eastern Grace Bay Beach and resort Grace Bay, Providenciales.

History and Overview of Providenciales

perfect beach and ocean at Leeward Beach on Providenciales
The vibrant and beautiful Leeward Beach, Providenciales.
Quick Facts
Population 23,769 (2012 Census)
Area 38 mi² (98 km²)
Airport Providenciales International Airport (PLS)
Best Beach Grace Bay Beach
Highest Point 156 feet (48 metres) - Blue Mountain

Providenciales is the most developed and populated island in the Turks and Caicos, and is home to spectacular beaches, luxury resorts, and fine dining. Nearly all international flights to the Turks and Caicos land at the Providenciales International Airport (PLS).

Several of the country’s top beaches are found on Providenciales, including the critically acclaimed Grace Bay Beach, and the beautiful Leeward Beach, Bight Beach, Long Bay Beach, Malcolm's Road Beach, Sapodilla Bay, and Taylor Bay.

Chalk Sound National Park is another unique natural feature of Providenciales. This lagoon paints an amazing picture: hundreds of tiny and delicately-formed limestone islands contrasting against brilliantly turquoise water.

An Amazing Destination for Water Sports

There’s a huge array of water sports and activities offered on Providenciales. Boat charters are another great way to experience our pristine ocean and secluded islands, and you’ll find a great selection of vessels and tours to choose from.

Chalk Sound lagoon as seen from the mainland of Providenciales
Chalk Sound National Park, Providenciales. Hundreds of small rocky islands are found in this shallow lagoon.

Diving and snorkelling is of course excellent, with over 80 miles (129 km) of barrier reef being regularly visited by dive shops from Providenciales. Abrupt walls define most sites, where the depths can drop rapidly from 40 feet (12 m) into the thousands.

Exposed to the eastern trade winds, Long Bay Beach is one of the finest kiteboarding spots in the Caribbean and an exceptional place to learn. The ocean here has a soft sandy bottom and is the perfect depth – sufficiently shallow for standing, yet deep enough for the inevitable crashes!

The sheltered wetlands of Providenciales and the nearby cays are the perfect environment for kayaking and stand up paddle boarding, where juvenile sharks, starfish, turtles, conch, and stingrays can be seen in their natural habitat.

The Provo Golf Course, designed by Karl Litten and rated in the top ten in the Caribbean, offers a par 72 course amongst a scenic backdrop of ponds, limestone features and bird life.

Geography and Terrain

Grace Bay and the Bight at night
Grace Bay at night, Providenciales.

Providenciales is the north-western-most island in the Turks and Caicos archipelago and the fourth largest by land mass at 38 square miles (98 km²).

Compared to the other islands in the country, Providenciales has the greatest average elevation, with the central Blue Mountain sharing the title of highest point in the Turks and Caicos with Flamingo Hill on East Caicos at 156 feet (48 m) in height.

The interior of Providenciales consists of the typical tropical dry brushland drought-resistant vegetation common to the Caicos Islands.

History of Providenciales

Previous to the 1980s, Providenciales was a relatively unimportant place.

the 2016 New Year's Eve fireworks over Grace Bay and Providenciales
Fireworks over Grace Bay. This spectacular beach is an excellent place to watch the New Year's Eve display.

Although little evidence exists today, Providenciales likely supported a significant aborigine Taino population. As the majority of non-ceramic Taino artefacts found in the Turks and Caicos have been recovered from caves, most important discoveries were made when the Caicos island’s caves and sinkholes were mined for guano (used for fertilizer). As might be expected, many items found were subsequently lost or sold. The work of famous Dutch anthropologist Theodore de Booy was the primary initial source of information from this pre-Columbian period.

After Grand Turk and Salt Cay saw an increase in sea salt production and export, a trickle of inhabitants, consisting mainly of those escaping the hardships of work in the salt salinas and ne’er-do-wells, settled on Providenciales. These early settlers eked out a harsh existence farming, fishing and salvaging shipwrecks.

At the end of the 1700s, the Loyalist plantation era began in the Caicos Islands. After the initial success of the North Caicos and Middle Caicos cotton plantations, Providenciales saw the construction of several agricultural attempts.

The best-known example is Cheshire Hall Plantation, yet plantations also stood at locations in Richmond Hills, Long Bay, Wheeland, Northwest Point National Park and possibly north of Chalk Sound National Park. The field walls of these forgotten sites are gradually being lost to modern development.

Taylor Bay Beach in the Turks and Caicos
The calm and sheltered Taylor Bay Beach.

Cotton was the main initial crop raised on the island, yet sisal came to become the primary export later on. As was the case throughout the country, export agriculture largely died out in the mid-1800s due to pests, drought and hurricane damage.

After the plantation days ended, Providenciales saw some dark times and much of the population migrated to either the salt producing islands, or to the Bahamas. The three small settlements of Blue Hills, Five Cays and The Bight supported small subsistence fishing and farming communities, but most of the outside income to the island came from the meagre ship salvaging operations of Blue Hills, Five Cays, and Birch’s Lookout, near Wheeland.

After the turn of the century, marine exports began to increase, mainly in the form of sea sponges, canned turtle, and dried conch. The Chalk Sound and Five Cays region was the centre of these activities.

A little-known fact is that sponge farming took place on Providenciales. Along with operating the cannery, Irishman entrepreneur George Silly oversaw the grafting of sponge pieces onto rock bases in what is now Chalk Sound National Park. The outlook and yields were initially promising, however, as had happened with the cotton plantations, a blight destroyed the industry.

Cannon at Cheshire Hall Plantation, Providenciales.
A cannon at the ruins of Cheshire Hall Plantation, Providenciales.

In 1967, the direction of Providenciales drastically changed. Provident Limited, a development company headed by Fritz Ludington, recognized the tourism potential of the island’s exceptional beaches and marine environment. An agreement was reached with the Turks and Caicos Government wherein Provident Limited would construct an airstrip (which was located in the centre of the island and in a different location from the current airport), roads, a port, and a hotel. By 1970, this infrastructure was largely operational and the Third Turtle Inn and adjacent Turtle Cove Marina became the first hotel on the island.

1984 saw more advances. Club Med opened on Grace Bay Beach, the industrial port of South Dock (formerly named Gussy Cove) was converted from a small natural harbour to a port capable of handling shipping containers, and the current and paved Providenciales International Airport was built.

Providenciales has definitely seen up and downs in the recent economy, yet the vast majority of buildings, infrastructure and bustle is only a couple of decades old.

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