Pristine white sand, clear blue waters and a reputation as one of the safest islands in the Caribbean have made Turks and Caicos a popular travel destination for decades. Though hurricanes of 2017 did cause significant damage, the resilient island is better than ever.
We’ve rounded up 10 attractions — from high-end hotels to adorable volunteer opportunities — that will help you plan the perfect Turks and Caicos getaway.
Get ‘da conch
The signature dish of the islands is conch, a shellfish that tastes like calamari. There’s no better place to try this local delicacy than at the aptly named Da Conch Shack, an open-air restaurant frequented by locals and tourists alike.
Post-Hurricane Irma, the decks and beach area have been redone, so there’s more seating (and more sun) than before. Go on Wednesday evenings for the famed beach parties and live music, or for the Sunday DJ night and enjoy the potent rum punch.
If you’re not visiting midweek, Bugaloo’s in Five Cays on the South Shore also carries a similar local vibe; Sunday is the busiest day.
Do the fish fry
Another popular island activity is the Thursday night fish fry, located in the park next to the popular Gansevoort Turks & Caicos. Shop for crafts and tchotchkes to take home, and indulge in Caribbean fare like peas and rice, lobster mac and cheese and fried fish with a backdrop of local music.
Work off your dinner by dancing to the junkanoo, when drummers with cowbells and flutes join in the fun for a parade. The event runs from 5:30 until roughly 9:30 p.m., but try to come later with the locals. The early hours are usually packed with tourists.
Dive and snorkel
Known as one of the world’s best diving locations, T&C lures in travelers with its calm, crystal-clear waters, coral reefs and variety of marine life. If you’re lucky, perhaps you will meet friendly dolphin JoJo; she’s a local legend.
For the ultimate marine experience, sign up for one of the region’s night dives. These magical experiences take place three to five days after the full moon, when island’s glowing worms take to the water in a spectacular and somewhat bizarre lightshow — as the males finish mating, they die in a burst of phosphorescent color that must be seen to be believed. Dive Provo can help you plan an outing.
For something a little more low-key, book a half-day tour with Island Vibes instead, where you’ll sip rum punch, try local Turk’s Head beer and snorkel along calm reefs. Most trips include a stop at Little Water Cay, also known as Iguana Island, where you’ll see immaculate white sand beaches and some of the 50,000-plus reptiles that dot the rocks. The crew will even teach you to whip up a conch salad, an island delicacy, as a light lunch.
Explore the island’s history
If you’ve had enough sun for the day, you can certainly head to the hotel spa, but a fun alternate activity is a visit to the Conch Bar Caves, located in the aptly named Conch Bar village of the Middle Caicos (about 25 miles from Grace Bay).
The park boasts a wide network of underground caverns and lakes, the largest in the Caribbean. You’ll see rare plant life and animals (mainly bats) as well as artwork and artifacts that date back to the Lucayan Indians, who have occupied the area since the 1400s.
These limestone caves give a unique look into the area’s history, so long as you’re not afraid of flying mammals or tight spaces.
If you’d prefer to stick to the daylight, we’d suggest a trip to Wade’s Green Plantation on nearby North Caicos, a historic farm and manor home dating back to the late 18th century.
Spend a day on the beach
Of course, relaxation is also on the agenda. There’s no better way to while away the day than lounging in a beach chair, cool beverage in hand. When you leave your room at Grace Bay Club for a walk along the beach, be sure to pause at the hotel’s pop-up restaurant (its name and culinary theme changes each year) right on the sand dunes. Ask Garth to make you his signature cocktail, a Fishhook, a muddled mix of strawberries and lemons blended with vodka, seltzer and simple syrup.
Take a stroll from your resort to spend a lazy afternoon browsing the small strip of stores at the Saltmills Plaza or the Regent Village. Souvenir shops peddle the usual wares, including delicious local Bambarra rum; blend the coconut and dark together with your choice of fruit for a perfect from-the-islands treat.
If you can’t leave without a bauble, high-end jewelry and watches are available at Jai’s, which also maintains a location in the airport departure lounge. Both Regent Palms and Grace Bay Club have chic on-location boutiques for feminine frocks or a sparkly pair of sandals.
Pick the perfect hotel
As with any destination, your choice of accommodation can greatly change your stay. Each of the island’s top hotels provides a distinctly different vibe for your vacation.
When you crave solitude, privacy and pampering, select Amanyara, a 40-room Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star resort in the island’s Northwest Point Marine National Park.
Even more secluded, but with more of a wellness bent (don’t miss the serene, expansive spa) and villa-style concept is COMO Parrot Cay, located on a private island 30 minutes from Provo.
On Grace Bay proper, some of our favorite stays include the buzzy Gansevoort, which boasts brand-new waterfront villas; the laid-back luxury at the aforementioned Grace Bay Club, which features distinctly different environments for families and couples; Four-Star Seven Stars Resort & Spa, which comes with a heated saltwater pool, an inviting beach bar and mouthwatering surf and turf at Seven restaurant; or the country club-chic ambience of Four-Star The Somerset on Grace Bay, which offers condo-style living with amenities like a croquet lawn.
Watch the stellar sunset on Grace Bay
Grace Bay, the island’s three-mile-long swath of white sand beach, also affords some of the best vistas to watch a spectacular tropical sunset. One of our favorite spots is the Infiniti Bar at Grace Bay Club, which has the world’s first “infinity edge” bar, lit down the center with fire and pointing directly toward the horizon. Don’t miss the Grace Bay Club Fizz, a signature drink made with Southern Comfort and blue Curaçao.
Go nuts for Coco(nuts)
Providenciales has its fair share of fine dining, much of which is walkable or a short cab ride from Grace Bay-area hotels. One of our go-to choices in the area is the romantic Coco Bistro.
Make your reservations early (tables can book weeks in advance during high season) and dine under the coconut palm fronds. Sit outside and you may even meet Coco the cat, the restaurant’s namesake.
The eatery serves Caribbean-inspired fare with a global twist; much of the seafood is caught locally. The tuna is always a standout as are the curried dishes, such as the West Indian-style shrimp curry with coconut rice and banana chutney. Definitely save room for dessert – the famous coconut pie is a dish we still dream about.
Play with (and adopt) local puppies
Sadly, every island has its fair share of stray or unwanted pets. But Turks and Caicos is one of the Caribbean’s best at helping and rehoming local dogs.
Potcake Place, in the easily accessible Saltmills Plaza, is an island-based animal rescue that welcomes visitors to “borrow” a four-legged friend for walks and cuddles, and all puppies are also available for adoption — most go to U.S. homes.
These adorable pups are named Potcakes for the cake-like mix of peas and rice that local families often fed them when they came begging to the door, and most will grow to be between 40 and 50 pounds of love.