Jillian Ryan, a freelance travel writer living in Brooklyn, outlines opportunities for family fun on the sunny Caribbean islands of Turks and Caicos.
A mere three-hour flight from New York City, Turks and Caicos is a Caribbean paradise welcoming family travelers to its warm blue-hued waters and beautiful shores. Located south of the Bahamas, the nation consists of nearly 40 islands and cays, only eight of which are inhabited by the 30,000 residents that call sunny Turks and Caicos home. The temperature averages 83?F year-round, and as the Northeast continues to slowly thaw out of its cold winter temperatures, heading down south might be just what the family needs.
Providenciales, "Provo" for short, is the island most visited by tourists, but that doesn't make it an overly commercial location. Yes there are shops, gourmet food markets, and boutique stores to be explored, scattered throughout the 38-square-mile island, but the real focus is the natural beauty of the nine beaches. The most famous is Grace Bay, but other equally gorgeous options include the wild and deserted peninsula of Northwest Point and the shallow and sandy Sapodilla Bay, ideal for small children. Although there are plenty of beaches on Provo, North Caicos and Middle Caicos-accessible by ferry-also boast beautiful shores for a family looking to venture off for a day trip.
Families can enjoy the gentle waters from any beach or explore the waters with an outfitter. One of the oldest and best known is Silver Deep, owned and operated by Arthur Deane, the first Divemaster on the island in the 1970s. The company offers a variety of adventures, from relaxing glass-bottom boat tours, fishing excursions, snorkeling, and even more exciting guided private tours to the uninhabited cays just off of Provo.
Little kids will love Little Water Cay or Iguana Island. A nature reserve, the island serves as a protected home for endangered reptiles, but allows visitors to come and spend an afternoon getting up close and personal with the iguanas. Another popular stop and great location for a private family picnic is Fort George Cay, where old cannons lie buried in the shores and sand dollars are abundant and easily gathered in the sandbar.
Conch, although an endangered species all over the globe, are overly abundant in Turks and Caicos and thus are a staple of the local diet. Head to da Conch Shack in the Blue Hills region of Provo. Recently expanded, the casual outdoor beachfront eatery serves up delicious and fresh local conch and seafood. Get your conch cooked with curry, fried, baked, cracked, or served raw in a salad. The kids will love the macaroni and cheese and French fries; Mom and Dad will be pleased to know that the da Conch Shack offers a world famous rum punch. After eating on picnic tables, head down to the beach to watch the restaurant staff catch conch and then use a hammer and knife to pull the creature from its shell.
If the kids are interested in the conch and its beautiful shell, head to the Caicos Conch Farm located on the eastern end of Provo. The only place in the world where conch is commercially produced, there are more than two million maturing at different stages of life in the breeding pools. Although originally a research center, the farm now offers short guided tours of the hatchery and laboratories.
Most beachfront hotels are located on Grace Bay in the northeast side of the island. A family looking to splurge and live in the lap of luxury should consider staying in an upscale and spacious condo at the Seven Stars Resort. Guests can have their full kitchen stocked before arrival, and there is a fantastic kids' club with daily activities and tons of water sport opportunities. Kids can kayak, snorkel, and even sail the blue waters in Hobie Cats. For more budget-conscious families, there are two all-inclusive options on the island: Beaches and Club Med.
American Airlines services Turks and Caicos from New York City with one direct flight to and from the island daily. For more information on what to do and where to stay, visit: www.turksandcaicostourism.com.