Scroll down for a tourist map of Cockburn Town.
Found on the central west side of Grand Turk, Cockburn Town is a small coastal settlement and the capital city of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The town is named after Sir Francis Cockburn, then governor of the Bahamas in the early 1800s. Cockburn Town is the oldest permanent settlement in the country, having been initially settled by sea salt producers from the Bermuda. .
The rise of the town was mainly due to the sea salt industry that once operated on Grand Turk, Salt Cay and South Caicos. At a time when salt was a valuable commodity, the natural shallow ponds in the Turks and Caicos were easy to adapt for the evaporation of ocean water. The income from salt exports and the necessity of infrastructure were what created Cockburn Town.
Architecture of the older structures in town was heavily influenced by the British Colonial Bermudian style. Construction of these buildings would typically be of formed limestone blocks mortared together, with an interior and exterior coating of smooth stucco to prevent the soft limestone from deteriorating. Roofs and floors would usually be made of wood planks. Many of these old buildings have been restored and converted to villas and inns.
As to be expected with a low-lying tropical coastal town, the rare hurricane was often devastating, and Cockburn Town typically had to largely be rebuilt every decade or two. An example was the September 1866 Hurricane, which destroyed most of the buildings in the country, sank many ships, and washed away one and a quarter million bushels of sea salt that was waiting for export. More recently, Hurricane Ike in 2008 caused quite a bit of damage, some of which is still being slowly repaired to this day.
As the oldest town and the centre of government in the Turks and Caicos, Cockburn Town definitely has the most character of all of the settlements in the country.
The historical part of Cockburn Town is not extensive. It mainly follows the coastline for about 1 mile (1.6 kilometres), with the majority of sights on either Queen Street or Front Street, both of which run parallel to the beach. Access to the beautiful Cockburn Town Beach can be found at many spots along both of these roads and off of Duke Street.
When exploring Cockburn Town, we recommend starting at Duke Street on the southern end of the town and heading north along this coastal road. You’ll mainly see quaint vacation villas, and a few small inns and restaurants.
After about half a mile, Duke St merges into Queen Street, which fronts the ocean. After a short distance, Queen Street becomes Front Street at some indiscernible point. Many of what used to be the important government and social buildings in the Turks and Caicos stand along Queen Street and Front Street.
Next to Her Majesty’s Prison and at the northern end of Front Street, small outdoor gift and souvenir stalls can found.
The Turks and Caicos National Museum is the top attraction in the area. On display are Taino artifacts, recovered objects and an exhibit from the oldest excavated European shipwreck in the New World, and many fascinating curios from around the country.
Open for tours, Her Majesty's Prison is another interesting site. Restored, this historical compound houses exhibits on pirates, crime and punishment. The entrance to the prison is found a short distance off of Front Street on Victoria Street.
St Mary's Anglican Church is one of the most beautiful churches in the country and one of only two that is beachfront. The bright red trim and beautiful trees at this small church is one of the most photographed spots in the town.
The scenic Cockburn Town Beach can be found fronting the entire old part of Cockburn Town. Small concrete seawalls and jetties break up parts of the beach but are easily crossed. As with all beaches in the country, access is free.
Cockburn Town is not very large, and most visitors will have no difficulty exploring the old part of town on foot. All main sights are on a strip less with a length less than 1 mile (1.6 kilometres), and typical progression is linear with very little backtracking. Although not needed, bicycles can be an excellent way of getting around. It is possible to drive a car through Old Cockburn Town, however many streets are one way and parking is limited.
Travelling between Cockburn Town and the Grand Turk Cruise Center is a bit more of an issue. If you don’t have a rental vehicle or scooter, the only other option is a taxi.
Taxis to and from the Cruise Center cost about $5 (2014) per person each way.
Due to the intense sun and lack of sidewalks, we do not recommend walking the 3 miles (4.8 kilometres) distance between the Cruise Center and Cockburn Town.
Many of the old colonial buildings in Cockburn Town have been restored and converted into small hotel and villa accommodations.
These quant lodgings are just steps from the excellent patches of beach that front the town. Grand Turk’s overnight tourism largely caters to the scuba diving market, and many of hotels offer combined packages that include accommodation stay and dives.
At less than 100 miles (160km) across from the western-most point of land ( West Caicos) to the eastern-most ( Martin Pinzon Cay), the Turks and Caicos is quite a small country. As such, there isn’t a huge variance in weather and climate throughout the Turks and Caicos.
Due to their direct exposure to the eastern trade winds, Cockburn Town and Grand Turk generally see less cloud cover and rainfall than the Caicos Islands experiences. This dry and sunny weather was perfect for sea salt production.