By: AJ Williams
My husband, a bit of a nervous flyer, gripped my hand suddenly when we experienced what aviators refer to as a ‘Missed Approach’, which means the pilots couldn’t see the runway well enough to land, thanks to a rain storm that passed through. This is the tropics, after all, and the islands aren’t that big, so having a clear view of the runway is kind of critical! Fortunately, our able captain took the plane back up and we stayed in a holding pattern for 10 minutes or so until the storm passed and we then had a smooth touchdown. On a recent QuickTrip in search of sand & sun, we set off with some friends to the Turks & Caicos Islands for a week in Providenciales (Provo as it’s known), one of the 40 low lying coral islands that make up this archipelago.
Provo’s Grace Bay beach consistently ranks as one of the world’s best beaches and it’s easy to see why. It’s powdery white sand and crystal-clear turquoise water is breathtaking. My husband and our traveling companions explored the legendary diving and snorkeling, thanks to a 14 mile long barrier reef on the island’s north shore, and arguably some of the world’s best wall-diving. I’m not a diver, but thanks to modern technology (and a waterproof video camera) they came back & shared their incredible adventures! Off of Grand Turk, the country’s largest island, and home to the capital of Cockburn Town, sits a 2134 meter underwater wall. You’ll see stingrays, barracudas, eels, sea turtles and an incredible array of colorful fish. A few days after the full moon each month, you can even see the phosphorescent glow worms just after sunset. The coral is pristine, as the tour operators and locals alike practice a strict conservation policy. In fact, in Princess Alexandra national park, no sport or commercial fishing is permitted.
In Grace Bay, where we stayed, there were lots of options for accommodations, everything from the all-inclusive Club Med, to high end resorts and rental condos. If you opt to live like the locals and rent a condo, like we did, be prepared for sticker shock at the grocery store. As almost everything has to be brought in, the cost of food is very high. There are a few grocery stores off the beaten path which are slightly more affordable. Dining out is also an investment, but the quality of the food is very good. We even found some great ‘street food’ at a few tents set up with bbq’s – drool-worthy! A local ‘chicken shack’ was affordable and probably the best fried chicken we’ve ever tried!
The most famous dish in TCI is Conch. It’s served a multitude of ways, all of them delicious. I made it my mission to try Conch as often as I could, and enjoyed it in a ceviche, a salad, fritters and of course, ‘Cracked Conch’ a staple on most menus. It’s slightly coated & fried (think calamari) and served with a remoulade type sauce. Da Conch Shack is a local institution, and a great way to spend the afternoon at the beach.
Make sure your visit includes a Thursday, as the ‘Fish Fry’ is an absolute must! Locals and visitors alike congregate in an open air festival/market that has fantastic street food and live music. Local performers are dressed in colourful costumes and everyone gets in on the fun. We noshed on lobster tacos and beer while strolling the artisan vendors and dancing to the music!
We rented a car while there (as this is the British West Indies, be prepared for driving on the left). In spite of our trepidation, it was actually quite easy to get used to. There are no street lights on the island, just roundabouts which work very well.
And now, a word about the national beverage…..Rum Punch. While I was busy enjoying the Conch dishes everywhere and the local (and very good) beer, Turks Head, my husband made it his mission to try the rum punch at many of the great beach bars. The recipes at each spot vary slightly, but they’re all delicious! Some of them (like the one we enjoyed at Da Conch Shack) packed a real punch, but nothing else refreshes quite like it while you’re in the Caribbean!
The people of the Turks & Caicos Islands are warm and friendly, always quick with a smile and genuine laugh or an enthusiastic ‘Ya Ya’! It’s not as commercialized as many of the other Caribbean destinations, which is why it was one of the most relaxing ‘QuickTrips’ we’ve had in ages – the best way to enjoy Turks is with a good book, a beach chair with a view of the azure water and your toes in the sand. Oh, and a nice, tall rum punch of course. YaYa!