Lightly-populated and little developed, the Turks and Caicos Islands provide the best of the Caribbean in beaches and weather, whilst their wildlife and lack of modern development enable them to retain a unique identity to their Caribbean neighbours.
Technically in the North Atlantic rather than the Caribbean, the territory is a British Overseas Territory and made up of eight main islands. The Caicos Islands have most of the land and most of the population: the Turks have the capital, Cockburn, though in terms of population it is little more than a village.
Wildlife enthusiasts should head to one of the Turks and Caicos’ numerous national parks. There are important wetland areas but the islands' most obvious attractions are underwater, with several species of turtle as well as dolphins and humpback whales. The Turks and Caicos is one of the best places in the world for whale watching, and its isolated location means you can have the entire spectacle to yourself.
Cockburn Town is the capital time forgot – a stroll through its streets feels like stepping back in time. Colonial architecture remains untouched, as do the salt storage sheds that used to be the livelihood of the islands. Donkeys and wild horses, whose ancestors will have laboured in the salt farms, are now free to roam the streets. Sit back and enjoy the sedate lifestyle and absence of development on the pristine beaches on Grand Turk Island. For a livelier atmosphere head to downtown Providenciale, the largest settlement on the island and the islands' centre for nightlife.
1. Swim with Humpbacks. These great whales congregate at Salt Cay, and there are various catamaran and yacht operators who will take you out for close encounters
2. Walk with donkeys. Wander through the historic capital of Grand Turk and share the streets with wild horses and donkeys. They'd be most surprised if you approached them with a saddle: if you want to go riding try Provo Ponies on Providenciales.
3. Dive coral reefs. The unspoiled waters of the Turks and Caicos are paradise for divers. Some of the best sites are in West Caicos Marine National Park.
4. Relax on the beach. The pace of life is so slow on the Turks and Caicos it's a short step to grind to a complete halt. Stretch out in style at Grace Bay beach on Providenciales.
5. Browse art. Local arts and crafts are on show at the Bamboo Gallery in Providenciale.
6. Scuba dive. Not a qualified diver? Help is at hand on Grace Bay, where you can try Snuba diving. You still wear a mask and weights but air comes through a tube: it's a low-stress way to get closer to the action than snorkelling
Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after your holiday begins; else you could be refused entry. If sailing around the islands look out for Jojo the dolphin, the Turks and Caicos’ national treasure: the wild Atlantic bottledose dolphin frequently swims and plays alongside ships.
The peak season covers the winter (December to April), the low season August to November. The hurricane season extends through August and September: some hotels and businesses close completely at this time. Apart from these months the Turks and Caicos Islands are slightly warmer and drier than most of the islands in the Caribbean islands.
The Turks & Caicos Islands have three international airports: the Grand Turk International Airport (GDT), Providenciales International Airport (PLS) and South Caicos International Airport (XSC). Most flights land in Providenciales.
Privately run bus services operate on the islands, but do not follow a regular schedule. Taxis and cars can be rented from local companies, and bicycles are commonly used. Ferries and local airlines link the islands.
Hotels and resorts are common on the islands, but the prices drastically increase during peak season. Villas can also be rented, and there is a small hostel on Salt Cay for those on a budget. Camping is also available in designated areas in national parks.
Conchs (shelled gastropods) are the food speciality of the islands, along with other seafood. Jamaican influences on the local cuisine are also seen in the use of jerk and Cajun seasoning. Beans and rice are regular accompaniments. Local drinks consist of Turks Head beer and locally brewed rum such as Spicy Gosling.
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