Old-Time Caribbean/Modern-Day LuxuryIf you like your Caribbean a little old-fashioned alongside unmistakable luxury, the Turks and Caicos are your ticket to paradise.
National costumes at their finest
The Turks and Caicos consist of 40 islands and cays in the British West Indies and are about 575 miles southeast of Miami. Only eight of the islands are populated, including the main island of Providenciales, commonly known as Provo. High-end condo and resort development along the 12-mile strip of Grace Bay Beach has blossomed in the last decade, to say the least, but traditional Caribbean flair is never too far away.
Provo isn’t on the same paparazzi radar as St. Bart’s and other über-glam islands — nor on the spring breaker’s, for that matter — so visitors enjoy a quiet refuge with easy seclusion. Since the Turks and Caicos are a British Overseas Territory, Provo has the unmistakable albeit faint air of being British, yet is very Americanized — and still retains the charm of the Caribbean.
A local conch farm
“The clean, clear water and the laid-back ‘limin’ it [translation: hanging out] attitude is what makes the Turks and Caicos,” says Michael Connors, author of British West Indies Style. He suggests visitors spend ample time wandering around Grace Bay. Connors also recommends springing for a day trip to the less-populated islands of Grand Turk and Salt Cay, or spending at least a night or two at Parrot Cay, a former pirate hideaway that is now a breathtaking five-star private-island resort.
On Provo proper, Amanyara long ago made a name for itself by combining seaside luxury with an Eastern feel, but it went one better in 2007 by launching the Amanyara Villas, where each private home comes staffed with a live-in butler and chef. The Tuscany on Grace Bay is a small boutique hotel with 30 luxury three-bedroom suites on the east end of Grace Bay. It’s the last property on the row, so the beach is quieter and more secluded than others nearby.
The Grace Bay Club has long been the kind of place that’s made repeat guests swear they’d never stay anywhere else. Now they have good reason to, sort of: In February 2010, Grace Bay unveiled The Veranda Resort, a fully-inclusive resort with eight private oceanfront cottages in addition to hotel-style accommodations and suites.
Amazing Amanyara villas
When it comes to food, Provo surprises: It’s perhaps one of the only islands in the Caribbean to specifically outlaw fast-food franchises. Why anyone would crave fast food in a land where conch is prepared three ways from Sunday boggles the mind, as evidenced by the palate-pleasing Da Conch Shack, a scruffy but obligatory Provo institution. Place your order at the window, claim a picnic table, sip rum, and rock to the reggae tunes while the Shack’s conch magicians do their stuff, dishing out ceviche — my favorite — sautéed conch, or deep-fried fritters. For something a little more formal — relatively speaking of course; after all, this is the Caribbean — head for Simba restaurant at the Turks & Caicos Club for curried conch or tuna carpaccio. Interestingly enough, almost every restaurant I encountered on Provo serves up some variation of caprese salad, that Italian stalwart with tomato, fresh mozzarella, a few specks of torn basil leaf, and a drizzle of olive oil.
I don’t know of any other place in the Caribbean where locals and visitors outright boast about their supermarket, but they do on Provo. The Graceway IGA is a quick bike ride away from the resorts on Grace Bay and is best described as a cross between Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.
To get moving, if you crave something besides parasailing or snorkeling, longtime outfitter Big Blue Unlimited will instruct you in the fine art of stand-up paddleboarding. And while nobody heads to the Turks and Caicos for the Casablanca Casino, with 12 game tables and 85 slot machines. Vegas it’s not, but it’s still a hoot.
A beach bed at the lovely Veranda Resort
Shopping on Provo is like the food: a handful of intimate choices with lots of local flavor. Irish expat Anna Bourne launched Anna’s Gallery to display her own tropical silk paintings of fish and frogs alongside high-end jewelry and one-of-a-kind crafted scrapbooks.
Conch World has the distinction of being the world’s only commercial conch farm. Take the tour, which starts in a rudimentary gift getting the full spread of holding tanks and ocean “pastures” that can hold up to two million conchs.
The Turks and Caicos have a way of hooking you when you least expect it. Provo is small but sweet, and visitors will find a throwback to yesteryear that they didn’t even know they were looking for. From conchs to casinos, along with a big old-fashioned dose of Caribbean hospitality, these islands belong on your must-visit list.
Grace Bay Club
The Tuscany on Grace Bay
The Veranda Resort
Da Conch Shack
Big Blue Unlimited
Turks and Caicos Tourism