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The Turks and Caicos Islands look like the last in the lengthy line of Bahaman islands stretching away from Florida, but they are in fact an independent archipelago. For tourists, they offer beaches and diving, diving and beaches. Sure, there is a lack of variety in the attractions, but the relaxing powers of the Caribbean sun are able to put even the tensest heart at ease. For a quick escape from the water, you may be interested to explore the remnants of the islands' salt industry.
But the diving is world-renowned, so we don't think you will be needing to wander through museums to keep busy. Stunning aquatic scenery is provided in ample amounts over the miles and miles of coral reef. Expect to swim with dolphins. Expect to be awestruck by submerged wreckages. Expect an energizing respite, because you will get it.
Early inhabitants of the islands were Amerindians, including the Arawak people, who were, over the centuries, gradually replaced by the Caribs. The first documented European to sight the islands was Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León, who did so in 1512. During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the islands passed from Spanish, to French, to British control, but none of the three powers ever established any settlements. In 1799, both the Turks and the Caicos island groups were annexed by Britain as part of the Bahamas. In 1848, the Turks and Caicos were declared a separate colony under a council president. The last incumbent was maintained in 1873 when the islands were made part of Jamaica colony; in 1894 the chief colonial official was restyled commissioner. In 1917, Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden suggested that the Turks and Caicos join Canada, but this suggestion was rejected by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. The islands remained a dependency of Jamaica until 1959. When Jamaica was granted independence from Britain in August 1962, the Turks & Caicos Islands became a crown colony. From 1965, the governor of the Bahamas was also governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands and oversaw affairs for the islands. When the Bahamas gained independence in 1973, the Turks and Caicos received their own governor.
The islands have had their own government headed by a chief minister, the first of whom was James Alexander George Smith McCartney, since August 1976. In 1979, a move towards independence was agreed upon in principle for 1982, but a change in government caused a policy reversal. The islands' political troubles in recent years have resulted in a rewritten constitution promulgated in 2006 and a reintroduction of direct UK Government rule in 2009, which ended in 2012 with local elections.
The two island groups are in the North Atlantic Ocean, southeast of the Bahamas, north of Hispaniola, and about 1,000 kilometres from Miami in the United States, at 21°45′N 71°35′W / 21.75°N 71.583°W / 21.75; -71.583. The territory is geographically contiguous to the Bahamas, both comprising the Lucayan Archipelago, but is politically a separate entity. The Caicos Islands are separated by the Caicos Passage from the closest Bahamian islands, Mayaguana and Great Inagua. The two distinct island groups are separated by the Turks Passage. The eight main islands and more than 299 smaller islands have a total land area of 616.3 square kilometres, primarily of low, flat limestone with extensive marshes and mangrove swamps and 332 square kilometres of beach front. The islands have limited natural fresh water resources; private cisterns collect rainwater for drinking. The primary natural resources are spiny lobster, conch and other shellfish.
Two island groups make up the Turks and Caicos Islands, separated by the Turks Passage.
Grace Bay Beach has been voted one of the best and most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean and the world. The beach is located on the northern coast of Providenciales and stretches about 14 kilometres where you will find white sandy beaches which are absolutely stunning. Snorkeling at Grace Bay is fabulous because of its crystal-clear waters and beautiful reef. The sunsets are one of a kind as well and although it is by far the most popular beach on the Turks and Caicos Islands, it's at least less developed than for example many of the Bahamas islands.
Chalk Sound National Park is a fantastic and hauntingly beautiful part of the Turks and Caicos Islands. This is the place to come if turquoise is your favorite colour. Because this is the exact colour of the waters of this 5 kilometres wide lagoon, which holds a vast number of green and lush islands and and mushroom-like tiny islets. A peninsula with some fantastic beaches only adds to the beauty. A bit of culture is even available at Sapodilla Bay Hill Rock Carvings where you can find carvings on rocks that name shipwrecked sailors dating back to 1844.
Turtle Cove is located along a harbor with the same name. It is a very nice grill bar where you can have pleasure the whole night eating, drinking, dansing and, if you like it, do some karaoke. There is a live reggae band every Friday night and for a night out is is probably one of the better places on the islands.
Turks & Caicos National Museum is located in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk and houses the restored Guinep House. This historic building is constructed of salvaged ships' timbers and displays items like shell tools, stamps, locks, and greenstone cells. Several other rooms have displays about the island's salt industry and life on the coral reef. And then the upper rooms have an underwater display in 3D, a natural history gallery about local wildlife, and a room where you can find many photos and artefacts about the pre-Columbian Taino culture.
The Turks and Caicos Islands have a very pleasant and tropical climate with generally warm and humid weather. The seabreeze makes things relatively mild though and water is never far away. Temperatures generally average around 30 °C during the day yearround and 23 °C at night. December to May is the dry season, where July to October is the rainy season, but this generally means some showers at the end of the day instead of days of rain on end. Hurricanes are possible though from August to October.
interCaribbean is the main airline of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Main destinations include Kingston, Nassau, Puerto Plata and Santiago de los Caballeros and. Its base is at Providenciales International Airport (PLS). From there British Airways has flights to and from London and Nassau as well, while other destinations include Toronto, Halifax, Ottawa and Montreal, and several cities in the United States (Charlotte, Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Newark, Atlanta, Miami and Dallas).
JAGS McCartney International Airport (GDT) is on Grand Turk, but currently only has domestic flights.
