The Ultimate Mini-guide to Exploring Other Islands in the Turks & Caicos
By Hannah Barnard on 30th April, 2020
Short of taking stock of all the aquamarine views and local Jerk dishes east of the West Indies has enough charm to convert an Inuit with, there’s not much that beats the excitement of going on vacation other than traveling to another place, while you’re on vacation. It’s adventurous, intriguing, and packs a certain zeal that anyone with a thirst for traveling would sign up to before you even have the chance to bid bon voyage. So where to go? What to do? How even to get there? By boat, plane or automobile (not mentioning bicycles, kayaks, paddleboards, and ATVs awaiting on some select islands), here’s a mini-guide to exploring the other islands in the Turks and Caicos, so you can embark on an adventure, without venturing too far…
The Turks & Caicos Breakdown
In spite of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) consisting of eight main islands and cays: Providenciales, Grand Turk, Salt Cay, and North, Middle, West, East and South Caicos, it’s actually made up of 40 in total, with only a quarter being inhabited. Cays, known as small sandy islands formed on the surface of a coral reef, are ideal days out for those eager to venture away from Providenciales without racking up mileage. For those wanting to explore further afield, the great thing about the TCI is that, due to the islands being bunched together on a plateau marine bank rising from the ocean floor, there’s close proximity between each of them, meaning domestic travel is short and effort is minimal. One of the longest distances in the TCI is from Providenciales to Grand Turk and that alone only takes 30 minutes by plane (and that’s a small 30-seater inter-island plane, which is an experience in itself). The past 30 years have seen domestic travel links increase tenfold, and the past five years have seen a particularly distinct medley of excursions now in abundance in the TCI. All islands and cays can be done in a day, with Grand Turk, Salt Cay, North, Middle, and South Caicos all suitable for staying overnight.
The Other Islands
The Turks and Caicos Islands archipelago, which contains six islands that are either uninhabited, off-limits, or have a population of 100 to 1500 maximum, is in no simpler terms one of the few remaining corners of the earth that’s wild, untouched and indisputably pure. This kind of primitive remoteness is often thought by many to be confined to the pages of exploration books from yesteryear, let alone existent in front of our eyes in 2020. But make no mistake; there’s still a varying wealth of activities, eateries, and facilities available on these islands, it just refrains from the kind of intrusive development that’s tipping many modern-day destinations in favour of the people, and their convenience, rather than nature, and its conservation.
Nearly all activities in the TCI revolve around enjoying the landscape and its natural forms: deserted beaches, cliff-top trails, caves, fauna, coral reefs, turquoise waters… And if you’re a keen photographer, this makes an excellent destination for stunning landscape and nature photography. So what unique excursions can you embark on that differ from the norm? What modes of transport are best once you get there? And what is each island’s USP that makes them so worth going to? Here’s a breakdown of the other islands in the Turks & Caicos, to help you find your home away from home.
There are six main cays in the Turks and Caicos: one to the southeast and the rest between Providenciales and North Caicos.
LITTLE WATER CAY: Also known as Iguana Island, this uninhabited cay has a flourishing species of rock iguana, as well as abundant ospreys and rugged wild beaches.
PINE CAY: A small, inhabited island consisting of private homes and the Meridian Club Resort for visitors. Nine miles of nature trails and stellar snorkeling spots complement Pine Cay’s immaculate beaches.
FORT GEORGE CAY: Offering a slice of TCI heritage while being ideal for snorkeling, this uninhabited cay is laced with a site of underwater cannons used historically to protect Loyalist plantations.
DELLIS CAY: This uninhabited cay is a great spot for beachcombing, and is recognizable by the ruins of unfinished construction development.
PARROT CAY: Hailed as one of the most exclusive islands in the Caribbean, Parrot Cay contains the luxury COMO resort, along with several private homes owned by the likes of Keith Richards, Bruce
Willis and Donna Karan, among others.
AMBERGRIS CAYS: Southeast of the chain of the Caicos Islands are the wild and rugged Ambergris Cays. The Turks & Caicos Collection owns an all-inclusive luxury resort on the main Ambergris Cay.
FRENCH CAY: One of the smallest and most remote cays in the TCI, French Cay is void of any man-made construction. Beaches, snorkel spots, and historical ties to pirates (who back in the day made use of it for marooning the captured) make French Cay live up to connotations of the quintessential desert island.
The Cays Excursions
SECLUDED BEACH DROP-OFFS – A secluded beach drop-off gives you and your partner (or group) the chance to visit an isolated beach on a neighbouring cay, where you’re dropped off by boat and left with a cooler equipped with drinks and snacks, a few beach chairs, beach umbrella, beach gear, and an emergency cell phone to call the boat captain when you’re ready to get picked up. A gourmet meal can be arranged on request so you can get the best of both worlds: desert island seclusion and catered luxury.
CARIBBEAN HOUSE EVOLUTION SUNDAY BOAT PARTY (JULY) – If you’re here during the low season in the second last week of July and fancy a party in the sun, make sure to book on a boat to and from the Caribbean House Evolution Sunday Boat Party on Little Water Cay. Over several years, the party has tripled in size to become the most popular annual party in the TCI, with a fleet of boats and an army of house DJs, locals and visitors, who descend on the shoreline of Little Water Cay for a good old knees-up in the height of summer.
PROVO CAYS EXPLORATION & CAICOS CAYS SAFARI – Caribbean Cruisin’, among other operators, offers full-day boat charters that explore the cays, isles and waters surrounding Providenciales. If you’re a fan of high-octane, high-speed action on the water, the Caicos Cays Safari by Caribbean Cruisin’ offers a jet ski tour of the surrounding cays, with a knowledgeable guide to show you around.
LOBSTER SAFARI (AUGUST TO MARCH) – Caicos Adventures offers a day out on the water where visitors are taught how to fish lobster the island way…where you free dive among shallow reefs, catch the lobster and grill it yourself on the BBQ.
FRENCH CAY ADVENTURE – Operators such as Caicos Adventures and Sea Spice offer full-day boat charters to this wild midwest cay, with a Caribbean BBQ lunch and refreshments included.
GROUP SNORKEL CHARTERS – The Turks and Caicos has the third-largest barrier reef in the world, providing a massive range of marine life including parrotfish, blue tang, rays, groupers, turtles, barracudas, and an estimated 60 species of coral. A group snorkel tour generally visits around three reef sites in and around Providenciales and the surrounding cays, with guides in the water with you to show you the best spots to find marine life. Lunch and drinks are provided, and if you want to try something a little different, opt for the sunset or night snorkel tours, available by select charter companies. Operators include but aren’t limited to Caicos Adventures, Caribbean Cruisin’, Big Blue Collective, and Sea Spice.
How to get to the Cays: By boat charter. If you’re heading to the Ambergris Cays, the Turks and Caicos Collection run private air transfers.
Best mode of transport once there: Foot (Remember your flip-flops…the sand can be hot at peak times during the day).
North Caicos is where everything grows, due to a higher rainfall rate and more fertile ground, hence its name the ‘Breadbasket’ of the TCI.
How to get there: The TCI Ferry is a small passenger-only boat leaving from Walkin Marina. Pre-booking is essential.
Best mode of transport once there: Rental car or bicycle. Pre-booking is also essential.
North Caicos Excursions:
NORTH TO MIDDLE CAICOS CYCLING TOUR – A unique way to make the most out of North and Middle Caicos is a guided bike tour with operators such as Caicos Cyclery. Paved bike baths, stunning ocean views and the surreal feeling of cycling over the causeway (a singular road built to connect the two islands, sandwiched between stunning turquoise ocean) are once in a lifetime. The cycle route typically starts from North Caicos and turns back at Dragon Cay, after allowing some time to explore the beautiful Mudjin Harbour. Distances vary depending on ability and preference.
