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Turks & Caicos Reef Report

Report from Grand Turk & Providenciales

by Ken Knezick - Island Dreams Travel

Copyright © K. D. Knezick - Island Dreams

This report is based on multiple visits to the Turks & Caicos Islands. It strives to compare and contrast the major diving and tourism options available on the islands of Grand Turk and Providenciales. KDK

The Turks & Caicos Islands, a British Crown colony, lie 575 miles southeast of Miami, Florida, just a short 1 1/2 hour flight from the U.S.. The Bahamas begin 30 miles to the northwest, and the Dominican Republic is some 100 miles to the southeast. The entire country encompasses only 166 square miles of land, on eight islands and 40 small cays. English is the common tongue, and the U.S. dollar serves as the official currency. As a result, the Turks & Caicos offer a relaxed, easily accessible, island holiday for travelers from both Europe and the Americas.

GRAND TURK - Grand Turk, the capital of the Turks & Caicos, is a diminutive island with a population of less than 4,000 full time residents. Currently without direct jet service, Grand Turk is a sleepy hideaway perfect for travelers who wish to really get away from the hassles of the modern world. It is a simple, safe, and friendly island, offering comfortable lodging, good dining, and great diving, all in a very laid back setting. Locals say that today's Grand Turk, both above and below the sea, looks like the Grand Cayman of 25 years ago. As for getting there, Grand Turk is serviced by small aircraft flying from Providenciales, and by a 19 passenger Metro Turbo Prop, flying three times weekly from Ft. Lauderdale. The result is that tourism is relatively light, and the coral reefs exhibit virtually no diver pressure whatsoever.

PROVIDENCIALES - Favored with American Airlines' daily jet service, the larger island of Providenciales (Provo) has developed more rapidly in recent years. With only moderate loss of the native island charm, in addition to its scuba diving, Provo adds the option of much larger resort developments, more upscale lodgings, fine dining, a golf course rated in the Caribbean's top ten, interesting shopping, windsurfing and other water sports, plus the lure of casino gambling. A Club Med has been operating successfully here for years, and it is soon to be joined by an exclusive all-inclusive, called "Beaches Turks and Caicos." There are a range of good value hotels and some beautiful condominiums to choose from.

TOPSIDE - The Turks & Caicos receive less than 30 inches of rain per year. As a result, these islands have an arid, almost desert-like feel, somewhat similar in appearance to Bonaire. Cactus grow at the roadside, and wild horses and donkeys are not uncommon. Bird watchers will find many beautiful water fowl, including a resident flock of flamingos gracing Grand Turk. The resorts are lushly landscaped in bougainvillea and other blooming plants, but the water for irrigation must come from desalination systems that each hotel is obliged to include in its physical plant. The government has had the forethought to denote numerous Nature Reserves around the islands to preserve the natural habitats.

UNDERWATER - In contrast to the arid landscape, the ocean is painted in an exquisite palette of turquoise and azure blue. The reef is characterized by both abrupt, deep drop-offs, and beautiful mini-walls. The big drop offs start as shallow as 40 feet, and appear to go down forever. The mini-walls often range from 30 to 100 feet in depth and are covered in hard and soft corals and fish cleaning stations. To me, the diving was reminiscent of aspects of both the Cayman Islands and Bonaire. Soft coral growth is particularly lush, and while large schools of fish are not always in evidence, the population of fish and invertebrates appears to be highly diverse. There are lots of hawksbill turtles, stingrays, sharks and other pelagics. Fish feeding is not encouraged here, but one reef we dived had large grouper and a magnificent queen triggerfish as tame as puppies, even though no food was offered. Manta rays are common around Grand Turk, May through November, while schools of Eagle Rays frequent the waters around Provo from October to May, with sightings common all year long. Pods of hump back whales migrate through the islands December through March. It's gratifying to note that the diving areas have been designated as National Parks and are protected with prohibitions against spear fishing, collecting, etc. Mooring buoys are in place on most dive sites, and anchoring is permitted only on sandy bottoms.

