by Wendy Crum
Boston was a grim 33 degrees as we pulled into Logan airport in early March. We were fed up with winter and its snow, and were long overdue for our annual Caribbean vacation. A few weeks earlier we have made a quick trip around Wimco’s website and decided that the Turks and Caicos would be the ideal choice – with direct flights from Boston to Providentiales (Provo), the main island in the Turks and Caicos, miles of sandy beaches, good snorkeling right off shore for the kids, and a great selection of private villas to rent. We’d read that temperatures were in the low 70’s in Miami – not quite warm enough for our taste – while just an hour southeast in the Turks they were in the low 80’s – perfect.
High airfares for spring break had driven us to time our vacation for an off week between the kid’s winter and spring breaks…a fact that delighted them. The airlines cleverly raise their prices for school vacation weeks when there is peak demand, and then lower them during off weeks to boost demand. We lucked into fares that were 50% less than peak, and rented a villa that was otherwise booked for most of the winter season. All good things. In exchange for this extra bonus week of vacation the kids agreed to write a mini trip report each day which they’d hand in to their teachers.
We arrived in Provo at 1pm on a Saturday, and were greeted by Sandy, Wimco’s local rep. He met us at the baggage claim area, helped us collect our things then walked us out our rental car which was waiting for us in the parking lot. Sandy explained that he was recommending a slight change in plans. The villa we had rented, the 2 bedroom Villa TNC LIM in the Turtle Cove area of Grace Bay Beach had a last minute plumbing problem that would take 2 days to fix. Hey, it’s the Caribbean, things break, and everything takes longer to fix, right? He said we could agree live with that inconvenience for a few days, and get a reduced rate in exchange, or accept his gracious offer to move us to another villa.
Ever the adventurers, we agreed to follow Sandy to check out some other villas. Imagine our surprise as he ushered us down a long private driveway to the sprawling Villa South Seas in the Silly Creek Cay area of the south coast. We entered through a vine covered arbor way, into a long corridor that bisected the house, to our left and right were outdoor fountains that could be seen from the corridor, ahead of us was the central living room overlooking the pool, with the turquoise colored ocean in the distance. A passageway on the left led into a long and roomy kitchen and dining area, also overlooking the ocean. A stone walkway led from the pool area to the coral waterfront where we could see Parrot fish swimming among the coral outcroppings immediately below us. We were sold – and put our bags down on the spot! That’s one of the advantages of booking through Wimco, in addition to handling airline and car rentals for their clients, if anything goes wrong with your original choice, they can move you to another villa in their inventory – and in our case it was a stunning upgrade!
We dove right into villa life in the Turks. In the morning we’d breakfast together then walk down to the ocean to snorkel along the coral walls that ran along the shoreline of the spit of land that is Silly Creek Cay. One morning we grabbed the villa’s kayak and scooted down the shore to nearby Taylor Bay Beach. While our kids are confident swimmers and we no longer worry about them in the surf, I imagine Taylor Bay Beach is what parents with pre-schoolers seek out – soft white sand, and a very gradual sloping bottom that was still only knee deep 50 yards off shore. The next beach over, Sapodilla Bay had exactly the same type of shallow beach.
Back at the villa, the kids spent hours “hunting” geckos that lived in the palms and bushes around the villa. They captured several, of all different shapes and sizes, came up with creative names for them like “Jimmy Bob Joe” and “Little Grey” and integrated them into drawings that accompanied the stories they were writing for school. The villa’s pool was perfect for Marco Polo and had lots of patio space around it for us parents to lounge around in while the kids swam. There was an outdoor grill that we put to good use, mainly cheeseburgers and steaks.
We had some regrets about not being in a villa on Grace Bay Beach as originally planned, but it was only a 15 minute drive so we got over there frequently. In talking to some locals we’d learned that the best snorkeling along the beach could be accessed from the beach in front of Coral Gardens, a small apartment building with its own beachside bar, “Somewhere Cafe”. We plunked our stuff down on the beach there, and within second of entering the water were seeing colorful schools of fish, manta rays, spiny lobster, sea turtles and more.