Grand Turk is a popular cruise destination. Carnival Cruises operates up to 3 cruises a day to the Grand Turk Cruise Center.
Despite its location relatively close to other islands chains like the Bahamas, there are no international ferry routes to and from the Turks and Caicos Islands.
There is no public transportation anywhere on the islands, with the exception of a hop-on/hop-off style bus for cruise visitors on Grand Turk.
On Providenciales and the other islands, it's recommended that you rent a car, as taxis can be somewhat expensive.
Rental cars are available from several local companies , mainly on Grand Turk and Providenciales, less so on North and South Caicos. Many roads are not sealed. Driving is on the left and you will need a local temporary driving permit as well. You need to pay mandatory insurance and government tax as well.
There are no public buses on any of the islands and therefore taxis are the way to go if you don't have your own set of wheels. And the good thing is that taxis are available on all the inhabited islands and most taxi drivers double as guides as well, making daytrips with several people an economical way of getting around and seeing something.
There are several options regarding domestic ferry services in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The Dale Marie is a weekend ferry between Bottle Creek in North Caicos and Middle Caicos. It runs Saturdays from about 8:00am through early afternoon. It is a 30-minute ride and carries 1-2 vehicles. Friday evenings and Sundays crossings are by appointment only.
The Buccaneer is a ferry between Grand Turk and Salt Cay. It is passenger only and it takes about 30 to 45 minutes. Travelling is one Wednesdays and Fridays only and it departs Salt Cay at 7:00am and Grand Turk at 2:30pm.
TCI Ferry Service is a ferry service between Walkin Marina Leeward on Providenciales and Sandy Point Marina on North Caicos. with 4 departures each day in both directions. There are 5 daily departures in both directions from Monday to Saturday and 3 on Sundays and holidays. It's US$25 for a single trip and US$40 for a same day return ticket. Check current timetables online.
Visa requirements are roughly the same as for the United Kingdom, Schengen Visa not applying.
See also Money Matters
The US Dollar, or "greenback", is the national currency of Turks and Caicos Islands. One dollar consists of 100 cents. Frequently used coins are the penny (1¢), nickel (5¢), dime (10¢) and quarter (25¢). 50¢ and $1 coins also exist, but are rarely used. Frequently used banknotes are the $1, $5, $10, $20 and $50 notes. You may have some difficulties with the $100 note at smaller shops, and $2 are never used.
Work permits are easily obtained for foreigners. However, many jobs are designed for "Belongers" only. Belongers are people that have a special connection to TCI. Work permits are applied for via agencies on the island and require proof of citizenship, proof of employment, proof of residence on the island, and are then ratified by a medical exam, blood tests and a chest X-ray. As an employee you will need to register with the National Insurance Board and the National Health Insurance Board. Contributions are payable monthly by the employee and employer to both.
In 2012 work permit costs were increased across all categories and interested parties should contact the immigration board for clarification on the exact cost. It can take up to 6 months to actually have the work permit in hand.
Certain jobs on the island are deemed unfit for non-Belongers to apply for: banking, civil servants, and boat operators are specific jobs that fall under this rule.
South Caicos is home to a campus of the School for Field Studies (SFS), which offers a semester study abroad programme in the islands.
The official language is English. Local minorities from Haiti speak Haitian Creole (a French based language), and Spanish is also spoken by immigrants from the Dominican Republic. However, these are not languages most tourists would come into contact with.
There are a total of 81 restaurants on the islands. However, many of the restaurants are on the island of Providenciales. Not that many years ago, local island tables did not know what was going to be on the menu for dinner until the fishing boats brought in their catch of the day. Today the Turks and Caicos Islands feature fine and imaginative cuisine and world class chefs.
Throughout the islands there are a total of 143 different places to stay. You can choose to be at an all-inclusive, a resort suite condo, or a private villa or inn. These hotels also offer wonderful dining experiences. Many of these hotels offer are corporate-business rates as well including internet access and fax services. At almost all hotels you can ask if there are any "packages" available such as, hotel and dive packages.
There is a small brewery on Grand Turk that produces an alcohol based Ginger Beer. It is called 'Islander Ginger Beer' and is considered to be the only product manufactured on the island. It has a rich ginger base with citrus and spice finish. It's made in a small brewery located in the heart of the capital city, Cockburn Town and can be bought in local bars and restaurants. It's a live yeast fermented, fresh beverage that must always be kept refrigerated. It's unique to the island and, because of its perishable nature, is not exported.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to the Turks and Caicos Islands. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to the Turks and Caicos Islands. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Turks and Caicos have one of the lowest crime rates and highest crime-solved rates in the Caribbean. Any problems that occur should be reported to the Royal Turks and Caicos Police immediately. While the islands are extremely safe, make sure to exercise common sense. Don't leave valuables in plain view, and always lock your car when leaving it, and lock your dwelling (hotel) when you are not in it. By taking simple precautions it will prevent the loss of cash, jewellery and identification. Thieves target mopeds and motorcycles, so be sure that you lock yours up properly. Also, be aware that Islanders can be very aggressive drivers, so it is best to use caution when crossing or driving on the roads.
There are three local mobile phone operators in the islands: LIME (formerly Cable & Wireless), Digicel, and IslandCom. IslandCom offers CDMA networks (which supports for example Verizon).
See also International Telephone Calls
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