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As a self proclaimed beach bum, I am forever searching for the whitest sand and bluest waters I can find…and more often than not, my eye is drawn to the Caribbean. My family was searching for the perfect spot to spend spring break (we wanted tropical without a “spring break” vibe) and Turks & Caicos seemed to fit the bill. The chain of 40 something coral islands just southeast of the Bahamas has become a hotspot in the Caribbean (particularly for Europeans) without getting much cruise ship traffic. It’s known for stunning beaches, a 14-mile barrier island that boasts some of the best snorkeling in the Caribbean, plus luxury resorts that make the rich and famous swoon. But what really sold us was that we could get a quick non-stop flight from Dallas : )
While there are several different islands you can visit in TCI, most everyone ends up on Providenciales (Provo). It’s where the main airport is, it’s where most of the tourist amenities are built up, and it has world-class beaches (Grand Turk is the island where cruise ships dock). So to Provo we went!
*Queue visions of sugar white sand, dazzling turquoise water, and pink shade umbrellas.
My Travel Itinerary
Spring break dictated our travel dates so we arrived at the tail end of peak season. Every destination has its quirks, and we quickly discovered a big one of TCI. Almost everyone arrives on a Saturday and departs on a Saturday. This is largely due to airline schedules. The majority of flights to Provo leave from Miami, but quite a few airlines run seasonal flights from other airports. As is common, the flight we got from Dallas (DFW) only operated on Saturdays. This means that in large part travel to the island works a bit like a cruise ship…everyone arrives and departs at the same time. Of course, there are stragglers spaced out on other days of the week, but largely, Saturday is the day.
So in 7 nights on Provo, we:
- Spent absolutely HOURS laying on the beach
- Lolled around Grace Bay in the most tranquil water you’ve ever seen
- Snorkeled the famous barrier reef
- Went horseback riding on the beach
- Paddleboarded through the mangroves
- Had amazing dinners every night
- Rented a car one day and drove around the island
- Went to the Conch Shack!
- Napped, suntanned, swam, and READ (I polished off 5 books on this trip!)
As a travel blogger, I’m often going, going, going on trips, but this truly was a VACATION.
We stayed at the Ocean Club West (a resort on Grace Bay) in a rental unit that we booked through Vrbo. It was perfect for us as we had all of the resort amenities, but we also had a full villa to spread out in.
Here’s what you need to know about Provo:
Where to Stay in Turks & Caicos
Grace Bay: If you know anything about Provo, you’ve heard of Grace Bay. And for good reason. Grace Bay is the most beautiful beach in the Turks and Caicos and the hub of tourism on Provo. This stunning 12-mile beach on the north shore of Provo seems to be home to about 90% of the shopping, dining, and accommodation options on the island. It’s highly likely that this is where you’ll end up staying. It’s the only area of the island where you can easily walk to shops and restaurants from where you’re staying so it’s also possible to get away without renting a car if you’re staying here.
Leeward: This northeast portion of the island is largely residential so it’s much more quiet and low key than nearby Grace Bay but it has some perfectly lovely beaches.
Chalk Sound: Located on the southwest side of the island, Chalk Sound is a stunningly beautiful place to stay. In addition to Chalk Sound national park, Sapodilla Bay and Taylor Bay are also nearby and are some of the island’s best beaches. This area has the majority of the island’s rental villas but it’s also quite a ways away from all of the amenities of Grace Bay.
Long Bay: This is probably Provo’s second most famous beach and a great place to stay if you’re looking for a world-class beach with a little more quiet and seclusion than Grace Bay. It’s world known for kite boarding and this is also where Provo Ponies does their rides, but otherwise you won’t find any shops or restaurants in the area.
Turks and Caicos has also gotten a reputation for being super expensive and while it’s definitely not a cheap island, you can find a wide range of accommodation options to fit any taste and budget. Here are some options in every category:
All Inclusive Resorts
If an all-inclusive is your style, Provo has a couple of options.
Luxury Beach Resorts
If you’re looking for a little luxury, Turks and Caicos can’t be beat.
The Venetian: For something a little more “old world,” the Venetian offers everything you’d expect from a luxury beach resort with the option to book a 3 bedroom/3 bathroom “condo” for extra space. Check rates and availability here.
