Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Turks and Caicos
An interesting attraction of the Turks and Caicos are the rather large iguanas that are native to the little island archipelago. While they may seem to jar with your traditional notion of a Caribbean getaway, these green guys are actually native to the islands. To find them, head on over to Little Water Cay (known locally as Iguana Island) for some white sand and good old fashioned lizard-hunting.
Little Water Cay is just shy of 500 yards from Providenciales, so it’s easy to spot while looking for things to do on the island. You can take a tour boat or ferry over to the island, and the exercise enthusiast or outdoorsman of the group will enjoy a brisk kayak over to the shores of Little Water Cay - but be careful of the currents that run between the two islands (for this reason, a swim is not recommended).
On the island of Providenciales, Grace Bay Beach is the Turks’ sandy gem, voted best beach by beach-lovers the world over.
The white sand here is stunning, offset by gently lapping turquoise waters. Taking advantage of those sunset and ocean views, it’s here that you’ll find the majority of Providenciales’ upmarket resorts.
Restaurants, dive outfits and other facilities are also based at Grace Bay, but the vibe remains relaxed rather than busy, and empty stretches of beach can easily be found.
Close offshore, the fringing coral reef sets divers’ hearts fluttering with iridescent tropical fish and flapping rays. It’s ideal for beginner snorkelers, with great visibility and little sea vegetation to spoil the pristine underwater view.
What makes an underwater experience great isn’t always what you see – sometimes it’s what you do. And while the Turks and Caicos have some amazing snorkeling and diving spots, Gibb's Cay is a place where animal lovers can come and have an altogether different experience – one playing with gentle sting rays.
Don’t let their harsh name fool you – these underwater flying creatures are often as gentle as a cat. While you disembark from your boat, you’ll likely notice the velvety feel of friendly sting rays about your feet. Something of a symbiosis has developed here over the years, and now stingrays approach boats and people by the dozens to play with them and be fed by them. The stingrays are wild, and so best treated with the utmost respect, but Gibbs Cay offers what other islands cannot – a magical experience and a chance to interact with one of Mother Nature’s most delicate underwater creatures.
The Turks & Caicos capital and seat of government, Cockburn Town is a bougainvillea-fringed, laidback tropical beauty with shabby-chic colonial buildings and dusty unpaved streets.
Cockburn’s major highlight is the National Museum, full to the brim with shipwreck flotsam, tools and artifacts formed from shells, and displays on the island’s original Lucayan people. Don’t miss the collection of washed-up bottles and the poignant messages contained inside.
More recent exhibits focus on the impact of NASA’s Space Program, including displays on the night sky and the personal memories of astronaut John Glenn, who splashed down just offshore in 1962, the first American to orbit the earth.
The museum itself is housed in the whitewashed and red-roofed Guinep House, a historic colonial building constructed almost 200 years ago from the salvaged timber of shipwrecks.
Providenciales’ cotton plantation past is revealed at Cheshire Hall. The plantation is now in ruins, but more than 200 years ago it was a thriving complex of buildings and cultivated land. The property dates back to around 1790 and the ensuing years when Loyalist brothers Wade and Thomas Stubbs worked the cotton plantation, named for their English home county of Cheshire. Overlooking the island was the property’s hilltop main building, the Great House, surrounded by outbuildings and the industrial machines of the cotton age. The plantation was worked for around 30 years, before succumbing to the climate, hurricane and impoverished soil conditions. Today, all that remains is grass-covered rubble and a solitary cannon. Cheshire Hall is protected by the National Trust. On a visit to the site you can take a wander through the grounds via stone-lined trails. The remains of several buildings are identified, including the kitchen and Great House, cotton gin and cotton press.
Guarding the wild Atlantic waters surrounding Grand Turk’s northern tip, the Cockburn Town Lighthouse is a historic National Trust-listed structure, built in Britain in 1852.
Known as the Grand Turk Light, the cast-iron lighthouse was shipped in pieces and constructed on the island’s northern tip, in an effort to reduce the scarily large number of ships wrecked on the island’s west coast reef. Over the years, the lighthouse has been lit by whale oil, kerosene and electricity, and its light still shines today. You can see the original Fresnel lens proudly on display in the Turks & Caicos National Museum in Cockburn Town. The lighthouse is a popular spot for whale-watching in February/March, and for picnics year-round. It’s thought that Christopher Columbus made landfall near here in 1492.
Filled with the charm that only a centuries-old Caribbean town can claim, Duke Street in the heart of historic Cockburn Town, Grand Turk is an attraction all by itself. Duke and Front Streets comprise the main thoroughfares of this ancient colonial landscape, and it’s also here where most things in Cockburn Town are happening.
Explore the streets, and slip back into the slow ways of island living. Spend more than a day or two here, and you’ll likely find everyone’s face familiar – such is the draw of this small island chain. While on Duke Street, walk the avenue and see the various ancient picket fences overgrown with grass and bougainvillea, discover what relentless time and weather have done to these once great, ancient buildings made with limestone and wood, and explore beach front bars and boutique bungalow shops.
More Things to Do in Turks and Caicos
The protected waters of the Northwest Point Marine National Park lap the northwest edge of the Providenciales’ coast. The park also protects the world’s third-largest coral reef system, so it’s no surprise that the underwater wonders here include some of the territory’s best reef diving and snorkeling. Sea sponges, pastel corals, turtles, rays, iridescent tropical fish – you name it, you’ll see it in this sea park that’s celebrated for its marine-life diversity.
On the shore, the pristine arc of sand known as Malcolm Beach stretches for 10km (6 miles), and the park also encompasses saline lakes like Pigeon Pond that are home to water birds that come here to breed. The park is in the island’s undeveloped and remote western reaches, and hiking, 4WD or boat is the easiest way to get here.
It looks and feels like the Caribbean, but Grand Turk is actually washed by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. You might be sailing here from the Bahamas, only 48km (30 miles) away, and will soon realize you’ve landed in one of the most tranquil, undiscovered locations on the planet. The shiny new cruise center facilities include restaurants and a shopping mall, and white-sand beaches are just a short walk away.
How to Get to Cockburn Town
The port is on Grand Turk’s southwestern tip, and you’ll find plenty of tour and island information in the sparkling modern cruise center. Taxis line up to take you to downtown Cockburn Town, in the center of the island. You could also hire a go-anywhere jeep for the day, rent a bicycle or join an organized shore excursion.