When John Glenn returned to earth off the coast of Grand Turk Island, he brought international attention to the region now a prime Carribbean destination
TURKS & CAICOS, December 12, 2015 – When astronaut John Glenn returned to earth off the coast of Grand Turk Island in 1962, he brought international attention to the region. Needless to say Glenn’s landing was a splash for the Turks & Caicos that changed the islands forever.
Six years later the airport opened in the capital city of Providenciales, or Provo as it is called by locals, and large scale international tourism was on the horizon.
Despite the influx of travelers however, the chain of 41 islands has been extremely sensitive to overdevelopment, choosing instead to upgrade infrastructure while maintaining its pre-Glenn ambience.
So careful have the residents been about protecting their “pristine” image that the main road was paved less than ten years ago and only now is the airport in the process of upgrading to accommodate the increase of international travelers.
There are two sets of islands in the archipelago, of which roughly 25% are inhabited. The Turks derive their name from the indigenous Turk’s head cactus, while Caicos comes from the Lucayan term caya hica meaning “string of islands.” Before Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492 the Lucayan and the Taino Indians comprised the native population.
The Turks make up the northern cluster of islands, while the Caicos are to the south. Most of the tourist activity these days centers around Grace Bay where luxury hotels offer all the amenities a visitor desires while retaining an atmosphere of seclusion and a respect for the environment.
Activities include kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, nature walks, parasailing, paddle-boarding and, of course, golf. Boasting the third largest coral reef in the world, combined with an abundance of conch, it’s little wonder that water activities are among the most popular Island diversions.
Reef Peepers one of several popular outfitters in the islands, offers a variety of excursions. Half-day snorkeling programs include snorkeling, gear, searching for conch, a visit to Half Moon Bay, lunch and drinks. You can also try TI Reef Adventure on Grand Turk for snorkeling sessions, adventures with stingrays, and deep sea fishing.
Half Moon Bay, also known as Iguana Island, is a favorite outing because it is the home of the rock iguana, the smallest creature of its type in the Caribbean.
As might be expected in an area so linked to the sea, there is a passion for shellfish, especially conch. It is virtually impossible to go anywhere and not find conch on a restaurant menu in one form or another.
In fact, the Caicos Conch farm is the only commercial conch farm in the world.
Arguably the favorite hangout on Provo is Da Conch Shack, which harvests its own conch for its signature white meat delicacies of conch fritters, conch salad and scorched conch.
You can even watch as they pull lunch or dinner directly from the water before preparing it within minutes. You would be hard pressed to find food fresher than that.
Jerk chicken is also a popular island dish. Smokey’s has the reputation for the best jerk chicken, plus you can play a round or two of miniature golf before or after your meal.
The islands feature a wide range of accommodations catering to any budget. The more upscale properties can be pricey, as with any resort, but they are not extravagant by luxury standards. The Sands at Grace Bay features multiple swimming pools, a small spa, spacious rooms, superb dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner and a twelve mile stretch of white sand beach to boot.
Situated just eighty minutes by air from Miami, the Turks & Caicos are easy to reach, especially from the east coast of the U.S. Little wonder 70% of the visitors come from the United States and another 20% arrive from Canada.
Driving can be tricky until you get accustomed to using the left side of the road, but the ability to use U.S. dollars and American electrical outlets quickly compensates for the on-road adjustments.
Off-season travel is increasing in popularity for many people, but when it comes to the Caribbean, off-season is really a misnomer.
In a land of eternal summer and sunshine, it really doesn’t matter when you visit. As a result, the so-called off-season in the Turks provides the same wonderful weather plus a reduction in price.
Today, Turks & Caicos stands on the threshold of an exciting future boasting the fastest growing economy in the Caribbean coupled with strictly controlled development to protect the islands.
They are the best of two worlds, luxury and comfort amid island life the way it used to be. As John Glenn might say, “the Turks & Caicos are out of this world.”
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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