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The Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) has a reputation. It’s known for being romantic and luxurious, for having gorgeous turquoise Caribbean water and for being home to a plethora of fine dining establishments. (TPG himself loves the destination.) But, that’s not all that defines the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Anyone who has ever visited this beautiful British territory (that uses the American dollar — a plus for US travelers), will find it’s teeming with family-fun. There’s something for everyone with sea adventures typical of island life, but also unexpected sites truly characteristic of its 40 islands and cays.
To get to Turks and Caicos, look for flights to Providenciales International Airport (PLS) from US gateways like New York, Miami, Charlotte or Washington, DC. American, JetBlue, Delta, Southwest and United all offer flights to PLS.
Especially if you live on the East Coast, check out British Airways’ distance-based award chart that can be a boon for inexpensive award flights to the Caribbean. You can book a seat on an American Airlines-operated flight but use your British Airways Avios to pay for it with round-trip flights from Miami to Providenciales costing just 15,000 Avios points per person plus about $92 in fees. Here are some other tips for using miles to get to the Caribbean.
Don’t forget that you’ll need a passport — even for your kids — and a return/onward ticket.
1. Swim and Snorkel in Pristine Waters
With the islands existing on the edge of two underwater mountains, it’s famous for diving. If you’re traveling with younger kids, a laid-back snorkeling trip will give the whole family an opportunity to see the beautiful reefs and marine wildlife.
There are plenty of snorkeling tour companies to choose from, most of which offer full- or half-day excursions. Some, like Island Vibes Tours, which starts at $89 per person, include lunch, snacks, water, nonalcoholic drinks and rum punch (for mom and dad) … and fun island tunes to get your whole crew dancing.
The Island Vibes tour takes guests to the uninhabited “Iguana Island,” where you can join 2,000 endangered rock iguanas as you stroll or swim along its quiet shores. Many family-friendly tours also have on-boat slides and high diving boards in case seeing tropical fish, barracudas and sharks isn’t exciting enough.
Most tours pickup passengers right on the sand of the touristy island of Providenciales (referred to as “Provo”), which has most of the islands’ most quality swimming beaches. You can catch a ride from a nearby shore if you opt to rent a house (a great option for big families) or right beside your resort — in that case, just check with the concierge for excursion tickets and pickup locations.
Grace Bay Beach takes up the main northeast stretch of the island and is heavily laden with resorts. It’s one of the most popular beaches for swimming and has access to watersports like parasailing, paddle-boarding, kite or wind surfing lessons. Most hotels also offer jet skiing and kayak rentals.
Bight Beach is on the central north coast of Provo, is easy to access, has free parking, covered picnic areas, bathrooms and a children’s park. It’s also is adjacent to Grace Bay, so it’s walkable if your family is up for an oceanside stroll. It has calm, clear waters with seagrass about 75 feet out and is typically sheltered from wind.
On the southeast side of the island is Long Bay Beach, a more private beach experience with soft sand and calm, shallow waters that stretch off the coast for a long distance. This is wonderful for families with young children looking to relax and swim with ease. It’s a quick drive or cab ride from Grace Bay. Unless you’re staying at Long Bay’s Shore Club, TCI’s newest luxury hotel, the beach is a little harder to access than the touristy Grace Bay, but still well worth it.
2. Explore Island Ruins and Old Salt Plantations
TCI was responsible for England’s production of salt and, today, many of its beautiful salt plantations can be toured. Most are on open parcels of land that will allow for children to roam, run and play while parents take in a little history.
On Provo, it’s a short drive to Cheshire Hall Plantation on the Leeward Highway, which runs from one end of the island to the other. This property was a cotton plantation built in the late-1700s. It’s one of the largest historic sites on TCI and also one of the best preserved. It’s a good activity for families who like to pepper a little history into their vacay, take a break from the beach and let kids run around an old, interesting property. There are also birds and wildlife to observe and a little shop with local crafts, such as woven straw baskets. Tickets are $10 per person for a 30 to 40 minute tour, which occur between 9am and 11:30am and 2:30pm to 4pm.
The island where many locals live and cruises often stop, Grand Turk, is a bit less touristy but still has hotels and rental houses. People can take a charter plane, or ferry to Grand Turk from Provo (about $70 round-trip per person). Grand Turk is home to many free-roaming donkeys. Several of these can be seen and petted at the Grand Turk Lighthouse, which makes it an enjoyable experience for children. The lighthouse is no longer open, but its location on a scenic path is breathtaking, where families can stroll, bring snacks and take in the views for $3 a person. Just be cautious with young children, as some of the cliffs around the lighthouse are steep.
