It seems only yesterday that public awareness of this island archipelago was more or less "Turks and Caicos who?" For years, these islands were little more than a breathtakingly beautiful, slumbering backwater, home to a close-knit society of islanders called Belongers and the haunt of a smattering of fishermen and divers, beach bums and drug smugglers, and, of course, the well-heeled looking for an untouched cay in which to drop anchor.
Today the TCI is one of the premier destinations in the Caribbean, winning numerous travel industry accolades for its high-end, low-impact hospitality ethos. The action has largely concentrated on the main island, Providenciales ("Provo" for short), and its 19km (12-mile) beauty of a beach, Grace Bay. While many of the outlying islands retain the feel of an idyllic outpost, Provo has been on a dizzying growth spurt, becoming one of the fastest-growing spots in the Caribbean.
For a relatively new tourism destination, Provo has attracted an impressive lineup of world-class accommodations, a stable of resorts that few other rookie Caribbean destinations can claim. It's mind-boggling, really: Follow that long, sinuous stretch of Grace Bay beach and you'll pass some of the world's top resorts, from the Palms to the Somerset to the new Ritz-Carlton Residences. And just offshore is celebrity magnet Parrot Cay and the determinedly downscale luxury of the Meridian Club. South Caicos has not one but two major resorts in the works, following a devastating hurricane hit in 2018.
The much-ballyhooed resort on the 350-acre island of Dellis Cay, one of the Caicos Cays, where a handful of world-renowned "starchitects" was tapped to design a Mandarin Oriental hotel and homesites started at around $2 million, went bankrupt in 2010, a victim of the global recession. For years, the island and its half-finished villas lay empty. But the bones of Dellis Cay may be resurrected yet: Much of the land was up for auction.
Why the TCI?
Why was little TCI ripe for all this tourism activity in the first place? For one, the country's gorgeous natural resources -- its beaches, water, and coral reef system -- make it a magnet for visitors. The seas have an intense blue-green hue that puts Technicolor to shame. The climate -- best described as an "eternal summer" -- is ideal year-round. Gentle breezes blow in from the east, instant relief from the relentless sun. For North Americans, the TCI has other pluses: English is the official language, the U.S. dollar is the local currency, and the islands are easily accessible by plane. Nonstop flights out of places like New York City (3 hr.), Boston (3 1/2 hr.), Charlotte (2 hr.), and Miami (1 1/2 hr.) mean you can jump on a plane in the morning and be lazing about on a tropical beach by early afternoon.
The island citizens -- "the Belongers" -- enjoy one of the best primary and secondary educational systems in the region. The Belongers share such a warm familiarity that it's easy to see why many have embraced the possibility that all are connected by blood, descended from the 193 African slaves freed on these isolated islands when the slave ship Trouvadore, carrying them to lives of bondage in the Americas, wrecked on the East Caicos reef in 1841. A Turks & Caicos National Museum expedition team determined that the shipwreck found off East Caicos in 2004 is the Trouvadore -- and is trying to determine whether its inhabitants were indeed the progenitors of the modern-day Belongers. For the latest information, go to www.tcmuseum.org/projects/slave-ship-trouvadore.
For those who knew and loved the TCI in slower times and who had concerns that the islands were in danger of being overdeveloped (or even ruinously developed), it's comforting to know that of the 40 islands that compose the TCI, only 10 are inhabited. Even the most populous beach, Provo's Grace Bay, has long, dreamy stretches where you're the only soul on the soft sand. The focus has been on boutique resorts with ecologically sensitive bones -- a vision held in large part through the fizzy boom times and the not-so-good.
Turks & Caicos at a Glance
Location: The Turks and Caicos archipelago is located in the British West Indies, 48km (30 miles) south of the Bahamas, 161km (100 miles) northeast of the Dominican Republic, and 925km (575 miles) southeast of Miami. The TCI is not officially in the Caribbean -- it's in the Atlantic Ocean.
Population: The country's population is approximately 30,000 people. Citizens of the TCI, called "Belongers," are primarily the descendants of African slaves and comprise more than half the islands' population. A large group of Haitian expats live and work in the TCI (many of them so long they have become Belongers). Other expat groups include a growing number of Jamaicans and Filipinos.
Size: The two island groups -- the Turks islands and the Caicos islands -- together comprise 500 sq. km (193 sq. miles) and are separated by the 35km (22-mile) Columbus Passage, the sea route Christopher Columbus rode in on during his exploration of the New World in 1492.
Economy: Tourism, fishing, and the offshore finance industry are the big three. Regarding the latter, the islands are a "zero tax" jurisdiction and have no taxes on income, capital gains, corporate profits, inheritance, or estates. There are no controls on transferring funds or assets in or out of the country.
Government: The TCI is a British Crown Colony. A queen-appointed governor holds executive power and presides over an Executive Council. A 1987 constitution established a representative democracy, and today the local government is elected by the citizens and includes a premier (the country's first), a deputy premier, other ministers, and a legislative council empowered to enact local statutes. The TCI seat of government is Cockburn Town in Grand Turk.
Last time the queen visited: 1966. Elizabeth II stopped in at South Caicos for the day, sailing in on the royal yacht Britannia.
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.