Ambergris Cay is an exquisite private island located on the remote south-eastern edge of the Caicos Islands archipelago in the Turks and Caicos. The island, also known as Big Ambergris Cay, has a land mass of about 1,000 acres (404 hectares). The closest populated island to Ambergris Cay is South Caicos, which is found about 14 miles to the north.
Ambergris Cay is lightly developed, and supports luxury vacation homes, an airport, and the all-inclusive and upscale Ambergris Cay Resort, which offers beautiful villa accommodations with impeccable service, dining, and amenities. The resort features a low-density design, with the restaurant, spa, and other facilities hidden across the flowing coastline on the west side of the island. Small roads connect the island, and silent golf carts are the main means of transport.
The Ambergris Cays are named after the valuable deposits of whale ambergris that would wash up on the beaches. This waxy substance is regurgitated by sperm whales and is prized as a fixative for perfume and cosmetic products.
Little Ambergris Cay
A counterpart to Ambergris Cay is the nearby wetland island of Little Ambergris Cay, which is part of the Little Ambergris Cay and Fish Cays Nature Reserve. The uninhabited cay is found a mile (1.6 km) to the west of its inhabited namesake, and is the largest completely protected island or cay in the Turks and Caicos.
Little Ambergris Cay is a unique and important habitat for a spectrum of bird and marine life. The cay is roughly the same size as Greater Ambergris Cay, yet consists of very low-elevation sandbars, beaches, and mangrove estuaries. Little Ambergris Cay is located on the lee side of the larger island, and is surrounded by very shallow water and sandbanks.
History of Ambergris Cay
Prior to its recent development as a luxury island retreat, Ambergris Cay never really had much going on. The island was privately owned since 1811, and didn’t see much permanent settlement past a few sisal plantations and some stations that catered to the whaling and ambergris industries. As was the case with many agricultural and industry attempts in the Turks and Caicos, sisal planting never was a significant success and eventually died out, and the island was largely abandoned for much of the 1900s.
As is the case with many of the islands in the Turks and Caicos, there’s evidence of settlement by the pre-Columbian Taino peoples on Ambergris Cay.
Ambergris Cay Utopia
An interesting footnote of Turks and Caicos history is the 1978 attempt to create a sovereign nation of Ambergris Cay, when a consortium of investors from Arizona offered 50 million dollars (nearly 200 million dollars in 2020 dollars) for the island, if they’d be allowed to secede from the Turks and Caicos and the United Kingdom, with rights to issue their own currency and passports, oversee immigration control, and form a security force. The proposal looked like it would be going forward, until the United Kingdom put an end to it.
Turks and Caicos Sporting Club
Started in 1995, the Turks and Caicos Sporting Club had plans to develop Greater Ambergris Cay into an exclusive private luxury residential island. Included in the plans were 600 residential home sites, an airstrip, a seaport, a restaurant, and a spa. Much of the infrastructure had been put in place by the mid-2000s, yet unfortunately, the primary companies involved in the development of the project went into receivership in 2010, so the future of the Turks and Caicos Club was in jeopardy for a time.
Turks and Caicos Collection
The Turks and Caicos Collection, which oversees Blue Haven Resort, and Alexandra Resort on Providenciales, took over management of the resort, and rapidly began improvement and refurbishment, with the island opening to guests in late 2018.
Terrain and Environment
Ambergris Cay offers a very picturesque range of terrains and vegetation. Being located on the eastern edge of the Caicos Banks, there’s a breathtaking contrast between the deep blue water of the Turk’s Islands Passage to the east of the cay, and the shallow and vibrant turquoise waters to the west.
Ambergris Cay is highly-important as a reserve for several endangered species, some of which are only found in the Turks and Caicos.
Like many of the windward islands in the Turks and Caicos, much of Ambergris Cay consists of rolling dunes and bluffs of semi-lithified limestone and sand. There are many small beaches hidden between the dunes and coastal cliffs, which offer widely varying atmospheres.
Much of the vegetation on Ambergris Cay is either stunted tropical dry forest that’s common to the Turks and Caicos, or light coastal plants on the windward coasts. The highest point on Ambergris Cay is 96 feet (29 m).
Two natural icons of the Turks and Caicos thrive on Big Ambergris Cay: the Turks and Caicos Islands rock iguana, and the Turks head cacti.
Endemic and Native Reptiles
Ambergris Cay is a critical habitat for several reptiles that are endemic and native to the Turks and Caicos. The larger of these are the Turks and Caicos islands rock iguana (Cyclura carinata), the Turks and Caicos rainbow boa (Chilabothrus chrysogaster), and sub-species of the Caicos pygmy boa (Tropidophis greenwayi) that’s unique to Ambergris Cay. It’s estimated that the majority of the rock iguana population in the Turks and Caicos is found on Ambergris Cay.
The Division of Conservation and Research for Endangered Species (CRES) at the world-famous San Diego Zoo has actively been involved in conservation efforts for the rock iguanas at Ambergris Cay and other islands in the country.
Turks Head Cacti
Ambergris Cay is also home to the largest populations of the unique and stubbly Turks head cacti (Melocactus intortus). These interesting little plants aren’t very common in the Turks and Caicos, yet Ambergris Cay does have scenic patches of the cacti.
Ambergris Cay Real Estate
Ambergris Cay features an exclusive collection of residential home lots, as well as a few finished villas and homes. The island offers a very tranquil setting, and owners have access to a wide range of amenities. Most properties have breathtaking ocean views, and there are also many beachfront lots.
Getting to Ambergris Cay
As an isolated private island, there are no scheduled domestic flights or ferries between Ambergris Cay and any other island in the Turks and Caicos.
The Turks and Caicos Collection operates two aircraft to shuttle guests from a private FBO on Providenciales to Ambergris Cay. The island has an airport (ICAO: MBAC) a 5700-foot (1737 m) surfaced runway, and one of the nicest airport terminals in the country.
At this time, Turks and Caicos Collection only arranges transport for guests and owners staying on the island, or those interested in purchasing real estate.
Some boat charter companies are willing to make the long transit between Providenciales and Ambergris Cay over the Caicos Banks. Rates may prohibitive due to the long travel distance.