Dive experts, including the late Jacques Cousteau, have cited Providenciales as one of the 10 best sites in the world. Why is the diving so good in Provo and the Turks and Caicos in general? A number of reasons: great visibility (often more than 30m/100 ft.), gentle seas, a barrier reef that runs the full length of the island's 27km (17-mile) north coast, dramatic vertical underwater "walls" where the coral is big and healthy and marine life congregates, and a local government committed to protecting its natural assets -- much of the coastal waters around Provo are protected national parkland, where fishing is not allowed. The water is warm and calm much of the year.
From the shore at Grace Bay, visitors can see where the sea breaks along 23km (14 miles) of barrier reef, the teeming undersea home to sea life that ranges from swarms of colorful schools of fish to barracuda to rotund grouper.
Around Provo and the Caicos islands, the popular diving spots include Grace Bay, Northwest Point (a 4.8km/3-mile strip of excellent dive sites with a vertical drop-off to 2,099m/6,888 ft.), Pine Cay, West Caicos (with miles of 1,829m/6,000-ft. vertical walls), and French Cay (more 6,000-ft. vertical drop-offs). The latter two are great spots to see large pelagics such as reef sharks, sea turtles, stingrays, and dolphins. For extensive information about each of these sites, go to the very informative website of Art Pickering's Provo Turtle Divers Ltd., Turtle Cove (tel. 649/946-4232 or 800/833-1341 for reservations; www.provoturtledivers.com). It's the oldest dive operation in the islands.
Most dive operators rent scuba tanks, plus backpacks and weight belts (included in the dive cost). In general, a single-tank dive costs $75, a night dive goes for $85, and a morning two-tank dive is $109-$119. Many offer technical diving and PADI training, with full instruction and resort courses. An open-water PADI referral course goes for $400.
Websites for Divers -- For useful information on scuba diving in the Caribbean, check out the website of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) at www.padi.com. This site provides descriptions of dive destinations throughout the Caribbean and a directory of PADI-certified dive operators. Scuba Diving Magazine also has a helpful website at www.scubadiving.com. Both sites list dive-package specials and display gorgeous color photos of some of the most beautiful dive spots in the world.
The snorkeling is as good as it is on Provo and the Caicos islands for the same reasons the diving is exalted . This is a great place to learn to snorkel -- the waters are clean, clear, temperate, and gentle -- and the marine life is rich and thriving.
A number of watersports operators offer snorkeling trips (or combination snorkeling/beach excursions) off Grace Bay or in and around the Caicos Cays, a short (30-min.) trip from Leeward Marina. Caicos Adventures takes you farther still, on 4.6m-wide (15-ft.) powered catamarans, to superb snorkeling spots in West Caicos and French Cay, both about an hour's boat ride from Leeward (tel. 649/941-3346; www.caicosadventures.com).
You can even find great snorkeling opportunities right on Grace Bay. While most resorts along Grace Bay offer complimentary snorkeling equipment with which you can happily tool around the clear shallows in front of your hotel, it's unlikely that you'll see anything other than the clear turquoise sea and a sprinkling of pink-tinged sunrise tellins or sun-bleached coral. If you really want to see an active underwater marine garden, grab your snorkeling equipment and head down the beach to one of Grace Bay's two prime snorkeling spots, Smith's Reef and Bight Reef, both in the Princess Alexandra National Park, on Provo's northern coastline.
Smith's Reef, near Turtle Cove Marina, is a walk-in dive to a seascape of brain and fan corals, purple gorgonians, anemones, sea cucumbers, sergeant majors, green parrotfish, long-nosed trumpet fish, the ominous-looking green moray, an occasional southern ray, and a visiting hawksbill turtle or two. Smith's Reef has underwater signs that describe the coral reef ecosystem and the diversity of life that thrives there. Snorkelers can learn about the various creatures camouflaged within the reef, the importance of sea-grass beds, and the ways that parrotfish contribute to the environment. The trail follows the perimeter of the reef starting inshore in about 1 to 2m (3 1/4-6 1/2 ft.) of water, increasing to 7 to 9m (23-30 ft.) deep. The depth marks a spectacular display of coral creations, colorful schooling fish, and spotted eagle rays; even resident turtles can be found.
Even closer than Smith's Reef to most guests staying on Grace Bay, Bight Reef is located in the Grace Bay area known as the Bight, just offshore Coral Gardens. A public footpath leads to the beach, and two marker buoys indicate both ends of the snorkel trail. The Bight Reef Snorkel Trail has underwater trail signs that describe corals and how they grow. Water depth ranges from 1 to 5m (3 1/4-16 ft.), and visitors can view mobile species like yellowtail snappers, big jolthead porgies, and sand-sifting mojarras. You can get snorkeling equipment (and even diving lessons) at Cactus Voyager, the in-house dive operator in Coral Gardens resort, directly in front of the reef (tel. 649/941-3713).
