What’s a Turks & Caicos??!!
by Michael Chisholm
When I mentioned to my lady I’d be going on a familiarization trip to the TCI (Turks & Caicos Islands) she replied “The who? The what?”.
This is a frequent reaction from many for this group of sun kissed tropical islands as despite a lot of recent mentions in the press and travel literature they are still not familiar words. Indeed many perceive the islands as being in the Caribbean and for good reason as the archipelago sits close to the geographic boundary of that sea and is in the same general direction, i.e. southeast of Florida.
To be more precise though, the Turks and Caicos islands are situated just below the Bahamas archipeligo, some 575 miles southeast of Miami, and just north of Cuba and the Dominican Republic…islands in that area referred to as being in the Atlantic ocean as opposed to being in the Caribbean sea. The Turks is made up of 40 islands, of which only 8 are inhabited, and covers a total of 193 square miles of the Atlantic Ocean.
The main entry point for Turks & Caicos is the island of Providenciales (Providentiales) or Provo as it is affectionately known. This island covers some 38 square miles with wonderful beaches, resorts, villas and attractions to rival any prime Caribbean destination.
Typically the villa rentals on TCI run Saturday to Saturday, and so usually coincide with better flights. For access, there are numerous non-stops from key cities up and down the eastern seaboard. A quick call to Wimco will let you know what options there are from your city.
Our flight plan was Boston to Miami to Providenciales. My colleague Bill and I left Boston at 2pm and were on island by 8pm with a very easy change in Miami.
Our home away from home was Villa Paprika. This is a 5 bedroom, 5-bath property, which opens onto Turtle Cove. The villa has beach frontage at the end of the property line past the protected sand dunes, which fringe the island’s beaches. The Turks and Caicos government has protected the dunes since 1991 and it serves the island well.
Though I have traveled far and wide, this trip to Turks and Caicos was my first, but I felt as though I knew them having spent years researching the villas we represent there, and talking with the men and women who manage them. It is like knowing the words in a book without actually reading them and finding the whole book on a coffee table with time on hand to read it thoroughly, truly a delightful experience and one I was more than ready for.
True first impressions came to me over the next several days as we crisscrossed the island from east to west and north to south, seeking out the villa and hotel locations to fulfill the primary objective of our visit. Our secondary objective of course to experience the island and taste its flavors, which we most certainly did our best to accomplish.
The Turks Head Cactus grows throughout the island. It is the cactus, which in part gives the chain their name, along with the fact that the islands perhaps have the appearance of a Turkish person wearing their traditional headwear. The cactus is on the TCI flag too, which shows the importance of the succulent to the islands as a whole.
The island’s infrastructure is very good. The roads are in good shape and there is a 4-lane highway dissecting the major portion of the island, which allows easy access up and down. The water on island is safe to drink from the faucet and is plentiful. All the villas we visited have washer/driers, which is a refreshing change from many an island though usual water conservation of course makes sense.
From a produce standpoint, TCI imports just about everything, there are supermarkets as good as we have in the states but the prices are high. The IGA is a mainstay for the island, centrally located, clean and convenient; it has everything under one roof so rest assured you can find the cookies you want or a suitable alternative. It is an interesting place offering up an island flavor with locals, visitors and ex pats going about the business of stocking up with provisions. As I advice frequently, part of the island feel is to be found in the stores as there is produce which is strange to most on display raising the question of “what do you do with that?”
The jewel in the crown of Provo is Grace Bay beach. This is a sweeping crescent bay with a miles long soft sand beach, a barrier reef protecting the shores and the protected dunes running the whole length. From a water enthusiasts stand point Provo has everything, fishing, deep sea and sport and notably bone fishing, (shallow water fishing which the TCI have a lot of) world class diving with many excellent locations, and of course the usual beach sports available at key points up and down Grace Bay beach. All in all a very well rounded island vacation destination with good weather and usually little or no interruption from the usual June through November weather systems which mare many island jaunts.
So when you visit the Tucks and Caicos islands and Provo in particular where should you stay? We have villas and hotels on this island and of course they were the primary reason for our visit.
All of the villas in the Turks and Caicos islnds have WIFI as standard so connectivity is assured. Also, all the villas have washer dryers on site which makes laundry for those who need to, very easy. Every villa has easy access, no steep driveways or blind approaches and each has ample parking for the property. On some you can moor a boat too, quite an enticement should you wish to try your hand on the sea. Additionally, almost all of the villas have full AC which is a delightful amenity especially on hot sultry days.
