With water so turquoise that it glows, you may find it difficult to stray far from the beach in the Turks and Caicos. Museums, ruins, and other area attractions may not seem nearly as compelling as the beaches, which are among the most incredible you will ever see. Don’t be surprised if you wake up on your last morning and realize that you didn’t find a lot of time for anything else.
EXPLORE TURKS AND CAICOS
The main gateway into the Turks and Caicos Islands is Providenciales International Airport (PLS), though the JAGS McCartney International Airport (GDT) on Grand Turk and the runway on South Caicos can also handle larger jets. For private planes, Provo Air Center is a full-service FBO (fixed-base operator) offering refueling, maintenance, and short-term storage, as well as on-site customs and immigration clearance, a lounge, and concierge services. Even if you are going on to other islands in the chain, you’ll have to stop on Provo first, then take another flight onward.
All scheduled international flights to Turks and Caicos Islands arrive in Providenciales International Airport (PLS), so this is where you’ll go through immigration and customs. Make sure you have all of your paperwork completely filled out, as immigration lines can be slow; in fact, on a busy day you will wait 30 to 40 minutes from the time you disembark to the time you pass through customs.
For those wishing a little less stress while traveling, Provo’s airport offers the VIP Flyers Club. For a fee, you get speedy check-in, priority through security, and a tranquil waiting room with TV, Wi-Fi, and snacks. It’s much nicer than contending with the crowds. The cost is $200 for the first family member and $75 for each additional person; children under two are free. If you wish to simply use the lounge, there is a $50 fee per person, but availability depends on the number of expedited travelers.
JAGS McCartney International Airport, Grand Turk. JAGS McCartney can handle aircraft up to the size of Boeing 757 and Airbus A321 jets. It’s a full-service airport with a restaurant that’s open when public flights are due in and go out.
Pine Cay Airport. This is a very small airport with access via golf cart–style ground transportation. There’s no terminal—just a little pergola-shaded pad—the paved runway is 2,500 feet, and there are no airport landing or parking fees. You must clear customs on Providenciales, and landing on Pine Cay is by permission only.
Providenciales International Airport. This is a full-service airport. It offers a little restaurant open whenever there is an outgoing flight, as well as duty-free shopping and comfortable seating in the departures lounge. There are also two private FBOs (fixed base operators) on-site to provide services to those arriving by private plane or jet. You may enjoy expedited services and a private executive lounge through the VIP Flyers Club accessed through the main terminal.
Salt Cay Airport. This is just a cute little airport where you have to get there only 15 minutes ahead of flight time. You will surely see your plane coming in from Grand Turk or Provo and know that you should already be there. Note that the Airport Café is open when a flight is expected in or heading out.
South Caicos Airport. The country’s first airport is very small, with minimal services. There’s no air-conditioning and no food service, but water is available.
Turks & Caicos Islands Airport Authority. The TCIAA website has a schedule of all flights coming into and out of the islands, along with real-time arrival information. The site also provides helpful information for private flights, offering weather, wind, and runway information.
VIP Flyers Club. The VIP Flyers Club, conveniently located within Provo’s International Airport terminal, offers expedited services and an executive lounge at an additional cost to the traveler looking for a sanctuary away from the hustle of the main terminal activities.
If you’re staying at a hotel or resort on Provo, there will be a representative just outside the arrivals door to greet you; you’ll then be put into a taxi for your transfer. A few hotels are allowed to offer their own personalized shuttle service, but most are required to use the regular service; Amanyara and Parrot Cay, because of their locations away from the main hub, offer such a service. Even if you have not made prior arrangements, there are plenty of taxis around to meet each flight. To the main area of Grace Bay Road, expect to pay around $33 per couple one way. You can also have a car rental waiting at the airport; almost all of the rental car companies offer this service. If someone is picking you up, they may wait for you in the nearby small parking lot that charges $1 an hour.
On South Caicos and Grand Turk you should make your transportation arrangements before arrival. On Pine Cay someone will pick you up in a golf cart. On Salt Cay you could walk if need be.