SELF-GUIDED ‘BIRDING IN PARADISE’ TOUR – The Birding in Paradise booklet series by Mike and Ann Pienkowski and Bryan Naqqi Manco, gives birding and natural history routes on each island in the TCI. It comes complete with maps, visual references and instructions on where to go, and can be purchased as an e-book on the UKOTCF (United KingdomOverseas Territories Conservation Forum) website or picked up at either of the two National Museum branches: Providenciales or Grand Turk. Proceeds go to supporting the Turks & Caicos National Museum and the Birding Trails. Make sure to download the eBird app and record observations of any birds you see, as you’re actively contributing to data vital for national bird conservation. Birds of the TCI include: pelicans, herons, gulls, terns, egrets, sandpipers, flamingos, and the rare West Indian whistling duck, to name a few.
The flagship activities: Cottage Pond which is a deep vertical cave, Wade’s Green Plantation with ruins dating back to 1979, the snorkelling spot and rugged beach at Three Mary Cays, Flamingo Pond (remember your binoculars to overlook the flock), Horsestable Beach, and Bottle Creek, where you can hire kayaks and paddleboards.
Middle Caicos is renowned and loved for three main things: its straw-weaving heritage, its wild and remote beaches, and the dramatic, striking coastline of Mudjin Harbour.
How to get there: The TCI Ferry to North Caicos, then a rental car or bike along the causeway to Middle Caicos. An official bike tour is recommended if you opt to cycle.
Best mode of transport once there: Rental car or bicycle. Pre-booking is essential.
Middle Caicos Excursions
THE CROSSING PLACE TRAIL is a walking route that not only used to connect Middle and North Caicos communities, but today gives hikers views that encapsulate much of the natural beauty of Middle Caicos that makes up its appeal. The trail runs parallel to the shoreline and walks along high cliff-tops, bush pathways, rocky coves, and deserted long beaches, starting from the intensely beautiful Mudjin Harbour to the farthest Northwestern point.
SELF-GUIDED BIRDING TOURS (as mentioned previously).
The flagship activities: Indian Caves, Conch Bar Caves, and the National Park (this park protects 15 miles of caves that make it one of the biggest systems in the Caribbean), Flamingo Pond, Haulover Plantation ruins, Ocean Hole, Bambarra Beach, the remote Wild Cow Run Beach, and the Caicos Pine Yard Trail (a half-mile nature walk among the local flora and fauna, with particular focus on the national Caicos pine tree).
This uninhabited 11 square-mile island is wild, brimming with coves of crystal clear water clarity, and complete with three miles of iron shoreline alongside excellent reef spots and the infamous ‘Wall’: an underwater cliff plunging from 35 to 7,000 feet to the deep sea. During the boat journey, make sure to look out for marine life on the way; dolphin and turtles make occasional appearances.
How to get there: By chartered boat, which takes about an hour.
Best mode of transport once there: Foot.
West Caicos Excursions
DIVING – West Caicos is a firm favorite for diving, with operators parking up along the infamous Wall daily to visit dive sites such as Elephant Ear Canyon, known for its huge barrel and tube sponges, and sea fans among a flurry of other marine life.
WEST CAICOS SAFARI – This full-day tour by Caicos Adventures explores prime beachcombing spots, cliff-jumping areas, a flamingo-inhabited lake on West Caicos, and sailors’ old rock carvings, making it ideal for families looking for some adventure. Sea Spice, among other operators, offers excursions here. The flagship activities: There are plenty of shallow reefs prime for snorkeling, as well as swimming areas around Delvin’s Cove (also great for cliff-jumping).
South Caicos, at just over eight square miles, is the fishing capital of the TCI, with daily catches of conch, lobster and fish that’s regularly circulated domestically and exported internationally. Cockburn Town is the main settlement here and was integral to the island’s 17th-century salt trade.
How to get there: By plane via Caicos Express Airways
or InterCaribbean Airways. Flights take half an hour. Alternatively, the TCI ferry runs around two services per week, each taking 90 minutes.
Best mode of transport once there: Many beaches are difficult to access, so a 4×4 rental car is recommended.
South Caicos Excursions
Sailrock Resort and East Bay Resort offer a varying range of fishing charters including ATV and glass-bottom kayak rentals, sailing facilities, and an array of water-based excursions.
The flagship activities: Birdwatching, bonefishing, The School for Field Studies that’s a hub for marine conservation, and beaches such as Long Beach. In terms of snorkeling and diving, South Caicos is loved for its clear water visibility and due to reef systems being almost untouched, it’s considered to have one of the healthiest coral reef systems in the TCI.
