Exploring Turks and Caicos Islands feels like tripping down Alice's rabbit hole: It's under British rule, but the currency is the American dollar. Traffic moves on the left, but most rental-car steering wheels are on the right. And you won't find a single McDonalds or KFC. What you will find is one of the world's most stunning shorelines, Grace Bay Beach. The 12-mile porcelain-white crescent of sand is fronted by the kind of turquoise and beryl-hued colors that Instagram dreams are made of. The color and clarity come partially from the crushed pink coral sea bottom, found only in this part of the South Atlantic. A protective barrier reef enables safe lagoon swimming for kids, easy snorkeling, and excellent diving and bonefishing. But should you wish simply to relax, the vibe is all about tranquility—more beach chic exclusive than overdeveloped. Although numerous resorts have opened on Providenciales (really the only island developed for tourism), there are just two small shopping centers, and hotels here blend into their natural environs.
Technically in the Atlantic hurricane belt, Turks and Caicos' location often spares it direct hits from major storms—though Hurricane Ike did pummel the outer islands of Grand Turk and South Caicos in 2008. If you travel during the off-season (June–October), you can score serious lodging deals and likely have great weather on Providenciales. Expect prices to skyrocket during the high season, December to April. The average temperature is between 85 and 95 degrees in summer, falling to 80 in winter. With abundant sunshine throughout the year, the islands are a year-round destination.
The Turks and Caicos have three international airports, but most foreigners go through Providenciales International Airport on Providenciales (Provo) the main developed island. Most flights go via Miami, and there are limited flights within the Caribbean from Turks and Caicos—so if you plan to island hop, you will likely find yourself backtracking through Florida. The airport in Provo has a tourism booth for arriving passengers, and a restaurant, but little else. The Grand Turk International Airport and South Caicos International Airport are local airstrips used mostly by private charter flights.
It's easy to get around Provo either by taxi or rental car. If you plan to explore Provo, however, it's best to rent a car, even if just for a few days, as taxi fares add up quickly. And a car is necessary if you're staying in one of the villa rentals on the island. Most rental companies offer free drop-off and pickup from your hotel. You can also rent scooters. Note that driving is on the left-hand side.
Fresh fish and shellfish are staples in Turks and Caicos. The islands' geography doesn't lend itself to growing much in the way of fresh fruit and vegetables, so a traditional local dinner would involve fresh seafood accompanied by peas and hominy. Conch is on nearly every menu and served dozens of ways, with fritters probably the most common. Rum and local beer are the popular alcoholic beverages, although one can find just about any mixed drink at a restaurant.
Turks and Caicos have a mixed population. They are still governed by Great Britain, and this fact has caused contention in recent decades. Many residents are descendents of African slaves who have been living on the islands all their lives. These residents are known as "Belongers." The island nation is also known as one of the world's best tax havens, and as such it attracts a sizable wealthy population of expats hailing from across the world.
Junkanoo has been celebrated in Turks and Caicos since the 16th century, when slaves were given one day off around Christmas to spend with their families. Today the event is celebrated at midnight on January 1, when revelers take to the streets with homemade costumes and instruments and party until dawn. Cinco de Mayo is also celebrated with gusto in Provo.
Turks and Caicos is not a nightlife destination. You won't find much open past 10 p.m., making it perfect for honeymooners, couples, or families looking for a quiet getaway. Food and drink here can be pricey, so if you plan to consume a lot of both, look into renting either a villa or a residence-style hotel room with a full kitchen to cut down on costs. One of the world's most beautiful beaches, Grace Bay is also a great place to cut your teeth with a mask and snorkel, as you can literally walk out to snorkeling spots. The coral and fish here are abundant.
Becca Blond is an award-winning freelance travel writer based in Denver, Colorado. She is the author of more than 30 Lonely Planet guides across five continents and contributes content to publications like USA Today, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, AFKTravel, Cadillac Magazine and Jetsetter. She is also a Personal Travel Planner for Jetsetter. When not on the road she lives with her three dogs, Duke, Bobbi and Poppy, who assist with pet friendly hotel reviews. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @PlanetBlond or check out her blog at Totally True Adventures in Travel Writing