Several major airlines fly nonstop to Providenciales from the United States, although carriers and schedules can vary seasonally. You can fly nonstop from Atlanta (Delta), Dallas (American), Charlotte (USAirways), Miami (American), New York–JFK (Delta and JetBlue), Newark–EWR (United), and Philadelphia (USAirways). Canadian cities can be accessed via WestJet and Air Canada. There’s also a flight from London on British Airways via Antigua.
Several other parts of the Caribbean are connected to Turks and Caicos through InterCaribbean Airways. Flights from Nassau can be found on Bahamas Air. Once on Provo, InterCaribbean and Caicos Express Airways fly to North Caicos, South Caicos, Grand Turk, and Salt Cay.
Daily scheduled ferry service between Provo and North Caicos is offered by Caribbean Cruisin’, with several departures from Walkin Marina in Leeward. There’s also a service between Provo and South Caicos twice a week. In addition, you can reach Salt Cay by ferry, but only when the weather is good; don’t count on it! Your best bet is booking a direct flight from Providenciales with Caicos Express to be sure to get there on a specific date. The private islands within the chain are reached by boat, either a private charter or one that’s scheduled through an associated resort.
You can most definitely get by without renting a car while staying in the Grace Bay area on Provo, but outside of that, you will want one. If this is your first trip, it’s wise to plan on renting a car for at least a couple of days for some exploration; then you can decide whether you need it the rest of the week. Taxis can be expensive, with each round-trip equal in cost to a daily car rental, but if you feel uncomfortable driving on the left or if you want to go out and not worry about having too much to drink, then a taxi is the best option. A car is really the only way to go if you want to do a lot of exploring; taxis will not wait for you in isolated areas.
If you travel to North Caicos or Middle Caicos, you almost have to rent a car, because everything is so spread out. Of course, there is the option of a bicycle tour, but if you’re on your own, go with a car. On the other islands, you can get by just walking or taking an occasional taxi.
To rent, you need to have a valid U.S. driver’s license, and you need to be 25 or older.
Gasoline is much more expensive than in the United States. Expect to pay about $2 to $3 more a gallon. There are numerous gas stations around Provo, but most accept cash only.
Parking in the Turks and Caicos is easy and free. Grace Bay has numerous public parking lots, so those not staying in the area have easy access. And all the resorts and restaurants offer free parking; even those that are gated have general public areas to park. North and Middle Caicos also have parking areas at all the restaurants and places to stay.
Avis, Budget, Hertz, and Thrifty have offices on Provo, but you might like to support the local businesses by trying agencies such as Grace Bay Car Rentals, Rent a Buggy, Tropical Auto Rentals, and Caicos Wheels, among others.
On Provo, small cars start at around $39 per day, and a small SUV averages about $69 to $85 a day. Almost all rental agencies in the Turks and Caicos will drop off a car at the airport or your hotel. You can then leave it at the airport upon its return.
There are several car-rental agencies on Grand Turk. They will meet you at the airport or the cruise-ship terminal, have you sign the paperwork while standing on the sidewalk, and have you on your way in a matter of minutes. There’s also the alternative, a golf cart from Nathan’s Golf Cart Rental. No matter what your choice may be, call ahead to make arrangements.
Al’s Rent-a-Car and Pelican Car Rentals offer service on North Caicos.
Most of Leeward Highway is a smooth, four-lane divided highway complete with roundabouts. However, the paved two-lane roads through the settlements on Providenciales can be quite rough. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended if you want to head to Malcolm’s Beach or if you’re staying in the Turtle Tail area; those two areas have graded roads, often with many potholes to navigate around. Strangely enough, the less-traveled roads in Grand Turk and the family islands are, in general, smooth and paved.
Rules of the Road
Driving here is on the left side of the road, British-style; when pulling out into traffic, remember to look to your right. Give way to anyone entering a roundabout, as roundabouts are still a relatively new concept in the Turks and Caicos; be cautious even if you’re on what appears to be the primary road. And take them slowly. The maximum speed is 40 mph (64 kph), 20 mph (30 kph) through settlements. Use extra caution at night, as drinking and driving, though illegal, does happen—some people forget they must follow the rules when they are relaxed and on vacation.
