Luxurious resorts, stunning scenery and eco-minded excursions make Turks and Caicos an ideal retreat.
By Sharon Stello
Gentle waves of turquoise water lapping onto white sand beaches. Flocks of pink flamingos taking flight. Sea turtles swimming among the mangroves. Wild iguanas roaming around remote islands. Bright-colored fish flitting between coral reefs. And dark night skies, far away from city lights, where you can see thousands of glittering stars and even the Milky Way.
These are just some of the captivating sights awaiting visitors in Turks and Caicos, an archipelago of 40 islands and cays (only eight are inhabited) on the northern edge of the Caribbean Sea. Technically located in the Atlantic Ocean, Turks and Caicos is a British territory, but the climate and culture are decidedly Caribbean.
From snorkeling and clear-bottom kayak trips to up-close encounters with wildlife, there’s plenty for eco-minded adventurers to explore. But don’t worry, there’s also time for tropical drinks and relaxing poolside at the many resorts or even a private villa with your own chef to whip up any dish you desire.
With such exclusive amenities and impressive scenery, Turks and Caicos has attracted many celebrities, from fashion designer Donna Karan and supermodel Christie Brinkley, who both own homes there, to singers Beyonce, Jay Z and Paul McCartney; broadcast journalist Katie Couric and tennis star Maria Sharapova, who have all visited the islands. And for anyone who has been to Turks and Caicos, it’s easy to understand the attraction.
A Place on Provo
Upon arriving on Providenciales, or Provo, as locals call the main island—the chain’s third largest and the tourism hub—there are plenty of resorts from which to choose. However, The Shore Club stands out for its luxury and location: Tucked along the southeastern side of the island, the $100 million Shore Club is situated on 2.5-mile Long Bay Beach; in fact, it’s the first and only resort on this beach, opened only five years ago. With 106 ocean-view suites, six luxury villas and direct access to the sand, it’s a stunning setting to start your journey.
The property, which was voted the world’s most Instagrammable hotel by readers of Luxury Travel Advisor last year, is complete with four restaurants including fine dining concept Sui-Ren, a blend of Peruvian and Japanese cuisine, as well as a spa and four pools. The Colonnade Pool’s wicker swings, where you can still have your feet in the water and order a drink from The Rope Bar just steps away, is by far the most popular spot for photos.
For those seeking an active getaway, rather than just rest and relaxation, water sports abound in the shallow waters on Long Bay, which is considered the best kitesurfing beach in Turks and Caicos. Shore Club guests also benefit from the free use of nonmotorized water sports equipment such as snorkels, paddleboards, sea kayaks and Hobie Cats.
Other options on Provo include The Shore Club’s sister property, The Palms Turks and Caicos, a 72-suite resort encompassing 12 acres on Grace Bay Beach, along the island’s northeastern edge. In addition to the beach (often voted among the world’s best) just steps away, the resort’s expansive spa beckons, providing an oasis of calm. Treatment rooms line the edge of a courtyard featuring a reflection pool and lush landscaping. Indulge in a massage, exfoliating scrub or facial while slipping into a state of tranquility.
After visiting this serene sanctuary, head to Parallel23 for an alfresco dinner on the terrace or inside for views of the exhibition kitchen. Choose from dishes like coconut-marinated conch ceviche, potato gnocchi with truffle drizzle, grilled South Caicos snapper, rib-eye steak and herb-roasted rack of lamb with wild mushroom risotto, not to mention a dessert platter with mini sticky toffee, hot chocolate fondant and creme brulee.
While the resorts offer plenty of amenities, a private villa might be the best bet for large families or anyone seeking seclusion and all the comforts of home—not to mention a personal chef and service staff. The Source manages approximately 20 villas, including the seven-bedroom Coral House, which offers direct access to Grace Bay Beach. This 12,000-square-foot, recently renovated estate is complete with a swimming pool, barbecue area, shaded pergola for alfresco dining, an outdoor bar and a fire pit to gather around with a drink at night.
