The earliest inhabitants of these islands were Lucayan Indians, who settled in the Bahamas archipelago some 800 years before Columbus arrived in the New World. Some historians believe that Grand Turk was the site of Columbus's first landfall -- and experts have established that the explorer was indeed greeted on his arrival by Lucayan Indians -- but no hard evidence exists to support this theory either way. The Lucayans' idyllic existence came to an end when Spanish explorers arrived, enslaving the natives and exposing them to diseases. In a generation, the Lucayan population was wiped out. Habitation was spotty after that, with the islands passing through Spanish, French, and British control and industries coming and going -- from salt-raking, which drew Bermudans -- and the British crown -- in the late 17th century, to cotton, which brought Loyalists fleeing the States after the American Revolution. The cotton industry was eventually done in by storms and pests, and by the early 19th century, the main inhabitants left on the islands were the slaves that had been brought in to work the plantations. The salt industry -- labor-intensive work that broke the backs of many a worker in the tropical heat -- lasted until the 1960s, around the time a small airstrip was built on Provo and a nascent tourist industry began to stir. But it wasn't until 1984, when the development of Club Med led to the construction of a larger airport, that commercial tourism started to take root on the Turks and Caicos Islands.

A Fine Mess -- The first 10 years of the 21st century have been tempestuous ones for the TCI: The islands were buffeted by hurricanes, a global recession, and a major government scandal. In 2009, the U.K. took the unprecedented steps of stripping this British colony of its powers of self-governance (forcing the high-living premier to resign in the process), suspending the constitution, and installing a British governor, at least for the next 2 years -- measures taken after an official Commission of Inquiry found a "culture of corruption" at the highest levels of government. Court documents told of government ministers allegedly pocketing wads of cash in exchange for prime development deals and the granting of highly prized "Belongerships" (citizenship status). But the most riveting testimony revolved around the extravagant lifestyle of former premier Michael Misick, including his tempestuous marriage to a Hollywood star, their personal staff (which cost the TCI government some half-a-mil a year), and the marbled and pillared "White House" the couple built in Leeward -- at press time for sale for $16 million. And the marriage between Misick and his former first lady -- always impeccably turned out in her trademark white? Finis.

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.