Taxis (actually large vans) on Providenciales are metered, and rates are regulated by the government. On the family islands (i.e., the smaller, outlying islands other than Provo), taxis may not be as strictly monitored, so it’s usually best to ask about the fare for your trip in advance.
On Provo, taxi rates are metered and are based on two people traveling together, but each additional person is charged extra. Fares for children are only half price—but always ask first. You may also be charged for more than two bags per person. Unless you have a rental car waiting for you at the airport, you will be taken to your resort by taxi. If you’re using a taxi as your primary mode of transportation and you find one you are happy with, get the driver’s direct cell number. You will have to call for service later on; taxis don’t hang out anywhere except the airport, especially late at night. And remember, drivers are a great source of information about the islands, so be sure to have them fill you in on what’s what. It’s customary to tip about 10% per ride.
Renting a car is preferable, as there are only a few taxis available on Grand Turk, North Caicos, and South Caicos. If you want to get around Salt Cay, a taxi is really not necessary. Ask your accommodation or tour operator who might be around to greet you, and know that you can cover most of the island on foot.
The majority of resorts throughout the Turks and Caicos offer free Wi-Fi service in the individual rooms. If they don’t, you will have access in the public areas so you can keep up with email and the Internet.
The country code for the Turks and Caicos is 649. To call the Turks and Caicos from the United States, dial 1 plus the 10-digit number, which includes the 649 prefix. Be aware that this is an international call. Calls from the islands are expensive, and many hotels add steep surcharges for long distance.
Calling Within the Turks and Caicos
To make local calls, just dial the seven-digit number. Most hotels and resorts charge for local calls, usually 50¢ a minute.
Calling Outside the Turks and Caicos
To call the United States, dial 1, then the area code, and the seven-digit number. If you get a recording saying the number is out of service, try again. This is usually not the case, and your call will go through on the second try.
Before leaving home, contact your service provider to find out if you have coverage in Turks and Caicos. Chances are your phone will work here. However, roaming fees can be steep, with 99¢ a minute considered reasonable.
If your own cell phone doesn’t work in the TCI, or you wish to avoid the cost of such a privilege, you can rent one from a local provider, through either Lime or Digicel. Local cell-phone coverage is very good; you’ll even get reception on most of the uninhabited cays. Also be aware that many toll-free numbers are not free of charge when you make the call from Turks and Caicos; you will be notified by an automated service before the call is connected, and the rate is for an international call.
If you just want to be able to make local calls, consider buying a new SIM card; you may need to have your provider unlock your phone for this use. You will also need a prepaid service plan. You’ll then have a local number and can make local calls at local rates. As an alternative, you can purchase a new cell phone once you’ve landed and pick up prepaid minutes as you go. Ask your car-rental company or villa management if they offer free loaner cell phones. Grace Bay Car Rentals is one that does; many other companies do as well. You can add value online or at kiosks all over the island, and incoming calls are free.
Customs in the Turks and Caicos is straightforward and simple. On the flight, you will receive two forms. The first is your customs declaration, one per family. The second form is a Turks & Caicos Embarkation and Disembarkation Form. Both forms should be filled out completely before you disembark to avoid delays. Make sure to keep the stub from the Disembarkation Form; you’ll need to show it when you leave the island. If you are 17 years of age or older, you are allowed to bring in free of import duty 1 liter of spirits or 2 liters of wine; either 200 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250 grams of smoking tobacco; and 50 grams of perfume or 0.25 liters of eau de toilette. If you have $10,000 or more in cash, you must declare it. The immigration entrance lines can be long, especially when several planes arrive in quick succession.
Turks and Caicos has almost every kind of restaurant you might wish for, especially on Provo. From small beach shacks to gorgeous upscale dining rooms and everything in between, this destination is a gastronomical delight. There are cafés and delis, international restaurants, and some of the best chefs in the Caribbean; what you won’t find is fast food or restaurant chains. Typically, the restaurants offer wide choices, so even vegetarians and picky eaters will find something appealing on most menus. If a restaurant does not have a children’s menu, the chef will usually be willing to make something to suit your kids, so don’t be afraid to ask. Restaurants cater primarily to American tastes (especially on American holidays). Dinner usually starts a little later than Americans are used to; most restaurants are full by 8. Most restaurants are upscale and expensive, though you will also find a few slightly less expensive, more casual options. A typical meal averages $80 to $120 per couple without a bottle of wine, much more if you add that in.
