The Turks and Caicos Islands are a British Overseas Territory only 37 miles long and all together consist of 40 islands and cays, of which only 12 are inhabited. There are two main islands, Grand Turk (Turks Islands) and Providenciales (Caicos Islands). These islands are 575 miles south-east from Florida and 90 miles north of the island of Hispaniola. Turks and Caicos is technically located in the Atlantic Ocean and not the Caribbean. There are approximately 31,000 residents (2012 census) and they welcome about 450,000 Air travel and 650,000 cruise ship tourists per year.
The currency used in the island is the US dollar and the primary spoken language is English (although Haitian Creole and Spanish are also spoken by minorities). Daylight savings time is observed and they are in the Eastern Time Zone. The islands are an overseas territory of the United Kingdom.
Click on the area’s name for hotels and activity ideas
Turks and Caicos Islands
- Caicos Islands
- Turks Islands
Before Christopher Columbus set foot on the island of Grand Turk during the journey to the new world in 1492, the island was inhabited by Taino and Lucayan Tribes. These earlier settlers left behind a rich heritage and new words (Canoe, Caribbean, Caicos). The early inhabitants also left behind the names of the island. The indigenous Turk’s head catcus named Turks island, while Lucayan term “caya hico” meaning string of islands named Caicos.
For about 700 years, the Tanio and Lucayan Tribes were the sole residents on the islands (particularly settling on Grand Turk and the Middle Caicos). The people here were skilled gardeners, farmer and fisherman. However, upon arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, the Lucayan tribe disappeared causing the islands to be sparsely populated for about 30 years. During this time, the salt industry was booming. Many Bermudians would rake the beaches of Turks and Caicos and taken back to Bermuda. This salt was used for cooking and preserving food.
The French and Spanish captured the island for a brief time during 1706. Four years following this capture, it was reclaimed by the British (along with the rest of the Bermuda islands). However, during the years it primary became a haven for pirates and British Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution. In 1766, Turks and Caicos became a part of the Bahamas colony and was placed under the Bahamian Government. The governor of The Bahamas oversaw affairs from 1965 to 1973. Finally in 1962, Jamaica won independence from Britain allowing Turks & Caicos then became a British Crown colony on its own and still is one today.
With Bahamian independence, the islands received a separate governor in 1973. Although independence was agreed upon for 1982, the policy was reversed and the islands are presently still a British overseas territory.
Around the early 1980’s, Turks and Caicos started to become a tourist destination. It is quickly becoming one the world’s most premier beach destinations. It is also becoming on the leading international investment centre for the offshore investor. Turks and Caicos today is a “zero tax” jurisdiction and doesn’t have any taxes on income, capital gains, corporate profits, inheritance or estates.
The Turks and Caicos Islands are arid compared with many other islands in the Caribbean, yet remain a tropical climate. Summer monsoons (thunderstorms) are common, though rainfall amounts are less than other islands in the region.
Summers are hot and muggy, with daytime temperatures in the 80sF-low 90sF, and nights between 75-82F. However, the trade winds keep the humidity from getting as high as they would in other Caribbean regions; furthermore, since the island is dry relative to elsewhere in the Caribbean, the humidity isn’t as high. The monsoon season (rainy season) is typically from May-October. Sea temperatures generally are in the 80sF at this time.
Winters are pleasant and dry, with daytime temperatures in the 70sF and 80sF, and nighttime temperatures in the 60sF; however, a few nights a year, the nighttime temps will drop into the 50sF during an Arctic blast of cold air from up north. The sea temperatures generally are in the low-to-mid 70sF during the dry season (November-April).
American Airlines is a popular carrier which schedules flights from many US cities to Providenciales International Airport (IATA: PLS). During the winter months, American Airlines offers 3 daily flights from Miami and one daily from New York (JFK). Delta offers 6 flights a week from Atlanta (excluding Tuesday and offering 2 on Saturdays). US Airways also offers direct flights from Charlotte and weekend flights from Philadelphia and Boston. Air Canada offers direct flights from Toronto on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, from Montreal on Thursdays and Ottawa on Mondays British Airways offers flights to London. WestJet Airlines and Air Canada offer flights to Toronto. The domestic airline, Intercaribbean has flights within the Caribbean (Jamaica, Bahamas, Haiti, Dominican Republic]
Despite its grandiose name, Grand Turk JAGs McCartney International Airport (IATA: GDT) doesn’t have scheduled international flights. In North and South Caicos there are limited entry facilities, while all of the other islands have domestic airports. However, East and West Caicos are uninhabited and they do not have an airport.
A valid passport is required for all US citizens. Also, you must clear immigration at Providenciales in order to go to another island of the Turks and Caicos group.
Many of the visitors who visit the island arrive by boat. This is because many cruise lines are now adding the islands to their list of destinations. All cruise lines arrive at the Grand Turk Cruise Center in Grand Turk.
If you choose to take a personal or smaller vessel, a number of facilities are available in Providenciales. However, you must call ahead before docking. Their are also marinas in Provo, where you can dock. On the South Side, Sappodilla Bay, is the anchorage location for sail boats.It is easy to sail to the Turks and Caicos from the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas or Cuba; so long as you have an ocean-going vessel. A small boat will do well simply cruising around the island chain, but to cross the open ocean, something about 36 feet or larger is best.
If you are using a private vessel or sailboat, customs and immigrations must be cleared. When using a sailboat, customs have to be arranged in advanced, while South Caicos and Grand Turk have government buildings on location.
Taxis are widely available at all airports and seaports as well as throughout the island. Many of the taxis drivers can also act as a personal tour guide and show you undiscovered island attractions.
