There are actually two Ambergris Cays: the inhabited and partially developed Greater Ambergris Cay (also known as Big Ambergris Cay) and the uninhabited Little Ambergris Cay. Found fifteen miles south of South Caicos and about fifty miles from Providenciales, these two islands are a bit isolated from the rest of the country.
The islands are named after the valuable deposits of ambergris that would wash up on the beaches. This waxy substance is regurgitated by sperm whales and at one time was prized as a fixative for perfume making.
Big Ambergris Cay, also known as Greater Ambergris Cay, is a little over three miles long and totals about 1100 acres. Unlike most of the other small islands in the country, Big Ambergris Cay has some high ground reaching almost 100 feet. The island has the low level coastal vegetation typical to the smaller cays and islands of the country.
Two icons of the Turks and Caicos thrive on Big Ambergris Cay: the Turks and Caicos Rock Iguana and the Turks head cacti.
Big Ambergris Cay has never really had much going on. Privately owned since 1811, the island hasn’t had any major permanent settlement until relatively recently. Along with ambergris gathering, whaling and sisal planting were also started, but the latter two attempts never really succeeded and the island has been more or less abandoned for most of the 1900s.
Started in 1995, the Turks and Caicos Sporting Club had plans to develop Grater Ambergris Cay into an exclusive private luxury residential island. Included in the plans were 600 residential home sites, an airstrip, sea port, restaurant and a spa. Much of the infrastructure has been put in place, but unfortunately the main companies involved in the development of the project went into receivership in 2010, so the future of the Turks and Caicos Club is uncertain.
One and a half miles to the west of Ambergris Cay is Little Ambergris Cay. Although about the same overall size as Ambergris Cay, the island doesn’t really have much solid ground, only thin stretches of sandy land and a mangrove wetlands interior. This island and the surrounding water is a sanctuary for the whole spectrum of wildlife found in the country.
At this time, it can be difficult to get to Ambergris Cay. Because of the distance from the other main islands in the Turks and Caicos, and due to the limited traffic back and forth, no regular passenger boat ferry service is in operation. The island does have a 5700 foot airstrip , but due to the main Ambergris Cay development companies going into receivership, use of the airstrip is closed until further notice.