Always check your bill carefully before paying. Restaurants can become so busy at times that bills can get combined with another table’s.
Unless otherwise noted, restaurants listed are open daily for lunch and dinner.
Turks and Caicos Cuisine
The most typical foods on these islands come from the sea. Grouper and snapper are usually the catch of the day, often grilled with jerk spices. But be sure to ask whether the fish is fresh caught or brought in. In season, spiny lobster is brought in daily—as long as the seas aren’t too rough—and used in many ways, in addition to the more familiar Thermidor and broiled. One favorite food in the Turks and Caicos is conch; it even has its own festival in November, with recipe and tasting competitions. Conch is made every way imaginable, including the typical cracked conch and conch fritters. Macaroni and cheese, fried plantain, and peas ’n rice are common side dishes, especially in spots that serve local food. Coleslaw here even has a Caribbean twist, often including pineapple or mango. For a typical island breakfast, order broiled fish with baked beans and grits.
Most major credit cards (Visa, Discover, and MasterCard—Diner’s Club less so) are accepted in almost all restaurants. American Express is accepted in far fewer establishments. It’s smart to bring more than one type of credit card with you just in case. Call your credit card company to see if they charge an additional foreign transaction fee; most add 2.5%, even though all transactions in the TCI are in U.S. dollars. If a place takes cash only, it’s noted in the review.
Reservations and Dress
We mention reservations only when they are essential (there’s no other way you’ll ever get a table) or when they are not accepted. We mention dress only when men are required to wear a jacket or a jacket and tie, which is currently not the case anywhere in the country. Although you don’t need fancy dresses or even long pants in most places, you will look out of place in a T-shirt and tennis shoes.
Wines, Beer, and Spirits
You can expect to pay more than you would at home. Imported U.S. beer is particularly expensive; a case of Bud Light or Miller Light can run $65 to $75. For beer lovers, it’s always fun to try something new: the brewery for Turks Head, which is a heavier-tasting beer than its American counterparts, offers tours. In addition, some other Caribbean brands are available in local stores, including Kalik and Red Stripe. Of the rums, Caicos Rum is made for the Turks and Caicos and bottled here. Turks and Caicos’s Bambarra Rum is a bargain compared with other rums. Remember that although you can always buy alcohol at a bar, it’s against the law to purchase it from a store on Sunday.
Electricity is fairly stable throughout the islands, and the current is suitable for all U.S. appliances (120 volts, 60 Hz).
The emergency numbers in the Turks and Caicos are 999 or 911.
Turks and Caicos is a safe and healthy destination. The tap water may not be the best tasting, but it is safe to drink. Food-safety standards are high, and you rarely hear of upset stomachs or outbreaks of food poisoning. If you’re feeling unwell, there are very good hospitals on both Provo and Grand Turk, as well as private health care clinics. Grace Bay Beach is usually clean and clear of any pests. There are no poisonous snakes in the Turks and Caicos, or any other animals that may be dangerous. Be sure not to go off the beaten path when exploring around the islands, however, as there are two trees in particular that act like poison ivy; they are difficult to identify, so it is best to stay out of the bush. In the water, be careful not to touch the coral, as a particular variety will burn your skin upon contact. You also must watch out for the lionfish; they are beautiful but very dangerous.
Most of the supplies are similar to those in the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada. You can find all the major brands that you are used to readily available around Provo, though prices are higher than at home. Over-the-counter drugs can be found at pharmacies and supermarkets, and even at small convenience stores. If you plan to travel beyond Provo, however, you may wish to stock up on necessities. Supplies may be slimmer on the less-developed islands. Sunscreen is especially expensive in the Grace Bay area; it’s more reasonably priced at the IGA supermarket. If you need bug spray, get something with at least 25% DEET; off-brand spray is readily available. If you forget to buy it and find yourself at dusk with no-see-ums biting, ask your servers at the restaurant; there’s a good chance they’ll have a bottle on hand.
