Family Vacations to Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos
|Grand Turk, capital of the Turks and Caicos, boasts a mix of British colonial architecture and colorful Caribbean charm (courtesy, Grand Turk Cruise Center)|
Grand Turk Highlights
- Snorkel and dive the Columbus Landfall Marine National Park.
- Look for pink flamingoes in the salt ponds.
- See the anchor of one of the oldest shipwrecks in the New World.
- Take a boat trip to Gibbs Cay for swimming, sunning, and snorkeling.
- Watch for migrating humpback whales from January through March.
Grand Turk, population 5,718, is an alluring anomaly. Even though the capital Cockburn Town serves as the governmental seat for the Turks and Caicos Islands, the village boasts more pink flamingoes and salt ponds than official buildings. Although just a 40-minute flight separates Providenciales (Provo), Turks and Caicos' tourist hub, from Grand Turk, the latter is small enough that the occasional donkey moseys down Front Street. The island generally sports a laid-back feel, except at the south end's Grand Turk Cruise Center with its 500,000-gallon swimming pool, and mega-Margaritaville (www.margaritaville.com/grandturk.php), 17,000 square feet of cafés and shops.
Peppered by scrub brush and cactus, the island looks plain, but just a quarter-mile off-shore a jewel of a coral reef runs the full length of Grand Turk. In the Columbus Landfall Marine National Park, the year-round abundance of fish, sponges, and turtles, plus the manta rays in summer dazzle snorkelers and divers. Popular sites include the Coral Garden's brain and star corals, McDonald's gold-speckled coral shaped like an arch, and the Black Forest, a 70-foot deep divers-only look at large, orange, elephant ear sponges.
With young snorkelers, take a guided boat trip to Gibbs Cay, a spit of land surrounded by turquoise waters. A few stingrays looking for hand-outs hang out off-shore, and big coral heads, sea fans, and schools of tropical fish abound at Gun Hill, the nearby reef. Gibbs Cay's soft sands serve as a beach break, but bring your own shade umbrella and plenty of sunblock, as there's little or no relief from the sun on this islet.
Stone walls and houses dating to the mid 19th century line historic Cockburn Town's narrow streets. A plaque in the courtyard before the post office commemorates the "First Landfall of Columbus in the New World, 12 October 1492." Grand Turk claims this honor, as do several other islands.
A browse through the Turks and Caicos National Museum reveals such treasures as a Lucayan paddle dating to 1100 A.D., and the anchor, swivel gun parts, and other artifacts from a Spanish ship that sank on the Molasses Reef, 15 miles south of Provo. The ship went down in 1515, making it one of the oldest known shipwrecks in the New World.
Tip: From January through March, 2,500 migrating humpback whales pass by Grand Turk and Salt Cay en route to their breeding grounds near the Dominican Republic.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication