The Turks and Caicos is an archipelago of forty islands located 575 miles (925 kilometres) southeast of Miami. The country is a British Overseas Territory with a population of about 30,000 spread over nine inhabited islands. The capital of the Turks and Caicos is Cockburn Town on Grand Turk. English is the official language spoken, and the universally accepted currency is the US Dollar.
Today, luxury tourism is the primary source of income to the Turks and Caicos. There’s a wide range of accommodations across the islands, including extravagant all-inclusive resorts, quiet hotels and luxurious rental villas.
The terrain throughout the country is generally of low-elevation, with drought-resistant coastal forest and mangrove wetlands making up the majority of vegetation.
The Tainos, a people who it is believed migrated up through the Caribbean islands sometime around the year 700AD, are thought to be the aborigine settlers.
When the islands were first discovered by Europeans is debated. Some historians believe that Grand Turk was Christopher Columbus’s first landfall in the New World in 1492, others believe that Juan Ponce de Leon found our archipelago in 1512.
In any case, the islands saw very little activity for several decades, with loose control being passed over time from Spain, to France and finally to Britain.
As uninhabited islands in the natural route of the trade winds from Europe, piracy was a major problem in the early days of the Turks and Caicos. Into the mid-1700s, buccaneers could hide in the many natural cove and channels throughout the islands and prey on unsuspecting ships passing by.
Sea salt production has been the mainstay of the Turks and Caicos economy. Although naturally-occurring salt was collected by the Tainos and traded with inhabitants of Hispaniola before the arrival of Europeans, serious production and export did not begin until British Colonials in Bermuda recognized the potential of the country’s shallow salt ponds and developed an efficient system of ponds, gates and dividing walls. Salt Cay, Grand Turk and South Caicos all had extensive salinas and at the height of production, almost two million bushels of salt per year was exported.
North Caicos, Middle Caicos and Providenciales did see agriculture attempts with cotton, sisal and sugar cane plantations. After the American Revolution, displaced Loyalists were granted land in British territories in the Caribbean and they began forge a new way of life.
Initially a successful industry, the Sea Island Cotton exported from the Turks and Caicos was held in high regard, however, hurricane damage, erosion, and insect infestations doomed planting in the country. The crop of choice moved onto sisal (a fibrous agave used as to produce rope), which once more had a promising outlook until global demand fell.
Although Providenciales has by far the most development of the islands in the country, the island was a very quiet place until the late 1960s, when the tourism boom began.
Today, tourism, financial services and small-scale fishing exports are the main revenue sources for the Turks and Caicos.
The main claim to fame for the country are the spectacular beaches and crystal-clear water, crowned by the world-renowned seven mile long Grace Bay Beach on Providenciales. The climate in the Turks and Caicos complements the beaches, with sunny days and perfect vacation temperatures ranging from 75° F (24° C) to 90° F (32° C).
The Turks and Caicos is also acclaimed for its exceptional diving and is home to the third largest barrier reef system in the world. The coral walls at Grand Turk, Providenciales and West Caicos, where the depth drops from 30-50 feet (9-15 m) to over 7,000 feet (2.1 km), and are among the best in the world.
Sport fishing is another major attraction in the Turks and Caicos. Every year, several tournaments take place in the islands, from the international Caicos Classic billfishing event held on Providenciales, to many smaller reef and bottom fishing contests. The bone fishing found on the Caicos Banks shallows near Providenciales and the Caicos Islands is unmatched.
Getting to the Turks and Caicos is easy. Direct flights are offered by several major airlines from 13 cities (New York, Charlotte, Miami, Toronto, London and more), and visas are not required for most nationalities.
Grand Turk is also becoming one of the most popular cruise ship destinations in the Caribbean. Opened in 2006, the Grand Turk Cruise Center serves hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.