Trip Report: First Time to Turks and Caicos
by Ellen Caywood
I recently read a quote from a travel writer that went something like “We will never travel anywhere again that we haven’t already seen.” They were referencing the fact that you can look up most every place online now and see satellite images or photos posted by everyone that has traveled there before you. It’s true. Before I travel I do quite a bit of research, partly because of the excitement and anticipation and partly because I don’t want to miss a thing when I visit a new place. Luckily all the photos and videos you consume can never replace the real thing…like on this vacation to the island of Providenciales in Turks and Caicos, I saw a place that had me thinking we were on a different planet…but I’ll get to that later.
We spent our vacation in villa TNC OED which is a 1 bedroom, 2 level villa right on Grace Bay beach. This ended up being a terrific choice for comfort and location. Not only did we have our own path leading to the beach, we could also walk to restaurants in Turtle Cove and we had the best snorkeling on the island right at our door. The villa itself was just built in January 2012 and is 1 of 3 virtually identical properties. The décor is sleek, there are nice outdoor areas including a second floor terrace with ocean views and we had our own private pool.
If you enjoy snorkeling, then any of the villas in this area are a must. Smith’s Reef is a protected reef that is known for the best snorkeling on the island. We brought our snorkeling gear with us and when the mood struck us, we could wade into the water and explore up and down the beach.
It is so easy to get to Turks and Caicos from Boston that we arrived in time for lunch! This also meant that we were there before it was time to check into our villa, so we dropped our bags at the villa and went to The Beach House for lunch. By the time the Rosé arrived at our table, we were officially in vacation mode. This is a relatively new restaurant located at the Beach House hotel not far from our villa. Teak tables are set up poolside under a covered area. The service was friendly and attentive and the food was a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. We dove right into the island specialty, conch. Here they make a conch salad wrapped in rice paper which was light and fresh. We also enjoyed their flatbread pizza with arugula, mushroom and truffle oil.
This was our first vacation with our daughter so our agenda was a little different than if we had been alone. She was not interested in long leisurely dinners or quietly reading books on the beach for hours. So we were on the move and let her moods guide our days.
We enjoy exploring on vacation and got around to several different areas of Provo. Our villa was pretty much in the center of the island on the north shore. When you head west from there you arrive in the Blue Hills area which is where many of the locals live and is home to local beachside shacks where you can get some very fresh conch. Head south from there and you venture through the local town and by the airport and can go left into 5 Cays Settlement where the fishing docks are located to pick up fish and lobster to cook at the villa. Stay right and you head to Chalk Sound which is home to several beaches, many villas and Las Brisas restaurant.
When we turned the corner and saw the water of Chalk Sound, we were speechless. It is a color I have never seen in nature and a landscape that made me feel like I was on another planet. The water is dead calm and a very light green color. Popping up from the water are bright green islands and not a sole was on the water. The one restaurant down there is Las Brisas which we loved and has a gorgeous view of the sound. The restaurant is part of a resort and they have boats to rent which I would have loved to do. They also have a pool and a bar where we enjoyed a swim and a cold drink. Across the street is Sapodilla beach which is calm and shallow and great for babies floating in the raft. Down the road is Taylor’s beach which we didn’t make it to, but I hear is similar to Sapodilla.
Traveling to the eastern end of the island on the south shore, we spent a day at Long Bay beach. The water again is very calm here and there are tons of conch shells to dig up and enjoy. You can take a long walk or just sit in the soft sand and enjoy the vista. Head north from there and you are in the heart of Grace Bay beach where most of the hotels, restaurants and shopping are.
One of the most enjoyable parts of this trip was how nice the people were who live on the island. We joined in on a few local activities and had the chance to meet a lot of people. On our first full day in Provo we ran in a 10k road race. Up before sunrise we made our way to the IGA and joined a group of about 75 people for a 5k and 10k race. I’m not going to give numbers, but I will say that I finished despite the heat and humidity, and enjoyed the pancake party afterwards. Our travels fell over Halloween so we packed costumes and made our way to the big party at the Tiki Hut and it was a blast! Outside they had kid’s games and everyone running around in costumes. Inside was music, drinks and food and a great crowd of people.
Dining out is a pleasure in Turks and Caicos with a full range of restaurants to choose from. The island is known for being a bit on the expensive side when it comes to food, so I was happy to find a great list of suggestions for “local” restaurants. All across the island are local places serving great island food like cracked conch, fritters, fish tacos, rice & peas, plantains and jerk chicken. We were able to swing a couple nights out with the baby and enjoyed the hilltop views from Magnolia Wine Bar & Restaurant and the garden atmosphere of Caicos Café. In the end we enjoyed quite a few meals at our villas as well, because that is one of the big advantages of having a kitchen. We had the villa provisioned before our arrival so we already had a great assortment of foods for breakfast and snacks and drinks for our first night there. There are several markets on the island that have everything you would expect to find at home. For seafood you can go to the docks in Five Cays Settlement. You need to get there before 4 though as we found ourselves there too late…next time! We barbequed 2 nights at our villa and on our final night we had Chef Alex Pelli come in to prepare us dinner. It was so wonderful to relax at “home” with a bottle of nice wine as Alex brought out 4 courses of delicious food – conch ceviche, truffle steak, shrimp frittata and fresh bruschetta.
As usual, a week went by too quickly. There was so much more we wanted to do – go out on the snorkel boat, spend a day on neighboring North Caicos Island, rent a paddleboard for a couple hours, and try a bunch more restaurants. We went into this trip not knowing what to expect from the island and found out that there is so much to do in Turks and Caicos. It’s a visually stunning place and is occupied by some of the nicest people in the Caribbean. Knowing that we can hop a direct flight and be there in only 3 hours, I think we will be back when our next conch craving hits.