For many travelers, getting to know the local residents is part of the fun. Sure, seeing the tourist attractions and enjoying various activities may be the primary reason for a trip, but talking with the people who actually live there and interacting with them can make a good vacation even better. When you visit the Turks and Caicos Islands, there is a very warm, friendly and endearing native local population to enjoy.
You will also be fascinated by their varied cultural backgrounds. The fact is, Turks and Caicos is an ethnically- and culturally-diverse group of islands, with at least 60 different nationalities represented in the population. Most of TCI’s residents come from the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, France, Haiti, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Scandinavian Europe. The many and varied backgrounds and cultures of Turks and Caicos’ population brings a very appealing, international flare to the islands.
One of the biggest aspects of TCI’s cultural diversity is in the languages spoken. With the local residents coming from many different parts of the world, it goes without saying that their native tongues will be spoken throughout the islands.
Of course, as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, the “official” language of Turks and Caicos is English. That is the language used in daily life, business, communications and certainly the hospitality industry. In fact, it would be unusual to find a local TCI resident who does not know at least some basic English. That said, many other major languages are also widely spoken in Turks and Caicos. Some of the most common secondary languages used on the islands are Spanish, French and Italian.
Over the years, entire Spanish-speaking communities have developed in the Turks and Caicos Islands. This is due to immigration and the islands’ proximity to other Spanish-speaking countries and islands such as Hispaniola, Cuba and Dominican Republic.
Also commonly spoken by a majority of the resident population is an English-based Creole language, known as Turks and Caicos Creole. It is similar to other Caribbean Creole languages, especially Bahamian Creole. TCI’s particular style of Creole is based on English vocabulary but employs African grammar. While this is not an official language of the islands, nearly 10,000 people in TCI speak it. Another commonly spoken indigenous language is Haitian Creole, due to the many immigrants from Haiti who now make TCI their home.
The native residents of Turks and Caicos are known as “belongers” and often speak Creole with their own dialects that differ between areas and islands within TCI. The words they use and the way they pronounce them are influenced by the region or area where the “belonger” may have originated.
If you are planning a trip to Turks and Caicos, we recommend you learn some key phrases in Creole to help you understand the people within this culture and interact with them. So rather than simply say, “thank you,” tell them “mèsi.” Instead of saying “please,” say “tanpri.” When the locals see that you are attempting to speak their language, in most cases they will really appreciate that you’re trying to connect with them using “their” native tongue. This will help foster a bridge between you and them, and may even give them an extra reason to offer assistance if you need it. And who knows, you may even build some new friendships.
Try to not let the number of different Creole dialects used in TCI intimidate you or deter you from learning to say a few simple phrases. If you know a few basic Creole words, chances are you’ll be understood wherever you say them within the islands, even if you don’t say the words exactly like the local villagers do.
Another way to experience TCI’s cultural diversity is in its dining options. The restaurants in Turks and Caicos offer a broad array of cuisines, representing many different cultures and countries. If you want European entrées, you can find them here, including Italian, French, Mediterranean, Mexican, English pubs and traditional American fare like pizzas and burgers. You’ll find plenty of Asian eateries in TCI as well, including Chinese, Thai, Indian and traditional Japanese sushi restaurants.
Certainly the indigenous local cultures are also well-represented in terms of eating establishments. There are a myriad of Caribbean-style restaurants on the islands, serving local and regional dishes like jerk chicken, conch and hominy, conch fritters, steamed conch, crabs and rice, and codfish cakes. In general, the native dishes are spicy, tasty and not to be missed!
Keep in mind that a 15 percent tip is most standard for services in Turks and Caicos. It is the most common tip to food servers and bartenders, along with taxi drivers, hotel maids and porters.
The currency used and accepted in Turks and Caicos is the United States Dollar. If you don’t want to pay for your restaurant meal or purchase in cash, most major credit cards are also accepted. If you are one of the few people who still travel with traveler’s checks, the majority of restaurants, hotels, stores and taxi services in TCI still accept them. Alternatively, traveler’s checks may also be cashed at local banks within Turks and Caicos.
A third way to enjoy TCI’s cultural mix by taking in one of the region’s many festivals and cultural celebrations during your visit.
If you’re here on New Years, you can observe or participate in the Junkanoo Carnival. This is a celebration that has been practiced in Turks and Caicos since the 1500s when slaves were allowed one day off work during the winter holidays to celebrate with their families. During the Junkanoo festivities, islanders take to the streets wearing bejeweled masks and ornate costumes, while playing drums and other musical instruments. There are parades, calypso music and dancing—all night long.
Every May 5, Cinco de Mayo celebrations start at Turtle Cove on Providenciales. Enjoy Mexican food, drinks, music, dance and maybe even learn something about Mexican independence.
Each year, for one week starting in late July and lasting until early August, visitors and locals alike can take part in the Turks and Caicos Music and Cultural Festival. Enjoy traditional Caribbean music, along with soul, rhythm and blues, reggae, and hip hop performances by local performers. Also not to be missed during this festival is the many booths and displays highlighting the different foods, styles of dress and arts found in Turks and Caicos.
This is just a sampling of some of TCI’s very diverse, annual cultural celebrations. Truly there is a festival for everyone, no matter what your tastes or interests may be!