Amanyara Resort: For a truly lavish experience, book a villa at the Amanyara Resort on the northwest point of the island. It will cost you but you’re unlikely to find its equal in the luxury department anywhere else. Check rates and availability here.
More Affordable Luxury Options
If you’re craving nice digs but still working with a budget, don’t worry. You’ve got plenty of options.
Ocean Club West: I personally recommend Ocean Club West as this is where I stayed and we had a great experience. The pool and restaurant area was great but more importantly there were plenty of chairs and umbrellas out on the beach (those adorable pink ones!) and the staff was very friendly and attentive. Their sister resort, Ocean Club, is also a good option although a little less centrally located. Both of these resorts have individually owned units that you can rent through VRBO for a cheaper rate. Check rates and availability here.
Still looking for more luxury beach resorts on Grace Bay? Try Grace Bay Club, The Palms, and The Somerset. If you’re willing to go off the beach for a discount, try the Oasis at Grace Bay.
Villas, Condos & Vacation Homes
If a resort isn’t your style, but you still want all of the amenities, Provo is home to some truly amazing villas and vacation homes (at all prices!).
To find exactly what you’re looking for (location, size, and budget), search here.
Where to Eat
If you’re anything like me, a big part of your vacation probably revolves around food! If you’re staying on Providenciales (Provo) in the Turks and Caicos, you’re likely going for some pretty serious beach bumming time, but hey, all that lounging in the sun can make you pretty hungry, so I’ve rounded up 12 great dining options on Provo broken down by category. Here’s the best everything from beach bars to fine dining, to cheap eats:
For the quintessential beach bar experience…
Da Conch Shack: You can’t go to TCI without stopping by Da Conch Shack. On the north shore (quite a bit west of Grace Bay so you’ll need a car if you plan on going) Da Conch Shack is literally a shack on the beach which serves up, you guessed it, conch! Sit with your feet in the sand, sip on a rum punch, listen to live music, and of course, feast on conch or lobster.
Kalooki’s: Far away from the resorts of Grace Bay, Kalooki’s will give you a real local experience. Feast on Caribbean classics, order a cold drink, soak up the views, and stare out at that beautiful ocean.
For fine patio dining near Grace Bay…
Caicos Café: Right across the street from Grace Bay on a charming deck is probably one of the best restaurants on Provo. Everything here is fabulous, from the conch fritters to the desserts. I had the homemade tortellini with 5 cheeses, pumpkin, and pecan and was blown away.
Coco Bistro: Nestled in a little palm tree grove near Grace Bay, Coco Bistro’s open air atmosphere looks to have an amazing vibe and an even greater menu. I didn’t get to try Coco Bistro because it was booked up for a month when I was there so be sure to plan ahead!
For casual beachfront dining…
Hemingway’s: Located at The Sands on Grace Bay, Hemingway’s is a chill little beach café serving up breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. The food is good, reasonably priced,
Sea House: Located at Ocean Club West, the Sea House is another great beachfront dining option on Grace Bay. Plus, this is the place to find those adorable pink beach umbrellas, and who can pass up that photo op??
For tasty local food at reasonable prices…
Caravel: Caravel is famous for their fish tacos. They’re served in crispy round shells and loaded with toppings. It’s a simple dining room but great for a low key meal with great food.
Shay Café and Lounge: Shay Café doesn’t make too many people’s “must do” list when it comes to Provo dining but that’s mostly because people don’t know about it until they arrive. But it has a great location in the middle of Grace Bay, serves breakfast as well as lunch and dinner, and is so reasonably priced and friendly that many people end up making it a daily stop.
For fine beachfront dining at the resorts…
Seven: With indoor and outdoor eating areas, this super swanky restaurant at the ultra luxurious Seven Stars Resort features amazing beachfront atmosphere and excellent food, but it comes with a price! This is the place to go to for a special night out but expect to pay resort prices.
Kitchen 218: The food here gets raved about but the atmosphere and service are nothing to be downplayed either. Located at the Beach House, this place has both an upscale and relaxed vibe that’s perfect for a special night out after a full day on the beach.