CONTRASTING the DIVING OPPORTUNITIES - While Grand Turk and Provo enjoy many similarities in reef structure and marine life, there are also some interesting differences between the two islands. Due in great part to the lack of direct jet service, Grand Turk currently receives only about 1,000 divers per year, while Provo routinely handles many times that amount...though still nothing like what Cozumel and the Cayman Islands experience. In Grand Turk, you will generally dive on a boat that handles a maximum of 8 divers...and often runs with less. Good dive sites are just offshore, hence the boat rides can be just two or three minutes, up to perhaps fifteen minutes in duration. On this trip, one of the best dive sites we visited, Coral Gardens, was directly in front of our hotel. It was so close that, at the end of the dive I elected to swim freestyle back to the beach rather than ride!

The situation is a bit different in Providenciales, where the better dive sites are a good bit farther from the hotel area. The dive boats are much more substantial, and will routinely handle 16 or more divers. From Provo, the boat ride to the dive site will generally take from 15 minutes to just over an hour, each way.

LODGING OPTIONS - The following descriptions concentrate on the lodgings that I considered to be of greatest interest to the dive traveler.

GUANAHANI BEACH HOTEL, Grand Turk - Of all the properties we visited in the Turks & Caicos, the simple Guanahani Beach Hotel was my favorite. Situated on a beautiful stretch of powdery, white sand beach, this private 16 room, oceanfront hotel seems perfect for divers and sun worshipers seeking a respite from the pressures of the "real world." Located just a bit north of town, the Guanahani has a nice freshwater pool, hammocks, a friendly bar, spacious communal areas, and an excellent restaurant that offers you the choice of indoor and outdoor dining. The all ocean view rooms are not fancy in appointments, but comfortable and very convenient to the beach and the diving.

Personalized diving services are provided by Cecil Ingham's excellent Sea Eye Divers, who pick up divers on the beach right in front of the hotel. A dive shack next to the bar provides ample place for your dive gear storage. A typical package at the Guanahani would include airport/hotel transfers, double occupancy lodging, and daily two-tank a.m. boat diving. Because the dive sites are so close, the dive boat will often return you to the hotel for a short surface interval between dives. Afternoon and night dives are easily arranged at additional cost.

As for meals, it seems advisable, and the best value, to take the meal plan that includes breakfast and dinner daily. You then have the option of ordering your lunch a la carte, bringing snacks from home, or sampling the fare of the downtown restaurants, as you wish. If you are looking for easy access to some of the Turks & Caicos best diving, while getting away from the fast lane hustle of large hotels, crowded dive boats, and fancy amenities, the Guanahani is worthy of your consideration.

SITTING PRETTY HOTEL, Grand Turk - The Sitting Pretty Hotel, formerly known as the Kittina, is now a sister property to the Guanahani. Located on the beach at the other edge of town, its all oceanfront rooms are perhaps more spacious than those of the Guanahani. Sea Eye Divers has a location just across the street, and the dive boats depart from the beach right in front of your room. It's restaurant, bar, and communal areas are not as spacious as at the Guanahani, but divers should be very comfortable here. The proximity to the dive shop and "town" is also a plus.

SALT RAKER INN, Grand Turk - This historic, 180 year old inn offers just 13 rooms in "downtown" Grand Turk. Just a stroll up the street from the Sitting Pretty, and across the sleepy one-lane street from the ocean, the Salt Raker does have a small stretch of beach access. The rooms have an older, somewhat Victorian feel to them. The top floor ocean view rooms are larger and more plush than those the ground floor rear facing garden view rooms, but there is also a substantial pricing differential involved. The Salt Raker enjoys a close relationship with the other major dive operation in town, Blue Water Divers. Blue Water is owned by Mitch Rolling, who when he is not diving, sings and plays guitar at the Salt Raker's weekly BBQ. You can't go wrong here, for Mitch is as accomplished and passionate about diving as he is about his music. Mitch's many repeat customers come back for the personalized service. Like Sea Eye Divers, Mitch's Blue Water Divers services all the hotels in Grand Turk.

TURTLE COVE INN, Providenciales - If you're interested in easy diving, without breaking the bank, the Turtle Cove Inn would be my first choice in Provo. Located at harbor-side, it is a comfortable, value-priced, hotel with a/c, phone and cable t.v. Additional amenities include lighted tennis courts and a lovely freshwater pool, plus the open air Tiki Bar and Restaurant, with an excellent gourmet restaurant, The Terrace, just beside it. From a diver's perspective, the best part about Turtle Cove Inn is the fact that Art Pickering's superb Provo Turtle Divers in the in-house operation. A founding father of diving in the region, Art runs a first-class operation with a highly competent yet friendly staff, and a well stocked dive shop. Provo Turtle Divers' state-of-the-art dive boats depart a dock directly beside the hotel, and convenient dockside lockers are provided for your gear storage. It really doesn't get much easier or more enjoyable that this, and I highly recommend this comfortable combination of hotel and dive operator, the Turtle Cove Inn, and Provo Turtle Divers.

