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Jewels in the Caribbean
The Turks and Caicos consist of 40 different islands and The The Turks and Caicos consist of 40 different islands and cays, only 8 of which are inhabited. The islands of the Turks and Caicos are almost as diverse as its people.
From the main tourist centre of Providenciales, to the quiet and tranquil islands of North and Middle Caicos to the historic Capital Island of Grand Turk; each one offers a different experience and a unique character, but all offer year round great climate, beaches and underwater activities.
The only true way to experience the Turks and Caicos Islands is to experience each island in the entire chain, and then decided where you want to live or buy a holiday home. Most of the islands are only about 10 to 25 minutes by air from Provodenciales, and most can be reached by boat, too. There are also regular ferries from North to Middle Caicos.
The Turks and Caicos islands are named after the indigenous Turk's Head "fez" cactus and the Lucayan term "caya hico", meaning string of islands. Columbus was said to have discovered the islands, but some still argue that Ponce de Leon arrived first. No matter who it was the first people to discover the islands were the Taino Indians who left little behind but ancient utensils.
The Tainos were eventually replaced by another Indian people, the Lucayans, but by the middle of the 16th century they too had disappeared, victims of Spanish enslavement and imported disease. The islands saw a number of settlers over the next few centuries and eventually became a British Crown colony in 1962.
The Turks & Caicos natives are called Belongers or Turks Islanders,and are either descendants from African slaves who were originally brought over to grow cotton on the island of Providenciales, or have immigrated here from the Bahamas back in the salt raking days. The local population mixes harmoniously with a large expatriate community of British, American, French, Canadian, Haitians, Dominicans and Scandinavians, giving the islands an international influence and unique culture. The people here both Expats and Belongers are relaxed and friendly and generally operate on island time, resulting in a low-key, slow-paced environment.
These beautiful islands are situated 575 miles southeast of Miami and 30 miles east of Mayaguana in the Bahamas, and cover 193 square miles of the Atlantic Ocean. The islands have one of the longest coral reefs in the world making it a premier diving destination. There are eight major islands, and the people are known for their friendliness, they are also very religious. Tourism gives the islands their main revenue and in addition to this, the islands are also a major offshore financial centre.
The English speaking populations of 20,500 are dispersed over the main eight islands, the native people descendants from African slaves who were originally brought over to grow cotton on the island of Providenciales.
Grand Turk is the capital island of the Turks and Caicos, its historical heartbeat, and home to a state-of-the-art luxury cruise ship centre. It is here that Christopher Columbus first made landfall on his initial voyage to the New World in 1492. Cockburn Town is the administrative centre and has a rustic charm that is unforgettable. There are many colonial-style buildings. Duke and Fort Streets are lined with historic 18th and 19th century landmarks that reflect the Bermudan style architecture of the salt era.
The national museum tells the history of the Molasses Reef wreck, the oldest European shipwreck discovered in the Western Hemisphere around 1505. Other historic sites include the Lighthouse, Fire Hill and the Hawks Nest Anchorage.
One of Grand Turk's main attractions is diving. There is an outstanding protected coral reef, which drops to 8,000 feet and is close enough to shore for beach dives. During whale-watching season visitors can watch the humpback whales pass from Grand Turk's shores as well as surface from the water.
On the uninhabited island of Gibbs Cay it is possible to picnic on the beach and have the chance to feed the beautiful stingrays who swim right up to shore. Perhaps the most beloved individual in the islands is JO-JO, a wild Atlantic dolphin that frequently befriends swimmers and divers. Her ease among humans has prompted a major scientific study and qualified her as a national treasure.
Many believe that sleepy Salt Cay is the best kept secret in the Turks and Caicos Islands. This quaint island, a mere 2.5 square miles, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, is the ultimate get away from it all. A time capsule from the days when "Salt was King". Once the centre of the Bermudan salt industry from 1600-early 1960s, this arid island has only a number of inhabitants and has an air of a frozen moment, a place where time stands still.
Salt Cay has an awesome story to share, from the proud olden windmills that guard the mournful Salinas, to the stately White House which is still owned and preserved by descendants of the original Bermudian Salt Rakers. As you mingle with the local community they will happily share a tale or two with you and provide you with true island hospitality.
