Grand Turk is the historical and political centre of the Turks and Caicos, and is the second most populated island in the country after Providenciales. Originally founded by settlers from Bermuda as a site for salt production in 1681, Cockburn Town on Grand Turk has been the official capital of the country since 1766. Many of the country's main government offices, such as the Supreme Court and Governor's Residence can be found here.
Several important historic events have taken place around this small island including being the likely spot of Columbus's first landfall in the New World, and the landing spot of American astronaut John Glenn after orbiting Earth in 1962.
Cockburn Town, Grand Turk.
Many of the older buildings on Grand Turk reflect the colonial and British-Bermudian heritage. This is best seen on Front Street and Duke Street in Cockburn Town. Donkeys, and horses, first introduced in the salt industry days as a means of transportation, can still be seen roaming freely.
The only museum in the country is located on historic Front Street, and a range of artefacts (including a thousand year-old Lucayan duho, or ceremonial chair). The Molasses Reef Wreck collection displays artefacts from the oldest European shipwreck recovered in the Western Hemisphere.
The National Museum on Front Street, Grand Turk.
Another famous landmark on Grand Turk is the country's only lighthouse, finished in 1852. This structure was prefabricated in England and was set up to burn whale oil for light. It was eventually converted to kerosene, and finally, electricity in 1971. The lighthouse is no longer operational, although tours of the surrounding grounds are offered.
Cockburn Town waterfront.
Grand Turk is also known for having some of the best diving in the world, due to it's exceptional coral wall diving. The wall can drop from 30 feet (9.1 metres) to over 7000 feet (2134 metres), only a short distance from the shore. Shipwrecks which dot the reefs are also popular sites for divers.
A relatively recent addition to Grand Turk is the cruise ship centre on the southern end of the island. This facility was opened in 2006 by Carnival Cruise Lines as a mooring site for ocean liners and as a base of operations for cruise ship visitors. Many small jewellery and gift shops, restaurants, bars and attractions are located here, along with swimming pools for cruise ship guests.
Grand Turk has quite a few donkeys and cows wandering about, which are remnants of the salt days.
Also on Grand Turk is the Waterloo Golf Course. Built in 1998 by a former British governor, this 9-hole, par 54 beach-side course is open to the public. You must call ahead to reserve and rental clubs are available.
Front Street, Cockburn Town.
On the northern coast, near to the lighthouse, lies the ruins of the US Navy Grand Turk NAVFAC 104 base. This based was used for their Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) programme during the Cold War. The
Columbus Landfall National Park, which marks the presumed landfall site of Christopher Columbus, is located on the western coast of the island.
Grand Turk is a great place to experience the traditional spirit of the Turks and Caicos, either for one day, or your whole vacation.
Front Street, Cockburn Town, Grand Turk. Circa 1900.