In terms of world events, not much ever happens on the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). Well there was a visit by a guy named Christopher Columbus, but I’ll get to that much later.
In modern times, the area gained some renown when U.S. astronaut John Glenn’s spacecraft splashed down near these islands after the first ever U.S.-manned space trip back in 1962.
We crashed at the Alexander Resort on Grace Bay Beach for five days upon our arrival at this stunning, peaceful spot in the British West Indies, south of the Bahamas, and just to the northeast of the Dominican Republic. Daytime activities were limited to walks on the beach, visits to the pool, and meals at the hotel’s restaurant overlooking the perfect green/turquoise water of TCI, which can best be described as a huge, limitless infinity pool.
Eventually we made our way to another small island in the archipelago where Keith Richards, Oprah Winfrey, and Bruce Willis sometimes hang their hats. Well, we didn’t run into them on Parrot Cay, but were treated like stars at the Como Shambhala Resort.
This is, in part, due to the highly serviceable staff, principally from Southeast Asia—in particular, Bali. So, in several ways, it’s like traveling to Bali without the long flight. Having a Balinese-trained staff translates into extremely cordial service, excellent cuisine, and a first-rate spa.
From Parrot Cay, it’s a five-minute boat ride to North Caicos, the second-largest island in this 40 Island country. We met our guide, Demitri Lightbourne from Big Blue Unlimited, at the Sandy Point landing spot and boarded a small bus. After driving several minutes, he saw a man walking along the road. “You’ll have to excuse the traffic,” Demitri quipped, “it’s the rush hour!”
Demitri, one laid-back guy, came up with a few more one-liners as we spent the day touring his home turf. He grew up at Kew, a tiny village we’d later visit.
Before heading to Wade’s Green Plantation back on North Caicos, we first took a dip in the rough waters at Mudjin Harbor. After cavorting for almost two weeks in the unbelievably still, turquoise waters of TCI, these were the first rough waters we experienced.
After a short dip in these rough seas that we enjoyed exclusively to ourselves, we were met with almost a deafening chorus of black crickets upon arrival at Wade’s Green Plantation.
In the stifling heat and humidity, it was hard to imagine that the slaves could have survived here year after year.
Demitri, without referring directly to his own family, indicated that some of the survivors from the Wade plantation would have built up his hometown of Kew. At 93-year-old Mrs. Susan Butterfield’s home on Kew, we had a simple, but wholesome chicken, turkey rice, and salad lunch. The dining room was simple in the extreme, with few decorations save a souvenir from Guyana. There was also a steady stream of ants making their way up and down the bathroom wall and no hot water.
Everyone ate in silence, drained by the physical and emotional strain of the plantation visit. I noticed the clock in the dining room showed 8:30 when we arrived and 8:30 when we left. Time seemed to stand still there, something that was true for much of our visit.
It would be almost impossible to visit the TCI without getting into some water sports. Snorkeling boats often land at your hotel on Grace Bay Beach (considered amongst the best in the world) and whisk you away to spots just off the deep coral reef waters, where water is clean, skies sun-filled, and fish abundant.
Warning: Wear a sun protective shirt; you’ll save your skin and, unlike cotton T-shirts, they dry quickly.
It is very easy to visit the mangroves between Provo and Parrot Cay by renting sea kayaks. Our Big Blue guide Jason knew mangroves inside and out, having led similar tours in Fiji, his home base. The mangrove is a living organism, actually living off the salt, desalinizing the water, and providing a brackish water habitat. Mangroves themselves prevent erosion of the shore and can act as a barrier against tidal waves.
Within the mangroves, we spotted green heron, egrets, and Bahama mockingbirds. Baby lemon sharks hide in the complex mangrove root system.
The tour took us to Little Water Cay where a protected area has been set up for the endangered Turks and Caicos rock iguanas. You will also see curly-tailed lizards, commonly mistaken for lizards and bark anoles.
If you’re on the islands three to five days following a full moon, you may choose to take a night tour to go glowworm-observing. These florescent “worms” flash in shallow waters like shooting stars. Unspectacular entertainment, but worth it when you combine it with stargazing and a chance to go out on the ocean in the dark, far from the bright lights of Provo.
Another top resort, think Bill Gates style, is the Amanyara, the premier resort in the TCI. More perfect service anywhere on the islands is unlikely, as staff outnumbers guests three to one. There’s also the Bali-like atmosphere, as guests stay at individual pavilions. Meals are held in dining areas that are forever open to the sea, with expansive views of the Caribbean. Amanyara also is situated near some of the best diving areas in the world, near a pristine coral reef.
And it is near here that Christopher Columbus is thought to have landed during his first trip to the New World.
There is something truly eternal about a visit to TCI. Thinking back to the time we spent on Grace Bay, Parrot Cay, and at Amanyara, it was as though we had the whole place to ourselves. No one owns the beach on Grace Bay, with its dozens and dozens of resorts, so you can literally walk for hours, along what feels like your own, private, never-ending beach.
On Grace Bay, a must-visit is to the Anacaona Restaurant and the infinity bar there. The restaurant maintains it has the largest infinity bar in the Caribbean. But they forget to mention that the entire ocean beyond it is like one, huge infinity pool. Calm waves and the perfectly turquoise-colored water are forever gently lapping the beach.
Bruce Sach is a freelance writer who hails from Canada.
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