Visit the ruins at Taylor's Hill and discover one of the most breathtaking views on the island. This is an ideal spot for whale watching, a favourite pastime for visitors during January and April when migrating humpback whales populate the azure waters of Salt Cay. But giant humpbacks are not the only visitors to the island that you may enjoy watching.
This quiet and tranquil environment is also a popular rest stop for migrating birds, and serious bird watchers will tell you they are very happy with their sightings in Salt Cay!
The natives of Salt Cay are as charming below the water as they are above! The island is a divers and snorkelers paradise. Enchanting tropical fish will usher you to some of the regions most exquisite coral reefs and whisper tales of the past, as experienced divers explore the wreck of the Endymion - an un-salvaged 17th century British warship about 40 minutes south of Deannes Dock.
There is something for everyone in Salt Cay. Whether you lounge on the sun-kissed shores, or comb the beach for iridescent seashells, frolic in the turquoise waters, or curl up in a hammock with a book. Be sure to treat yourself to island/international cuisine at one of the local beach side eats and be entertained by the parade of island birds. The island is a treasure trove of authentic island experiences!
Legend purports that the pirate Anne Bonny camped out on Parrot Cay in the 1720s, lending the original name - Pirate Cay. This 1000 acre island now hosts the ultra luxurious and very private vacation hideaway, Parrot Cay Resort and Spa, called by some the world's most exclusive resort. Movie stars enjoy the solitude and anonymity. Beachfront homes have been built for the rich and famous including Bruce Willis and Keith Richards.
Apart from a settlement of Arawak Indians, probably dating to the 11th century, Pine Cay has had no permanent population until The Meridan Club was built here in the 1970s. Today, the people who work on the island come primarily from North Caicos and Middle Caicos. Their names and the ruins of plantations around their villages date back to a short-lived wave of settlement by English loyalists escaping the American Revolution.
Ambergris Cay, at the southern end of the Caicos Bank, is a 1,100 acre private residential island, home to Turks & Caicos Sporting Club. The Cay has been under private ownership since 1811. Ambergris Cay offers distinguished home sites, as well as first-rate amenities including the recently opened 5,700 foot private airstrip at Harold Charles International airport, the longest private airstrip in the Caribbean.
With eight miles of waterfront, the private island is nearly 3.3 miles long by 1.5 miles wide and rises to 96 feet. More than 65 percent of Ambergris Cay is preserved to maintain its archaeological ruins and natural landscape.
Providenciales, in the Caicos Islands, known as Provo, is the most developed of the islands with beautiful beaches in the north, a long coral reef in the south, Chalk Sound, a large lake with striking turquoise water, and an array of small cays. Provo covers an area of 38 miles and is on the western end of the island chain. It is here that most international flights arrive.
Provo is surrounded by beautiful white sand beaches, all modern conveniences, including luxurious hotels, villas and condos, numerous restaurants, spas and shopping facilities, a championship calibre golf course, and full service grocery store. On the north shore of the island, near Grace Bay, you will find the most beautiful beaches, as well as a long coral reef, which is rich in aquatic life.
Towards the south of the island you will find Chalk Sound, a large lake with striking turquoise water and an array of untouched, off the beaten track, small, pristine cays. On the far western end is unspoiled Malcolm's Beach, just adjacent to the magnificent Amanyara Resort. On the eastern end of the island is Leeward Marina and development. The two main and oldest settlements on the island are the Bight and Blue Hills, and are built around fresh water supplies. Both locations give a real feeling of Caribbean villages.
Middle Caicos is the largest of the islands, 48 square miles of natural beauty. There are three settlements, Conch Bar, Bambarra and Lorimers, with a population of just 275. The coastline around Middle Caicos is more dramatic than that of the other islands, especially on the north shore, where there are limestone cliffs with long, sandy beaches. The south is dominated by swampland and tidal flats, which almost covers half the island. The island is green and ideal for agriculture. Middle Caicos is home to the largest cave network in the Bahamian Archipelago and is situated at Conch Bar.
Mudjin Harbour, a half-moon lagoon within the ocean, and a picturesque beach that juts out from the land to link up with an offshore cay, is a most dramatic feature. The huge limestone caves feature stalactites, stalagmites, bats, owls and salt lakes that link up with the sea, are considered to be one of the most extensive cave systems in the region. There are also the remains of huge Lucayan Indian settlements.