The two-story villa is built around a central, open-air courtyard. In addition to the well-appointed and air-conditioned bedrooms, a large family room with an entertainment center and a small fitness studio are available for guests. And, of course, there’s a gourmet kitchen where the chef will cook up anything you’re craving, from traditional local dishes like conch salad to favorites from around the world.
While it would be easy to spend all of your time basking in the luxury of these fine retreats, there’s plenty waiting to be explored in Turks and Caicos.
Off the eastern end of Provo, the mangroves offer a maze of waterways to explore between the vegetation in shallow waters, which are frequented by young turtles, juvenile lemon sharks, stingrays, conchs, schools of fish and birds like egrets, herons and oystercatchers. Navigating these channels by kayak is an ideal way to see the area. Companies such as Clear Bottom Adventures provide friendly and knowledgeable tour guides who know the mangroves like the back of their hands. They expertly lead groups on expeditions in clear kayaks for the best view of marine life at every angle—even below the boat.
Glide slowly through the turquoise sea in this peaceful setting. Water rippling off the paddle creates a meditative rhythm as you pass by masses of green mangrove leaves on either side. But keep your eyes peeled for fish and turtles, which are frequently spotted but can dart away quickly if startled (and they swim surprisingly fast in these shallows). Then paddle over to the sandy shores of Mangrove Cay—a cay is a small island on top of a reef—to get up close with one of the region’s endangered creatures, the Turks and Caicos rock iguanas, which inhabit less than 10% of their historic range due to invasive mammals that prey on them, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The iguanas were just downgraded from critically endangered on the IUCN list of threatened species in 2020, but it’s still illegal to touch, feed or remove these animals. Visitors can get a good view though as the iguanas waddle up fairly close, offering plenty of photo opps. Speaking of photos, Clear Bottom Adventures also offers picture packages for its tour participants as aerial shots of people lying down in the clear kayak surrounded by impossibly blue water have become popular on social media.
Those who also want to explore the land should arrange for a driving tour of North and Middle Caicos, called the garden islands due to their lush vegetation. Mac Campbell of M&M Taxi & Tours takes visitors to all of the best beaches and notable sites after they ride the ferry from Provo to North Caicos, the territory’s second largest island. Among the first stops is the Flamingo Pond Overlook east of Whitby; binoculars are needed, but pink flamingos and other water birds often gather in large flocks here.
Another must-see spot is the Wade’s Green Plantation, which has historical significance; a guided tour must be arranged as the property is kept behind a locked gate, protected by the Turks and Caicos National Trust. Considered one of the best remaining examples of a Loyalist plantation anywhere in the Caribbean, the 860 acres were awarded to Wade Stubbs in 1798 after he lost his land in Florida during the Revolutionary War. Originally dubbed Bellefield, cotton was grown and harvested here with slave labor, but the plantation ceased operation after 30 years due to drought, soil exhaustion, weevils and the War of 1812. Several stone structures remain, serving as a reminder of many local islanders’ ancestors. The area also provides habitat to plants and animals like the Key West quail-dove.
For more wildlife and history, head to the Conch Bar Caves National Park on Middle Caicos island; a guided tour is required. One of the largest cave systems in the region, it’s home to colonies of four bat species, which can be seen by looking up into the crevices with a flashlight—some may even fly out. Made of limestone, the caves feature several chambers with stalactites, stalagmites and column formations as well as pools of water that ebb and flow with the ocean tides. The caves continue underground for long distances and it’s believed that there may be tunnels that reach the sea. The native Lucayan people used the caves both as places of worship and for shelter during hurricanes. Evidence of Lucayan habitation was discovered when the caves were mined for guano, or bat manure, in the late 1800s.
While on North and Middle Caicos, make sure to visit the standout shoreline at Bambarra Beach with its great views, picnic tables and shade from several Casuarina trees (also called Australian pines), and brightly colored shacks selling drinks and snacks, as well as one of the top scenic spots, Mudjin Harbour, which features Dragon Cay, a rock formation that looks like, well, a dragon. In addition to this imaginative landmark, spend a few hours of the day enjoying the vistas; the soft, white sand and the warm, turquoise waters. On the way back, stop for a meal at Miss B’s Restaurant, which serves up traditional blackened snapper, rice and black-eyed peas, plus fried plantains—not to mention tropical rum punch or a frozen daiquiri to cool off.
