Turks and Caicos is paradise in its purest definition. Or at least, the closest I’ve ever experienced. The British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean has nine inhabited islands, and this fall I went on an island-hopping excursion to three of them — Providenciales, South Caicos, and Grand Turk.
With 85-degree temperatures year-round, endless rum punch, miles of white sand, and laid-back beach vibes, the trip felt like something out of a daydream. But it wasn’t without some struggle — I couldn’t seem to find words to best convey the ocean’s unforgettable color. Aquamarine? Cerulean? I’d heard it described as “very blue,” but seeing it myself I realized that phrase didn’t begin to do it justice.
This water was positively cartoon-like. An artist’s rendering with the saturation levels turned all the way up.
It wasn’t until my last day of the trip, stumbling across a 1980s newspaper framed in one of the exhibits in the Turks and Caicos National Museum in Grand Turk, that I finally found my word. My eye hovered over the first sentence of an article about an ancient shipwreck. “The azure surface of the Caribbean Sea…” began writer Pete Earley.
Azure. That’s it. The bright blue of a cloudless sky. The word embodies the essence of Turks and Caicos Islands. Occasional thunderstorms notwithstanding, spiritually, being in the TCI is like an endless summer day. Worries gone, bikinis on.
Whether you prefer to lounge in a luxury villa or snorkel with barracudas, there’s plenty to do on every island — all of which are surprisingly distinct from each another. Come along, as we share where to stay, play, eat, and party in Providenciales, South Caicos, and Grand Turk.
PART I – Providenciales
Providenciales, often referred to as “Provo,” is where most of the action happens in Turks and Caicos. Unless you own a private jet like Drake or the Kardashians (some of the island’s most notable visitors), Providenciales is where you’ll first land — no matter which island you’re visiting. Here you’ll find a slew of resorts and private villas, booked by a mixed crowd of family vacationers, young partiers, and high-society millionaires making use of their summer properties.
Being that it’s the primary hotspot for tourism in the island chain, you’ll never run out of things to do here.
Where to Stay
Most of the beach-side resorts are within walking distance of each other, making restaurant hopping and bar crawling especially convenient. I stayed at Grace Bay Club, which had everything I needed in one place – no charge for sunscreen and flip-flops. Grace Bay Club combines luxury and beachside living without the touristy “scene” you’d typically find at an all-inclusive.
Grace Bay Club offers different lodging options, depending on the style and price you’re looking for, but I recommend the Estate Four Bedroom Residence for large groups and celebratory getaways. This option fits up to eight people and has its own living room, kitchen, and oceanfront terrace. (Tip: Book a bottom floor estate for your own personal plunge pool.)
The property also has three pools, a spa, a boutique, and three restaurants. You could pretty much spend your entire vacation here. If Grace Bay Club is fully booked, there’s still a heaping supply of hotels and vacation rentals to choose from. If you’re planning a trip for next year and want something a bit more secluded, check out Rock House. It’s opening in early 2022 and will offer resort luxury that’s a little more off the beaten path.
Check out more accommodation options here.
Where to Play
I only spent two full days in Providenciales, but we packed a lot of fun into a short time. You obviously have to spend at least a few hours per day with your toes in the sand, and Grace Bay Beach, which stretches three miles, is the best place to enjoy a few too many piña coladas and pristine ocean views. Once you’re ready to take a dip, you’ll be happy to learn that the ocean water is like a salty heated pool.
For some adventure, book an Ocean Vibes excursion. They offer everything from parasailing and snorkeling to a champagne sunset. I participated in the half-day sail and snorkel adventure, the highlight of my time in Provo.
The charter catamaran picked us up on the beach in front of Grace Bay Club like an oceanic Uber. The lively crew welcomed us aboard with a selection of tropical cocktails – I went with (another) rum punch. Our first stop was at the barrier reef, a protected nature reserve full of eye-catching sea life. If you’re down to become one with the fish, Ocean Vibes will take you on a guided snorkeling tour through the reef.
Stop number two was at Little Water Cay, more commonly known as Iguana Island, which certainly lived up to its nickname. Located about 500 yards off the coast of Provo, the area is home to a posse of fearless rock iguanas, mini dinosaur-looking creatures with the personality of a hungry puppy. If you have a piece of fruit in your hand, they won’t be shy about wanting to snag it from you. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t jump every time the little guys came speeding toward me, but they were kind of cute, in their own lizard way.
In addition to boating excursions, you can find non-motorized watersports right on the beach. Many resorts will offer equipment for activities like kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, so you can get your daily dose of adventure without going far.
Click here to learn more about the many watersports you can do in Providenciales.
Where to Eat
I was surprised to learn that in Turks and Caicos, almost all food and beverage supplies are imported from the U.S. TCI’s tropical climate and lack of open space make implementing large-scale agriculture difficult. What they do have is fresh seafood aplenty. I had spiny lobster and conch fritters three nights in a row, but when in Rome, right? For a more intimate dinner, venture down the road (or walk down the beach) to Grace’s Cottage at Point Grace Resort. The outdoorsy restaurant is where casual meets trendy.
I recommend starting with happy hour at the bar before sitting down for a bite. I learned quickly that bartenders take their cocktail-making skills seriously in Turks and Caicos, and each one seems to have their own signature specialty. I went with the bartender’s recommendation, the gin special. This initiated a full-on performance, as he torched rosemary garnish and smoked the gin glasses right there on the bartop. The fresh cocktails complement the French-inspired dinner menu at Grace’s Cottage, and I again ordered the lobster, in all of its buttery goodness. It was meaty, flavorful, and came with a side of veggies and seared lemon.
For an ultra dreamy dining experience, head back to Grace Bay Club’s Infiniti Restaurant and Raw Bar. Here, you’ll find sea-side cocktails, raw sushi plates, and live music on the weekends. Celebrating a special occasion? You can organize a dinner right on the beach at sunset (I was honestly shocked I didn’t see at least three proposals here). It’s the perfect way to soak in Caribbean beach views while enjoying your meal.
Looking for more of the local flavor? Find a full list of Providenciales restaurants here.
Where to Party
Providenciales is the party center of Turks and Caicos. Typically, locals and travelers alike gather at Bright Park or Grace Bay Beach every week for the Island Fish Fry and weekend festivities. Unfortunately, COVID was still going strong when I arrived, so these jam-packed weekly celebrations have been put on hold. Luckily, there are still plenty of ways to let loose. When you’re done getting tipsy on the beach and the sun goes down, you can head over to the newly opened Ritz-Carlton casino and gamble the night away, where they’ve got slot machines, poker tables, and yes, complimentary booze. (Tip: Grab dinner at the Ritz’s BLT Steak restaurant next door. They’ll give you a free chip to try your luck!)
If you’ve had your fix of drinking at the myriad Provo resorts (I heard Club Med is the young singles hotspot), head into town for some classic bar hopping and beer. Start at the Turk’s Head Brewery, which produces four varieties of beer and lager, and offers tours of the brewery hall and tasting room. After sipping on brews, make your way to Coconut Grove Restaurant and Lounge, located in Provo’s downtown region, a casual spot offering cocktails and bar games like billiards and dominoes.
On the other side of the island off the shore of Long Bay Beach, you’ll discover a “floating” bar called Captain Oak’s Tiki Bar. There you can rent a boat or kayaks and float right up to the establishment for drinks and light bites in the sun.
For more about the local bars and beverage scene, click here.
PART II – South Caicos
On the opposite end of the spectrum from populous Providenciales is South Caicos, a low-density island of a little over 1,000 residents. A rural nook of TCI, South Caicos almost feels like being on your own private island. You’ll see bright pink flamingos chilling in the shallow water and donkeys grazing on shrubs along dirt roads. It’s a serene, secluded getaway for anyone who appreciates the road less traveled.
To get from island to island, I flew in a tiny eight-seater plane. I even got to ride shotgun like it was the front seat of a taxi. Being in the co-pilot seat was slightly terrifying, but mostly really f*cking cool. Once you overcome your fear, these little planes offer the ultimate bird’s eye view.
Where to Stay
If you want to live like the Biebers, stay at Sailrock Resort. Rumor has it the celeb couple spent the holidays here a few years back. When most people think of the word “resort,” they picture massive pools, unlimited food, and bustling crowds of tourists. But this couldn’t be further from the truth at Sailrock. It’s luxurious, no doubt, but in far subtler ways. Its designers took pains to incorporate Sailrock into the island’s natural beautiful lush landscape, rather than on top of it.
Staying at Sailrock, you’ll feel nothing but calm energy and a refreshing ocean breeze. Its exclusivity means you’ll often have the beach all to yourself. I spent my morning at Sailrock watching the sunrise from my private plunge pool followed by a solo stroll on the sequestered beach. I feel zen just thinking about it.
Sailrock is one of only three resorts in South Caicos, so make sure to plan your visit far in advance. The other accommodations include the all-inclusive East Bay Resort and the independently-owned, more accessible South Caicos Ocean and Beach Resort.
Click here for more information about what amenities, views, and services each property has to offer.
Where to Play
Just because South Caicos is less busy doesn’t mean there isn’t adventure to be had on and around the island. What I loved most about South Caicos was the tight-knit community of locals. Whenever I told anyone I was going on a South Caicos Boating Adventure, they smiled and told me to enjoy my time with Captain Tim (pictured above). The knowledgable, soft-spoken man first took us to the open waters for snorkeling. I almost chickened out when he mentioned the area’s frequent barracuda sightings, but despite my irrational fear, I eventually put on my goggles and jumped in. I’m pretty sure I made direct eye contact with a barracuda, but overall the coral reef was a nautical wonderland.
We then made our way to Starfish Gardens to look for, you guessed it, starfish. Located in an ultra-shallow area a few miles offshore, Starfish Gardens offers the sensation of literally walking in the middle of the ocean. Feeling like a modern-day Jesus, there seemed to be bright orange starfish resting on the sand just beneath the shallow surface everywhere I turned. Some were small and some were bigger than my head.
Yet my favorite stop ended up being Long Cay, a larger-scale version of Provo’s Iguana Island. We came prepared with fruit for the Iguanas and enjoyed our lunch with lizards lounging on the beach. Long Cay is also home to possibly the most captivating view in South Caicos. A short walk up to the top of Long Cay’s hilly landscape leads you to a plateau, from which you can see the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Caribbean on the other. On the Caribbean side is calm aquamarine water; on the Atlantic side, deep dark waves crash into the seaweed-packed cove under the cliffside. I could’ve spent all afternoon up here.
In addition to Captain Tim’s excursion, adventurers can take a Hobie Cat sailing lesson at Sailrock, go on a rugged nature tour on ATV, kayak or paddleboard by the beach, explore the island by bicycle, or go bonefishing. If you catch something, Sailrock will cook and prepare it for your next meal!
Check out Sailrock’s full list of activities here.
Where to Eat
If you’ve never tried conch, it’s a must-eat item in South Caicos. Conch are a small variety of sea snail that deliver classic seafood flavor with a uniquely toothsome texture. If you’re hungry for lunch in between paddleboarding and suntanning, grab appetizers like jerk chicken wings and fresh conch salad at Cove Restaurant and Beach Bar. Want to mingle with the locals in town? Make your way to Sunset Cafe, one of the few independent restaurants in South Caicos. The chef serves up fresh-caught seafood and sides, and you can order all the conch, lobster, and fish your heart desires!
For sunset views and laidback dining, kick back at Dolphin Grill at the South Caicos Ocean and Beach Resort. Sip on an ice-cold piña colada while digging into (more) seafood, as well as pork chops and barbecue chicken. The island music and friendly service make it a great place to grab a casual bite.
For more about the different South Caicos restaurants, click here.
Where to Party
While you won’t find any nightclubs or all-night ragers in South Caicos, you can still get your party on. For a backyard barbecue vibe and good times, go to Triple J’s Grill on a Friday or Saturday night. The owner runs his business straight out of his backyard, serving jerk chicken, pork, ribs, and grilled seafood. This is the spot for dancing after dark — LED lights and pop hits included.
If you want to leave with rad bartending skills, take the sunset mixology class at Sailrock’s Great House Bar. The experienced bartender will teach you how to make cocktails using the famous Turks and Caicos Bambarra Rum. If you think you’re ready to test your expertise, they’ll even let you get behind the counter to create a mixology masterpiece. My go-to drink from the lesson was the South Caicos Martini, made with coconut rum, vanilla vodka, and pineapple juice.
Browse Sailrock’s full cocktail menu here.
