On Providenciales, stroll along elegant Grace Bay Beach, snorkel around coral reefs and celebrate the mighty conch.
The truth is that Turks and Caicos—comprised of 40 islands and cays in the British West Indies, eight of which are inhabited—provides both 21st-century comfort and lush exotic unknowns to travelers of all ages. Providenciales—called Provo by locals—is the small Caribbean nation’s main island, where coral-hued geckos dart across your path and bug spray is the unofficial perfume.
For visitors, most of the action on the island takes place on the 12-mile stretch of Grace Bay Beach. The grains of sand here are often compared to sugar, and rightly so.
Located right across the street from the Premier’s house, the Caicos Conch Farm bills itself as the only commercial conch farm in the world. The small stucco building that serves as the base of operations overlooks the vast holding pens and sheds that bring the pink and coral-hued sea snail shell from its beginnings to harvest several years later. The tour starts the moment the guide accepts your $6 and ushers you into a small room, its walls covered with pictures and facts about conch.
The conch shells are graduated like students in an elementary school: They get bigger and older—ranging from 6 months to a year—as you wander down the hall. The offshore pens hold conch from 2 to 4 years old. The real stars of the show are Sally and Jerry, veteran conch at 9 and 10 years old, introduced at the conclusion of the tour by doing tricks and wrapping their tentacles around the guide. Located at Heaving Down Rock at Providenciales’ eastern tip; tel. +649-946-5643.
The obligatory parasailing vessels dot the beach, and snorkeling is a must during your Turks and Caicos vacation. Big Blue Unlimited will ferry you out to exquisite coral reefs for a great show while the guide narrates the environmental backdrop. Tel. +649-946-5034, www.bigblue.tc.
Later, spring for a wine-and-cheese sunset cruise with Sun Charters. For a completely different view of the sea, hire one of the island’s private taxi services for an afternoon tour of Provo from one end to the other. Tel. +649-231-0624, www.suncharters.tc.
For an adult-only adventure, head for Casablanca Casino, Provo’s only live casino, featuring 12 game tables and 85 slot machines. Vegas it isn’t, but it’s still entertaining. Tel. +649-941-3737, www.thecasablancacasino.tc.
By law, no fast food franchises are allowed to operate anywhere in the country. In the mid-1990s, Kentucky Fried Chicken defied the ban and spent more than a million dollars to open a restaurant only to have the government close it a short time after.
However, the dearth of golden arches hasn’t been a problem, since Provo restaurants offer everything from gourmet cuisine to simple poolside fare all over the island. Both open-air dining areas at the Ocean Club resorts are open to the public—Cabana Grill at Ocean Club and the Seaside Café at Ocean Club West—as is the Gecko Grille, where you can dine in a courtyard garden that’s perfect for a romantic evening out. The restrooms are labeled Geckettes and Geckos. Tel. +649-946-5880.
The Simba Restaurant at the Turks and Caicos Club offers poolside dining under the stars—there’s never a good reason to stay indoors when you’re in Provo—with a menu featuring tuna carpaccio and island-style curried conch. Tel. +649-946-5588, www.turksandcaicosclub.com.
Ocean Club and Ocean Club West are two resorts separated by a mile but they share many of the same amenities; a shuttle bus transports guests between the two locations. Both provide a variety of fully equipped condos with full amenities for families. Most importantly, all units are a stone’s throw from the pool and the beach. Fall 2008 rates start at $170 per night for a studio with an island view. Tel. +649-946-5880 or 800-457-8787, www.oceanclubresorts.com.
Not surprisingly, The Tuscany calls to mind a Tuscan villa. With only 12 of the resort’s 30 luxury three-bedroom condos available for tourists, the Tuscany goes all out, from spreading rose petals across the threshold for a honeymooning couple, to furnishing a family with five kids under 10 years old with the latest family-friendly DVDs, changing tables and toys. Fall 2008 rates start at $675 per night for a one bedroom suite. Tel 866-359-6466, www.thetuscanyresort.com.
All in all, it’s the little touches that catch you off guard in this place. From the ice cream shop that pipes the music of chimes into the street, playing “You Are My Sunshine” to the pile of conch shells dotting the beach of an uninhabited cay, Provo is full of surprises no matter where you look.
Destinations: Turks and Caicos Islands
Themes: Beach Vacations