Turks and Caicos Islands
The eight islands and 40 small cays comprising the Turks and Caicos islands are known for their lack of commercialism, wide variety of underwater life, 230 miles of white-sand beaches and 22 nature reserves. Located southeast of Nassau, halfway between Miami and Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos is separated from the Bahamas (it nearest neighbor) by a 40-mile-wide ocean passage.
Providenciales (a.k.a. Provo) is the most widely visited destination on Turks and Caicos, with sugary white beaches, great sunsets and plenty of diving.
Provoís 298-room Club Med Turquoise really put Turks and Caicos on the tourism map when it opened on Grace Bay Beach in the mid-1980s for active singles and couples. The once isolated island is now home to two others well-known all-inclusive resorts: Sandalsí Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort and Spa and Allegro Resortís Turquoise Reef Resort.
Except for those in Provo, most of the accommodations in Turks and Caicos are small hotels and guest houses. Grand Turk is the countryís capital, with eight hotels. A total of 2,000 rooms are spread throughout the islands, although the nation would like to reach a total of 5,000 rooms to become more dynamic and competitive, says Caesar Campbell, director-tourism for the Turks and Caicos Islands Tourist Board.
While Provo offers the most resorts, other islands in the chain are starting to emerge with hotels. Take the 1,000-acre uninhabited island of Parrot Cay, for example. On December 1, 1999 the upscale Parrot Cay Resort opened, featuring 3.2 miles of white-sand beaches. The understated property includes 56 rooms and six villas - two of which have private swimming pools. Through April 15, 1999, nightly double occupancy rates range from $540 for a deluxe garden room to $1,640 for a two-bedroom beach house. Rates include full American breakfast and dinner daily, along with roundtrip airport transfers. To reach Parrot Cay, guests fly to Provo and transfer by private speedboat. Later in the spring Parrot Cay will open a plush Asian-style spa, with body treatments of herbs, spices and flowers directly imported from Asia.
Beyond Parrot Cay, Grand Turk and Provo, other islands are being developed. While no construction date has been set, plans are being discussed to give uninhabited East Caicos a $350 million development that includes a cruise port that can handle up to eight ships. The island would also offer an as-yet-unnamed five-star hotel, watersports center and golf course.
Turks and Caicos attract beach lovers, scuba divers, snorkelers and ecotourists looking for an alternative to more commercial Caribbean destinations.
Beyond watersports and beach activities, Turks and Caicos offers a number of offbeat and interesting attractions. The National Museum on Grand Turk features artifacts left by African, Bermudian, French, Spanish and North American settlers over the centuries.
Also noteworthy is the Arawak Indian settlement on Pine Cay, a favorite of archeologists; Cheshire Hall, the ruins of a late 18th-century plantation greathouse on Provo; and the small towns of Cockburn, Balfour and Turtle Cove.
Turks and Caicosí reef system is 65 miles across and 200 miles long, drawing diving enthusiasts from many points across the world. Provo is ideal for diving, with its one-mile vertical coral wall just off shore, while Grand Turk offers miles of drop-off diving. South Caicos provides many ledge and wall dives, and has also become the heart of the countryís fishing industry.
Middle Caicos is the largest of the Turks and Caicos Islands and has the most dramatic coastline of all, with scalloped and secluded beaches beneath its towering limestone cliffs and caves. The caves are inhabited by four species of bats and giant owls whose wings span an impressive five feet. Visitors can explore these caves with a local guide.
Salt Cay is the least populated island, with old Bermudian-style buildings, windmills and salt sheds still standing. Through April, ecotourists can visit Salt Cay to spot humpback whales. Birdwatchers can check out North Caicos or watch gentle rock iguanas on Little Water Cay, home of a new nature trail program and one of 33 nature reserves on the Turks and Caicos islands. Several tour operators offer trips to Little Water Cay and schedule full-day excursions to the sparsely developed islands of North and Middle Caicos, where visitors view a pink flamingo colony and enjoy a beach barbecue. Unusual cruises offered once a month are another interesting experience. These take passengers to the Caicos Bank for a look at phosphorescent marine worms that light the waters, about an hour after sunset, in an unusual mating ritual. The best known natural attraction of these islands is JoJo, a wild dolphin and the mascot of islands.
Elsewhere, off Salt Cay, wreck divers in Turks and Caicos can explore the Endymion, a ship that went down in a storm in 1790, leaving behind cannons and anchors for divers to view. One of the more unusual dive sites is visible from the air - that is the "Blue Hole", a depression hundreds of feet deep in the reef off Middle Caicos filled with sharks, rays and groupers. At Stingray Heaven, a Grand Turk attraction, visitors can snorkel with stingrays and sharks.
More adventurous guests will enjoy one of Turks and Caicosí newest attractions - tandem skydiving . Provoís Rainbow Flyers allow clients to jump up 10,000 feet while harnessed to a qualified skydiver.
In Summer 1998, Allegro Resorts purchased the 247-room Turquoise Reef Resort . The hotel reopened in December 1998 as Allegro Resort Turks and Caicos. The chain plans spend $20 million on renovations and 200 new guest rooms. The resort will also create new public areas, meeting space for 300 people and a supervised childrenís programs. Phase two is planned for completion in the fall, with the edition of a fitness center and sports bar.
In the meantime, construction will begin in 1999 on a casino at the Beaches 224-room resort. The casino will represent Sandalsí first gaming facility, and will take about a year to complete. The casino will not be a part of the chainís all-inclusive program - it will be a separate entity near resortís entrance. By winter Beaches will have 76 new rooms and a second Kiddie Center, with a softball field, miniature golf, volleyball, pool with waterslides, and a disco. Another 96 rooms will be built early this year, for a total room count of 396.
The Sands at Grace Bay opened with 39 one-, two- and three- bedroom luxury suites for couples and families. Introductory nightly rates through April 10, 1999 range from $195 for a studio to $675 for a three-bedroom oceanfront deluxe suites. By November an additional 30 suites, tennis court, swimming pool and new landscaping will be completed, followed by 15 more suites and a convenience store by December 2000. Current facilities include an oceanfront cabana-style restaurant and bar, dune deck leading to the beach, open-air lobby and hospitality area, watersports area, oceanfront pool, baby-sitting area and shuttle service to the restaurants.
Other luxury properties facing Grace Bay are the 83-unit Ocean Club and the 21-suite Grace Bay Club.
One the more moderately priced side, Comfort Suites Turks and Caicos opened last year with 100 rooms located across the road from Grace Bay Beach. Through April 11, daily winter rates range from $175 double for a Junior Suite to $195 for a junior suite with a balcony. From April 12-December 18, 1999 the same units are priced from $135 to $155. The rates include a daily breakfast and use of the propertyís facilities. Dive, golf and honeymoon packages are also offered.
Cuisine ranges anywhere from Caribbean to Mexican to Italian, and can be found at both resort establishments and free-standing restaurants. Menus also offer fresh fish and lobster.
American Airlines offers twice-daily service to Provo from Miami. Beaches Champagne Express offers non-stop service Sundays from New York and Philadelphia.
Last month Providenciales International Airport completed a $9 million expansion and improvement program. The facility has a new baggage carousel and expanded customs area as well as enlarged and upgraded domestic and international departure areas. As for the other islands in the Turks and Caicos, Bahamassair has twice weekly direct flights Thursdays and Mondays to grand Turk. Service to and from islands in the Caribbean is available on Turks and Caicos Airways, Interisland Airways and SkyKing.
Major Selling Points
Quiet stretches of white sands, a lack of commercialism, plenty of activities and a wide range accommodations are sure sellers for this destination.
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