Since 1766, Grand Turk has been the capital of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Originally founded by Bermudian salt collectors in 1681, the island still retains a colonial heritage through its colonial buildings and old salt salinas. Donkeys and horses, once the only means of transportation, now roam freely in the wild.
The popular Grand Turk Cruise Center nearly a million guests every year and serves several ocean liners weekly. Here you’re find a lagoon-like pool, duty-free shopping and the largest Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville in the Caribbean.
The Cruise Center also serves as the launch point for many activities, including island tours, snorkelling cruises, 4x4 expeditions and more.
As the capital of the Turks and Caicos, the oceanfront settlement of Cockburn Town is home to much of the British-Bermudian architecture in the Turks and Caicos.
Along the oceanfront Front Street, Queen Street and Duke Street, old stuccoed limestone block buildings and villas stand, many with interesting histories. There’s the old Victoria Library, the post office, and colonial-era attraction of Her Majesty’s Prison.
On the east side of Cockburn Town is the National Museum. This quint house, one of the oldest still-used buildings in the country, is the best place in the country to get an insight into the history of the Turks and Caicos. Among the treasures here are 1000 year-old Lucayan objects and artefacts from the historic 1513 Molasses Reef wreck, the oldest excavated European ship remains found in the New World.
A sea of salt crystals at Hawkes Nest Salina, Grand Turk.
The Old Sea Salt Industry
In previous centuries, Grand Turk had a thriving sea salt industry. The mainstay of the Turks and Caicos economy for nearly three hundred years, millions of bushels of prime sea salt was exported to destinations throughout North America. It’s difficult to believe, but at one time the output from Grand Turk and the nearby Salt Cay accounted for roughly one sixth of all salt used in the English-speaking settlements in North America!
The natural and shallow salt ponds found throughout the country were perfect candidates for the task of salt production. Ponds were developed into salinas, with a complex network of low stone dividing walls, gates, channels and windmill pumps.
Ocean water would be transferred into the salinas through small stone-lined channels. As the water naturally evaporated under the intense sun, sea salt would remain.
Although the sea salt production ended in the 1950s, much of this infrastructure still remains today, waiting to be discovered.
Found off the east coast of Grand Turk, the pristine Gibbs Cay is another top attraction. At this little island, tame and friendly stingrays of all sizes flock to the boats that visit the area and freely interact with people. With clear water, white sand and rolling hills with sea oats, Gibbs Cay is the perfect small tropical island.
It’s possible to snorkel in the shallow clear water with the stingrays – an all-too-rare opportunity of experiencing large marine life close-up in their natural environment.
Although the many visitors to Grand Turk only stop over for a few hours from a cruise ship, Grand Turk offers quite a few quaint inns and hotels to choose from for those who wish to stay overnight.
Keeping with the laid-back Caribbean atmosphere of the island, there are no large hotels or all-inclusive resorts. Oceanfront inns, typically found in refurbished colonial mansions, make up the majority of accommodations.