Surrounded by water so blue that it almost glows neon, the Turks and Caicos Islands of the British West Indies ( BWI ) invite visitors to a vacation of leisure, adventure, and excitement. Remove yourself from the sound of motorboats and loud beach parties, where bustling tourist crowds dominate the boutiques and museums. While these islands indeed offer a few luxury resorts and plenty of sports and activities to enjoy, they remain quieter and less crowded than most other tropical tourist attractions.
Grand Turk, the capital of the Turks and Caicos, measures only seven miles long and just over one mile wide. This quiet, peaceful island contains several hotels and resorts, almost all of them offering dive packages. The stunningly beautiful Black Forest, a stunningly beautiful black coral formation with underwater cliffs and tunnels, lies about 300 yards out to sea. Cockburn Town, the financial hub of the island, offers many historical sights, such as one of the oldest stone buildings in the Turks and Caicos, the National Museum, which features the rich history of the Turks before and after European influence, a coral reef exhibit, and a gallery on Grand Turk's space exploration. A famous landmark, the Grand Turk Lighthouse stands to the north, more than 150 years old.
South of Grand Turk lies an even smaller island, Salt Cay, with a population of only 100. Wonderful dive sites abound in the surrounding waters. Plentiful coral formations offer a colorful natural adventure. See the underwater wreck of the HMS Endymion, a 140-foot wooden British warship that sank in 1790 and extremely popular among scuba enthusiasts. Balfour Town, home to most of the island's activity, offers a few hotels and shops. Mingle with the friendly locale at the restaurants and try the native cuisine, such as goat and conch. Visit the White House, former home of a wealthy salt merchant, and see the original 19th century furnishings.
The most developed of the Caicos Islands, Providenciales, or "Provo," offers a multitude of resorts, hotels, and shops. Stay at a hotel, or rent a villa near the beachfront so you can enjoy the lovely BWI scenery every day. Living accommodations range from simple and rustic to glitzy and high-end. But, no matter how luxurious these resorts get, they remain peaceful, far away from the other bustling tourist traps in the Caribbean.
Water sports in the Caicos include sailing and diving, with several chartering companies offering vessels and tours. The island's many reefs, warm weather, and crystal clear water make excellent snorkeling and diving spots. Fishing remains plentiful throughout the summer, and Provo holds the Caicos Classic Catch and Release Tournament each year. For great shopping, visit the Market Place, Central Square, or the markets near the beach resorts. Visit the many art galleries where local artists display their paintings and sculptures, inspired by the natural beauty around them.
Off the east shore of Providenciales lie three small cays, known as Little Water Cay, Parrot Cay, and Pine Cay. Small and mostly uninhabited, these places offer lush vegetation and a few living accommodations. Visit Parrot Cay, rumored to be a former hideout for the infamous pirate, Jack Rackham and his partners, Mary Reid and Anne Bonny. Relax and sunbathe on Pine Cay, home of one of the most beautiful beaches in this archipelago. Walk through the nature trails on Little Water Cay and see the rare rock iguanas.
North Caicos Island, predicted to be the next big tourism spot, makes a great retreat for nature lovers. The lushest of the Caicos Islands, North Caicos offers nature trails and wonderful bird-watching spots. Visit Flamingo Pond, where the pink birds nest. Sample the island life in Kew, the main settlement that includes a post office, restaurants, and the ruins of old plantations.
Middle Caicos reigns as the largest but the least developed in the chain. A lovely limestone ridge decorates the north shore and caves stand further inland. Tour the Conch Bar Caves and see the remarkable milky-white stalagmites and stalactites and underground lakes.
For breathtakingly beautiful beaches, visit South Caicos, the heart of the archipelago's fishing industry. Explore and swim the cool turquoise waters at Belle Sound or Long Bay. Visit some great snorkeling spots at the northern tip of the island and see the elkhorn and staghorn corals as well as many varieties of fish.
Wherever you choose to stay in the Turks and Caicos, comfort and beauty await. Enjoy the smaller, charming towns while relaxing on the lovely beaches, or visit the resorts on Provo and relish the quiet luxury. Have an exciting vacation full of sight-seeing and sporting, or do absolutely nothing and experience a great time either way on the Turks and Caicos BWI!