Grand Turk is a beautiful little island, and all of the top things to do revolve around the ocean, be it relaxing on the beach, scuba diving, jet skiing, or snorkeling. Snorkeling is one of the most popular activities in the country, as we have some of the finest reefs in the tropical Atlantic.
Grand Turk has some decent beach snorkeling sites, yet all of the truly spectacular reefs are only accessible by boat. Consequently, a snorkeling boat charter or tour is one of our top recommended activities.
Private boat charter companies will almost always provide a better underwater experience than shared public charters do.
Cruise Ship Visitors
The unfortunate fact is that cruise visitors to Grand Turk typically have a relatively limited time off the cruise ship, which usually only allows sufficient time for one shore excursion, or a self-guided day tour of the island.
For those wanting to spend time in the ocean, Grand Turk can be one of the best cruise ship port stops for a snorkeling or boat charter. The simple fact is other cruise port destinations likely have better shopping, dining, or historical sights, yet very few other cruise ports in the Caribbean surpass Grand Turk’s beaches and offshore reefs.
As our cruise ship visitor activity guide suggests, we advise that most guests will have the best time if they choose one of four ways to spend the day: rent a car and explore on their own, spend most of the day at the exquisite Governor's Beach, go scuba diving, or take a snorkeling and beach hopping boat tour to Gibbs Cay.
Snorkeling Sights and Locations
The small island of Grand Turk is surrounded by amazing reefs, with underwater terrains that range from yellow and purple sea fan beds, complex barrier reefs that support a spectrum of fish and corals, and lush seagrass beds with conch, stingrays, and spotted eagle rays.
Colorful Reef Fish
There’s no shortage of colorful reef fish to see, and it’s common to see schools of stoplight parrot fish, blue tangs, black durgons, French grunts, yellow goatfish, bluehead wrasse, horse eye jacks and bar jacks, yellowtail snappers, and much more. In groups of two or three are queen angelfish, French angelfish, and gray angelfish, butterflyfish, queen triggerfish, Nassau grouper, porcupinefish, damselfish, filefish, and so much more.
Possible larger sightings include green turtles, hawksbill turtles, nurse sharks, grey reef sharks, stingrays, eagle rays, barracuda, and even Atlantic bottlenose dolphins if you’re lucky!
Gibbs Cay is a very small uninhabited island near Grand Turk which features an exquisite beach, some interesting reefs nearby, and dozens of inquisitive stingrays, which flock to any boats that visit the cay.
It’s a great experience to snorkel with these gentle rays in their natural environment. It’s really interesting to see the various sizes, from tiny juveniles that are about a foot across (20 cm), up to mature adults that weigh more than 150 pounds (70 kg).
Big Sand Cay
A bit more of a journey out is the remote and scenic Big Sand Cay. Typically only visited on custom charters, this island offers one of the finest beaches in the Turks and Caicos.
On the eastern side of the cay is fascinating and varied snorkeling, which is even more impressive during really calm days. Hidden on this side of the cay are little reefs, gullies, and slots between the low limestone cliffs of the cay, and patches of sandy ocean floor, all in crystal-clear water.
From late December to early March, one amazing snorkeling experience that may be possible is an in-water humpback whale snorkeling encounter.
Atlantic humpback whales follow an annual pattern of migration, and the whales that summer near Greenland, Newfoundland, and the north-eastern US spend the winter months at a few banks near the Turks and Caicos and the Dominican Republic.
Grand Turk and Salt Cay are excellent locations for whale watching, as the deep Turks Islands Passage that separates the Turks Islands group from the Caicos Islands archipelago is a natural funnel for the whales, channeling the magnificent ocean mammals quite close to land.
In-water whale snorkeling encounters aren’t for everyone, and are best suited for proficient snorkelers. Small private charters tend to offer the best experiences.