14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in the Turks and Caicos Islands
Lying off the southeastern tip of the Bahamas, the 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 40 islands, where water sports, nature trails, iguana reserves, underground caves, and dazzling seascapes are the main draws. Fishing is also excellent, and from January through April, you can spot humpback whales on their annual migration route around these unspoiled islands.
The Turks and Caicos Islands are a British Overseas Territory, and only eight of the islands are inhabited. 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 its spectacular Grace Bay is one of the planet's most ravishing beaches. Middle Caicos, the largest of the Turks and Caicos Islands, has the most dramatic coastline, with limestone cliffs plunging to turquoise bays.
1 Grace Bay, Providenciales
Stretching for more than eight kilometers, Grace Bay is one of the best beaches in the Caribbean. Powdery sand meets crystal-clear water in striking shades of blue along this exquisite slice of coast, and coral reefs shimmer just offshore. Part of the Princess Alexandra Marine Park, Grace Bay Beach is the focal point for tourism on the island of Providenciales. Snorkelers can view the rich marine life at The Bight Reef and Smith's Reef in the underwater park, and you can easily access them both from shore. The bay is also the playground of "JoJo" the wild bottlenose dolphin, who interacts with humans and has been declared a national treasure.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Turks and Caicos
2 Diving & Snorkeling
Diving or snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of the Turks and Caicos Islands are among the most popular things to do on the islands. Surrounded by one of the most extensive coral reef systems in the world, the islands sit on a vast underwater plateau with dramatic drop-offs not far from shore, making it an excellent destination for wall dives - especially in Grand Turk. Many of the top snorkel and dive sites are accessible from shore, and shipwrecks old and new are sprinkled throughout these waters.
Another interesting feature of the islands is the 35-kilometer-wide Columbus Passage east of Grand Turk, which separates the Turks from the Caicos islands and is a popular migration route for marine animals. Depending on the time of year, divers can see whales, dolphins, turtles, and rays here. Add to all this excellent visibility, unspoiled reefs, abundant marine life, and quality dive services, and it's no wonder this is one of the best diving destinations in the Caribbean. Most of the diving and snorkeling tours operate out of Providenciales, Grand Turk, and Salt Cay.
3 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 sparkling waters are tiny green-topped rock islands, which are home to many iguanas. About a 20- to 30-minute drive away from Grace Bay, the area is a beautiful place to take photographs. You can rent kayaks or stand up paddleboards to explore the clear waters or hop aboard a pontoon cruise.
Address: Chalk Sound Rd, Chalk Sound, Providenciales
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. Beautiful Taylor Bay Beach is also nearby, but access is currently restricted.
Address: End of South Dock Rd, North of South Dock Chalk Sound, Providenciales
5 Little Water Cay Tour
About 456 meters across the sea from Providenciales, Little Water Cay (locally known as "Iguana Island") is home to rare and endangered rock iguanas, and you can hop aboard a boat tour to see these friendly creatures. The iguanas once roamed throughout the Turks and Caicos Islands, but domestic dogs and cats all but wiped them out - except on Little Water Cay where they are protected. The National Trust has developed two boardwalk trails that loop around the island's north and south side, so you can view the iguanas without disturbing their natural habitat. After you've had your wildlife fix, you can take a dip in the turquoise water or relax on the beautiful white-sand beaches. It's also possible to kayak to the island, however you need to be careful of the strong currents in the channel.
6 Swim with Stingrays at 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 passengers also visit for the day and enjoy a picnic lunch. Gibbs Cay is also home to a large population of seabirds.
7 Crossing Place Trail Hike, 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 eight kilometers 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, past beaches, cave formations, and inland bush, with gorgeous views of the coastline along Mudjin Harbour and Norbellis Coves. It is fairly exposed, so be sure to bring plenty of water and sun protection, and it's also a good idea to wear sturdy shoes and long pants, as the trail is rocky and overgrown in some areas.
8 Mudjin Harbour, Middle Caicos
A five-kilometer 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 you 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 Pine Cay
This gorgeous 800-acre private island, a 15-minute boat ride from Providenciales, was once a hideout for pirates and is now a hideout for affluent nature lovers who want to escape the stress of their busy lives. The island has no phones, TVs, or cars in order to preserve its peaceful ambience. One of the island's best natural features is its magnificent four-kilometer-long stretch of beach that rivals Grace Bay in beauty. The only way to stay here is as a guest of The Meridian Club Turks and Caicos, an exclusive environmentally-sensitive resort. However, with 24-hour advance notice (and subject to availability), you can purchase a day pass and visit the island for lunch. This also entitles you to use some of the resort's facilities and enjoy the stunningly beautiful beach, excellent snorkeling, and nature trails.
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.
10 Salt Cay
Nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, 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, chickens, 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 Town. The key tourist attraction here is The White House, a stately salt-merchant's manor, built in 1835 with ballast stone and furnished with antiques.
11 Conch Bar Caves National Park, Middle Caicos
Conch Bar Caves National Park protects 24 kilometers 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.
12 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. Many visitors like to pat the friendly donkeys here, and a small zipline is also nearby. From the lighthouse, you can wander a panoramic cliff-top trail to a secluded beach. Look for whales during February and March.
Address: Lighthouse Rd, North Ridge, Grand Turk
13 Turks and Caicos National Museum, Grand Turk
Housed in one of the oldest stone buildings on the islands, the Turks and Caicos National Museum chronicles the country's history, covering topics like slavery, the salt industry, and the natural environment. You 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. Next door, the botanical garden features examples of native and imported plants.
Address: Front St, Guinep House, Grand Turk
14 Cheshire Hall, Providenciales
Preserved by the National Trust, Cheshire Hall, on the island of Providenciales, is a great way to get a sense of the island's history. Knowledgeable guides lead tours around the 200 year-old ruins of this cotton plantation, sharing stories about the challenges faced by the owners, Thomas Stubbs and his brother Wade, as they battled soil depletion, drought, and hurricanes. A few cotton plants still survive among the ruins.
Other Must-See Islands near Turks & Caicos
Northwest of Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas are a string of 700 islands and more than 2,000 small cays that are also home to some of the best beaches in the Caribbean. To the west is Cuba and the popular resort destination of Varadero. For more tropical beauty, inspiring beaches, and a Spanish-Caribbean flair, see our articles on the Dominican Republic, including the country's best beaches and the capital city of Santo Domingo.