For an early morning or midnight snack…
Caicos Bakery: This little French bakery in the heart of Grace Bay is exquisite and definitely deserves a stop by at least once. Go early in the morning if you want donuts, but this place is chock full of pastries and tarts and you can even buy bread by the loaf to take back to your condo.
Melt: For the ultimate ice cream experience, you’ve got to check out Melt. Located in one of the shopping centers along Grace Bay, Melt serves up some of the most fun ice cream concoctions around. Many of their sundaes come in martini glasses and in addition to their indoor “bar” they have a great outdoor seating area.
Things to Do in the Turks and Caicos
Go snorkeling or scuba diving on the world’s third largest barrier reef. After Australia and Belize, Turks and Caicos has the third largest barrier reef in the world. You’ll have to head out on a boat to get there but there are plenty of snorkel tour operators that do pick-ups on Grace Bay. We did a half-day snorkeling trip with Island Vibes and it has ah-mazing! Most day trips will also combine snorkeling with a stop at Little Water Cay for a conch demonstration, iguana viewing, and lunch.
With Island Vibes, we got picked up on the beach just down from our resort (there are breaks in the buoys every little bit where the boats come ashore). There were probably 15-20 people on board but it never felt too crowded. Our first stop was our only snorkeling spot (I’ve been on other snorkeling trips where they’ll take you to 3-4 spots) but all of the snorkeling on Provo happens on this reef so it’s really the only (and best) spot to go.
Let me tell you, I wasn’t disappointed by the snorkeling. We spent about 45 minutes to an hour on the reef (we stayed as long as we wanted to) and it was the best snorkeling I’ve yet to do anywhere (Hawaii and other spots in the Caribbean included). The reef was colorful and vibrant with a large variety of coral and we saw so many different kinds of fish.
After we wrapped up snorkeling, we spent a couple of hours exploring Little Water Cay, having lunch, trying conch, and having a little ocean party.
Tour the world’s only conch farm. Conch, the little creatures that lives in those big beautiful shells, is one of the most popular things to eat in the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas as well as being very in demand as an import to the US. To increase sustainability of the species and meet its demand, the Caicos Conch Farm became the world’s first (and only) conch farm and is a great place to get an ecology lesson on one of the island’s biggest staples.
Beach bum on the world’s finest. Grace Bay is where most of the resorts are located and for good reason. It’s easy to wile away an entire week under an umbrella here and while Grace Bay usually steals the thunder for best beach on the island, also check out Taylor Bay, Leeward Beach, Long Bay Beach, and Sapodilla Bay.
Paddleboard through mangroves. Mangroves are called the ocean’s nursery because this is the best place to find baby sharks, sea turtles, puffer fish, and stingrays. There are a few companies that lead guided tours through the mangroves of Provo, but we paddled with SUP Provo and not only did we have a great paddleboarding lesson and see plenty of marine life, but our guide Wes really taught us a lot about the mangrove ecosystem.
We met our guide Wes in the parking lot of the grocery store in Grace Bay and followed him to the east side of the island to a secluded launching spot. The tours can only happen during high tide, which is usually during the heat of the day (2-3 PM) and it’s HOT. Wear plenty of sunscreen (we wore rash guard shirts too) and bring along some water (either take a waterproof backpack with you or have some in the car for afterwards).
We all got a lesson on the beach before we got on our boards and paddled across a small channel to get to the mangrove islands. At its deepest point, the channel was 20-30 feet deep but we could see the bottom the whole time. Once we reached the mangroves, the water varied from 1-3 feet.
The scenery of the mangroves in the backcountry is a total departure from the tropicalness of Grace Bay, but make no mistake, it’s still the Caribbean. The water was calm and crystal clear which made for perfect viewing conditions as we paddled through the mangrove trails. We saw small lemon sharks right away and a couple of eagle rays at the mouth of the mangroves. As we paddled deeper into the mangroves, we saw plenty of snapper, puffer fish, and even a turtle!
At the deepest point in the mangroves, before we turned our boards around and paddled back out, we all sat down on our boards and Wes chatted with us about the ecosystem of the TCI mangroves which really made them come alive for us.
