A couple decades ago, probably most people—even travel agents and world travelers—probably couldn’t have located the Turks and Caicos Islands on a map. But world is getting out about the Islands’ pristine beaches, world-class recreational opportunities and tranquil, Caribbean charm. Now, more and more people know where Turks and Caicos is…because they’ve traveled there, or are planning to go there sometime in the future.
But for people who still haven’t been to Turks and Caicos, the question remains: Where exactly are these islands located?
The Turks and Caicos Islands (or “TCI” for short) are situated in the West Indies in the Atlantic Ocean. The islands make up the Lucayan Archipelago, stretching from the southeastern periphery of the Bahamas island chain (of which they form a physical part), and the area just north of the island of Hispaniola (which is divided between the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic). All total, the Turks and Caicos archipelago covers an area of about 238 square miles, with a total land area of about 170 square miles and about 242 linear miles of coastline.
The Turks and Caicos island chain is located about 30 miles south of the Bahamas, 90 miles north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, 385 miles east of Cuba, and 575 miles southeast of Miami, Florida. The Caicos Islands are separated from the closest Bahamian islands, Mayaguana and Great Inagua, by a 30 mile (48 kilometer) wide section of ocean known as the Caicos Passage.
The nation of Turks and Caicos is actually comprised of over 40 islands and cays (or “keys”) of varying sizes, of which only eight are inhabited. In addition, there are over 200 islets, reefs, rocks and banks. TCI’s 30-plus smaller islands and cays, while uninhabited by humans, are home for many different species of tropical birds and reptiles. Several of these islands actually have small herds of wild indigenous cattle. As the name implies, TCI is made up of two different island groupings: the “Turks” and “Caicos.” The “Caicos” group include the six principal islands: West Caicos, Providenciales, North Caicos, Middle Caicos, East Caicos and South Caicos. The islands comprising the “Turks” group are much smaller in size and include Grand Turk, Salt Cay and Big Sand Cay. Of the nine principal islands, all are inhabited except for Big Sand Cay.
The “Turks” and “Caicos” groups are separated from each other by a 22-mile-long marine trench known as the “Turks Island Trench” or “Columbus Passage,” which runs roughly southwest to northeast. This trench, referred to by scuba divers as “The Wall,” is 7,000 feet (2,100 meters) deep and is ranked as one of the best diving spots in the world.
The most populous of these islands are Providenciales, South Caicos and Grand Turk. Each of these islands has its own special appeal.
Providenciales (known locally as “Provo”) has a total land area of about 38 square miles and is home to close to 25,000 year-round residents (about two-thirds of the nation’s total population). Providenciales is TCI’s business, financial and tourism hub, offering a wide number of resorts, spas, restaurants, shopping centers and recreational amenities. Provo is home to some of TCI’s top attractions, including Grace Bay Beach, Leeward Beach, Chalk Sound National Park, Caicos Conch Farm, Sapodilla Bay, and the Northwest Point Marine National Park and Nature Reserve.
South Caicos is a charming, 8.5 square mile island, known most for its fishing, diving, birdlife, fresh seafood dishes. This island’s capital, Cockburn Harbor, boasts many historical sites, reflecting the island’s Bermudian and British heritage.
Grand Turk is only about 6.5 square miles in size, and is home to Turks and Caicos’ capital, Cockburn Town. It is on Grand Turk that Christopher Columbus first made landfall on his initial voyage to the New World in 1492.Tourists visit Grand Turk to see the island’s many historical landmarks, world-class snorkeling and scuba diving spots, and the Turks and Caicos National Museum.
Most visitors to Turks and Caicos arrive by flying into Providenciales International Airport. This is a modern, full-service facility that welcomes dozens of international flights each week from several North American cities, including Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Montreal and Toronto, plus several European cities and other Caribbean Islands.
A number of commercial airlines offer nonstop flights to Providenciales from various international airports in the United States and Canada. Flights from Boston, New York City and Toronto are 3 ½ hours in length. Provo is just a 2 ½ hour flight from either Charlotte or Atlanta. Miami is only a 1 hour and 15 minute flight away.
From Provo International Airport, visitors can easily board commuter flights to the other islands in the Turks and Caicos chain. Usually it’s only a 10 to 25 minute flight. There are regional airports on the islands of Grand Turk, North Caicos and South Caicos, all serviced by commercial airlines. TCI’s other inhabited islands, with the exception of East Caicos, are all equipped with small, unpaved airstrips that may accommodate either small commercial jets or private chartered planes.
Another option for traveling between islands is to go by private boats or passenger ferries. Very often, these ferry trips are not just functional (to get you from one locale to another) but are actually “tourist attractions” in their own right, because their routes pass by scenic coastlines, pristine beaches and picturesque harbors. Some examples are the ferry trips from Grand Turk to Salt Cay, from Providenciales to North Caicos, and between Bottle Creek in North Caicos and Middle Caicos. On any of these journeys, travelers will be able to take in a number of cays as well as the incredible turquoise blue ocean waters and marine life along the way.
For people who have their own vessels, quite a few marinas are available in Turks and Caicos for docking private boats. One of the most well-known, the Blue Haven Marina on Providenciales, has slips available for large yachts up to 220 feet in length.
When visiting in Provo or any of TCI’s other main islands, a rental car is recommended, as taxis can be rather pricey and there is no public transportation on any of the islands. However, there are about 75 miles of public roads on the islands, and hardly any traffic—making driving easy…and relaxing!