What if there were a place to go back in time, to glimpse the Caribbean as it once was circa 1950? There is such a place. The flamingos rest in the salt pans, the Caribbean pines bend in the trade winds, men play dominoes in the street, the catch is fresh at the dock, and the water is an unsettling blue. It’s known as the “Big South,” and it feels like it was made just for you.
The definition of an island is simple: Any piece of sub-continental land that is surrounded by water. However, the Caribbean islands are anything but simple. They are complex organisms, wrought with the history of enslavement, economic, and environmental struggles—the backdrop of their narrative plight set in nirvana on unspoiled land, bound by lustrous sea, and a tropical climate.
Since the beginning of history great sailors have “explored” the Caribbean landscape, dating back to the Spanish conquistadors of 1600, who mined the islands for gold. Most islands boast the arrival of Christopher Columbus. All have been affected by European colonialism. With their proximity to the United States, South and Central Americas, they have developed a culture, ethnicity, and personality very much their own. The Caribbean nation’s gross national product initiated with agriculture, expanding into natural resources at the turn of the century. Larger economies now export petroleum, minerals, and agriculture accounting for 75 percent of their gross national product. Since the start of tourism in the region in the 1950s, the Caribbean’s economy is largely dependent in the tertiary sector of the economy, where service is king. Tourism accounts for more than 30 percent of the Caribbean’s GNP, and in countries without agriculture and manufacturing exports upwards of 75 percent.
Are the Caribbean Islands the most politically, socially, economically, geographically, culturally diverse, fascinating geographic region in the world? Hemingway, Depp, the Beach Boys, were all drawn to the region—creating their own personal tribute through pen, screen, and song. The combination of a complex history, beautiful location, diverse ethnicity, and socially rich customs and food, make the Caribbean an experiential mecca. Exploring the people, topography, vegetation, rhythm, and the community of an island is like a great love—no two are the same, and you find yourself forever changed. Should you be moved to gain familiarity and get “on island,” Turks and Caicos is promised to transport you in such a way.
Beautiful by Nature
The Turks and Caicos Islands are celebrated for their “Beautiful by Nature” iridescent waters and notable celebrity residents. Comprised of 42 islands and cays, Turks derives from the Turk’s Head Cactus and Caicos meaning Cay Hico, “string of islands” in Lucayan. The barefoot luxury islands claim Prince, Keith Richards, Bruce Willis, and fashion designer Donna Karan, who has recently put a portion of her Parrot Cay compound on the market for $39 million. Providenciales, the most visited by air island, is where 85 percent of its 50,000 population resides. Approximately 70 percent of their annual visitors stop over in Grand Turk (where it is claimed Columbus entered the new world in 1492) via cruise ship. The outer inhabited islands consist of Middle Caicos, North Caicos, Parrot Cay, Salt Cay, Pine Cay, and South Caicos.
Turks and Caicos Island Stats
- Islands & Cays: 42; 8 are inhabited.
- Capital: Grand Turk, most air travel and residence is found on Providenciales aka Provo
- Population: 25,000 “Belongers” (citizens) + 15,000 ex-patriots
- Language: English
- Government: Premier Dr. Rufus Ewing; British Overseas Territory
- Overseas Territory Governor: Peter Beckingham
- Currency: US Dollar
- Health Care: Available on Grand Turk and Providenciales, with a state- of- the-art hospital
- Driving: Left side of the road
- Electricity 110 Volcs A/C
- Climate: Perfect 82 Fahrenheit in the air and sea, with sunshine 350 days a year
If Provo is like “Little Miami” than “Big South” or South Caicos as it’s listed on the map is the historic glimpse into the once industrial Caribbean. Envision Motor City—lost in the nostalgia of its glory days, relegated to a Mayberry-esque tropical town. South, Salt Cay, and Grand Turk once comprised the hub of the salt industry; during the American Revolutionary War, the islands produced one-sixth of North America’s salt. It is hard to imagine that these sleepy little islands were once the heart of such an important facet of American culture.
Presently, the island has a robust fishing industry and is seeing an uptake in development. Most notably Sail Rock, an eco-friendly development. As eco-conscious as the development team is, they are more so socially conscious. With a population of 900 persons on South, the developers have taken the time to cultivate residents and employ nationals. The Sail Rock team emanates a passion for restoring South to its glory days—investing in the infrastructure of the island, campaigning for outer island tourism, developing relationships with excursion partners, and plans for a future museum. There is a “Big” picture at play for the economic health of the little 8.5 square mile of South.
