Leeward Reef, located near Leeward Cut on the northern Providenciales barrier reef, is the most popular boat excursion snorkeling site in the Turks and Caicos due to its ease of access and beautiful underwater sights. On busy days, there can be more than a dozen tour boats moored at anchor buoys in the area.
There are many amazing things to do in the Turks and Caicos, and second on our must-do list after simply enjoying our unrivaled beaches is to take a boat charter to our uninhabited cays and pristine reefs.
Due to the long distance from shore, Leeward Reef is not accessible from the beach, and it’s not advisable to attempt swimming out.
Princess Alexandra National Park
Leeward Reef is located inside the important Princess Alexandra National Park, a protected area that includes other popular attractions such as Grace Bay Beach, the Bight Beach, the Bight Reef (Coral Gardens), Leeward Beach, Little Water Cay, and Mangrove Cay.
Wildlife and Environment
The greatest feature of Leeward Reef is the interesting and beautiful spur and groove type barrier reef formations that begin in the area. These features start near the boat moorings, and continue out The Wall, where the depths drop away off the Caicos Islands underwater plateau.
Most tours stay close to the shallow section of the reef, where there are intricate gullies and little caves teeming with ocean life, and waving yellow and purple sea fan beds on top of the coral shelf.
A wide assortment of reef fish can be seen, including black durgons, yellow goatfish, yellowtail snappers, Nassau groupers, stoplight parrotfish, bluehead wrasse, French grunts, blue tangs, queen angelfish, barracuda, trumpet fish, and many other varieties as well. Larger sea creature sightings may include hawksbill turtles, nurse sharks, Caribbean spiny lobsters, southern stingrays, spotted eagle rays, and the occasional grey reef shark.
Boat Charter Companies and Tours
A wide array of private and public boat charters visit Leeward Reef, and there’s a great option for every budget and desired atmosphere. Some excursions are dedicated to snorkeling, yet most combine a visit to the reef with time spent on the secluded beaches of the Caicos Cays, and perhaps a beach BBQ.
The Caicos Cays, a string of small islands between Providenciales and North Caicos, is one of the top attractions in the Turks and Caicos, and include the Turks and Caicos Islands rock iguana sanctuary of Little Water Cay, the beach and lagoon at Half Moon Bay, the uninhabited Water Cay, the beautiful beach at Pine Cay, and the exquisite Fort George Cay. Trips often visit a couple of the pristine beaches and cays.
Private charters typically offer the best excursion experience, for several reasons. For busy sites such as Leeward Reef, Half Moon Bay Lagoon, and Fort George Cay, a private charter will often get to the attraction before the shared public charters (due to them having to collect all passengers), so you’ll get to enjoy the reefs and beaches before they get busy. Also, private charters do what you want, so you’ll be able to move on to another location if wanted.
Guidelines and Safety
One of the greatest considerations when on the water in the Turk and Caicos, be it snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, or any other water sport, is to be aware of your own limitations and the water conditions. Don’t go too far from the boat or shore, and be aware of which way the wind and currents are traveling. Wind and currents may make your return swim more difficult.
Be aware of the swell and waves, and watch the surf prior to getting in the ocean. Many barrier reef snorkeling sites, including Leeward Reef, have shallow sections where waves break. Avoid these areas, as waves will push you into sharp fire coral.
Don’t touch any marine life, which includes corals and sea fans, and don’t feed any wildlife.
Please don’t take any seashells, coral, or marine life. It’s illegal to harvest any conch, lobster, or fish, other than lionfish in a national park or nature reserve in the Turks and Caicos.
Tour vessels should be able to provide snorkeling vests and floats when required.