Family Fun in Turks and Caicos

Voted the best beach in the world by TripAdvisor in 2016, Grace Bay Beach attracts global travelers to its white powdery sand, calming turquoise waters, and the thriving coral reefs. Located in Providenciales (Provo) in the Turks and Caicos Islands, the natural crescent-shaped beach is lined with award-winning resorts. There’s a plethora of activities to appeal to every type of traveler — from snorkeling, scuba diving and bicycling to horseback riding, ziplining and golf. 

An Amarillo, Texas, family vacationing at Ocean Club West for the 10th year in a row say they enjoy the resort because it caters to families and offers a variety of things to do.

Island Attractions

The island of Providenciales (Provo), boasts a population of 24,000 and is home to stellar resorts, restaurants, marinas and tour companies, while Grand Turk in the Turks serves as the seat of government and is a popular diving spot. Grand Turk is also where Christopher Columbus is believed to have landed in 1492. 
Though Hurricanes Irma and Maria dealt a heavy blow to the Turks and Caicos last year, the islands have made a strong comeback, especially on Provo. Vacationers and cruise ships passengers are returning to Grand Turk, and on the day of our visit, following a 30-minute flight from Provo, we found Carnival docked at the Grand Turk Cruise Center, a complex of shops and restaurants (including Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville beach bar). A number of people were splashing in the Flowrider wave pool or relaxing on the beach, while others had hailed taxis to  town, about four miles away. A few were taking selfies in front of  the NASA exhibit, which commemorates astronaut John Glenn’s first orbit around Earth and splashdown near Grand Turk in 1962.

“The recovery on Grand Turk has been slower than Provo,” says Layton Lewis, who grew up on the island and took time off from his studies in Nova Scotia to work as a summer intern at the Grand Turk Tourist Board. Driving along Front Street in Cockburn Town (the capital), he noted the picturesque weathered buildings that house offices, stores and souvenir shops. He pointed out his church and schools, as well as the Osprey Beach Hotel, Salt Raker Inn and the National Museum. 

We sampled delicious conch fritters at Friskies and took time for a leisurely lunch at the Bohio Dive Resort. The resort offers beachfront rooms and various activities. Humpback whales are often seen here between January and early April. In the afternoon we stopped at  the 60-foot Grand Turk Lighthouse (1852), where vacationers were saddling up for horseback rides on the beach, an activity that is also available in Provo. The free-roaming horses and donkeys are descendants of  animals brought here by Bermudians in the late 1600s. We also looked at the salt ponds (salinas), where fortunes were made in the salt industry between the late 1600s and early 1900s, and Governor’s Beach, which lies within the Columbus Landfall National Park. “Waterloo,” the Governor’s official residence, was built here in 1815 and named in honor of the famous battle that ended Napoleon’s career.

Where to Stay

Our home base in Provo was Ocean Club West on Grace Bay Beach. The resort and its sister property Ocean Club are spacious and nicely appointed, each with a large, screened porch or balcony and kitchen or kitchenette. All the buildings are located on the ocean or amid a tropical garden of trees and flowers — a short, easy walk to the pool and outdoor bar and grill.  Amenities such as bicycles, tennis, pools, fitness center and Wi-Fi are included in the rate, but treatments at Spa Tropique and meals are extra. Accessible via shuttle to Ocean Club and the Provo Golf Club, the resort is located between Grace Bay Club and Seven Stars Resort and not far from award-winning AAA Four Diamond properties such as Gansevoort Turks and Caicos, Point Grace, The Palms Turks and Caicos, The Regent Grand and The Tuscany.  

Meet the Locals

Though it’s tempting to soak up the luxury at these upscale resorts, vacationers should check out the local attractions and meet the friendly “belongers” (people born in the Turks and Caicos). Take time to visit restaurants that serve fresh red snapper, lobster, yellowfin tuna, grouper and wahoo; dance the hours away at lively nightspots; shop for Cuban cigars and local art; and enjoy natural attractions such as Princess Alexandra National Park (one of 33 protected areas on the islands).

“There’s always something to do in Provo, but the event I like best is the Thursday night fish fry, which starts around 5:30 at the Bight,” says Leonardo, a staff member at Ocean Club West.  

Every week islanders and vacationers queue up for jerk chicken, conch fritters and fresh seafood cooked on the spot by local restaurateurs, as local musicians and dancers provide lively entertainment. Whether it’s the Caribbean Food and Wine Festival in November, the Junkanoo Jump Up celebration on New Year’s Eve, or the Turks and Caicos Music and Cultural Festival in the summer, you can find a celebration no matter what time of the year you visit Turks and Caicos.

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(Photos: Carol Timblin; Turks and Caicos Tourist Board)

(Go Magazine Nov/Dec2018)

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