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Filled with thousands of exquisite islands, the Caribbean is a major draw to visitors from all around the globe. And each one has something special to offer. Then there's Turks and Caicos, one of the most magically magnificent clusters of islands we've ever visited. Why? Because the locals are delightful, the food is incredible and the views are simply to die for.
Comprised of 40 islands and cays, Turks and Caicos at the southwestern tip of the Bahamas chain are less than 600 miles from Miami. The islands, aptly proclaimed "Beautiful by Nature," were the first landfall of Christopher Columbus' first voyage to the New World. The natural beauty of these islands must have been truly awe-inspiring, as they are today.
It's All About the Water
The ocean reigns supreme in Turks and Caicos. You'll look far and wide to find waters this crystal clear with so many shades of blue ranging from tourmaline to deep azure. It's no surprise that water activities abound here as does the abundance of marine life that includes dolphins, sharks, rays, turtles and whales.
Whether it's sailing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, kayaking, paddleboarding or just swimming in its balmy seas, there's something alluring about these heavenly waters. The healthy coral reef ecosystem and large portions of the coast protected by the National Parks Ordinance provide ideal snorkeling and diving opportunities. A day out on the ocean with TCI Charters is the perfect way to explore these islands' aquatic treasures.
Soft, sugary-sand beaches stretch for miles along the Turks and Caicos stunningly picturesque coast. Grace Bay Beach in Providenciales is renowned as one of the world's best with 12 miles of spectacular beachfront. Pelican Point in North Caicos offers the best opportunity to find conch shells of every size. Quiet and secluded Horsestable Beach is a prime bird-watching spot. Governor's Beach, Grand Turks' most celebrated beach, has perfect snorkeling and picnic spots. The bottom line here is you can't go wrong with so many divine choices.
Amazing Oceanfront Accommodations
There's nothing like staying and playing in a tropical paradise with beach and ocean views directly on Grace Bay.
Ocean Club Resorts, with its choice of east or west villas, offers fully-furnished studios, junior suites, and one, two and three-bedroom units providing flexible options for home-away-from-home getaways. Guests have access to the amenities of both resorts, including three pools and spas. Relaxation comes easy here, and sunsets are unforgettable. And there's no mistaking their iconic and welcoming pink beach umbrellas and loungers, perfect for those feet-in-the-sand moments!
Eco-Trip to the Mangroves
There are Caribbean mangroves...and then there's Mangrove Cay. The pristine scenic 286-acre uninhabited cay features the unique red mangrove, island trees with their fascinating twisted roots reaching out into the calm, protected waters. The best way to see this magnificent water wonderland is by guided water tours.
Water Play TCI instructors provide an in-depth eco-tour experience by either kayak (as we did) or paddleboard. There's nothing better than paddling through crystalline waters and seeing turtles, baby sharks, conchs and starfish.
Little Water Cay (Iguana Island)
Yes, iguanas have their own private island here. Home to the native Rock Iguanas that once lived on most of the Turks and Caicos Islands, these endangered herbivorous lizards now have free reign in their own kingdom. The nature reserve of Little Rock Cay has no human inhabitants and can only be accessed by kayak or private boat and a short swim to shore.
The picturesque, peaceful island is a must-see for its magnificent beach and indigenous coastal vegetation. Other inhabitants of Little Water Cay include hermit crabs, stingrays, lemon sharks, osprey, brown pelicans and the banaquit, a small black and yellow bird with distinctive coloration. While the iguanas are the stars of the show, visitors are discouraged from feeding them or getting too "up close and personal" as it could result in a nip.
Fresh Island Cuisine and Local Rum
There's no better way to enjoy the islands than to imbibe in its native food and refreshments. Local dishes like conch (prepared in a variety of ways), along with fresh local fish and lobster, make this a seafood lover's paradise.
You won't find better food accompanied by stunning ocean views than Solana, a premier Japanese Teppanyaki and sushi restaurant located at Ocean Club West. Fresh island seafood is the specialty and guaranteed it will be hook-to-table fresh.
Omar's Beach Hut in Provo is about as Rastafarian as it gets. Located next to a fresh fish market, the beachfront eatery gets the best catches. The grilled lobster and other mouthwatering dishes we sampled here were incredible. Add in a few tropical drinks, island vibe and live music, and it's the iconic laid-back beach dining experience.
Dinner at Opus in Providenciales was a special treat. Whether dining inside with romantic candlelight under a high open ceiling or outdoors on the softly-lit lush garden patio, the atmosphere here is captivating. The wine menu is extensive and whether the "tasting plate" appetizers or main menu items are selected, the food here is stellar. Island flavors meld perfectly with other international influences to create delectable island-inspired and seafood delights.
The Caribbean is renowned known for its rum drinks, but this island proudly lays claim to its own brand, Bambarra, the award-winning "Spirit of the Turks & Caicos." Enjoyed on the rocks or in premium cocktails like the popular Rum Punch, this libation proudly celebrates the history and culture of the islands.
Once a popular hideout for pirates attacking Spanish treasure galleons, the Turks and Caicos Islands are the legendary home to the lost treasure of Captain William Kidd. It's widely believed his booty lies buried somewhere in the Turks and Caicos Islands and still waiting to be discovered. Whether the legend has any merit, the true treasure of the islands lies in its awe-inspiring beauty, stunning landscapes, bountiful gifts from the sea and its warm free-spirited people.
Noreen Kompanik is a San Diego based journalist who is also the co-owner and publisher of Rovology, Travel By Vacation Rental...
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