On North Caicos the snorkeling is especially good at Three Mary Cays, a marine sanctuary just east of Sandy Point and part of 11km-long (7-mile) Whitby Beach. On Middle Caicos you can snorkel in Mudjin Harbor around Dragon Cay.
Caicos Watersports Operators: Master List
Watersports activities are the name of the game in the Turks and Caicos, and in most cases you'll be availing yourself of the capable expertise of local watersports operators and boat charters to get out and play in the miles of sea, whether you're on a scuba-diving or snorkeling expedition, parasailing or sailing, enjoying an eco-adventure, visiting other islands, or simply taking one of the extremely popular beach cruises and excursions that combine any number of activities. Much of the coral reef is protected national parkland and the water too shallow in spots to allow powerboats and personal watercraft to be rented out without a captain aboard -- with a few exceptions in designated spots. Sun & Fun Sea Sports (tel. 649/946-5724; www.turksandcaicos.tc/sunandfun) rents out motorboats and personal watercraft for use in designated areas.
Many of the "beach excursion" boat trips are half-day or daylong cruises that offer a variety of activities, from snorkeling and shelling to beach barbecues, conch diving, and visits to Little Water Cay, or "Iguana Island," as it's also known, a nature reserve where a population of endangered native rock iguanas enjoys protected status.
The following is a master list of the top watersports and charter-boat operators in Providenciales and the Caicos islands, their contact information, and a general description of the types of services they have to offer. Most include free pickup/drop-off from your hotel to the marina and back in the price of the excursions.
- After Five Concierge (tel. 800/833-1341 in the U.S. or 649/232-3483; www.after5.tc): Private dive instruction; personalized watersports tours; sunset cruises; beach excursions; fishing charters; eco-tours.
- Art Pickering's Provo Turtle Divers (tel. 800/833-1341 in the U.S. or 649/946-4232; www.provoturtledivers.com): Scuba diving, instruction, and equipment rental; snorkeling.
- Beluga Charter Sailing (tel. 649/946-4396; www.sailbeluga.com): Captained charter sailing on a Polynesian catamaran; beach excursions.
- Big Blue Unlimited (tel. 649/946-5034; www.bigblueunlimited.com or www.bigblue.tc): Technical and recreational scuba diving, instruction, and equipment rental; eco-adventures (including kayaking, snorkeling, mountain biking, and North Caicos trips); private charters.
- Blue Whale Tours & Excursions (tel. 649/331-5027; http://bluewhaleexcursions.com): West Caicos snorkeling; beach excursions; bonefishing and deep-sea fishing; glowworm tours.
- Caicos Adventures (Regent Village; tel. 649/941-3346; www.tcidiving.com): Scuba diving, instruction, and equipment rental; snorkeling; and beach excursions.
- Catch the Wave (tel. 649/941-3047; www.catchthewavecharters.mobi): Bonefishing and bottom fishing; beach excursions; water-skiing; island safaris (including cave and bird-watching trips); private charters.
- Dive Provo (tel. 800/234-7768 in the U.S. or 649/946-5040; www.diveprovo.com): Technical and recreational scuba diving, instruction, and equipment rental; hotel/dive packages; snorkeling.
- Kenard Cruises (tel. 649/232-3866; www.KenardCruises.com): Customized luxury cruises with Captain Kenard in a power catamaran.
- KiteProvo (tel. 649/242-2927; www.kiteprovo.com) offers kiteboarding lessons with certified instructors as well as rentals.
- Ocean Vibes (tel. 649/231-6636 or 649/331-1104; www.oceanvibes.com): Scuba diving, instruction, and equipment rental; scuba and snorkeling charters; multiday packages.
- Reef Peepers (tel. 649/2311-4961; www.reefpeepers.com): Glass-bottom-boat excursions; snorkeling trips; sunset wine-and-cheese cruises; private charters.
- Sail Provo (tel. 649/946-4783; www.sailprovo.com): Sailing cruises; snorkeling cruises; combination beach excursion cruises; glowworm cruises; sunset cruises; weddings.
- Silver Deep (tel. 649/946-5612; www.silverdeep.com): Scuba diving; snorkeling; bonefishing, bottom fishing, fly-fishing, deep-sea fishing, night fishing, and shark fishing; beach excursions and barbecues; glowworm cruises; sunset cruises; island getaways; private charters.
- Sun Charters (tel. 649/231-0624; www.suncharters.tc): Sailing cruises and beach excursions aboard the Atabeyra; pirate cruises; private charters; weddings.
- Windsurfing Provo (in front of the Ocean Club East resort; tel. 649/241-1687; www.windsurfingprovo.tc) offers kiteboarding and windsurfing lessons and rentals.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.