Situated about 575 miles southeast of Miami, the Turks and Caicos make up a Caribbean archipelago with few people and a long history. The original residents of the Turks and Caicos were the indigenous Tainos; however, as in much of the rest of the region, these peaceful people were driven into extinction by war and disease, in large part by way of the arrival of Europeans in the post-Columbian era. During the height of the colonial times, the island group was handed off between the English, French, and Spanish, never remaining a possession of any one nation to develop a positive identity. In the mid-1600s, an industrious group of Bermudians emigrated to the Turks and Caicos to find their fortune peddling “white gold,” that is, salt. Many of the salinas, or salt ponds, mills, and historic structures can still be found scattered throughout the islands. The market for salt from the Turks and Caicos disappeared for good in the 1960s, but for a time during the 1600s and 1700s, these man-made salt flats dominated production and export of the substance around the world, the main recipients of which were the cod-fishing communities of the northeastern North American colonies.
In the years after the American War of Independence, a number of Loyalist plantation owners tried their luck farming cotton on the Turks and Caicos, bringing with them slaves from their U.S. plantations. The farming operations failed and the land-owners left for greener pastures, but many of their former slaves stayed to work as rakers in the salt flats. Today, the locals whose lineage dates back to the early days of the Turks and Caicos, a group known amongst themselves as “Belongers,” can traces their heritage to the Bermudian salt industrialists and the transplanted slave rakers.
The political identity of the remained fuzzy for some time, as governing bodies changed hands, from the Bahamian government to Jamaica, to the British, French, and finally British again. Currently, the islands fall under the blanket of Great Britain, though talk of independence occasionally crosses the tongues of residents. The salt fields have become a relic of the olden days, and the land is by and large too arid to farm. That leaves the sea and the beaches to provide a regular income for the Turks and Caicos. Since the 1960s, tourism has exploded there, with the biggest draw being the reefs and sea walls that comprise the many scuba diving opportunities there. There are many beautiful beaches and some bird watching to be done, plus the islands have, for the most part, kept a quiet Caribbean feel–with only Providenciales (or “Provo”) becoming somewhat overrun with resorts. Many of the islands are sparsely populated with few cars and people who’s way of thinking embodied “island time. The latest residential boom has come from retired corporate executives and wealthy individuals who sometimes have ties to illicit trade (e.g., the drug trade).
Traveling in Turks and Caicos
Most travelers reach the Turks and Caicos from the U.S. Direct flights can be taken from New York, Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami. Canadians can charter flights out of Toronto, but if you’re coming in from Europe or elsewhere, you’ll probably connect through the U.S. on the way. There are a number of local Caribbean Airlines that will take you from nearby islands and islands hopping around the Turks and Caicos themselves. For yachters, there are customs offices at Provo, South Caicos, and Grand Turk. Citizens of the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and the E.U. can travel to the Turks and Caicos without a visa. Most other national will need to obtain a visa. Legal photo identification (i.e., a passport) is required for everyone.
It’s not cheap to travel to the Turks and Caicos. A budget travelers might easily spend US$100 a day. More extravagant travelers could go up to US$300 a day. A moderately priced restaurant meal will cost up to US$25. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are widely accepted on Provo and Grand Turk. On the smaller islands, it’s best to keep cash on hand. Currency can be exchanged at local banks.
Taxi is the best mode of transport to get around each island. Be sure to settle on a fare before departing, as most cabs will charge per person, rather than per mile traveled. Many drivers will also double as tour guides for an extra fee. It’s possible to rent cars and mopeds, as well, but there is a government tax placed on all rental vehicles. It should be noted that drivers are on the left side of the road in the Turks and Caicos.
Weather in Turks and Caicos
Temperatures range from and average of 77°F (25°C) in winter to an average of 90°F (32°C) in summer. Average annual rainfall is 21 inches (53 cm). Most of the rain falls in summer. The only truly uncomfortable time of year to be in the Turks and Caicos is from August through November, when the weather can be swelteringly hot and inescapable.
Turks and Caicos Information
Government: British dependency
Square Miles: 166 sq miles (430 sq km)
Capitol: Cockburn Town (pop 4900)
Official Language: English
People: Mainly African descent, plus Haitians and Dominican immigrants, and North American and European expats
Religion: Baptist (41%), Methodist (19%), Anglican (18%)
Major products/industries: Tourism, finance, fishing