The most developed and populated island in the Turks and Caicos, Providenciales is home to spectacular beach, luxury resorts and fine dining. Nearly all international flights to the Turks and Caicos land at the Providenciales International Airport (PLS).
Chalk Sound National Park is another unique feature of Providenciales. This lagoon paints an amazing picture: hundreds of tiny delicately-formed limestone islands contrasting against brilliantly turquoise water.
There’s a huge array of water sports and activities offered on Providenciales.
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 into the thousands.
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 home.
The Karl Litten designed Provo Golf Course, rated in the top ten in the Caribbean, offers a par 72 course amongst a scenic backdrop of ponds, limestone features and bird life.
Providenciales is the north-western-most island in the Turks and Caicos archipelago the fourth largest by land mass at 38 square miles.
Compared to the other islands in the country, Providenciales has the greatest average elevation, with the Blue Mountain area sharing the title of highest point in the Turks and Caicos with Flamingo Hill on East Caicos.
The interior of the island consists of the typical drought-resistant vegetation common to the Caicos Islands.
Previous to the 1980s, Providenciales was a relatively unimportant place.
Although very little evidence exists, Providenciales likely supported at least a small aborigine Taino population. As the majority of Taino artefacts found in the Turks and Caicos have been recovered from caves, most discoveries were made when the island’s caves and sinkholes were mined for guano (used for fertilizer). As might be expected, any items found were subsequently lost or sold. The work of famous Dutch anthropologist Theodore de Booy is the primary source of information from this 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 from the hardships of work in the salt salinas and ne’er-do-wells, settled on Providenciales. These eked out a harsh existence farming, fishing and salvaging shipwrecks.
At the end of the 1700s, the plantation era began in the Caicos Islands. After the initial success of the North Caicos and Middle Caicos plantations, Providenciales saw the construction of several agricultural attempts.
The best-known example is Cheshire Hall Plantation, but plantations also stood at locations in Richmond Hills, Long Bay, Wheeland, Northwest Point National Park and possibly west of Chalk Sound National Park, but the field walls of these sites are gradually being lost to modern development.
Cotton was the main initial crop raised on the island, but 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 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 operation of Birch’s Lookout.
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 Chalk Sound. The outlook and yields were initially promising, however, as had happened with the cotton plantations, a blight destroyed the industry.
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 different area from the current site), 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 airport was built.
Providenciales has definitely seen up and downs in the recent economy, but the buildings, infrastructure and bustle is only a couple decades old.