Salt Cay Adventure Tours (tel. 649/946-6909; www.saltcaytours.com) is an all-purpose watersports activities operator. They can arrange scuba-diving trips, guide you on snorkeling, whale-watching, or snorkeling adventures, rent out bikes and kayaks, and will do island-history and art tours. Cruise-ship passengers who arrive in Grand Turk can also contact Salt Cay Adventures to arrange day trips to Salt Cay.
Divers can explore the wreck of the HMS Endymion off Salt Cay, which went down in a storm in 1790. Two centuries later, Brian Sheedy, a local diver and inn operator, discovered the wreck. Today, while the reef has reclaimed the hull and all else that was biodegradable, divers can still get a close-up look at its 18 coral- and sponge-encrusted cannons and nine huge anchors lying about. Resting in just 12m (40 ft.) of water, it's one of the region's most popular snorkel and dive sites.
A fully equipped PADI dive shop with instruction at every level, Salt Cay Divers (tel. 649/946-6906; www.saltcaydivers.tc) offers scuba divers small groups and personalized service. Children can learn to dive in the Bubble Maker program while Mom and Dad get their certification or advanced rating. Carolina skiffs are able to get up close to prime reefs and dive sites, and a 9.8m (32-ft.) V-hull is used for longer, smoother rides to other islands and cays. Salt Cay Divers regularly dives South Caicos's reefs as well as Grand Turk's dive sites. Ask about hotel/dive packages. Salt Cay Divers also offers snorkeling and whale-watching trips.
Diving Salt Cay's Walls -- The Northwest Wall, Kelly's Folly, and Turtle Garden offer wall diving at its finest -- and each of these dive sites is just 5 to 10 minutes from the Salt Cay dock. Huge gorgonians, soft coral, and sponges form a backdrop for a family of spotted eagle rays, turtles, pelagics, and dolphins. A green moray eel whose head is at least .3m (1 ft.) high, his huge body and tail wrapped in and out of a rock formation, can often be seen at Northwest Wall and Rockery. Divers can observe conch working their way up a timeworn trail on the wall. Night-dive with fluorescent strings of pearls threading their way through the water, sleeping turtles, slipper lobsters, huge crabs, nurse sharks, and a seasonal array of other night critters.
-- Michele Belanger-McNair and Debbie Been, Salt Cay Divers
As good as the diving is on Salt Cay, it may be an even better snorkeling destination; the island, in fact, has some of the best snorkeling in the TCI, and you can do most of it right off the beaches. The Bluff, Point Pleasant, and Aquarium sites offer opportunities to watch squid, tarpon, barracuda, and colorful coral heads and fans. Queen's Beach, on the north shore, is another great spot to see lots of brilliantly hued fish.
Day trips to Great Sand Cay, an uninhabited national park, allow picnickers to snorkel, swim, view iguanas and tide pools, and bird-watch. Other uninhabited islands can be visited, such as Gibbs Cay, where you can snorkel with stingrays. At Whale Island you can walk off the beach with snorkel and mask to see parrotfish and stingrays. Day trips to these cays (as well as overnight trips to Great Sand Cay) can be arranged through Salt Cay Divers .
Between January and April, humpback whales come here to play as they travel the 2,134m (7,000-ft.) trench of the Columbus Passage to the Silver Banks to mate and calf. Visitors can watch their antics from shore, boat out among them, or strap on dive or snorkeling equipment and go below. Salt Cay is one of the last places in the world you can actually get in the water and swim with these impressive creatures. Salt Cay Divers does what is called "soft water encounters." As Debbie Been of Salt Cay Divers explains it: "We gently slide into the water after ensuring that the whales are not frightened by our presence. Then the whales actually swim toward you. We ask that you not get too close, but believe me, those whales know exactly where you are -- and if they wanted to hurt you, they would, but they are truly gentle creatures. We snorkel for a few minutes and watch their graceful bodies underwater. The usual encounter only lasts a few minutes, but it's the thrill of a lifetime."