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Travel Log | Blue skies and white sandy beaches: the Turks & Caicos Islands |

Blue skies and white sandy beaches: the Turks & Caicos Islands

2017-03-20T10:34:23-05:00 en-US Mar 20, 2017

By: Melanie Reffes

Source: The Suburban

Pointed southeast of The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands are a sunny collection of seven main islands and 40 smaller isles and uninhabited cays. A British Overseas Territory, TCI has a longstanding Canadian connection that goes back to 1917 when then-Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden floated the idea of a political union between the two countries. Today, there is still a strong connection to Canada with tax breaks and business opportunities offered to expats and a plethora of vacation essentials from swanky resorts, fine dining and funky beach bars to historic sites like the former cotton plantation called Cheshire Hall, superb diving and the island’s crowning glory; uninterrupted stretches of white sandy beaches that front the sea blindingly bluer than a Tiffany gift box.

One of the first spits of land that Christopher Columbus spied when he voyaged across the Atlantic in 1492, the archipelago is laid back with a West Indian vibe. The most developed in the island chain, Providenciales, referred to as Provo, is uncluttered with just two stop signs, no traffic lights and 30,000 people — including expats who swapped the winter winds at home for year round sunny skies. 

Most of the resorts and villas are on Provo’s famed Grace Bay Beach, a 20- kilometre stretch of sugary white sand framed by snorkel and scuba-ready water. Although ‘doing nothing perfectly’ is an approved sport, adventurers like deep sea fishing, sailing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, kite-boarding, windsurfing, riding the Provo Ponies on the beach and teeing up at the Provo Golf Club, the only 18-hole course on the island.

Provo is also where you’ll find duty-free shops, galleries, restaurants, bars and cafes. Seclusion-seekers head to the southern shores and the western tip or set sail to one of the many deserted cays in the chain.

Sweet suites on the beach

A short 15-minute drive from Providenciales International Airport (PLS), The Shore Club is the first and only resort on Long Bay Beach at the undeveloped corner of Provo. A new build on the secluded strip, the upscale 106-suite resort caters to wellness-inspired travellers who come for unrivalled indulgence. Easy-to-navigate, two low-rise buildings house the spacious suites that include two enormous multi-bedrooms with balcony hot tubs.

On the beach less-travelled (most of the other resorts are on Grace Bay Beach), the resort was built by the Hartling Group, owned by Nova Scotian Stan Hartling who bought his first beachfront parcel of land in 1996 on Grace Bay Beach. The Group also owns two other resorts in Provo; The Sands at Grace Bay and The Palms. Gratis shuttle service between the three is offered several times daily.

With floor-to-ceiling windows that open to unobstructed views, Shore Club suites come with top-of-the-line appliances in open kitchens and airy balconies or patios for chilling after a day on the beach or an afternoon at the pool. For those not in the mood for sand between their toes, three pools include one for families, adults-only by the beach and the centerpiece Colonnade Pool with a bar and cabanas. Relaxation comes easy in the Dune Spa with scrubs like the Long Bay Ritual that blends sugarcane, Salt Cay salt, white sand from the beach and aromatic coconut oil. Upping the relaxation ante, there’s fire pits by the pool and yoga classes on the beach. For families with kids, Jungle Jams Kids Club dishes up plenty of fun for wee ones up to 12 years old and for parents on a date night, nannies are available at USD$20.00 hour.

Under the watchful eye of Executive Chef Lauren Callighen who traded the Atlantic winds of Newfoundland for the big blue in Provo, three restaurants include the Colonnade for shareable tapas and a Long Bay Breeze cocktail, Sea Grapes Pool Bar and Grille where you’ll find local treats like conch ceviche and beetroot hummus and Sui-Ren; Peruvian-Japanese fusion with stand-outs created by Chef Daniel Delgado. “My background is Japanese and Peruvian so it’s natural that I combine the flavours of both cultures in our tasting menu,” he says, serving hungry tourists from Montreal his signature ceviche made tangy with fresh white fish, Asian lemony spices and crunchy corn. A sumptuous breakfast buffet in the open-air Courtyard is included in room rates.

Formerly the general manager of The Palms, Karen Whitt joins the new resort as VP, sales and marketing and isn’t shy trumpeting its appeal. “The resort stretches across a shallow bank of water that’s a shade of blue you’ve never seen before with each element of development meticulously curated from the crushed coral stone walls to the tiles which have been painted by hand.”

Nightly rates through the end of April start at USD$925.00 for a junior garden view suite to USD$6,000 for a three-bedroom penthouse with butler service. “We are the newest luxury resort on the island and the only one on this magnificent beach, “adds Frits Hannenberg, general manager, “we welcome our guests from Canada who come to Provo to unwind and relax.”

All in the family

Also owned by The Hartling Group, The Sands at Grace Bay is a short hop from the Provo Golf Course and a pair of marinas for those is arriving by boat. Fronting the baby blue Grace Bay Beach, the affordable family-friendly resort marries Caribbean chic with a casual ambience in 114 suites and studios in six three-story buildings that stand no higher than a coconut palm.

