If you like beaches, marine life, and turquoise water… and you have at least five thousand dollars to spare, the Turks and Caicos Islands are for you.
The water there really is a beautiful turquoise color like you see in Instagram photos, the people are very friendly and nice, and if you dream of getting away from it all in a tropical paradise, you’d be hard pressed to beat this place.
For you fact lovers, the Turks and Caicos Islands (know as TCI for short) are part of the Lucayan Archipelago of the Atlantic Ocean, which includes the TCI and the Bahamas. We were lucky enough to spend a week in Providenciales (known as Provo by the locals), which is in the northwest Caicos Islands. I wanted to talk about the real experience of our visit because I find that a lot of places gloss over or don’t mention some of the realities… realities I wish we’d known before we went.
Why do people come here?
Exclusivity. At the top of the list is the fact that this is a very expensive place to visit. Because it’s so expensive, it limits the people who can afford to vacation there. That in turn provides a quieter and more luxurious experience generally free of the raucous “Spring Break” crowd. That kind of exclusivity doesn’t come cheap, so if you’re a budget traveller, this may not be the place for you.
The reef and the beaches. The TCI have the third biggest coral reef system in the world and it’s really neat. The beaches are covered in soft, white sand, and the crowds are generally very small compared to most tourist destinations. As an example, we watched the sunset over the ocean twice and were one of only eight people total on the entire beach. It was nice. I shot this with my drone on our last night there:
Food exclusivity. There are no chain or fast food restaurants anywhere on the TCI. If you vacation here, you’ll have live without your daily Starbucks, but there are plenty of awesome local places. I’d also like to mention that the food on the island is excellent overall. Just about every meal we had was delicious, and much to my surprise, I had some of the best fajitas of my life at a restaurant on the beach called “Somewhere Café and Lounge.” You can see how turquoise the water is in the photo below.
The Marine Life. World-class is how I would describe it. In five days of snorkeling, we saw two species of ray, incredible amounts of fish, two species of shark, and an array of coral reef life. I saw this “little fish” on my second day snorkeling:
What’s good on the islands?
The weather. It’s beautiful. It’s sunny and about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 Celsius) almost all year.
The beaches. They are beautiful, white sand beaches with really turquoise water and nowhere near as many people as other places we’ve been.
The people. The islanders are very friendly, funny, and nice.
Biodiversity. If you like oceans and marine life… yes.
Excursions. There are some really cool things to do, from snorkeling and scuba diving, to parasailing, island hopping, kayaking through mangroves and more.
The quiet. You can easily find peaceful and quiet places to relax on the beach. You should also honor that quiet if you go there as this is not a place for loud, obnoxious people.
The food. The food was really good. Again, it’s pricey, but the meals are yummy.
What’s not good on the islands?
Walking if you’re not staying at a resort. We like to walk a lot. We’d read ahead of time that you don’t really walk on the TCI, but we tried it anyway. We discovered quickly that it’s not a good idea and people were right, it’s not safe. Why? It’s not only too hot to be out walking for an hour, but on the main roads, there aren’t any sidewalks to walk safely on. We walked a mile or two to the grocery store from our Airbnb, and I’ll post the video of that later so you can see for yourself. The road ran out of room on the shoulder, so we had to walk on the median, and then that narrowed to about a foot wide, so you can imagine it wasn’t safe. You can, of course, walk other places on the islands, like around Grace Bay, the beaches, the resorts, and shopping areas, but you really don’t want to walk around the rest of the island. You’ll want to rent a car or pay for a taxi.
The airport. Here’s something I haven’t seen other travel websites talk about. Flying in to the island is fine. You land, you get a cab, rental car, or someone picks you up, and off you go. Flying OUT of the island… can SUCK, and it can suck HARD.
Why can it suck so hard?
1) The airport is far too small for the traffic they have coming and going. There’s only one terminal for all flights into and out of Providenciales. This is normal for a lot of islands, but here it’s pretty crazy. Once you get through security, you’re all corralled into a large square room about the size of three or four average U.S. airport gates put together. It’s a space designed to hold about 200 to 300 people comfortably.
2) They schedule multiple flights at the same time without the infrastructure to manage it. On our day, there were six flights all leaving within one hour, and that meant there were about 500 to 600 (maybe more) people in a space designed for half that amount.
3) It’s hot and loud. If there was air conditioning running, you couldn’t feel it. There were a couple of huge four-foot wide fans trying to cool the place off, but not helping that much.
4) There aren’t enough seats for everyone. There’s an upstairs with a bar and a live band playing really loud cover songs, and you can get a drink and some mediocre bar food, but people aren’t generally in a good mood.