Rental cars, motor scooters and jeeps are available in Providenciales and Grand Turk. There is a government tax for all hired cars ($15) and motor scooters ($5). Major rental companies include, Avis, Budget, Hertz, Rent a Buggy, National, and Tropical Auto Rental.
When in Salt Cay, you can rent a golf cart! North and Middle Caicos have their own rental companies you can use, as well as, Grand Turk. If interested, bicycles are almost always available at all locations. Remember, in Turks and Caicos, you are to drive on the LEFT side of the road.
The beaches of TCI are world famous. Grace Bay in Providenciales is fantastic! The bird watching is excellent due to several migratory species, and the seasonal whale migration past Salt Cay is worth seeing if you’re here in the early months of the year.
The islands have fabulous beaches throughout, in particular, the award winning Grace Bay. There also is a variety of fun, non-beach things that there are to do. You can scuba dive, snorkel, sail, boat, parasail, fish, go on tours, go to spas and salons, golf, shop, and gamble. Each island has their own activities as well. Below are a few activities that are available on the islands.
- Provo Golf Club has an 18 Hole Championship Golf Course on Providenciales which holds an annual Amateur Tournament. It hosted the Caribbean Amateur Open in 1999 and 2009.
There is a collection of different things to do while on the island. You can shop at boutiques and visit museums and show rooms. There are also a few “touristy” shops, food stores, liquor shops, banks and pharmacies. Throughout all the islands there are a variety of local stores that have a collection of varying unique jewelry and hand-made gifts.
The Saltmills plaza and Regent Village in Grace Bay are generally considered to be the premier shopping plazas on the island of Provenciales (or Provo as it is often called).
There are a total of 81 restaurants on the islands. However, many of the restaurants are on the island of Providenciales. Not that many years ago, local island tables did not know what was going to be on the menu for dinner until the fishing boats brought in their catch of the day. Today the Turks and Caicos Islands feature fine and imaginative cuisine and world class chefs.
Rum punch is famous!
Throughout the islands there are a variety of different places to stay. You can choose to be at an all inclusive, a resort suite condo, or a private villa or inn. These hotels also offer wonderful dining experiences. Many of these hotels offer are corporate-business rates as well including internet access and fax services. At almost all hotels you can ask if there are any “packages” available such as, hotel and dive packages. There are a total of 143 accommodations throughout the islands but all individual listings of lodgings are to be found on the specific destination pages where they are physically located.
Work permits are relatively easily obtained for foreigners – although this does take quite a few months to process. Many jobs are designed for “Belongers” only. Belongers are people that have TCI citizenship which is not easily obtained. Work permits are applied through agencies on the island and require proof of citizenship, proof of employment, proof of residence on the island, and are then ratified by passing an HIV test. This test is safely and cleanly performed at the local clinic for $100. After a work permit has been issued, your employer may ask you to apply for “National Insurance”.
Few work permits are issued for specific jobs. Example, as of 2007 only 5 work permits on the island were held for photographers. Typical cost for this profession was around USD2,500, renewable every six months. There are discounts (through agencies) for one year permits. A work permit for a Clerk position is $500 for every six months, with the same discount structure.
It can take up to 6 months to actually have the work permit in hand, with enforcement being slack unless you are in direct competition with a Belonger.
Certain jobs on the island are deemed unfit for non-Belongers to apply for: banking, civil servants, and boat operators are specific jobs that fall under this rule.
Turks and Caicos have one of the lowest crime rates and highest crime-solved rates in the Caribbean. Any problems that occur should be reported to the Royal Turks and Caicos Police immediately. While the islands are extremely safe, make sure to exercise common sense. Don’t leave valuables in plain view, and always lock your car when leaving it, and lock your dwelling (hotel) when you are not in it. By taking simple precautions it will prevent the loss of cash, jewelry and identification. Thieves target mopeds and motorcycles, so be sure that you lock yours up properly. Also, be aware that Islanders can be very aggressive drivers, so it is best to use caution when crossing or driving on the roads.
Recently, a modern hospital system was built on the islands that is managed by InterHealth Canada. The facilities are located on Providenciales (Cheshire Hall Medical Centre) and Grand Turk (Cockburn Town Medical Centre). These health centres include emergency centres, dental care, dialysis, internal medicine, surgical, orthopaedic, obstetric and endoscopic procedures, physiotherapy and diagnostic imaging. Currently the islands are working on getting in-home hospice care. There are also many community cares throughout the islands.
The Turks and Caicos have a few fresh water reserves at ground level. Therefore, most water comes from either wells or cisterns that have collected rainwater. Cistern water is almost always safe to drink, but unless well water is purified, it could be contaminated or have unpleasant taste. It is generally a good idea to use bottled water when possible, but tap water can be used if necessary. The beaches are very soft and warm and welcoming.
Islanders are very kind people and believe in practising good manners and exercising respect. Greeting people with a friendly saying such as “Hello” and “Good Afternoon.”
Shorts are to be worn in town and on the beach during the day. because it is so sunny, it is advised to wear sunglasses and sunhats. In the evening, specifically winter, you are advised to wear a light sweater or jacket. When eating, it is not formal but you are expected to dress nicely (men- polos and dress shorts, women- dresses or dress slacks).
Also, public nudity is illegal all throughout the island.
In recent years, there has been talk about a union with Canada. Many islanders are bitterly divided on the subject, and awkward situations can arise when the subject is brought up. It is best to avoid this subject unless you’re with friends and family whom you know.
Content copyleft courtesy of the ever wonderful wikitravel.org.