A few things we learned:
The mangroves are considered the ocean’s nursery, which is why it’s such a good spot to see so many of the species that we saw. Its protective nature keeps out bigger predators and acts as a safe haven for these sea creatures until they’re big enough to find tor themselves.
The mangroves are alive and actually one large organism.
The mangroves “walk” and so trails are constantly forming and closing as they move around.
The mangroves are only paddleable for a few hours a day at high tide.
We paddled out of the mangroves and back across the channel (be sure to save some energy for the paddle back-it’s challenging but the current helps!). Paddleboarding through the mangroves is the perfect way to see parts of the TCI that most tourists don’t see as well as gain an appreciation for the ecosystem of the islands and the role that the mangroves play. It was an unexpected favorite part of our trip.
Try any watersport you can think of. Most of the resorts on Grace Bay offer endless watersport options including kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing, plus vendors that are more than willing to take you tubing, parasailing, or waterskiing right off the beach.
Get your hair braided. I just had to throw this one in here…if you’re staying on Grace Bay, there’ll be plenty of ladies walking up and down the beach offering to put some corn rows in your hair. When in Rome…
Drive out to Chalk Sound. Chalk Sound is a national park and it’s pretty unique terrain. If you’re sitting on the left side of the airplane when you’re flying in, you’ll be able to see the cluster of tiny islands in all their glory. If not, drive down Chalk Sound Drive and try to find a high viewing spot, as the aerial views are pretty spectacular.
Go to the Thursday Fish Fry. It’s a gathering place for tourists and locals alike at the end of Grace Bay (next to the Gansevoort Resort). The island’s best restaurants and chefs set up food booths serving local dishes while plenty of other vendors set up shop with jewelry, t shirts, and other souvenirs to buy. There’s also a live band and DJ. This is THE place to find a drink in a pineapple or coconut.
Horseback riding on the beach. I can gush about this all day. Horseback riding on the beach is probably one of the coolest things you can do in TCI and it was #1 on my bucket list. Think about it…white sand, turquoise water, gorgeous horses…how can you go wrong with that?
We rode with Provo Ponies on their hour-long morning group ride with a group of about 12. I rode Ike, a big sweetie with years of experience leading nervous riders on their once in a lifetime ride along the sea.
We had two guides on our trip, and we headed out of the corral single file along a road for about 10-15 minutes until we picked up the trail to Long Bay Beach. While obviously you come to ride on the beach, we actually though the trail was pretty cool! It was a sand covered cut out through lush vegetation and it felt like we were headed to a secret place that nobody else knew about.
Once we cleared the trail and the beach was insight, the horses seemed to get excited, as they knew what was coming next. We walked along the beach for a little ways before our guide led the group into the water. It’s hard to say who was more excited, the horses or the riders!
I’ll be honest…when I started planning this trip and initially booked the ride, I thought it would be epically fun and definitely the highlight of the trip. Then as it approached, I started telling myself that while I’m sure it would be fun, there was no way it would live up to the hype in my head. Let me tell you, when Ike started wading into the ocean and I felt the cool water on my feet, I was flying high! It honestly was as cool as I’d thought and it definitely didn’t disappoint!
Seriously, I cannot say enough good things about this experience with Provo Ponies (a lot of their horses are even rescues!). I probably won’t even attempt horseback riding on any other islands because there’s no way it could be as good-I mean, look at that water!
Go island hopping to North Caicos and Middle Caicos. If you’re the adventurous type, take the ferry to North Caicos (about 20-30 minute ride) where you can rent a car and explore the two island’s beaches.
Visit Little Water Cay or “Iguana Island.” The iguanas that call this island home are the main attraction here. They’re a little skittish but if you bring food, you’ll be able to get them out and moving about. Most snorkeling tours include a stop here to see the iguanas and hike around the island.
Go on a dolphin or whale watching tour. If you visit TCI in January through March, you’ll be in season to see the humpback whale migration. Several boat charters will take you out on a combo snorkeling/whale-watching trip although if you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll be able to see them from the shore. If you want to dolphin spot on land, keep an eye out for Jojo who is often seen mingling with swimmers on Grace Bay.