We visited almost 40 villas during our stay. In summary we felt the villas were well appointed and were generally very well suited for vacation rentals. The fact that so many of them were steps from the beach was a big plus. We stayed in Villa Paprika, which we both liked. In addition to our “home base” of Villa Paprika I’d like to put the spotlights on a few other interesting villas and hotels.
Set back from the beach this 3 story villa will not disappoint you, like its sister Tamarind all amenities are in this “Manor House” as the villa book says. The ground floor has 1 ensuite bedroom and with access from the living room, is ideal for elderly or infirm. Upstairs on the second floor, 3 ensuite bedrooms all with king beds and 2 of these have 2 kings in each so the rooms have plenty of space. Continue to the 3rd floor and the 5th ensuite bedroom king bed of course and quite dramatic views too.
The ground floor also has the great room, dining area and spacious kitchen, I for 1 could not find anything missing, there is even AC here too.
With great space inside and out, accommodations for 12 this villa is sure to please a family or group of friends, 2 ornamental cannons, which quirkily fit this villa nicely, guard the outside entry.
Villa Palmera – 6bdr, 6ba, Pool
Built on 2 main levels there is also a fully equipped gym and nanny/staff apartment below the pool area.
Entry to this villa is as dramatic as I have come across in all my travels checking out villas. Through the front door the property opens up with floor to ceiling windows showing off the cathedral ceilings in this very well laid out villa.
The great room is the focal point opening out to the deck and pool area with all the toys you come to expect from this modern villa. The gourmet kitchen to the left is set back from the dining area but open to the space for easy access and convenience. On this level there are 2 king bedroom suite and each of these ground floor rooms have an indoor/outdoor shower.
Taking a stairway on the left or the right in the great room brings you to the 2nd floor and here there are 4 equal ensuite king bedrooms, all open onto a terrace and at each end there is a turret with seats for taking in the view. With the elevation this villa has you have wonderful vistas left and right. All the bedrooms have all the amenities, a theme which flows throughout the villa.
Back downstairs and the outside pool area is quite different, the pool has multiple depths for enjoyment with shallow areas for children and progressively deeper steps to a point where you need to swim, a novel approach which I had not come across before. Additionally, the lights in the pool can be set to play to different beats, which would be quite interesting. All round a very good villa, spacious and equal, ideal for 6 couples, or a family with children.
For beach access there is a plan to make steps to the water but this is not a beachfront property.
Being my first visit I did not know quite what to expect from the hotels in the Turks and Caicos islands, after site visits to the hotels we represent I have confidence in each one for its own style and character. My favorite was the Palms, with the Gansevort, Amanyara and The Beach House all coming in a close second.
A new property opened in Feb 05. This property opted to open early to take advantage of the peak season. Most hotels opt for a “soft opening” to iron out kinks and for example make sure all the pipes are connected. The hotel suffered through some initial criticsm in its early days, but has recovered from that and now offers the service and grace, which was lacking in the early days. Built in a 1920’s British Colonial style, The Palms offers world-class accommodations and dining options. The property is comprised of 5 buildings in a U shape fronting of course Grace Bay and boasting the only Ballroom on the island. This feature alone gives this property the edge over its competitors as it can offer facilities the others currently do not. Ballroom Dancing being one obvious one.
An added attraction for this property is the exquisite spa matching the best on any property and boasting the same architect as many Barbados villas, it is a modern facility offering all the best treatments.
Here is a brief synopsis of our dining experiences, overall quite good with enough variety for a 2-week stay.
Dinner, we arrived on island at 8pm Sharkbites in the Turtle Cove Marina just behind Grace Bay beach and Smith Reef.
IGA shopping, sandwich lunch, and a snack selection for dinner, bread, assorted cheeses, Italian sausage, fruit and assorted chips, this after a safari to the Amanyara resort at the extreme western end of the island.
Lunch: conch expertly prepared by Boogaloo across from 3 Queens far and away the best dining experience of the trip. Nothing compares to just caught and prepared food and the conch served this day under the tropical sun was exquisite. I had a traditional Conch salad while Bill had his grilled.
Dinner: Iguanas at Grace Bay beach in the Salt Mills complex. This area offers a variety of dining and shopping options and is also still under construction, a frequent feature on the island but without the brain numbing jack hammers which are and often heard intrusion on other islands.
Lunch: provided by Point Grace Aqua Restaurant in the Turtle Cove Marina
Lunch: provided by The Palms; Dinner: Tiki Hut in the Turtle Cove Marina
Back home to RI via Miami & Boston, airport dining needs no comment.
So, What is a Turks and Caicos you ask? I can say with confidence now that a Turks and Caicos is an island paradise, and an ideal place to vacation with friends and family. All in all we had a very good trip, refreshing to visit a new destination and one which was long overdue.