Family Vacations to Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
|Chalk Sound National Park's clear waters and tiny islets offer tranquil natural surroundings (Getty)|
The Turks and Caicos consist of some 40 cays and islands, eight of which are inhabited. Two main clusters form the nation: the Turks group, which includes Grand Turk and Salt Cay, and the Caicos group, which includes Providenciales (Provo), North Caicos, and Middle (Grand) Caicos. The islands' beaches and healthy reefs lure families looking for a slow-paced, beach-centered getaway with eco-adventure outings.
Now a popular tourist spot, the Turks and Caicos are no longer an off-the-beaten-path destination. Cruise ships dock on Provo, Ritz-Carlton will debut a hotel and villas on West Caicos in 2008, and Fairmont plans to open a condominium resort on North Caicos in 2009. Along Provo's spectacular Grace Bay Beach, 12 miles of silky, white sands edge clear, turquoise waters. Of course, developers are constructing condominiums along this stretch, but despite the rise in development, Grace Bay Beach retains a special allure and plenty of space for swimming, sunning, and strolling.
While walking the beach, keep an eye out for Jojo, a bottlenose dolphin and the Turks and Caicos' unofficial ambassador. Apparently he prefers the people of Grace Bay to his pod. On a day sail to a nearby reef, you might catch Jojo playfully looping through the water beside your catamaran.
Situated along Provo's north coast, the Princess Alexandra Marine National Park lies just off Grace Bay Beach's shore. A few dive sites feature spur-and-groove reefs with walls that drop to around 95 feet. You'll find snorkeling spots near Grace Bay Beach and along the reef between Provo and Little Water Cay. Big Blue Unlimited, one of Provo's outfitters, offers diving, snorkeling, and kayaking outings on Provo and other islands. Another attraction, Caicos Conch Farm, the Caribbean's only such facility, demonstrates the transformation of the popular shell-dweller from larval state to white-shelled beauty.
Currently among the least developed of the islands, Middle Caicos, a 15-minute flight from Provo, attracts tourists with its caves. Arrange a guide ahead of time to view such underground spots as Conch Bar Caves and Indian Cave. Bicycle riding and kayaking are popular on North Caicos, a 30-minute boat ride from Provo. On Big Blue Unlimited's guided kayak trips on Bottle Creek visit remote beaches. North Caicos also features the largest flock of pink flamingos in the Turks and Caicos. Many can be seen at Flamingo Pond and Mud Hole Pond. The hand-woven straw baskets still crafted on North Caicos make great souvenirs or gifts.
Tip: For a true taste of Provos, head for Blue Hills, a community on the island's northwest coast, and mingle with the locals at Smokey's on the Bay, a popular restaurant. Try a traditional Saturday breakfast of boiled fish and johnny cakes served with pigs feet sauce and stewfish, or if that's a little too local, come for the Wednesday night fish fry with grilled conch and roasted corn served to the tunes of live reggae or Bahamian bands.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication