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TPG Contributor Amber Gibson has been to the Caribbean eight times in the last two years. Here’s why Turks & Caicos might be her favorite locale so far — and why you should visit this summer. Follow along with Amber’s travel adventures on Instagram. (All photos are by the author).
Not only will you save more by visiting Turks & Caicos during the island’s low season (summer), this British Crown Colony is super approachable for American visitors — you don’t need a visa (just a valid passport), English is the official language and the US dollar is the official currency. Non-residents can even rent a car with a US driver’s license — just be aware that people drive on the left here. The main island, Providenciales, or “Provo,” is popular with visitors and the largest by population, a great starting point for your first trip to the 40-island archipelago. Here’s why you should visit this summer.
1. It’s Easy to Get There From the US
Many major US carriers offer nonstop flights to Providenciales International Airport (PLS). American Airlines flies nonstop from Charlotte, Miami and starting this November, from New York (JFK). Delta flies nonstop from Atlanta, United from Newark and JetBlue from Fort Lauderdale and New York (JFK), while Air Canada and WestJet also offer nonstop flights from Toronto. Rates across the board tend to drop during the low summer season, which starts once spring break ends in early-April, and remain low through November. Note that hurricane season is technically June through November, so keep a close eye on Caribbean weather if you plan to travel during these months. The weather is generally very pleasant, though, with plenty of rain-free days and temperatures in the high 80s.
I had a pretty smooth trip from Chicago on American Airlines (with a stopover in Charlotte) for $458 round-trip, but if you’re flying from a gateway city with a nonstop flight like the ones mentioned above, you can find significantly lower fares — United does run nonstop flights from Chicago to Providenciales but only during the high winter season between December and April.
The downside of all these nonstop flights is that Providenciales International Airport (PLS) seems unequipped to handle the recent surge in visitors, even after completing a $10 million expansion in December 2014 — we waited in line for more than 90 minutes at customs with no air-conditioning and no Wi-Fi. Most flights arrive in the afternoon, so if you’re able to find one that gets there in the morning or evening, you’ll have better chances of having a shorter wait.
2. You Can Have the Whole Beach to Yourself
Of the 40 islands and cays in Turks & Caicos, only eight are inhabited. There are several resorts on private islands, including The Meridian Club, Parrot Cay by COMO and several others that are home to private residences. There’s a haunting structure on Dellis Cay that was supposed to become a Mandarin Oriental, but the project was abandoned in 2010. A few of the islands are even available to purchase if you’re interested.
Otherwise, there are still quite a few entirely untouched islands that are easily accessible by boat. Visiting tiny Fort George Cay, pictured above, was magical — the beach and ocean were both so pristine that it felt like we were the only people who’d ever set foot on the island. That is, until I posted a photo on Instagram and saw that more than 11,227 images had already been tagged #FortGeorge.
3. You Can Explore Nearby Islands and Cays by Boat
The sand here is ridiculously white and so soft it feels like you’re walking on powdered sugar. The brilliant azure waters are an electric blue on a sunny day and were almost always very calm, perfect for water sports.
Traveling with a group? Consider booking a private catamaran through Island Vibes for a half- or full- day tour to explore the various islands and cays and snorkel over the third-largest barrier reef system in the world. The catamarans are also equipped with rooftop slides and diving boards that will make everyone feel like a kid again. When we hopped off the boat at Fort George Cay, our guides gathered up some conch shells and prepared us fresh conch ceviche to go with the wicked good rum punch served onboard. Prices start at $1,100 for a half-day trip and $2,200 for a full-day trip for groups of up to eight including resort pick-up and lunch, which breaks down to about $138–$275 per person if you’ve got a group of friends or family traveling with you.
4. Two Words: Fresh Conch
This edible marine snail is one of three symbols on the Turks & Caicos flag and has a slightly chewy texture that’s similar to clams. I’ve tried conch throughout the Caribbean that was overcooked or even a bit rubbery, but here it was delicious. At the Island Fish Fry and all across the islands, you’ll see conch served in many ways – fried, grilled, in soup or in a ceviche-style chilled salad, pictured above. Conch fritters are the most popular way to consume this delicacy — and the tastiest introduction for picky eaters. Take a tour of Caicos Conch Farm to see how they’re grown, then snorkel for your own conch and have it cleaned and cooked at Da Conch Shack in Blue Hills for an unforgettable Caribbean meal.
5. Splurge on an Epic Beachfront Resort — For Less Than You’d Pay in High Season
While you won’t find any major chains or points hotels in Turks & Caicos, you can still earn points by strategically paying for your stay with a credit card like the Citi Prestige and Citi ThankYou Premier, which give you 3x the points on hotel charges, or Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which gives you 2x the points on travel expenses, making it easier to rack up more points for future trips.
Booking through a third-party site like Hotels.com may also prove profitable since you’ll earn a free night after every 10th stay as part of the site’s rewards program. If you’re watching your wallet, a quick search on Hotels.com showed rates at Grace Bay Suites from $136 per night, the Osprey Beach Hotel from $165, the East Bay Resort from $195 and La Vista Azul Resort from $210 per night in mid-June.
If you’re in the mood for a more urban, scene-y vibe, the Gansevoort Turks & Caicos is a sleek hotel about a 10-minute drive from Providenciales airport (PLS) with 91 rooms and a swanky 7,000 square-foot infinity pool. Rates start at $495 per night June through October, then start to rise slightly ($595 per night) in November before the high season begins.
The Palms Turks & Caicos, located about a 15-minute drive from the airport along Grace Bay, has a stately plantation feel and is home to a massive 25,000 square-foot spa. Rates here start at about $548 per night in June through mid-December.
On this trip, we spent three nights at Grace Bay Club, just 15 minutes from PLS. Although the resort opened back in 1993, recent renovations by Thom Filicia (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’s interior design expert) give it a cool contemporary Caribbean look. The personal concierge service — complete with beach butlers bringing over tropical sorbets as you work on your tan — is really impressive. My friend and I made a comment about how we could drink coconut water every day after seeing all the coconut trees around the resort and the next afternoon, we magically found two fresh coconuts in our refrigerator with straws ready for us to enjoy!
All 82 suites at Grace Bay Club offer oceanfront views and because the property is situated horizontally across the Bay, it has more beachfront real estate than many of its competitors. We stayed in a 1,750 square-foot one-bedroom suite in the Villas section, which included a full kitchen, washer/dryer, Elemis toiletries and a spacious balcony terrace that served as my beautiful outdoor office for a few days. In the low summer season, you can often find promotions for complimentary room upgrades or a third night free on the resort’s website. Continental breakfast is always included. Rates for an oceanfront Villas Junior Suite start at about $512 per night June through October when you book online at least 21 days ahead.
By paying attention to the Caribbean’s high and low seasons, you can plan the ultimate Turks & Caicos vacation. Whether you’re splurging on an epic beachfront resort or looking forward to exploring tiny islands by boat, you’ll have a great time!
Have you ever been to Turks & Caicos? Tell us about your experience, below.
Featured image of Grace Bay Club’s pool courtesy of the author.
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