shallow, calm water also makes this a great spot to swim with small children. On the hilltop overlooking the bay, shipwrecked sailors engraved messages on the stones that some people claim are codes to hidden treasure.
5 Pine Cay
More than 14 km of nature trails and immaculate beaches with excellent snorkeling are some of the tourist attractions on Pine Cay, which is also home to the posh Meridian Club. A beach on the southwest corner rates as one of the most beautiful in the world, and ruins of a Lucayan settlement can be found with the help of a guide. Once a hideout for pirates, this beautiful island has no phones, televisions, or automobiles in an effort to preserve the peaceful ambiance.
Lying off the north coast of Pine Cay, Fort George Cay is a national park with the ruins of a British fort and a pre-Columbian settlement. Southwest from Pine Cay, Little Water Cay is home to about 2,000 rare and endangered rock iguanas. The National Trust has developed two boardwalk trails for visitors to view these friendly creatures.
6 Conch Bar Caves National Park
Conch Bar Caves National Park protects 24 km of underground caverns and is one of the largest cave systems in the Caribbean region. Some of the caves have lagoons as well as stalactites and stalagmites, and most have colonies of bats. Lucayan Indians used these caves for sacred ceremonies and left petroglyphs on the walls.
7 Crossing Place Trail, Middle Caicos
A National Trust Heritage site, Crossing Place Trail is a coastal path established in the 18th century by plantation settlers and slaves. Today the path's 8 km of hiking and biking trails follow the old path from the village of Lorimers to the place where islanders crossed the sandbars to trade with the inhabitants of North Caicos long ago. The trail leads along coastal headlands, beaches, and inland bush with interpretive signs along the way.
8 Mudjin Harbour, Middle Caicos
A 5 km slice of coastline along the north of Middle Caicos, Mudjin Harbour is one of the most photographed sites on the Turks and Caicos Islands. Breathtaking limestone cliffs overhang the half-moon lagoon and its arc of white sand beach. Dragon Island lies just offshore and visitors can access the tiny island via a sandbar at low tide. Under calm conditions snorkeling is also great here. Beach lovers can access Mudjin Harbour by car or by hiking Crossing Place Trail.
9 Grand Turk Lighthouse
Protecting the northern tip of the island, Grand Turk Lighthouse is an important landmark with an interesting history. The lighthouse dates to the mid 19th century and was transported piece by piece to the island from Britain. It was rebuilt at this location and stands alongside the lighthouse keeper's house, both of which are protected as historic sites by the National Trust. From the lighthouse, visitors can wander a panoramic cliff-top trail to a secluded beach. Look for whales during February and March.
10 Turks and Caicos National Museum
Housed in one of the oldest stone buildings on the islands, the Turks and Caicos National Museum chronicles the country's life and offers the world's only gallery dedicated to the indigenous Lucayans. Visitors can also view remnants of the Molasses Reef wreck, the oldest in the Western Hemisphere. One of the most interesting exhibits is the collection of messages in bottles that have washed ashore from all over the world. Little ones will love the children's gallery. Next door, the botanical garden features examples of native and imported plants.
11 Gibbs Cay
A short boat trip from the eastern coast of Grand Turk, uninhabited Gibbs Cay offers excellent opportunities for snorkeling coral reefs and feeding stingrays in the shallow waters surrounding the beach. Many cruise ship visitors pop over for the day and enjoy a picnic lunch. Gibbs Cay is also home to a large population of seabirds.
12 Turks and Caicos Diving
The Turks and Caicos Islands are surrounded by one of the most extensive coral reef systems in the world. Excellent visibility, unspoiled reefs, abundant marine life, and quality dive services make the Turks and Caicos Islands an award winning dive destination. Shipwrecks old and new are sprinkled throughout these waters and the islands are famous for their exceptional wall diving – especially off Grand Turk. Many of the dive sites are accessible from shore. Under the National Parks Ordinance, large areas have been set aside as marine parks with mooring buoys at all dive sites to avoid anchor damage.
13 Salt Cay
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Salt Cay is a time capsule from the days "when Salt was king". This historic island was once the world's largest producer of salt, the mainstay of the Turks and Caicos economy from the late 1600s until the early 1960s.
Today donkeys, wild cattle, and iguanas far outnumber the human inhabitants. Seclusion seekers come here to relax on the white sand beaches, dive or snorkel the coral reefs, learn about the island's fascinating history, and spot humpback whales on their annual migrations from late January through early April. What little development exists on Salt Cay is found in Balfour. The key attraction here is The White House, a stately salt-merchant's manor, built in 1835 with ballast stone and furnished with antiques.
14 Cheshire Hall, Providenciales
Preserved by the National Trust, Cheshire Hall is one of the main historic attractions on the island of Providenciales. The 200 year-old ruins of this cotton plantation offer spectacular views over "Provo". Knowledgeable guides lead tours around the site giving visitors a glimpse of the challenges faced by the plantation owners, Thomas Stubbs and his brother Wade, as they battled soil depletion, drought, and hurricanes. A few cotton plants still survive among the ruins.