If you think Providenciales is laid-back, prepare yourself for the really relaxed worlds of Grand Turk and Salt Cay. Grand Turk and Salt Cay are low-key charmers that hold quaint architectural remnants of the islands' colonial past. If you love to scuba dive or snorkel, have a thing for sun-drenched beaches and ridiculously beautiful seas, and crave a relaxed, back-to-basics departure from the chichi boutique-resort scene, a visit to both islands during your vacation is highly recommended.
Grand Turk is the capital of the Turks and Caicos Islands, although it is no longer the financial and business hub of the island nation, having lost that position to Provo. It is no longer the transportation hub either, as Provo receives 95% of the international airplane landings. The island is rather barren and wind-swept, and even though lovely green bluffs top its northwest and eastern shores, don't come here looking for lush tropical foliage. Do consider Grand Turk, however, if you want a destination that's excellent for snorkeling and diving, with beautiful white-sand beaches and a friendly, small-town vibe. You might say it's Mayberry by the Sea.
Cockburn Town (Coe-burn) is the financial and business center of this tiny (11*3.2km/7*2 miles) island. The best place for swimming is Governor's Beach near the governor's residence, Waterloo, on the west coast of the island. Take time to tour Cockburn Town's historic section, particularly Duke and Front streets, where 200-year-old structures crafted of wood and limestone line the waterfront. Stroll the area and soak in the rhythms of Cockburn Town, the vintage architecture behind picket fences entwined with crimson bougainvillea, the fragrant trees, the funky beachfront bars, the wet suits hanging out to dry. Stay for a couple of days, and you'll be waving to familiar faces on the street, calling the local dogs by name, and settling into your new favorite spot on Duke Street to watch the sunset over a cool Turk's Head beer.
Note: Grand Turk continues to recover from a devastating direct hit by Hurricane Ike in September 2008, which left a good percentage of the island's structures damaged or destroyed, including some historic properties. The island's lodgings are open for business, however, and the surrounding coral reef and undersea "Wall" are reportedly recovering as well, good news for divers and snorkelers who make pilgrimages here from around the globe to explore Grand Turk's spectacular marine waters.