An Exclusive Escape
After beginning your trip on Provo, North and Middle Caicos, an excursion to Ambergris Cay is in order. Encompassing this entire 3-mile-long private island, the all-inclusive resort provides your flight from Provo, accommodations, meals, drinks, activities, a 30-minute daily spa treatment and more. With 10 standalone, beachfront suites and 20 three- and four-bedroom villas, there are spaces available to suit the needs of couples, families and solo travelers.
Upon arrival at the island’s private airport, guests are greeted with a glass of Champagne before being introduced to their butler, who provides an overview of the resort, their itinerary and a cell phone for any requests during their stay (24-hour room service is included). Guests are also given an electric golf cart to navigate the area as rooms are spread out from the restaurant, clubhouse, harbor and other sites. The dirt roads crisscross the island, which is covered in different types of vegetation, including—perhaps surprisingly in this Caribbean locale—some cactus. Keep a lookout for large iguanas, which tend to lumber across the roads and enjoy lounging on patios.
Each suite features floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides to take advantage of the ocean views; a king bed; seating area; recessed flat-screen TV; a wet bar and a mini fridge that’s stocked with soda, water and local beer; plus the room is equipped with a Nespresso coffee machine and electric tea kettle. The living space extends outside with a wraparound patio that includes seating, an outdoor shower and a private plunge pool facing the beach. Step out on the sand and there are beach chairs with towels awaiting you, as well as kayaks and stand-up paddleboards for free use. The resort also offers a swimming pool, tennis courts, a clubhouse and bicycles that can be borrowed.
At one end of the island, a lagoon attracts flocks of flamingos, offering a great spot to sit and view these large pink birds, which are typically only seen in zoos in the U.S. Watch as they stalk through the water on their tall, skinny legs, dip their heads below the surface to find food and fly off to the next pond. Nearby, the resort’s boats stand ready to take guests out on the water. Whether you want to go fishing, snorkeling or just take a sunset cruise, the friendly team is ready to arrange a fantastic experience including a catered lunch on a deserted island.
Perhaps the best part is the snorkeling as the surrounding reefs are teeming with life. The boat will take you to the perfect spot to jump out and explore; fins and snorkels are provided. A wide variety of fish flit in and out of the coral. Rainbow-hued parrotfish seem to almost play hide-and-seek; blue angelfish and yellow butterflyfish appear to flutter by while striped grouper are among the other eye-catchers. And the boat captains inevitably find interesting creatures to show the group, from spiny lobster to giant sea stars or conchs.
After working up an appetite, the Calico Jack restaurant is ready to serve you with an impressive culinary lineup, wine and a full bar. With chefs hailing from around the world, the resort embraces these talents, sometimes offering themed dinners. For example, an array of delicious and filling Italian or Indian dishes may be brought out for the table to share. Breakfast and lunch are also served here while the Clubhouse offers a daily menu of light grilled fare such as burgers, paninis and salads along with an activity center filled with pool and pingpong tables as well as both video and board games.
Calico Jack and the Clubhouse each have a bar with classic cocktails, island libations and beer by Turk’s Head Brewery—the labels feature local sayings like “I-Soon Reach” and “Gon-Ta Nort” with explanations on the back. For a sweet and refreshing drink, try the Rock Lobster, an icy, blended mix of dark and coconut rum, banana liqueur and grenadine with banana, orange and pineapple juices. It’s the color of sunset and the perfect drink to enjoy while watching the sun go down.
Night is possibly the best time on Ambergris Cay. Thousands of stars shimmer in the sky and even the Milky Way can sometimes be spotted. From indoors, don’t be surprised to see an occasional gecko climbing up the window or a night heron strolling about the patio. Turks and Caicos is full of surprises just waiting to be discovered.