The Turks and Caicos Islands are great for the soul but may be even better for the body. The TCI has no poisonous snakes or spiders, no malaria or other tropical diseases, is rabies-free, and boasts one of the lowest crime rates in the Caribbean. The wildest animals you'll find here are the islands' "potcake" dogs, which are generally as gentle as lambs. The waters are protected by a coral reef that rings the islands, so big waves and rough, turbulent surf are rare; in fact, the sea is often so gentle and clear (and the sandy bottom so free of rocks) that this is the perfect spot to teach toddlers and young children how to swim.
The exciting news on the TCI health front was the opening of the nation's first hospital. In April 2010, the Turks & Caicos Island Hospital, the nation's first modern hospital, opened its two centers: the Cheshire Hall Medical Centre (on Providenciales) and the Cockburn Town Medical Center (on Grand Turk).
Keep the following suggestions in mind to stay healthy and safe on your trip:
- Be mindful of the tropical sun. Wear sunglasses and a hat and use sunscreen liberally. Limit your time on the beach the first day. If you do overexpose yourself, stay out of the sun until you recover. If your exposure is followed by fever or chills, a headache, or a feeling of nausea or dizziness, see a doctor. And keep hydrated: Drink lots of water if you plan to be outside for long periods.
- Bring insect repellent. Fortunately, malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the Caribbean are confined largely to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In the early evening, the witching hour for no-see-'ums, it's a good idea to spray on insect repellent (most restaurants have outdoor seating and often have insect-repellent spray on hand).
- Be mindful of diving risks. The Turks and Caicos is a diver's paradise. One of the more serious risks associated with diving is decompression sickness -- more commonly known as "the bends." Associated Medical Practices (located in the Medical Building on Leeward Hwy. in Providenciales; tel. 649/946-4242) has a dive decompression chamber to treat the bends. Note: The treatment is expensive, so be sure to check your dive insurance before you make the plunge.
- Consider drinking bottled water during your trip. If you experience diarrhea, moderate your eating habits and drink only bottled water until you recover. If symptoms persist, consult a doctor.
- Pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage. Carry written prescriptions in generic -- not brand-name -- form, and dispense all prescription medications from their original labeled vials. Many people try to carry drugs via prescription containers; Customs officials are aware of this type of smuggling and often check medication bottles. (Exception: Liquid prescriptions must be in their original containers, per the latest Transportation Security Administration regulations.)
- Pack an extra pair of contact lenses (if you wear them), in case you lose one set.
Contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT; tel. 716/754-4883, or in Canada 416/652-0137; www.iamat.org) for tips on travel and health concerns on the islands you're visiting and lists of local English-speaking doctors. The United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (tel. 800/311-3435; www.cdc.gov) provides up-to-date information on health hazards by region or country and offers tips on food safety. The website www.tripprep.com, sponsored by a consortium of travel-medicine practitioners, may also offer helpful advice.
What to Do if You Get Sick Away from Home -- Finding a good doctor in the Turks and Caicos is not a problem, and most speak English.
If you suffer from a chronic illness, consult your doctor before your departure. If you worry about getting sick away from home, you might want to consider medical travel insurance.
Crime & Safety
The TCI has long been one of the safest places to live and visit in the Caribbean, but the recession has brought with it something entirely new to these islands: unemployment. And with it has come a slight uptick in petty crime. Some have attributed the trend as a natural by-product of development; others believe the changing population dynamics -- the influx of a non-national workforce -- is at work, although the global financial downturn and constitutional crisis are certainly factors. The bottom line: Crime is minimal in the islands -- the locals, used to a world of unlocked doors, are deeply offended when someone resorts to robbing people of their possessions -- but petty theft does take place, so protect your valuables, money, and cameras. Don't flash big wads of money around, especially when you arrive at the airport. Use common sense and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Keep your doors locked.