Now I could leave it here with a nice, tidy, itemized blog list, but instead, let me walk you through my personal experience and inner monologue:
Some of the flights were delayed. This is normal for the island and caused a backup. It started getting even hotter because we were there at the peak temperature part of the day. Everyone was sweating all over themselves and started to smell like a mixture of body odor, stale ocean, too much cologne and perfume, and bad breath.
Then our plane got delayed.
Everyone just wanted to go home, and did I mention it was hot? Because it was. And now all 600 people were trying to find a seat and getting more annoyed because certain people were taking up too many seats. There was one seat open and I asked the man if Jolene could sit there as it was empty. He looked at me, and said with a snobby tone, “My son is sitting there.”
His genius son was in fact sitting on the floor, playing with a toy car and finding great joy in a piece of old popcorn someone had left behind. Another drop of sweat rolled down my face as he turned away from me and wouldn’t give up the seat.
It got even hotter.
The sweating and smelling and edginess got worse. As I looked around the room for any other open chair, I noticed a woman eyeing me up and down, making no attempt to hide her disgust at my beat up sneakers and sweat pants. As an experienced traveler, this wasn’t my first frustrating airport scenario, so I told myself to just blow it off and not take it personally.
Then she said out loud to the young man standing next to her, “Digby… do you have your carry-on?”
Digby had a faux-hawk that had long gone out of style, flipped up collared shirt, a tribal arm band tattoo whose meaning he had no idea about, and a seashell necklace around his neck. His “carry-on” was a boom box speaker system with two big wheels, handles and beer holders on top. He also looked at my clothes and then made a snuffling noise.
Judge me by my comfty sweat pants will you? Game on.
The mom had the kind of haircut you know she regretted a great deal but pretended was the latest style. Her body language and the way she and her husband avoided eye contact said she was in a marriage she didn’t like. It was obvious she’d fallen out of love with him years ago, but had grown accustomed to the lifestyle he was providing as a day trader, investment broker, or lawyer. The mom then addressed all of her kids and their boyfriends. Their names were Ashton, Palmer, Vance, Carter, and Tilly.
The heat had slowly been working its way through my kindness barriers, and while many of them were still up, the ones whose job it was to keep my mind from drifting into the bad thought territory was felled like a noble knight on a battlefield when Tilly said, “Oh my Gaaaawwwwd…. It’s like… soooooo hot.”
Digby and I exchanged a look. It was easy to discern that he was Tilly’s boyfriend. The way he was proudly grasping his boom-box carry on, said that he’d just spent the last week annoying everyone else on the beach. No one takes a portable boom-box anywhere except their high school prom after party, but Digby brought it all the way to the Turks and Caicos Islands. Digby, who you could tell from the stolen glances he was making with Ashton, Tilly’s sister, definitely slept with Ashton on this trip, but they were both keeping it a secret.
All of her daughters kept adjusting their matching leggings, which were a size too tight. During one of their adjustments, I noticed Tilly had the words “Digby Forever” tattooed on her lower back; a wine spritzer-induced choice that she’ll regret when she finds out about Ashton and the Dig-ster. They spent a substantial amount of time whining about how the shade of paint in their villa was too triggering, and looked at me like I was not wealthy enough to be breathing the same air that they were.
They all gathered around Digby’s boom-box, took a selfie, and shouted, “Hashtag Island Life!”
A long line of sweat then dripped down into the crack of my ass.
And that’s pretty much how it was for another thirty minutes, until our plane boarded. Once aboard, we were finally able to cool down in the air conditioning and get comfortable… so that we could endure the eight hours of smelling other people’s noxious island farts while flying all the way home.
For the record… dick face Digby and his whole crew were on our flight. Some time between beverage service and a nap, I heard Carter talking to the father, and asking him about his career path…
As an investment banker.
In closing, the Turks and Caicos Islands are a beautiful and amazing place to visit. I’m grateful for the experience of seeing them and meeting some of the locals. The biodiversity is a treasure and so are the people who work there and call it home. The tourists…
I do think it’s important for people to have realistic expectations about cost, and know that travel is not all manicured Instagram photographs and happy memories. Some of it’s uncomfortable, irritating, and smells like really terrible farts.
Truth be told, too much of travel smells like terrible farts, but that’s a whole different subject.
There’s more about the TCI coming in future posts! I have some neat underwater video to share and a review of our excursion snorkeling with the nice people of “The Big Blue Collective.”
Check back soon and have a great day!
Moonbird’s Helpful Info:
The Turks and Caicos Islands (a British overseas territory)
Location: Southeast of Florida and the Bahamas, North of Haiti and the Dominican Republic
Google Maps: Click here
Best time to visit: Anytime. April and May are considered by many to be the best time. Rain / hurricane season is from June to December.
TCI’s has “seasons,” but the weather is warm and mostly pleasant all year round.