Chill at Da Conch Shack. Provo’s best local dive beach bar has become somewhat of a tourist attraction. It gets crowded at night and when we were there they were taking reservation. Try the rum punch and the cracked conch/conch fritter combo platter. Go for sunset and stay for the live band.
Go on an ATV tour. Froggie Williams leads ATV tours through Provo’s undeveloped northwest part of the island. His tours begin in Blue Hills Settlement and include stops at Pelican Point and a ride down Northwest Point and Malcolm Beach.
Take an excursion to the Middle Caicos caves. Middle Caicos has some pretty neat cave formations. If you book a tour with Big Blue Unlimited, they’ll take care of transportation, lunch, the tour, and bike rentals.
Things to Know Before You Go
The most visited (not on a cruise ship) island is Providenciales (Provo) and it’s probably where you’ll want to go. It has beautiful beaches and plenty of places to stay. While the cruise ships go to Grand Turk, they don’t come to Provo because of the reef.
Provo (and TCI in general) is one of the most expensive islands in the Caribbean. While islands in general aren’t cheap, TCI is still near the top price wise so be prepared to pay more than usual for everything (hotel rooms, rental cars, gas, and food), but don’t worry, good deals can still be found!
Most of the resorts and condos on Provo are on Grace Bay. This 12-mile beach is home to many accommodation and dining options so this is where the majority of visitors gravitate, however because it is such a large beach, it never feels overly crowded.
TCI is a British Overseas Territory so you’ll need a passport but they do speak English (duh!) and accept American dollars and the majority of tourists are Americans so it’s very accessible.
Most flights to Provo connect through Miami but there are a few direct flights through major airports (DFW, etc.). Many of these airlines only fly out once a week or so though (usually on Saturdays) so if you can, plan ahead and snag one of those. Minimizing your connections not only means less time in airports but less chance of missing your last flight!
Saturday is the most popular day to arrive and depart the island, so plan plenty of time at the airport. It’s recommended to leave for the airport three hours before international flights and you’ll probably need it. I’ve never been in a more crowded airport than the tiny one on Provo!
They drive on the left side of the road. It sounds scary at first, but if you drive slow and stay focused, you’ll get used to it pretty fast. Also, if there are two lanes, the right one is for passing/faster speeds (reverse of in the states).
Taxis charge per person (usually $10-$20) so it’s not cheap to get around that way. Rental cars are about $60/day. Do the math. If you only want a car for a day or two, it’s very easy to arrange. There are a few rental companies located in Grace Bay and they can send a shuttle to pick you up.
There are a lot of good restaurants on Provo but a lot of them require reservations (and book up during busy times) so plan ahead. If you arrive early enough, it’s possible to get in a lot of places without a reservation though.
High season (most expensive and crowded) is winter, but we were there in March (spring break) and it was crowded! The weather is pretty temperate all year long. During hurricane season (officially June-November, but mostly late July through October), the crowds really thin out and you can get great deals but a lot of restaurants and such close down for repairs and time off.
Bring a Go Pro, waterproof camera, or waterproof case for your phone. Most of the things you’ll do in the TCI involve water and you’ll definitely want pictures!
There’s a super nice grocery store on Grace Bay, which is pricey (not out of line with other Caribbean islands) but has all of the brands you’re used to and a really good selection.
The locals (called “Belongers”) are super friendly so be sure to chat with anyone you come across to really get a feel for the local culture.
The TCI is home to the world’s third largest barrier reef so snorkeling/diving is a must do here. If you want to experience diving, you should get certified before you arrive. If you’re not certified, don’t worry. There is plenty to see just by snorkeling.
Conch and lobster are major staples in the TCI. Lobster season is spring/summer and conch is available all year long. Try Da Conch Shack for some of the island’s best.
If you’re looking for shopping, you’ll find it in the shopping centers along Grace Bay. The Thursday Fish Fry is also a good place to pick up souvenirs made by local entrepreneurs.
Grace Bay, the most popular beach in TCI, is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and perfect for a laid back do-nothing beach vacation. The resorts on Grace Bay have plenty of umbrellas and beach chairs and you’ll find nothing better to do in TCI than wile away hours with a good book and rum punch.