The Sail Rock development displays one of the most exquisite views to behold in the Caribbean. Set upon a cliff on the outer peninsula of the island you have your choice of landscape—the deepest blue Caribbean water or a stagnant Bell Sound where the donkeys roam. Can’t choose? The first home owner, a Canadian artist, desired the visual to paint both drastically different landscapes. Her home has views of both, with the main outdoor living being on the sound side, where the sights change with the light of the sun and the stroke of a brush.
If you are lucky enough to travel between January and March, you will have the opportunity to pay homage, to the North Atlantic humpback whales. As they make an annual pilgrimage, traveling through the Columbus Passage that separates South Caicos and Grand Turk, they can be heard composing their song on the way to breed and nurse their young on the Silver Banks off the Dominican Republic.
South is located just 40 miles by pond-jumper from Providenciales airport, presently you can arrange a night at Ocean & Beach Resort. Cleo the operator will surely keep you entertained with island folklore as you gaze at the deep blue sea. Meals should be arranged ahead to ensure you sample what may just be the best almond grouper in the world. Sailors beware, the island comes alive with international tourism, during the annual Big South Regatta in May.
South Caicos has a proper town structure. The homes are heavily influenced by the original Bermudian salt rakers, who traveled here during the “Big Days.” The salt pans alone are a reason to get “on island.” Once controlled by the boiling hole and a levy system, the rakers would allow the natural salt to flow into the pans, then the brackish water to evaporate by the sun, creating the crystalline mineral. The original structures of the Salinas, boiling hole, workhouses, loading dock, are untouched and you can still pick a pinch of salt. After your island tour you can choose from some of the best deep sea or fly fishing, diving and kiteboarding in the region. Dominoes are still played in the streets, church is attended on Sundays, donkeys run wild—but the salt pans gleam with the white gold that once was and flamingoes stand tall keeping guard.
What the Insiders Know
- Fly Direct: Eight major US cities, now including Ft. Lauderdale and Boston. Montreal, Toronto, and London with a stop in the Bahamas.
- Shoulder Season: November prior to Thanksgiving or April to June or January to March for the humpback whale migration
- Upon Arrival: Stop at the local grocery store IGA and find all the conveniences of home. Crust Bakery and Cafe makes great artisan breads, takeout meals, and desserts.
- Where to Stay: Grace Bay, Providenciales tops every list for the best beach in the world. From 3- to 5-star accommodations, each resort is independently managed and presently not one branded hotel exists on the island. The inner harbor of Grace Bay is protected by a coral reef making the waters iridescent blue and calm as the eye can see.
- Sunset: Arrange a private dinner at sunset with the newly rebranded Palms Resort. Sit on the beach enjoying a delectable meal as the sky puts on a show of pink and purple beauty, melting into the still turquoise sea. For a one-of-a-kind experience, ask about their moonbathing option.
- Eat and Drink: Spiny tail lobster, grouper, snapper, conch, marlin, and wahoo are caught directly in the ocean in front of you. Order these any way you like, and go local with a side of peas and rice. The local beverage of choice is Bambara Rum Punch, and Turks Head Lager.
- A Saturday Afternoon: Bugaloo’s, located in Five Cays, is the perfect tucked away local spot to sway to Caribbean rhythms with your toes in the sand.
- Outer Island Luxury: Parrot Cay— A day trip may be arranged with your concierge. Como Shambhala is an unforgettable experience for its cuisine and Ayurvedic spa services available at Parrot Cay by Como.
- Outer Island Experience: South Caicos is worthy of an overnight trip to take in the natural beauty, watch the donkeys wander by, and experience fresh seafood. The main draw are the salinas.
- Night Out: Music is diverse and can be found in Provo most nights of the week, ranging from Rake N Scrape to the Top 40. For a Euro-club experience, visit the Gansevoort on a Friday night.
- Fitness: There are string of recently opened independent Pilates and Yoga studios, including Retreat Yoga and Wellness Studio, run by power yoga sisters Laura and Lindsay Mensen.
- Stand-out Spa: The Spa at the Palms showcases unprecedented design in its open-air spa. Offering uniquely indigenous services, the Zareeba herbal detox and mother-of-pearl conch polish are recommended.
Stephanie Rest believes in promoting the entrepreneurial spirit, leadership, and service to the community. Creator and Chair of the first TCI Hospitality Adventures: Spa Camp, she collaborates in the Americas on wellness and education projects and has led opening teams for resorts and spas throughout the Americas. Stephanie is the Global Wellness Day Ambassador for the Caribbean and serves on the International Spa Association Speaker Task Force and the Global Careership Committee with Global Wellness Institute.