Grand Turk is the nation’s capital and as well as being rich in history it’s famous for its excellent wall diving and seasonal whale watching.
How to get there: By plane via Caicos Express Airways or InterCaribbean. Around 10 flights a day run from Providenciales to Grand Turk, each taking 30 minutes.
Best mode of transport once there: Golf buggy or car.
Grand Turk Excursions
SELF-GUIDED ‘BIRDING IN PARADISE’ TOURS – As part of the Birding in Paradise booklet series, Grand Turk offers a walking tour and a driving tour of the self-guided Birding in Paradise excursions.
DIVING – Excellent dive sites reside just off the west coast of Grand Turk, so boat time is minimal. HUMPBACK WHALE WATCHING, from a boat or the water – Grand Turk has regular whale sightings from January to April, and there are two incredible places to be when (and if) it happens: on a boat or in the water, via boat, snorkel or dive charter.
The flagship activities: As well as all the usual watersports, land excursions and rentals widely available across Providenciales and Grand Turk, other main activities include: a trip to the Turks and Caicos National Museum; a stroll down the quaint Front and Duke Street that’s lined with restaurants, cafés, and boutique shops; a snorkel at Gibbs Cay and Molasses Reef Wreck; Governor’s Beach; Columbus Landfall National Park; and the Grand Turk Lighthouse, a stellar spot for a picnic with panoramic views.
East Caicos, due to several characteristics rendering it low-demand and expensive to visit, is not regularly featured as a must-see destination. A guide is strongly recommended if you visit, as its surrounding waters are difficult to navigate, attractions are hard to find, and mosquitos are unforgiving. East Caicos is an incredible bird watching location and home to a wealth of endangered birds, plants, and endemic species. At 32 square miles, it’s also the biggest uninhabited island in the Caribbean. There aren’t enough superlatives to do justice to the sheer beauty of the Turks and Caicos Islands, many of which – in our rapid and fiercely developing modern culture – we are still lucky enough to be able to encounter. The pockets of untouched nature and secluded bliss, combined with the rustic Caribbean charm of a slow pace, old-worldly atmosphere, were once thought to be fragments of a bygone era, let alone be here, today, now. Travel is the heart of human curiosity, and to travel to landscapes you perhaps may be unaware still exist, and that may cease to exist in the future, provides the very opportunities that transform your tropical getaway into a perspective-shifting lifelong-binding experience. In the words of writer Mark Twain, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Salt Cay is a small, charming island where golf buggies, unpaved roads, and donkeys are standard. Far removed from its historical salt-production past, the atmosphere is still old-worldly, peaceful, and disconnected from both modern development and intrusive foot traffic, meaning the topography is left lush and largely untouched.
How to get there: By plane via Caicos Express Airways or InterCaribbean Airways. Each flight takes around an hour from Providenciales, which includes a stopover in Grand Turk.
Best mode of transport once there: Golf buggy, bike or foot.
Salt Cay Excursions
WHALE WATCHING & DIVING – Salt Cay offers some of the best whale watching in the TCI, as it’s the nearest place whales pass by on their way to the banks of the Dominican Republic. You can whale watch from a boat, on a snorkeling excursion, or from many of the viewing decks dotted around the island. Salt Cay Divers, under strict conservation regulations, can offer excursions to get you in the water
and diving when (and if) they pass by, which past divers explained as being one of the most spectacular, surreal experiences of their life.
A BIKE RIDE TO NORTH BEACH – Rolling dunes and a secluded beach await you at the end of the ride.
- All transport links mentioned above are under the assumption that visitors will be traveling from Providenciales.
- There is no public transport on any island in the Turks and Caicos, so it’s essential that you have rental transport pre-arranged.
- As a general rule of thumb, traveling to each island (as opposed to public means) can also often be done by private charter.
- For more information on endemic flora and fauna that you can see across the TCI, visit the ‘Programmes and Projects’ page on www.gov.tc/dema
Read more: The best luxury hotels & resorts on Turks and Caicos