PART III – Grand Turk
Last on my Turks and Caicos island-hopping getaway was the tiny territory of Grand Turk. Don’t let the puny landmass (just 6.9 square miles) fool you, there are still plenty of things to do and see. Right away, you’ll notice Grand Turk’s abandoned buildings, with graffiti art decorating broken-down bricks. Compared to Provo, the island is more rustic and less developed, especially in the age of COVID.
Grand Turk is where cruise lines typically port, as it’s the only island with waters deep enough. It was eerie seeing some of Grand Turk’s most popular attractions deserted, but it made for a low-key day and a chance to get to know some of the local small businesses.
Where to Stay
I’m a big fan of boutique hotels, for their intimate ambiance and thoughtful touch. Which is why I was excited to stay at the Osprey Beach Hotel, a charming property encompassing 27 beachfront rooms and seven atrium rooms with seasonal rates starting at only $75 to $100 per night. My quaint seaside suite offered vintage decor and cozy vibes that made me feel right at home. “I want to live here,” I said numerous times throughout my stay.
Click here to book your stay at Osprey Beach Hotel.
Where to Play
Call me nerdy, but one of my favorite parts about traveling is learning how a destination came to be. If you’re a history buff, make a trip to the Turks and Caicos National Museum, where you can learn all about TCI’s most interesting eras – the booming (and corrupt) salt industry, the return of astronaut John Glenn (the first American to orbit Earth), and the development of Lucayan culture (Turks and Caicos’ original inhabitants).
To see and learn more about the island, rent a car to visit the most notable landmarks. The must-see sites on your town tour include the 1852 lighthouse, St. Thomas Anglican Church (built in 1823), the old salt fields, and Cockburn Town (the capital of the Turks and Caicos Islands). You’ll also pass by hundreds of donkeys roaming the streets who seem to be the true rulers of the island.
Learn more about Grand Turk’s history here.
Where to Eat
For some beach-side shade and bomb AF seafood, snag a table at Sandbar Restaurant. The cajun shrimp is delicious, but the view from the dining patio is better, with a view like an oil painting or a perfectly captured postcard. Fully equipped with chill island vibes and reggae music, Sandbar is the kind of place I’d imagine coming to for a lazy afternoon with my friends. (Lily livers beware, they make their rum punches strong).
Since I already had a grand tour of Grand Turk during the day, I had dinner at Osprey Beach Hotel’s restaurant, Bird Cage Bar and Grille. I likely won’t be having fresh-caught lobster again any time soon, so I had to order it one last time. The quirky outdoor restaurant has tons of character, seen in small details like the mini baby shoes placed under the legs of every table and chair. If you can, hit Bird Cage on a Monday, Wednesday, or Saturday night for live music and a barbecue.
To taste more of the local flavor in Grand Turk, click here.
Where to Party
For a daytime refreshment in Grand Turk, go to Margaritaville. The Grand Turk Margaritaville is Jimmy Buffett’s trademark establishment, and it’s also one of the most popular restaurants near the Carnival Cruise Center. Typically filled with lively cruise-goers, the restaurant, bar, and tourist shop is the largest Margaritaville in the Caribbean, complete with a pool and a swim-up bar. Margaritaville is only open when a cruise ship is in port, so you’ll want to wait to book your trip if that’s a top priority on your Grand Turk bucket list.
Jack Shack is another hotspot, for all things sea-side drinks and fun. Referred to as a “mojito hut on the beach,” the spacious deck and tiki vibes (not to mention, their free rum shot), will have you feeling good in no time. Order one of their colorful custom cocktails like the blue margarita, snack on their menu of island cuisine, and cuddle up with the adorable Jack Shack pup, Calypso.
PART IV – COVID-19 Guidelines
As of January 28, 2022, Turks and Caicos requires all international visitors age 16 and up must show proof of full vaccination, a negative COVID test within 72 hours of arrival, travel insurance coverage, and approved TCI Travel Authorisation. Additionally, until February 28th, Turks and Caicos will require all visitors ages two and older to show proof of a negative COVID test taken within three days of travel. All visitors also need to set up a COVID test to get on the plane home. Most resorts offer complimentary testing within three days of your departure, so organize this as soon as you check in. Click here to apply for TCI Travel Authorisation.
Uproxx was hosted for this story by the Turks & Caicos Islands Tourist Board. However, they did not review this story. You can learn more about the Uproxx Press Trip policy here.