Middle Caicos also contains ruins of Loyalist plantations such as the Haulover Plantation with ruins of chimneys and homes, and a well shaped like a horse with steps running down the walls. There is also a trail that links Middle Caicos with North Caicos during low tide you can actually walk between the two islands.
The Frigate Bird colony resides on the south side of the island where you will find Flamingos, Egrets, and Sand Pipers. A large blue hole just offshore in shallow water features an abundant variety of marine life. The island's Northwest Point is a combination of beautiful inlets, marshes, mangroves and in land ponds, which serve as a haven for bird life.
North Caicos is 12 miles northeast of Providenciales and there are daily connecting flights and boat charters. North Caicos is the lushest island with abundant rainfall and the people live in the settlements of Bottle Creek Village, Whitby, Kew and Sandy Point. Bottle Creek Village borders a lagoon on the northeast of the island, and is protected from the ocean by a long ribbon of sand.
North Caicos boasts the largest flock of Pink Flamingo in the islands and you will find a wide variety of other birds on the island's extensive nature reserves and sanctuaries. Iguanas on the nearby East Bays Cays are an outstanding example of the natural diversity of this green island. There are Loyalist plantation ruins, the grandest of which is Wade's Green. Lucayan artefacts were found in the caves near Sandy Point.
Crafts such as straw-work are still practised on this island which is widely known as the "Breadbasket of the Turks and Caicos Islands", or the "Emerald Isle". Fine sloops were built to transport the crops from the extensive farms located close to the settlements to the other islands. Less farming is carried on now-days but the Government farm in Kew still produces tomatoes and cucumbers available on North.
South Caicos, or The Big South, is the fishing capital of the islands, and boasts the best natural harbour and several fishing plants, processing most of the nation's seafood harvest of lobster, conch and fish for export and local consumption.
This small, friendly island offers many secluded beaches with awe inspiring views of the turquoise waters and surrounding islands. The sleepy little harbour town of Cockburn Harbour has hosted royalty and rogues throughout its rich history. Queen Elizabeth stayed in the 18th century Commissioner's House during her visit in 1966.
The old salt works and the Boiling Hole, which fed the salt-pans that once made South Caicos the island's largest produced of salt, have become home to a wide variety of birds, including flocks of flamingos. The town reflects its British and Bermudian heritage in its narrow streets, scuba divers delight in the pristine, breathtaking walls, and whales pass by on their annual winter migration.
East Caicos is an uninhabited island dominated by mangrove swamps and flat lands in the south, and its 17 miles sandy beach on the north coast is used by sea turtles to lay their eggs. Once home to a large sisal plantation and cattle industry, East Caicos is now deserted. The ruins of the abandoned town of Jacksonville, railroad tracks and cave artworks are testaments of former life.
West Caicos is also uninhabited and is being developed as the future home of the most exclusive Ritz Carlton community in the world. The developers have taken great effort to preserve the unique ecological and historical aspects of the island, including Lake Catherine, a nature reserve e that is home to a variety of bird life.
West Caicos is a favourite for picnics and dive operators,(said to have the most beautiful diving spots in Turks and Caicos), sandy coves and beautiful waters. There are the ruins of Yankee Town, a sisal press, old railroad and steam engine, evidence of the small civilisation that once used to live here. The nature reserve of Lake Catherine is located on the island.
Bush medicine is still extremely popular with the native residents of the islands. Made from herbs, plants, barks and roots of trees grown in the Turks and Caicos Islands, the early residents of the islands relied on the passed down knowledge of the healing properties of their local plants and herbs to cure their ailments. There's even a remedy for putting the pep back into your love life with tea made from the Soldier Vine, Love Vine, Seaside Morning Glory and the ever-popular Strong Back shrub. As the old folks say, Drink a sip and let it rip.
The national music of the Turks and Caicos is called "Ripsaw Music". The basic instruments used are an ordinary carpenters saw, the goatskin drum, the Constentina, hand-made maracas and the acoustic guitar. Lovey Forbes and his son Corry Forbes are the fore runners in composing and recording Ripsaw music in the Turks and Caicos.
Lovey Forbes came up with the name "Combina Music" to describe the new mix of Ripsaw and popular foreign music. Jamaican Reggae, Bahamian Calypso and Eastern Caribbean Soca all play a major role in the local music scene.
The Turks and Caicos Islands are for enjoying life to the full as the islanders have done for generations. These stunning islands have so much to offer that you will never want to leave.