TURQUOISE REEF HOTEL and CASINO, Providenciales - The Turquoise Reef Hotel has 228 spacious rooms on a large beach, and is rushing to build more. In addition to a full range of services, Turquoise Reef is promoting a complete children's program. Called "Kids on Vacation," it provides all day professional supervision and a great range of activities to keep the children entertained while Mom and Dad are off diving. There is a huge oceanfront pool, tennis courts, a complete fitness center, and multiple bars and restaurants. Dive Provo, the other major operator on Provo has a fully stocked PADI 5-Star dive shop right in the hotel's main lobby. They provide a full range of water sports options in addition to daily boat diving. As for the casino, well this is the Caribbean...not Las Vegas. The casino's single parlor houses a dozen or so blackjack and other gaming tables surrounded by wall to wall slot machines. The good news is that on a busy night, you may have to stand in line to lose your money. Blackjack aficionados take note...the house rules here are not as lenient as Las Vegas, and you'll have to buy your own drinks to boot.

OCEAN CLUB CONDOMINIUMS, Providenciales - The Ocean Club maintains its spot at the top end of the lodging scale with a mixture of quality, beauty, and upscale value. This luxury oceanfront suite property is located on Grace Bay Beach, next to the Club Med. Amenities include a/c, phone, cable t.v., lighted tennis courts, and a very nice pool area with Cabana Bar & the Gecko Grill. Exceedingly spacious and well appointed one, two, and three bedroom suites are available, all with fully equipped kitchen. Art Pickering's excellent Provo Turtle Divers, described previously, has a shop on site. Just across the street from Ocean Club is the beautiful Provo Golf Course, rated one of the ten best courses in the Caribbean. If you are looking for the best that Providenciales has to offer, and/or are traveling in a party of four or six friends that would benefit from the convenience and value of a well appointed, multi-room condominium, the Ocean Club should be at the top of your list.

GETTING THERE - At the present time, only American Airlines provides jet service to the Turks & Caicos, flying daily, non-stop from Miami to Providenciales. Fortunately, American is an excellent carrier, with connections from around the U.S. converging on the Miami gateway. The flight forward from Miami is only 1 1/2 hours. If you are connecting to Grand Turk, or another out island, local carriers like Sky King provide frequent service between Provo and Grand Turk. Another competitive option is to fly Lynx Air, a private charter company operating a twin-engine Metro turbo prop, flying from Ft. Lauderdale direct to Grand Turk. This flight takes about 2 1/2 hours, but is perhaps easier and more convenient than having to change planes in Providenciales.

THE BOTTOM LINE - The Turks & Caicos offer an broad variety of lodging, scuba diving, water sports, and other amenities, all within a short flight from Miami. Travelers interested in getting away from it all may well find Grand Turk to be just what they are looking for. Those who are willing to trade the enhanced solitude and proximity to the diving for more amenities, tennis courts, a golf course, casino gambling, and more of a nightlife, may find that Providenciales is more to their taste. The quality of the diving is quite competitive with places like Bonaire and Little Cayman. While dining out can be somewhat expensive (more so at Provo than Grand Turk), for divers and sun lovers, I feel that the overall quality and value of the Turks & Caicos experience is very high. The relaxed feel of this tropical island hideaway comes as a welcome respite from the high pressure pleasures of some of the more popular Caribbean holiday spots.

For more information, color brochures, and value packages for divers and non-divers alike, contact your Adventure Experts at Island Dreams Travel. It is our pleasure to serve you. Regards, Ken

(800) 346-6116 *** (713) 973-9300

Copyright © Kenneth D. Knezick - Island Dreams Travel

Photos and text Copyright © 2003. Island Dreams, Inc., dba Island Dreams Travel. All rights reserved.
Please note: All pricing, itineraries, and trip inclusions represented herein, are subject to change without notice.