Since you’re on Grand Turk anyway, check out Grand Turk Cruise Center. It’s a hub of bars, restaurants and souvenir shops where families can purchase trinkets, T-shirts and jewelry. Oh, and did we mention it has a pool with a family-friendly swim-up bar?
For a more intimate look at TCI, schedule a day trip by charter plane (about $180 round-trip per person) from Provo to Salt Cay, which has seen little development since the island was used for salt production. Families can roam the island by foot (it’s only 2.5 square miles) or rent a golf cart ($60 a day). There is an old salinas, where salt was sourced (you can wade in the water) and an historic home that can be toured. Families who want to spend a few nights on Salt Cay can rent a villa, which is comparably cheaper than Provo’s resorts and will allow you and your tribe to often have a whole beach day to yourselves.
3. Go Horseback Riding
Animal lovers and adventurers should not miss the opportunity to learn about the island’s history from a local guide, all by horseback. TCI Heritage Tours brings small groups along the pristine beaches and into the water for $120 per person. They welcome children and offer other types of riding experiences on the island’s native donkeys. (Pack a change of clothes for later.)
4. Dance, Dine and Shop at the Weekly Fish Fry
This lively event brings tourists and locals alike out to a beachside children’s park called the Bight Settlement on Provo. It happens every Thursday night from 5:30pm to 9:30pm. Tons of vendors cook up local specialties like conch fritters, jerk chicken and fresh grilled fish (don’t worry, there’s also plenty of mac ‘n’ cheese and less adventurous options for the kiddos). Crowds can peruse the country’s crafts like hand-woven baskets, beads, dolls, drums and other common souvenirs with TCI logos. Parents can enjoy cocktails in coconuts, famous rum punch or locally crafted beer from the island’s only producer, Turks Head Brewery.
As night falls, a lively band takes over along with performances by iconic dancers known as the Maskanoo, who have a contagious energy, vibrantly-colored costumes and a conch shell mascot that dances to their lively drum beats.
5. Visit PlayLand TCI
Traveling to Turks and Caicos is typically more affordable during the offseason from May to November. So, if you and the fam are OK with the possibility some rainy days in exchange for cheaper room rates, it’s good to have some backup ideas for entertainment.
PlayLand TCI is an indoor playground and activity center in the Grace Bay Tourism District geared toward children aged 2 to 12. For $15/hour per child, parents can choose to drop kids off where they will be supervised by the staff or wait in the sitting area (it has free Wi-Fi for those wanting to tap into the real world for a little while) and can watch their children play free of charge.
6. Kid-Approved Restaurants on Provo
Because Provo is a resort town, many of the restaurants boast award-winning chefs and fine dining (most of which welcome people of all ages). From Japanese Peruvian fare at Sui Ren to upscale Italian at Lupo in downtown Grace Bay Tourist District, there are plenty of options for families of foodies.
While you’re on Provo, however, be sure to check out two iconic restaurants, both of which have a relaxed feel where kids can play in the water or search for conch shells on the beach while they await lunch or dinner. Though both are known for serving the national specialty, conch, they have other options like burgers, fries, chicken fingers and mac ‘n’ cheese for picky eaters.
Bugaloos Conch Crawl: This is a lively restaurant and bar (afternoons are quietest) known for its award-winning conch dishes. The coconut-crusted conch fritters are a must-try! Families can choose to sit on the outdoor patio where giant trees grow amid tables constructed from overturned fishing boats.
Da Conch Shack: Travelers can get used to eating conch while visiting Turks. At this local landmark, fisherman dive for conch right in front of you so you know what you’re eating is as fresh as it gets.
Wherever you decide to dine, be sure to pay with a credit cards that rewards you well for purchases in that category, such as the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express (7x at US restaurants), Citi Prestige Card (5x), American Express® Gold Card (4x at US restaurants) or the Chase Sapphire Reserve (3x).
Use Points for Activities
If you are looking to conserve cash (and we don’t blame you as a trip to Turks and Caicos can get pricy), be aware that you can book many island activities through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards travel portal. While the return per point investment may not always be the best, if you’re swimming in Chase Ultimate Rewards points, it might make sense to use them to book some of your island activities.
Whether you’re seeking adventure, solitude or classic island vibes, Turks and Caicos Islands have it all for an idyllic family vacation. Have you been? What activities did your kids enjoy most?
- Review: Shore Club Turks and Caicos
- 5 Reasons to Visit Turks and Caicos
- Beaches Turks and Caicos to Close
- 6 Things to Know Before Visiting Turks and Caicos
Featured image by Cavan Images / Getty Images
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