While I’m sure the island’s Minister of Tourism is justifiably proud of the many upscale hotels and restaurants that line the eastern end of Grace Bay Beach – a 5 mile stretch called the “Lower Bight”, we wanted nothing to do with that – it seemed too much like Fort Lauderdale. Instead we asked anyone we came in contact with for recommendations for out of the way spots for us to visit. One day while out exploring we stopped at a small rum shack on Blue Mountain Road for drinks and snacks and met a colorful Irishman named Patrick who had lived on the island for 10 years. He pointed us to West Harbor Bluff – a deserted cove miles from anywhere where we spent the better part of an afternoon swimming and snorkeling without seeing a soul for hours – paradise. That discovery lead us to check out Provo’s “Wild West Coast”, home to miles of pristine beaches with not a sole in sight. In three separate trips to this side of the island, the only building we saw along miles of shorefront was the super private and exclusive Polynesian looking Amanyara Resort.
We delighted in bumping along remote dirt roads to out of the way beaches and coves, each with their own different flavor and attractions…be it white powdery sand, abundant tropical fish, or a bit of local flavor like the colorful snack bars along the far western part of Grace Bay beach, miles from the tourist crowd. Our kids loved a small waterfront restaurant called “Da Conch Shack” on Blue Mountain Road where waiters waded into to underwater pens in the shallows just offshore, fished out live conch, extracted the meat on the spot then sent it into the kitchen. There was something quintessentially Caribbean, without being too touristy, about eating outdoors, enjoying Conch Fritters there at sunset, with Bob Marley songs drifting out over the beach. We later toured the Conch Farm at the northeastern tip of the island, a fun activity to do with this kids.
One of the highlights of our trip was a hike along the shore starting at the channel to the ocean from Turtle Cove. There the beach was sandy up above the high tide mark, while below that there were sheets of flat coral from which small tidal pools had been scoured out by the tireless surf. Our kids called them “Jaccuzzi’s” and plopped down into them, shrieking with delight when the surf broke over them. Just beyond the flat coral one could step into the water and swim out 20 yards or so to shallow coral beds with schools of tropical fish – ideal snorkeling territory. A group passed us on horseback, a fun idea for next trip. Nearby in the Turtle Cove Marina area was the popular Sharkbite Café where we warmed up afterwards with soft drinks and fish & chips for the kids, while the two of us eased back with a few tasty rum punches. The café hangs out over the water of the small harbor, and kids can throw French fries into the water to the waiting fish – very entertaining.
While we sought out out-of-the-way treasures, we were grateful for modern conveniences like wifi in our villa, and the excellent IGA Supermarket on Leeward Highway. Expecting a small Caribbean grocery store, like the ones we had encountered in previous trips to Virgin Gorda and St John, we found instead a thoroughly modern and large store, with creature comforts like Dunkin Donuts ground coffee, Honey Nut Cheerios, Baguettes and Brie, fresh veggies, Roast Chicken, and a huge selection of wines and spirits from around the world. We ended up making about one trip a day to this fine establishment, perfect for keeping our villa stocked for the “feasts” we prepared daily. We ate in most nights at the dining room table from which we could take in the sunset out over the water. These leisurely dinners, and the board games that followed them, created the type of quality family time that doesn’t always happen at home when we are juggling business demands, after school activities, and homework.
A vacation in Turks and Caicos was just what the doctor ordered. The direct flights meant that we weren’t strung out from travel, and made it easier to book flights on both ends that were convenient. We found everything we needed on the island, including peace and quiet. If we were to go back for a couples getaway I’m sure we could have an entirely different experience, one featuring romantic dinners at gourmet restaurants, a round of golf or tennis at the Provo Golf and Country Club, and scuba charters to nearby reefs…but this year was all about family time, and the island of Provo proved to be an ideal playground for us.