One- to three-bedroom suites are spacious and have modern kitchens, dining rooms, washers and dryers and screened in furnished patios and balconies ideal for an afternoon siesta or a cocktail as the sunsets behind the beach.

“We are thrilled to unveil our newly-renovated resort,” said Mona Beeson, general manager. “Guests are raving about these contemporary updates that provide them with plush comforts, while maintaining the property’s beloved sophisticated yet relaxed ambiance.”

Ideal for families, couples and singles, the resort is a popular mainstay on a perfect stretch of Grace Bay Beach. “The Sands gives guests the opportunity to enjoy a true home-away-from-home feel while they soak up our exceptional resort destination,” adds Mona Beeson, showing guests to their suites.

Gratis bicycles are for exploring the island, tennis and basketball court is lit for night play and the fitness center stays open until 11 p.m.

To dine for

For a delectable celebration of the conch; the national treasure and the national dish, head to Bight Park every Thursday night and fill up on conch fritters, cracked conch and conch salads while local bands keep the crowd on their feet until the last person leaves.

A culinary ode to Ernest Hemingway who fished in the sea surrounding the island, Hemingway’s at The Sands at Grace Bay is beachside dining with servers so friendly you’ll swear you’ve met them before. A table on the dune deck is where to greet the morning with a spicy Blood Mary, stack of crazy good almond pancakes or a yummy ‘Ernest’ omelette with a dab of the local hot sauce called ‘Ghost Story’. Big salads are divine for lunch and for dinner; check out Chef Alix’s buttery South Caicos lobster tail. Save room for fried ice cream deliciously shareable in a sweet tortilla basket drizzled chocolate sauce.

For elegant dining under the stars, Parallel23 at the 72-suite The Palms is the pedigree of posh with tall French doors that open to stately palms and a striking fountain.

An international menu of land and sea are works of art with standouts like coconut-marinated conch ceviche, pan roasted sea bass and 21-day aged steaks. Two forks work nicely on a slice of lemon meringue pie made pretty with raspberry sauce. Bartenders are expert pourers of lemon martinis and glasses from an extensive wine and spirit list.

In the heart of Grace Bay, Coco Bistro is the go-to for lobster bisque and conch ravioli with crispy beet chips. Executive Chef Stuart Gray works his magic with herbs from his own garden for his fruity add-ons like banana chutney that pairs perfectly with grilled shrimp on sugar cane skewers.

For the real deal, follow the locals to Bugaloos Conch Crawl in Five Cays on the south coast; one of three original settlements that today is a residential area with small shops, restaurants and friendly Belongers, the local term for islanders.

Snag a seat at a seaside table or at an oversized chair under a palm tree and dig into a peppery conch salad, fiery buffalo battered conch and addictive conch fritters. Ideal for a gaggle of pals, a pitcher of heady rum punch and a big platter of fabulously fried conch, lobster and shrimp will do the trick nicely. A sandy stage hosts local performers, fishermen look for conch in the knee-deep sea and vendors sell crafts on the beach. 

The word on the street is that any Casanova worth his sea salt eats at least 50 conch pistols a day — that gooey part of the conch's anatomy that looks like a worm and is eaten raw. Full of protein, iron and calcium, the gastropod’s slimy private parts are the big draw at Da Conch Shack in Blue Hills where couples on a babymoon vacation skillfully down a few of the translucent strands.

A few steps from the communal tables, Zab-Zab, the resident conch expert and father of eight, delicately removes the pistols from their pink shells and if you ask him nicely he’ll pose for a photo as he explains how the island’s natural fertility drug increases the odds of a bigger brood. Stay awhile and order a plate of conch fritters, shot of the local Bamberra rum and views of the pelicans taking five on the beach

Arrive in style

Another Canadian connection at Turks & Caicos Reservations where husband and wife team Val and Susan Kalliecharan book tours, day trips, restaurant reservations and car rentals. Living in Halifax before moving to Provo nine years ago, their Grace Bay company is one-stop-shopping for tourists looking to explore the islands.

“One of the most popular tours we book is a snorkel trip followed by a dive for conch and a visit to a secluded island,” said Susan from her office in Grace Bay, “one of my favourites is paddle-boarding to the mangroves to see marine life including many different kinds of fish, sting rays and turtles.”

For priority service upon arrival, expedited departure and lounge amenities while you wait for take-off, VIP Flyers Club is the regal way to start a vacation. Greeters meet arriving travelers for fast tracking through customs and immigration and provide departure priority assistance in the relaxing lounge with Wi-Fi, snacks and spirits.

Getting there

Air Canada flies direct nonstop from Montreal on Sunday and from Toronto every day except Tuesday and Thursday with return nonstop flights to Montreal on Friday. WestJet flies from Montreal on Friday and from Toronto on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Save the date

Now in its 20th year, the St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl starts at the Tiki Hut in Provo on March 17. Also in Provo, go fly a kite on April 17 at the Kite Flying Competition on Lower Bight Road. Sailors and wannabees head to South Caicos for the Big South Regatta on May 27-28 and for conch-philes who plan ahead, Blue Hills Conch Festival in November celebrates the crustacean with tastings, shell blowing and an all-day beach party.

About the Author

Melanie Reffes, Travel Journalist
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