10 Things We Learned in Turks & Caicos

By Rebecca Rhoades

Sun, sea, and sand — everyone’s idea of the perfect Caribbean getaway. But where can you find such a postcard-perfect escape when you want to get away from everyone else who is getting away? Head to the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI), where the unspoiled Caribbean of the imagination still thrives.

Dangling on the southern end of the Bahamas, due north of Hispaniola, the TCI comprise eight inhabited islands and 32 smaller cays, the most developed of which is Providenciales, or “Provo” as it is known locally, where you’ll find most of the resorts — and where the hardest decisions you’ll have to make are what drink to order and when to flip over.

1. Stay at the Gansevoort. With its contemporary urban design, clean lines, white-on-white décor, and intimate vibe, the Gansevoort Turks & Caicos is the epitome of Caribbean chic. Plus, it’s the only resort on the island in which every room has a view of the ocean.

2. Beach bliss. There are plenty of beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, but none can match the silky white sand and Tiffany blue waters of Grace Bay. Voted one of the best beaches in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, this wide 12-mile crescent is protected by the world’s third-largest barrier reef.

3. Undeveloped paradise. Don’t expect to see large shopping malls, souvenir stores or tacky tourist attractions on Provo. Shopping is limited, save for a few trendy beachwear boutiques and high-end jewelers in shopping centers apart from the resorts, which themselves are well-spaced along the beach. This all creates the feeling of being on your own private island.

4. Get wet. Most activities revolve around the water, from snorkeling to scuba diving, kayaking to paddleboarding to parasailing, or simply lounging on a beach chair in the surf. A boat trip with Caicos Dream Tours includes snorkeling, diving for conch, and a stop at Little Water Cay, also known as Iguana Island, inhabited by 2,000 endangered rock iguanas.

5. It’s all about the rum. When in Rome… or at least when in the Caribbean, drink rum. And when in Provo, “you have to have Bambarra Rum! Yah, mon!” says Guion Gordon (pictured above), bartender at the hip Vino Tiempo Wine Bar & Lounge. The locally made spirit is available in Gold and Silver 2-year-old blends, coconut, 4-year-old Black, and the top-shelf Trouvadore, aged for 15 years in oak casks. Bambarra 8-Year-Old Reserve on ice is perfect for sipping. Surprisingly smooth, its flavor is highlighted with delicious notes of vanilla.

6. A budding cocktail culture. While rum punch — a sweet mix of orange juice, pineapple juice, Bambarra Gold and Silver, and a dash of grenadine — is an island tradition, cocktails lists are evolving. At Stelle at the Gansevoort, try the Watermelon Cucumber Mojito, a refreshing blend of muddled watermelon, lime, mint, cucumber, and Bambarra Silver, or the Bakewell Punch, a vibrant take on the Bakewell tart, featuring muddled raspberries, almond syrup, grapefruit juice, and, of course, Bambarra rum.

7. Conch is king. Cracked. Chowder. Ceviche. Fritters. Salad. Creole style. Conch (pronounced ‘konk’) are big business here, and no place does conch better than da Conch Shack, a low-key beachside landmark. Watch as the chef “knocks” the conch from its shell — maybe you’ll even get to try the pistol, the long, translucent, spaghetti-like rod (locals call it the “conch penis”) that’s a reputed aphrodisiac — then relax on a picnic table in the sand and enjoy your meal along with a pitcher of rum punch or a local Turk’s Head lager from the adjacent Rum Bar. On Thursdays, live music draws in the crowds.

8. Fridays = nightclub. Everyone of the island knows that the place to be on Friday nights is Stelle at the Gansevoort. Starting at 10 pm, the glass doors that separate the restaurant from the pool area close, the laser lights start swirling, and a DJ pumps out dance tunes ‘til the early morning.

9. There’s no bad season. With sun 350 days a year, there’s no wrong time to visit. The best weather occurs in November through May, with temperatures in the low 70s to mid 80s. July through October brings humid weather and occasional rainstorms, but the southeasterly trade winds and brief showers temper the heat.

10. Pick up a potcake. Potcakes are the stray dogs that populate the TCI. A mix of Labrador retriever, German shepherd and English fox terrier, the dogs — now an officially recognized breed on the islands — were dubbed “potcakes” because locals would feed them the caked remains from the bottom of cooking pots. At Potcake Place, a nonprofit rescue organization, you can learn about the plight of these gentle pups with the curlicue tails, take one for a walk on the beach, or even adopt one to bring home with you—the ultimate island souvenir.

Opening image courtesy of Gansevoort Turks + Caicos
All other images by Rebecca Rhoades