Although crime is not a major concern in the Turks and Caicos Islands, petty theft does occur here, and you’re advised to leave your valuables in your hotel safe or deposit box and lock the doors of your car and your room when unattended. If you are staying in a villa, be sure to check that the sliding doors are closed and that you have not left windows wide open with only the screen as protection.
Banks are typically open Monday through Thursday from 9 to 3, Fridays until 4. Post offices are open weekdays from 10 to 4. Shops are generally open from 10 to 5 or 6; you will find some shops are closed on Sunday, more during the quieter season. You cannot buy alcohol anywhere in the islands on Sunday, except at a bar or restaurant.
Public holidays are New Year’s Day, Commonwealth Day (second Monday in March), Good Friday, Easter Monday, National Heroes Day (last Monday in May), Queen’s Birthday (third Monday in June), Emancipation Day (first Monday in August), National Youth Day (last Monday in September), Columbus Day (second Monday in October), International Human Rights Day (last Monday in October), Christmas Day, and Boxing Day (December 26).
Prices quoted are in U.S. dollars, which is the official currency in the islands.
Major credit cards and traveler’s checks are accepted at many establishments. Bring small-denomination bills to the less populated islands—but bring enough cash to hold you over; many of the smaller islands deal in cash only and have no ATMs. Some islands don’t even have banks, so get some cash while on Provo if heading elsewhere.
Prices are given for adults. Reduced rates are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.
ATMs and Banks
On Provo, there are ATMs at all bank branches (Scotiabank and First Caribbean), at the airport, at Graceway IGA Supermarket, Ports of Call shopping center, and at Graceway Gourmet IGA. There are also Scotiabank and First Caribbean branches on Grand Turk.
It’s a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel. If you plan to use your credit card for cash advances, you’ll need to apply for a PIN at least two weeks before your trip. Although it’s usually cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card abroad for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there’s a problem), note that some credit card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they’re in a foreign currency or not.
Note that some shops require a $25 minimum to charge. A few shops may pass along their 3% to 5% surcharge if you pay by credit card; the clerk will tell you before you pay.
Most accommodations in Provo have washers and dryers in the units, so pack light. You can wash your clothes conveniently at your whim and dry swimsuits before repacking. If your resort doesn’t offer laundry facilities or laundry service, you’ll find a dry cleaner/laundry facility next to Beaches on the Lower Bight Road. There is also a dry cleaner in the complex just south of Graceway Gourmet IGA, as well as one on the extension of Leeward Highway.
If you travel with a carry-on, remember that airlines allow only 3-ounce bottles of liquids. Don’t worry: it’s not too expensive to buy sunscreen at the Graceway IGA supermarket. There’s really not a huge bug problem in the Turks and Caicos, but sometimes after a rain or at dusk you might get a bite or two, so you will end up needing to bring or buy some repellent.
Almost all the resorts and villas have hairdryers and give you shampoo, conditioner, and a small box of laundry detergent. Check ahead to be certain. “Bring half the clothes and twice the money”—words to live by.
U.S. citizens must have a valid passport to travel by air to the Turks and Caicos. Everyone must have an ongoing or return ticket and a confirmed hotel reservation. Make sure to keep the embarkation stub that you filled out when you landed; you’ll need it when you leave.
There are public restrooms and a playground in between Gansevoort and Aquamarine Beach Houses, for those times when you haven’t realized how far you’ve walked. You can also slip into any resort and ask if you may use their facilities if necessary.
The departure tax is included in the cost of your airline ticket, so you don’t need to worry about having additional cash ready at the airport. Restaurants and hotels add a 12% government tax. Hotels also typically add 10% to 15% for service.
Check your bill to see if a 10% service charge has been added. If it has, you may supplement it by 5% or even more if service was outstanding. If no service charge has been added, then tip as you would at home, about 15%. Be aware that when a large party dines together, a hefty service fee may be added at the end.
The current government tax is 12%, which is mandatory for all diners.
Taxi drivers also expect a tip, about 10% of your fare. Excursion and water-sports staff appreciate tips for their efforts as well; use your discretion.
Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.
Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.