Island-Specific Kayaking Guides
Flat Water Lagoons, Mangrove Estuaries, and Secluded Beaches!
Kayaking is a simple and easy way to explore the amazing waters of the Turks and Caicos. As one of the easiest water sports to learn, almost anyone can be paddling after a few minutes of practice.
Along with the unparalleled ocean water and beaches, the country has extensive and pristine marine mangrove wetlands and ponds to discover.
Many of the waterfront accommodations in the country include complimentary kayak use for guests, and simply paddling on the ocean nearby can be fun for a short while. However, if you want to see more wildlife and diverse scenery, it’s highly recommended that you venture into the mangrove wetlands and shallows. It depends highly on where you’re staying, but the best wetlands aren’t typically found near accommodations, so you’ll either have to rent kayaks onsite or transport your own.
It’s worth also considering stand-up paddleboarding as an alternative to kayaking. A relatively newer water sport, stand-up paddleboarding offers one great advantage over kayaking when exploring the reefs and wetlands: a much better view of the sea life in the water. The greater height makes it much easier to spot animals, and when in the sheltered mangroves you’ll often be able to see marine life with crystal clarity.
Wind and currents can greatly affect your paddling. Pay attention to your drift direction and speed and you can avoid having difficulties. Consider kayaking against the drift so your return is easy.
Currents often exist at the narrow channels between cays. These typically slow down or disappear rather quickly and are only of concern during tide changes, but it’s best to be aware of them.
Bring plenty of drinking water and protection from the sun. The heat can get intense in the Turks and Caicos.
Be sure to wear a personal flotation device (life vest) when kayaking. It can prevent an accident from turning serious.
Wind and Tides
The constant east-southeast trade winds are typically the greatest force to consider when paddling in the Turks and Caicos. On most days, wind speed is low and doesn’t affect kayaking much, yet on breezy days it can have a noticeable effect.
The best situation is to work with the breeze, and it’s often possible to do so even on round trips. Be aware of and use sheltering coasts and cays when paddling upwind, and use the wind to your advantage on the return journey.
Tides create much of the actual water movement (albeit less of an influence than wind), which is often independent of the localized wind direction. It’s generally predictable where and in which direction currents will be as the ocean level rises and falls on the Caicos Banks, which amplifies water movement in the channels between the islands.
When traveling into extensive mangrove creeks and shallows, it’d best to be aware of tide times for the day. You don’t want to become grounded! As the Turks and Caicos is in the tropics, there isn’t a great tidal range (the difference between low and high tides), yet many wetlands are quite shallow, and it doesn’t take much of a drop to restrict movement.
Tours and Organized Safaris vs. Exploring On Your Own
Guided tours do cost more, but you’ll likely see the most that the weather and location allow. If you are new to the sport or are unwilling to properly plan and prepare for your journey, we highly recommend going with a guide.
If you have experience kayaking, are willing to spend a little time planning your journey, and take into account wind and tide conditions, you should have no issues exploring on your own.
Operating in the Turks and Caicos since 1997, Big Blue Collective is the foremost eco-kayaking and exploratory kayaking authority in the county. They have a wealth of knowledge on locations and conditions throughout the islands and the best selection of equipment.
How Do the Different Islands Compare?
The Turks and Caicos is made of two island groups separated by a deep channel: the Turks Islands and the Caicos Islands.
Consisting mainly of two main islands and smaller cays, the Turks Islands do not have the extensive mangrove wetlands that can be found throughout the Caicos Islands. Typically, most kayaking that takes place on the Turks Islands is simply paddling on the open water.
Comparatively, the Caicos Islands have much more to see. Along with having vastly more expansive wetlands, the larger and more complex coastline of these islands offers miles of sheltered and unique coastlines.
Due to being the primary overnight tourist destination in the country, Providenciales has by far the most water sports businesses and consequently the widest selection of kayak rentals and tours. Although the majority of eco-tours take place in the Leeward and Mangrove Cay area of Providenciales, trips to more remote locations and other islands are easy to arrange.
What’s the Best Paddling Location in the Turks and Caicos?
The best kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding in the Turks and Caicos is found in parts of the extensive Ramsar Nature Reserve on the remote south coasts of North Caicos, Middle Caicos, and East Caicos, and in the channels separating East Caicos, Hog Cay, and McCartney Cay.
On Providenciales, the mangrove channel and sandy coastal environment of the Frenchman’s Creek Nature Reserve on the undeveloped west coast hides the best paddling setting.
Kayak Types and Equipment
Most resorts and vacation villas have basic, plastic sit-on-top ocean kayaks. These feature an enclosed hull, so they are difficult to sink, and are quite stable. On the downside, they don’t paddle very fast and can be rough in any level of chop. Paddles are typically the generic aluminum shaft adjustable variety. Many of the resort kayaks are made by Hobie, of Hobie Cat fame.
Glass-bottom and clear kayaks have become very popular in recent years, for both eco-tours and lifestyle drone photo shoots. Clear kayaks provide a somewhat limited ability to see what’s under the water’s surface.
Water sports company Big Blue is the only local tour operator that maintains a fleet of more efficient vessels, which includes polyethylene Necky Manitou day touring kayaks and carbon fiber Werner paddles.
Fiberglass or carbon fiber touring or racing kayaks are unfortunately not available for rent in the Turks and Caicos at this time.